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:
Siren's Fury:
Siren's Song:

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!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book review: Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury

Book Summary
Sixteen years ago, rebellion swept the galaxy known as the Belt of Jewels. Every member of the royal family was murdered--down to their youngest child, Princess Anya--and the Union government rose in its place. But Stacia doesn't think much about politics. She spends her days half-wild, rambling her father's vineyard with her closest friends, Clio and Pol.

That all changes the day a Union ship appears in town, carrying the leader of the Belt himself, the Direktor Eminent. The Direktor claims that Princess Anya is alive, and that Stacia's sleepy village is a den of empire loyalists, intent on hiding her. When Stacia is identified as the lost princess, her provincial home explodes into a nightmare.

Pol smuggles her away to a hidden escape ship in the chaos, leaving Clio in the hands of the Union. With everything she knows threading away into stars, Stacia sets her heart on a single mission. She will find and rescue Clio, even with the whole galaxy on her trail.

Flo's Review
I love the cartoon movie Anastasia and I was lucky enough to snag tickets to the see the play in a couple of months, so I am all about this story! The tote bag I carry to work every day is even Anastasia themed (I won it from the theater.) So as soon as I learned what this book was about, I was all in! 

Taking the Anastasia story into space was such a creative idea! I really enjoyed seeing the way the story played out in outer space. I loved reading about the variety of beings in the world, and especially liked that you got to see them alongside each other. Yes, different being lived on different planets, based on how they evolved to live on the particular planets, but at several points in the book they were living together, side-by-side. Like Pol. Three cheers for Apollo! *sighs*

In the beginning, I was so intrigued by learning about the world and everything that I was turning the pages eagerly. Toward the middle, it started to lag a little bit for me. However, once a certain BIG REVEAL was dropped, I was back on board and the ride was non-stop from there! 

In a world of duologues and trilogies and super long series, I am always happy to find a standalone book that I can read, finish, and feel like I left the characters in a good place. I definitely feel that about Last of Her Name. It publishes Tuesday, February 26th from Scholastic. Are you a sci fi fan? Give it a try! Are you an Anastasia fan? Give it a try! Are you a fan of hot male creatures who are kinda human but kinda not? (I know that sounds weird, but just trust me about POL, you guys!!) Give it a try! 🤗

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Audiobook review: Undying by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

**Note: Proceed with caution if you haven't yet read Unearthed.**

Book Summary
Trapped aboard the Undying's ancient spaceship and reeling from what they've learned there, scavenger Mia and academic Jules are plunged into a desperate race to warn their home planet of the danger humanity's greed has unleashed. From the mountains of Spain to the streets of Prague, the sequel to Unearthed is a white-knuckle ride that will send readers hurtling back to earth, and leave them breathless until the last page.

Flo's Review
Undying was quite different from Unearthed, but every bit as enjoyable. I really enjoyed having Neal along for the journey. He brought so much to the team in so many ways. It was a fun journey seeing several places in Europe with this duo. Their romance continued to blossom and I loved being able to know both their thoughts on the situation. (This is truly an advantage of dual narration in books.) One of the final scenes was just so artfully and beautifully written. Kudos to Amie and Meagan for deciding to present it the way they did.

I listened to this one on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed hearing from Alex McKenna and Steve West. Both of them did a great job bringing a unique, otherworldly sound to the Undying characters. I also thought this was a fun and captivating length -- I feel like it would have started to drag if it had tried to be a trilogy, so a duology was perfect. And -- as many other people have mentioned -- the recap of Unearthed at the beginning was phenomenal! I read that one right around the time it came out, so of course there were a lot of things I had forgotten about the story.

Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, I think that Jules Addison is officially my newest Book Boyfriend. Get all starry eyed and ramble to me about academics in your British accent, Oxford. I am so here for it!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Book Summary
A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. 

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

Flo's Review
Is it just me, or is it always a little nerve-wracking when you finally get the opportunity to read a book that's been super hyped? It's like, you're holding your breath as you turn the pages, hoping to get caught up in the same tidal wave that everyone else is riding.

I'm happy to say that I did catch the wave...though it took a little bit. With any new fantasy story there's the curve of learning, understanding, and then feeling at home in the new world. This always takes awhile for me. Wicked Saints did start off with a bang, and I appreciated that. The tension between Nadya and Malachiasz was delicious, though I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was one of those girls who likes the villain, the bad boy. (I'm not. Mal vs. the Darkling? Mal, all the way.) 

