Monday, June 17, 2019

Book Review: Rowan by Josephine angelini

Rowan is a short 30 page novella that is 1.5 in the Worldwalker series. It shows how Rowan discovered Lily in his world and the events that transpired shortly after her arrival.  Rowan believed she was Lillian and couldn't understand what was wrong with her.  She acted like she had no idea who he was, she was having allergic reactions to things Lillian has been able to control for years, and was basically weak and helpless.  How could this possibly be the Salem Witch who has been reeking havoc on his world and family?  But what other explanation could there possibly be?

Overall this was a nice addition to the story, but I don't feel like it was essential to the story line. I have already read the first two books in the series and do not feel like I was at a loss without this content, which actually took place somewhere within the first book.  The back story is helpful in getting some of Rowan's perspective on the situation, but we can also get that through mind speak and the sharing of vision within this series.  

I downloaded this for free to my kindle from the library, so it was well worth my time to read.  It is listed for $1.99 on Amazon, which seems a bit crazy to me.  Many authors release these short novellas for free, assuming readers of this content are also buying and reading the rest of their series.  That is what should have happened here.  Charging people for a few scenes, which were probably cut from the original book, will likely disappoint many readers. Definitely try to get this book from the library.

Friday, June 14, 2019

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Melanie Cantor, author of Death and Other Happy Endings

Book Summary
Jennifer Cole has just been told that she has a terminal blood disorder and has just three months to live--ninety days to say goodbye to friends and family, and to put her affairs in order. Ninety days to come to terms with a diagnosis that is unfair, unexpected, and completely unpronounceable. Focusing on the positives (she won't have to go on in a world without Bowie or Maya Angelou; she won't get Alzheimer's or Parkinson's like her parents, or have teeth that flop out at the mere mention of the word apple), Jennifer realizes she only has one real regret: the relationships she's lost.

Rather than running off to complete a frantic bucket list, Jennifer chooses to stay put and write a letter to the three most significant people in her life, to say the things she wished she'd said before but never dared: her overbearing, selfish sister, her jelly-spined, cheating ex-husband, and her charming, unreliable ex-boyfriend--and finally tell them the truth.

At first, Jennifer feels cleansed by her catharsis. Liberated, even. Her ex-boyfriend rushes to her side and she even starts to build bridges with her sister Isabelle (that is, once Isabelle's confirmed that Jennifer's condition isn't genetic). But once you start telling the truth, it's hard to stop. And as Jennifer soon discovers, the truth isn't always as straightforward as it seems, and death has a way of surprising you....

Author Interview

It seems like women over fifty are having it all these days, re-writing the rules and living life on their own terms. You are certainly an example of this. Tell us what led to you becoming a published writer at the age of sixty-two.
Since a child, I have always enjoyed storytelling but there was no way I ever thought I would become a writer.  It simply wasn’t an option for me.  My mother wanted me to be a good wife and mother (like her) but my father wanted me to be a PR (a Public Relations Officer which in the US I believe you would call a publicist)—funny that he was the one who encouraged me to pursue a career, although not funny if you knew him.  He was an artist.  He could have become a penniless one but in order to feed his family, he put his talent into graphic design.  Working in below the line advertising, often for fashion brands, the majority of his clients were women PRs.  He thought it would be a good career for me.  At 19, I started life as a secretary (my mother’s idea) but, being well behaved I soon followed the path my father had encouraged.  After a few false starts, in 1978, I landed a job working in theatre PR, which I loved.  This then led to television (I was the press officer who helped launch commercial breakfast television in the UK in 1983) which in turn led to becoming a TV presenters’ agent.  In the rollercoaster years that followed, there was no time to think about becoming a writer but the itch was there and I was always scribbling some idea or another.  Finally, in 2008, having been successful as an agent, I decided to dedicate myself full time to becoming a writer, which no longer seemed beyond my reach—little did I know how many years in the wilderness lay ahead. But, I got there and am so proud of DEATH AND OTHER HAPPY ENDINGS.

You were discovered on a subway platform in London and featured in Dove’s campaign. How did you get your style? Has that changed as you’ve gotten older? And explain “the power of red lippy”!
Both my parents enjoyed clothes and passed that interest onto me (my brother does not share that interest so it wasn’t a given!).  My mother was more classic, my father flamboyant: I think I merged the two!  As soon as I could legally earn money, I got a Saturday job and that wage immediately went into clothes.  Not much has changed, although with more money in my pocket, my taste has improved and my style evolved.  Having been single for six years has also been quite liberating.  I dress for no one but myself and in so doing I have found who I am.  I have never consciously defied age but realize now, thanks to the number of times I am stopped by women saying they love my style, that being in your sixties and happily wearing color is not necessarily the norm!  It should be!  There is a notion that women over fifty disappear.  We don’t have to.  We should wear whatever makes us feel happy, whatever colors make us smile. There is no such thing as age appropriate, just you appropriate.   I think that was why I was spotted by the Dove scout.  For the same reason, I am a big fan of the red lip.  If there are two things I think are important about face make-up in your later years, I would say eyebrows and lips are essential.  I never go out without having put on these two.  Including when I walk Mabel my dog.  She won’t be seen dead with me if I look like the walking dead and trust me without my red lips and dark eyebrows, I disappear.  Wherever I am, you will see me coming but hopefully for all the right reasons.