But Wicked Saints had so many deep questions running through it. Nadya struggled with issues of faith and belief, not only in the divine, but also in other people and in herself. By the last third of the book, I was all in. I'd read it all day long, and I opted to go to the gym at the end of the day just so I could hop on a machine and keep on reading! I was surprised by the reveals, and not just surprised -- so many emotions came along with them. 

A lot of things happened at the end that left me with questions and eagerness for how the series will continue. But most importantly, it left me with hope. I think some good things can come for the characters and their homes, though it will be anything but an easy journey.

Wicked Saints publishes April 2m 2019 from Wednesday Books.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Audiobook review: Slayer by Kiersten White

Book Summary
Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

Flo's Review
As soon as I heard about this book, I said to my friend, "We need Slayer." For the next few weeks or so, whenever we saw each other (basically) one of us was all, "We need Slayer." So, this was an anticipated read for sure.

Luckily, I had this on hand to help me catch up with all things Buffy ;-)
I have to admit that I had to go back and refresh myself on what all happened with Buffy throughout the run of the show. This helped me as events and people were mentioned and then connected to Nina's story. Nina was an interesting character. She actually reminded me a lot of Evie in Paranormalcy. Sort of like the Becky Bloomwood (of Shopaholic fame) of things not quite living -- lol. 

One thing I simply adored about the story was the sister relationship. I'm really close with my sister, and I really enjoyed reading about the resiliency of Artemis and Nina's bond. Also, Leo was enjoyably swoon worthy. I listened to this one on audiobook, and I couldn't help but laugh at the reader's attempt of an Irish accent for some of the characters. A for Effort.

With author Kiersten White at Miami Book Fair 2018..
Fun fact: I have the exact same shirt she's wearing. I wore it the next day.
Finally, several themes, characters, and elements of the story did complete 180s by the end of the book. I can't really get into it without spoilers, but it was just really need to see things that started at Point A on the left ending up at Point B on the right.

Oh, and naturally there was a big reveal at the end of this, so I'm looking forward to book 2!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Book review: Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway

Book Summary
He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner's Curse in Joanna Hathaway's Dark of the West, a breathtaking YA fantasy debut.

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.

Flo's Review
I entered a Twitter contest just to win this book, and I was lucky enough to actually win! I was intrigued by the premise of Dark of the West as soon as I heard about it. This was a book about war, much in the vein of the Ember series by Sabaa Tahir. The horrible General in this book has the same 'Human life? Eh' vibe as the Commandant. He's also terrible, and also unfortunately related to the the kind, compassionate, hot leading male in the story. Athan (said male) not only has a strained relationship with his father due to their different world views  but also has interesting and complicated relationships with his siblings, which were interesting and painful to read. This family. Oy!

But you know who was an awesome character? Cyar! If we could all have friends like Cyar! The bond between Cyar and Athan is evident in their easy banter, in how they talk about each other, in what they would do to protect each other, in what they have already done and continue to do for each other. I honestly feel like I ship the bromance between Athan and Cyar over the romance of Athan and Ali. 

Speaking of the romance, Dark of the West to me was very much like a fantasy war story, in which one element is the romance. I felt like the marketing of the book elevated the romance aspect so that I was expecting it to play more heavily in the narrative. And maybe this was why I didn't feel as connected to or affected by the romance as I'd hoped. I definitely felt Athan's struggle as he worked through what he was feeling and how that affected what he was asked to do. Maybe it was Ali's side that was lacking for me? Ali as a character was okay, but she was definitely outshined by Athan, her mother, and some of the other characters in the story.

The pacing was excellent. I found myself doing the, "Just one more chapter," thing several times as I read. Having the map in the finished copy will definitely help the reader to keep all the locations in the story straight.

Joanna Hathaway loves flying in airplanes (per her bio), and that love and expertise comes through strong as she describes Athan's time in the air. There is one particular letter in the book that was so, so beautiful. Finally, the end of the book comes with a twist that I wasn't expecting, but then when I thought back about it, made perfect sense. So well done.

Dark of the West was full of elements that make a great story: stellar pacing, shocking action, slow-burning romance, questionable character loyalties, and a surprising ending. It publishes February 5th, 2019 from Tor Teen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book review: Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

Book Summary
Having just been dumped by his girlfriend, British-born Hugo is still determined to take his last-hurrah-before-college train trip across the United States. One snag: the companion ticket is already booked under the name of his ex, Margaret Campbell. Nontransferable, no exceptions.