Read more with Melanie Cantor after the page break.

Book review: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Book Summary
10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she's just performed her hit song "Heartbeat" in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She's about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She's in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.

11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She's very cute. He's maybe curious.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.

Flo's Review
Short review. I almost decided not to do a review for this one, but then I remembered that I got this cute Lucky poster from the Fierce Reads tour, and it would be a waste not to use it. So here we are. 😂

This book was everything I'd hoped for. I admittedly don't know much about K-Pop, but I do know a lot about pop music and pop music fans. I loved reading everything about the concerts, the superfans...I've been there. 

Lucky was a delight. Maurene could have made her this total diva who becomes more down-to-earth and human as her day progresses away from the limelight, but she didn't go that stereotypical route. Instead, Lucky is joyful and silly and seems like just a fun person to hang out with. So as you're reading about their day, you can totally see why Jack is having fun spending time with her.

Exploring Hong Kong along with Jack and Lucky naturally made me want to visit. (And if I could have Jack as a tour guide? I'd buy a plane ticket right now!) The themes that come through this story are all good ones: taking a chance on your dreams, but also working hard for them, particularly resonated with me. 

I read this entire book with a smile on my face (except for when I was stressed out or nervous for Lucky or Jack -- lol), and the smile remained when I turned the last page and closed the book. So overall success, and a great way to start my relaxing weekend.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Book Review: Never Never Part 3 by Colleen Hoover

Never Never is a three part novella series that is a continuation of the same story throughout.  In the first book, we discovered that Charlie and Silas keep losing their memories at exactly the same time every 48 hours.  They start reading their old journals and letters to each other and begin taking meticulous notes to use as a reference point every time the clock resets. In this final installment, we discover who is responsible for their memory loss and what is needed to stop the cycle. 

While this was a very challenging situation for them, it allowed them to see their lives and personalities from a different perspective.  They had allowed a number of external factors to influence not only their friendship and relationship with each other, but ultimately their personalities. They turned into people they weren't exactly proud of.  There is nothing they can do to change the past, but they have complete control of the present and their futures.  

Overall, I thought this story had an excellent message.  How it was presented was a bit far fetched and unrealistic, but it was still an entertaining read. It wasn't my favorite Colleen Hoover book... READ SLAMMED if you haven't already....but I have yet to come across one of her books I haven't enjoyed.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Book Review: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)

This is the third and final book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and picked up pretty much where the previous book left off.  Lisbeth Salander is taken to the hospital and is fighting for her life after a violent confrontation with her father, Zalachenko, and half brother. Even though Zalachenko tried to kill his daughter, he is claiming self defense and the security police are once again trying to clean up his mess.

Lisbeth and Mikael Blookvist must unravel decades worth of corruption and conspiracies if they are going to clear Lisbeth of all of the charges against her.

The one person who is actually telling the truth, Lisbeth, is painted in the media and by everyone in authority to be incompetent. She should be locked in a mental institution where she can no longer harm herself and others.  The stories she tells are so ridiculous they can be nothing short of fantasies. In fact, she must be a paranoid schizophrenic. This is basically what the prosecution is basing its case upon.  The courtroom drama that ensues was nothing short of spectacular. Mikael, Lisbeth, and her lawyer Annika Giannini (Mikael's sister) had all of their ducks in a row and completely rocked the courtroom.  You almost wanted to cheer as the "bad guys" were taken down one by one.

I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it yet, but I have to say this series was an absolute masterpiece.  Even though it is fiction, it makes readers question what lengths organizations like the FBI, CIA, etc. might go to in order to protect their own interests.  What may start out as a mission with good intentions could easily spiral out of control and impact the lives of ordinary citizens in unthinkable ways.

The only thing that I did find to be a little odd was the level of detail provided to every day situations.  I would like to know exactly how many cups of coffee were served up in this book.  Hundreds I'm sure. These characters are always turning on the coffee pot or pouring a cup of coffee at all hours of the day or night.  We also know exactly what everyone is wearing in every situation and precisely what they ate at every meal.  We knew exactly what street they are on at all times and precisely when they need to use the toilet.  If you think I am joking...I am not.  It seemed like a lot of additional information that wasn't necessary to propel the story forward, but I guess it provided a greater connection with the characters' every day lives.  I didn't find it annoying...just very unusual.

I will once again add a disclaimer that this series contains a lot of graphic content that is not suitable for younger readers, but it was an excellent mystery/thriller for adults. I read the first book, but it took me a long time to get through with all of the Swedish names.  I opted for audio for the send book. For the third, I listed to the audio while following along in the book.  I found this to be the most enjoyable because I didn't feel like I was struggling with how to pronounce all of the names and locations I wasn't familiar with.  

I'm participating in the Year of Epic Reads Challenge. This book fulfilled the Read a Book Set in a Country you want to Visit challenge.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Audiobook review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

Book Summary
marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Flo's Review
I am usually so stingy with my 5 star reviews, and here I feel like I've been rating books 5 stars left and right lately. But to me 5 stars means, "OMG YOU NEED TO READ THIS IMMEDIATELY! YES, YOU!" and I do truly feel like this is justified for this book.

I loved this book because it gave me the opportunity to really experience a life, a culture very different from my own. I love how Zayneb and Adam love their faith. I think I would really enjoy hanging out with them both -- Adam, because he's so good at seeing the good (the marvel) in everything, and Zayneb because I think she can show me things with new eyes. 

Also, I want to visit Doha now.

The audiobook narrators all did a good job, and I was happy that the author's parts were actually read by the author. I had this book on my TBR because I was debating whether to try to get in her signing line at BookCon and now I regret that I didn't read this beforehand so I could talk to her about it. From the Author's Note and from the earnest passion of Zayneb, I am guessing that they share a lot of characteristics and beliefs. 

The supporting characters in this book were also all so great. Auntie Nandie, Hannah, and Connor most of all, but even the Emmas. I think this book will find a lot of people who relate to it and a lot of people who learn from it. It's so great, guys! Go read it!!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Cleaning Up My TBR - Down the TBR Hole

This challenge was originally started by Lost in a Story, but I saw it on Lisa Loves Literature's blog and thought it was a good and fun idea. Here's how it works:

1. Go to your Goodreads "To Read" shelf
2. Order by Date Added, ascending
3. Take the first 5 books
4. Read the synopses of the books
5. Decide: keep it, or should it go?

This should be interesting! Here we go....

1. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Synopsis: David Sedaris' move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section. His family is another inspiration. You Can't Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.

Flo's Thoughts: At some point I actually got to meet David Sedaris and he signed this book for me! (That's actually a fun story, but it's one for another time!) I could definitely see myself finding the audiobook for this and listening to it at some point. Especially if David himself reads the audiobook? (I'll have to look into this.)

Verdict: Keep.

2. Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger

Synopsis. Brooke loved reading the dishy celebrity gossip rag Last Night. That is, until her marriage became a weekly headline... For five years, she’s worked two jobs to support her husband’s dream of making it in the music world. Finally, after countless gigs at Manhattan dive bars and toiling as an A&R intern, the soulful, enigmatic Julian Alter gets signed by Sony, where he logs long hours in the recording studio with no promise of success. But when he is invited to perform on a national late-night talk show, he is catapulted to stardom—literally overnight. At first the newfound fame is fun—who wouldn’t want to stay at the Chateau Marmont or love being treated like rock royalty? But as Brooke’s sweet husband becomes increasingly absent and tabloid rumors swirl, Brooke begins to question the truth about their marriage and is forced to finally come to terms with what she thinks she wants—and what she actually needs.

Flo's Thoughts: I know why I added this -- I read and really enjoyed Lauren's other books: Devil Wears Prada, Chasing Harry WinstonEveryone Worth Knowing. But since I added this book, Lauren has come out with a new one, When Life Gives You Luluemons, and I feel that I'm more likely to pick that one up first before I come back to this one. So this is a maybe, but I don't know how likely it is.

Verdict: Remove.

3. A Girl's Best Friend and Calm, Cool, and Adjusted by Kristin Billerbeck

Note: I'm counting these 2 books are one since they're related.

A Girl's Best Friend Synopsis: From the outside, Morgan Malliard has it all: diamonds at her disposal, a willowy figure, a doting daddy, and all the elegance that money can buy. But money can't buy happiness—or an identity to call her own—and Morgan is realizing her perfect life has no purpose other than spectacular grooming (which isn't really a purpose at all . . . unless you're a chimpanzee). Then a falling-out with her father drop-kicks Morgan into the real world, and she is suddenly forced to get an actual job, wear affordable shoes, and cope with public transportation—not to mention deal with that mysterious hottie who may or may not be stalking her! It's time for a spa getaway with her best gals, Lilly and Poppy—because there's just something about lying under a pile of sweet-smelling papaya plaster that can help a girl figure things out. Like the fact that life isn't about living up to a perfect ideal, and that with God's grace, the beauty of it may just be in the flaws after all.