Enter the new Margaret C. (Mae for short), an aspiring filmmaker with big dreams. After finding Hugo's spare ticket offer online, she's convinced it's the perfect opportunity to expand her horizons.

When the two meet, the attraction is undeniable, and both find more than they bargained for. As Mae pushes Hugo to explore his dreams for his future, he'll encourage her to channel a new, vulnerable side of her art. But when life off the train threatens the bubble they've created for themselves, will they manage to keep their love on track?

Me and Jen at a YALLFest past. I honestly don't remember which year....
Flo's Review
I adore Jennifer E. Smith. (Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see my reviews of her other books.) I know that if I am looking to read a cute, fun, and fast contemporary YA love story, Jennifer E. Smith is my gal. So over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, I was in the mood for just that. Luckily, I had a copy of this waiting for me.

(Random side note: I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC at YALLFest. I don't think the Underlined team was expecting me to fangirl so hard over getting a Jennifer E. Smith ARC. I rambled on to the girl for like 5 minutes straight about how much I adored every single one of Jennifer's other books.)

Luckily, this one did not disappoint. I was impressed with how well Jennifer got Hugo and his Briticisms down. He remained consistent throughout. I was happy that I really enjoyed both Hugo and Mae. Jennifer E. Smith is the queen of capturing all the excitement, fear, anxiety, and anticipation of high school seniors about to head off to college. Field Notes on Love is no exception. 

I always love travel stories. I think you can learn so much about yourself by taking yourself outside of your normal environment. For Hugo, this was especially true. Additionally, I just love seeing new places with new eyes -- I really enjoy seeing characters' reactions to places I have seen and wish to see.

Field Notes on Love comes out March 5, 2019 and if you want a shot of adorable, then I'd suggest you scoop this one up!

Read my other raving reviews of Jennifer E. Smith books:

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book review: Bloom by Kevin Pancetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Book Summary
Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

Flo's Review
I've been meaning to read a graphic novel for awhile and had this one on deck for when the mood hit me. Today was the day. I was so glad to pick this one up! The color palette of this book is shades of blue, which fits with the small beach town where it takes place. As Peeta Mellark has always been and will always be my #1 fictional boyfriend, I was immediately drawn to Hector -- another cute baker boy. I also enjoyed both the main girls in the book. Hector's friend from home and Ari's friend in the band. Both were fun and brought vibrancy into the story.

And, of course -- the food! Reading about and seeing the delicious Greek dishes that Ari's family makes and the desserts that Hector makes? Mmm. It's nice. And in the back of the book, the authors have included one of the recipes. 

Unfortunately, I did not like Ari. I get that he's a kid who is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, but he was just too ... wallowing in his issues to enjoy reading. I'd also wanted to read this one specifically because of the romance, and while I kind of saw how it slowly grew over time, at the same time it was like... I don't know? I felt that Ari liked Hector, but I never really felt the attraction on Hector's side. 

Overall, I'm really glad I gave this story a read. I will definitely be reading more graphic novels in the future.

Bloom publishes on February 12, 2019. Thank you to First Second for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Internment by Samira Ahmed

Book Summary
Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp's Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Flo's Review
Wow. This book. Wow. I've been waiting to write my review in hopes that I can put together something powerful and coherent, but it's been a few days and I don't think it's going to happen. I'm still so shook, y'all. This book is powerful. Whoever thought words don't mean anything, have no power, can't change the world? Read. this. book.

Internment speaks directly to the reader. The tone is direct and strong, like the book's message. The different characters in the book are the different types of people we encounter every day. I know Laylas. I know Jakes. I know Mr. and Mrs. Amins. I know Directors. 

As I was reading this book I felt a lot of emotion -- SO MANY EMOTIONS. But the predominant ones? Fear and anger. I was so scared for Layla and her friends and loved ones, and so angry about what was happening to them. 

Samira Ahmed has a message, but she is not just saying something that she thinks is a good idea or that sounds nice. She is practicing what she preaches. She is sharing a message with this book, and her message is this book. (I hope that makes sense.)

Like I mentioned before, this book might make you sad. It might make you angry. If might even make you fearful. But it will make you proud of who you are. It will make you proud of humanity. It will give you hope. 

Internment comes out March 19, 2019. Thank you so much to the Novl for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, January 18, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Maureen Doyle McQuerry, author of Between Before & After

Book Summary
“The carnage began with the roses. She hacked at their ruffled blooms until they dropped into monstrous drifts of red on the parched yellow lawn … Only two things kept my mother grounded to us: my uncle Stephen and stories.”

Fourteen-year-old Molly worries about school, friends, and her parents’ failed marriage, but mostly about her mother’s growing depression. Molly knows her mother is nursing a carefully-kept secret. A writer with an obsession for other people’s life stories, Elaine Donnelly is the poster child of repressed emotions.

Molly spends her California summer alternately watching out for her little brother Angus and tip-toeing around her mother’s raw feelings. Molly needs her mother more than ever, but Elaine shuts herself off from real human connections and buries herself in the lives and deaths of the strangers she writes about. When Uncle Stephen is pressed into the limelight because of his miracle cure of a young man, Elaine can no longer hide behind other people’s stories. And as Molly digs into her mother’s past, she finds a secret hidden in her mother’s dresser that may be the key to unlocking a family mystery dating to 1918 New York—a secret that could destroy or save their future.

Interview with Maureen Doyle McQuerry

How did you come up with the idea for Between Before & After? How much did the story change from initial idea to final version?
The seeds of this story were planted by my father. He told stories about being an orphan in 1919 Brooklyn after his mother died from the Spanish flu and his family fell apart. But then, the story took on a life of its own. The basic storyline never changed, but I needed to dive much more deeply into the characters. One of the challenges was knowing when to shift from one storyline to the other. Molly’s story spans one summer, while Elaine’s spans many years. I had to balance the two.  I also had to find a way to connect the Hansel and Gretel story with the main storyline. Hopefully the fairy tale adds depth to the story reminding us that we can survive and flourish despite the difficulties we encounter along the way.
What connection do you personally have to this story, if any?
In many ways it is my family’s story. The trajectory of my father’s family was changed by his mother’s death in the flu pandemic of 1918-19. He was ten and after her death, he lived on the streets, surviving the best he could into adulthood. A young child growing up the on the streets brings all that childhood trauma into all future relationships. 
I grew up in San Jose, CA where Molly’s family lives. The landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area is close to my heart. Like Molly, I knew my family was full of secrets, and I was curious to know more. During the years I spent working on this book a very redemptive event occurred, I discovered I wasn’t an only child as I had always believed, but I have two living half-brothers and the book is dedicated to them.
Can you talk a bit about the process of weaving a fairy tale retelling into your narrative? Why Hansel and Gretel?
The story of Hansel and Gretel felt so closely tied to the narrative, that I couldn’t imagine writing the story without it. My challenge was helping readers see the connection. It’s a story of resiliency, two children abandoned in the darkest part of the forest, who despite all odds find their way home. There are still forests in our lives today. The streets of our cities can be as dangerous as the grimmest fairy tale. Fairy tales speak to us on the archetypal level. We need to be reminded that although the world is not a safe place, it’s possible to survive the woods and emerge changed, but with our humanity intact.
Read more with Maureen after the page break.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Audiobook review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Book Summary
Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery's never been there, but she's heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it's hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone's declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she's in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous--and most people aren't good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it's safest to keep your secrets to yourself.

Flo's Summary
What a fun story! I mean, I don't often put "fun" and "mystery" together, but something about these characters drew me in, and it was fun to try and figure it out...which I kind of did! I'm so excited, because I never figure out anything! 10 points to Hufflepuff!

But back to the characters. Karen M. McManus described them in a way that gave me such great visuals in my mind. I could see Ellery's curls, Malcolm's muscles, Ezra's general hotness. (Yes, I know he wouldn't be interested in me like that, but that's okay -- he would be such a good and awesome friend.) 

This book takes place in the Fall in the Northeast and it made me want to be there! (I mean, not in Echo Ridge -- too much going on in that town! I just mean somewhere where Fall weather is a thing, which it's not where I am.) But yes, the setting of Echo Ridge sounded beautiful. When Ellery and Ezra weren't stressing me out by walking through the woods, that is!

Two Can Keep a Secret had layers of stories, and that's probably what I liked about it most. Nothing-- like legitimately almost nothing -- was what is seemed, and there were a lot of different things going on beneath the surface. And they were all connected, but they weren't, but they were. Genius!

I also enjoyed One of Us is Lying and am pretty sure Karen M. McManus has a spot on my auto-read list. I listened to this one on audiobook and it just flew by! I truly enjoying listening to it while driving to and from work, and talking to myself in the car whenever a reveal or a bomb was dropped.

I definitely recommend you give this one a try!

Read our review of One of Us Is Lying