Calm, Cool & Adjusted SynopsisSilicon Valley chiropractor Poppy Clayton is as calm, cool, and adjusted as they come . . . or is she? Known for her bad fashion sense, a love for all things natural, and the inability to get a second date, Poppy is beginning to wonder if she might be misaligned herself. Poppy's route to self discovery will be an unnatural one involving a plastic surgeon (of all people!), a condemned house in Santa Cruz, and a wedding date from the dark side. It's enough to send a girl and her gal pals running for their favorite spa!

Flo's Thoughts: These are the second and third books in a trilogy. This author was really speaking to me at the time in my life when I read them! Kristin's book Ashley Stockingdale series was one of my favorites. The thing is, I feel like I'd need to go back and re-read book #1 to really get into this trilogy. And while I don't think I'd 100% rule it out, I feel like I'm more likely to go back and re-read the Ashley Stockingdale books than I am to re-start this series.

Verdict: Remove.

4. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Synopsis: Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" — at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store. This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends. 

Flo's Thoughts: I'm hit and miss with Sarah Dessen books, but I have heard lots of good things about this one. I own a copy and feel that it is one of hers that I am likely to pick up when I'm in the mood for a good YA contemporary -- and since that's my favorite genre, the mood for it hits more often than not.

Verdict: Keep.

5. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Synopsis: The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his humanitarian campaign to use education to combat terrorism in the Taliban’s backyard. Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.

Flo's Thoughts: Hmm. I honestly don't know. But after reading all the reviews just now, I think I am more likely to pick up another book I just got, A School for My Village

Verdict: Remove.

Final verdict: That was fun and insightful! I should do this again. Maybe it will help me pare down my TBR list to something slightly more doable...

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Audiobook review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Book Summary
Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. 

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Flo's Review
All the emotions! This book took me through them all -- fear, anticipation, sadness, pity, love, tension, and so much more. I didn't gather my thoughts together before I started typing, so this is just going to be a stream-of-consciousness type review: I apologize in advance.

First of all -- Steve West and Fiona Hardingham, the narrators of this audiobook, can do no wrong. Fiona is fantastic at conveying emotion in her voice. If Zafira felt fierce, Fiona sounded fierce. If Zafira felt hesitant, Fiona sounded hesitant. If Zafira felt proud, Fiona sounded proud. The same for Steve West. He always reads characters with such intense inner turmoil, and I never fail to feel the depth of the pain and conflict at the core of the character he is reading. Steve's Nasir is no different.

Since I just finished the book, I cannot stop thinking about the ending. (Why hello, book hangover. Long time no meet!) There were just so many reveals and connections! I think maybe some more eagle-eyed readers might have picked up on some of them, but I never catch these things. And I'm okay with that, because it means that my mind is always blown -- in a good way.

One of the best things about We Hunt the Flame is the complexity of the characters. There is no one that is the "good" one, or the "evil" one. (Well, I take that back -- there is a Big Bad. But besides that character.) All our main characters have inflicted pain and suffering, but also have endured pain and suffering. The further I read into the book, the more I learned about these characters. And yet, I feel that I am going to learn so much more about them in the next books.

Shoutout to my boy, Altair! I mean, yes, I'm living for the tension between Zafira and Nasir, but we could really all use an Altair in our lives. 

The setting of this book is truly magical. Hafsah gave us such rich descriptions of the the diverse land of Arawiya that I was able to feel completely immersed in it, even as I drove down the highway on the way to and from work.  I generally don't do well with long audiobooks, which for me is anything more than about 8 or 9 hours. But I never wearied of this one, which came in at almost 15 hours long. 

I am truly chomping at the bit for book #2! It is officially one of my most anticipated for when it comes out (please say no later than 2020!) I was intrigued by this story at first because it reminded me of Sabaa Tahir's Ember quartet, but then I was invested as it became its own unique, magical experience. 

Highly recommend! 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: High Five by Janet Evanovich

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

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

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

Links to other Christina June reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Book Review: The Sixth Man by David Baldacci

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And knowing how they end up at the end of Queen and Air and Darkness made this even more beautiful, because their scene at the end of QOAD is one of my most favorites ever.

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

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

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

So, in conclusion:

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

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: King and Maxwell by David Baldacci

Goodreads Overview:

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

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

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


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

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

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