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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Blog Tour: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

By Roshani Chokshi
Wednesday Books
On-Sale Date: January 15, 2019
Hardcover: 978-1-250-14454-6 / $18.99 E-Book: 978-1-250-14456-0 / $9.99

ABOUT THE BOOK: Roshani Chokshi proved herself an author to watch with her young adult fantasy debut, The Star-Touched Queen and companion novel A Crown of Wishes. Debuting at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, her novels received rave reviews from fans and critics alike and appeared on the most buzzed about lists for young adult novels. Beginning her most ambitious series yet, THE GILDED WOLVES (Wednesday Books; January 15, 2019)is a decadent tale of heist and adventure set in Belle Époque Paris, filled with opulent balls, succulent sights, and a brazen group of teens. 

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts:

An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can't yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much. Together, they'll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ROSHANI CHOKSHIis the New York Timesbestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen, A Crown of Wishes,and Aru Shah and the End of Time. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, "The Star Maiden," was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

FLO'S REVIEW: Roshani Chokshi has brought it again with her beautiful world-building. Just like in The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes, the setting stands out as a bold and distinctive element of the story. On top of that, The Gilded Wolves is full of history and puzzles. So not only was I marveling at the setting, I was also learning about the past and stretching my brain. It was truly an immersive experience. 

Another interesting facet of the story was the way it kept unfolding. There were at least two to three times when I thought, "Okay, so we're good," but then something else happened that shifted the focus but kept moving the main storyline forward. I've already shared my thoughts on the ending with Roshani on Twitter (lol), but suffice it to say, it was in line with a characteristic of the book that I mentioned earlier, and that I think a lot of people will eagerly be awaiting Gilded 2.

On a final note, I simply adore these character illustrations by Nicole Deal -- aren't they gorgeous?!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Audiobook review: You Are a Badass Every Day by Jen Sincero

Book Summary
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author, start the new year with this pocket-size inspiration and guidance to keep your transformation on track.

For anyone who has ever had trouble staying motivated while trailblazing towards badassery, You Are a Badass Every Day is the companion to keep you fresh, grateful, mighty, and driven. In one hundred exercises, reflections, and cues that you can use to immediately realign your mind and keep your focus unwavering, this guide will show you how to keep the breakthroughs catalyzed by Sincero's iconic books You Are a Badass and You Are a Badass at Making Money going. Owning your power to ascend to badassery is just the first step in creating the life you deserve--You Are A Badass Every Day is the accountability buddy you can keep in your back pocket to power through obstacles, overcome the doubts that hold you back from greatness, and keep the fires of determination roaring while you reach your goals.

Flo's Review
I'll start this review by saying that I've never read the original book You Are a Badass. I feel that probably would have helped. At the same time, I also felt like you don't necessarily have to read it to enjoy this one, and to take away some good thoughts and ideas. 

I will say that I listened to this one on audiobook, and I realized that it is probably better to read this one in physical format. This is interesting to me because I generally feel that motivational, nonfiction is better to listen to. Especially if it's read by the author, like this one is. But because this isn't so much a story as it it just a few thoughts and tips, I think it would be consumed best as a nightstand book that one reads a page or two of every morning. Because a lot of the ideas are, "Today, do this" type suggestions. It actually did work out well for me in that I listened to the majority of this while driving to work. But it was so many kind of disconnected tidbits that I just ended up forgetting most of them by the time I pulled into the office.

The general overall takeaway of this little book remains true though: work hard, think good thoughts, surround yourself with good people, and believe in yourself. That seems to be the key to being a badass everyday. I think I got this. Do you?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Audiobook review: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

Book Summary
What if damnation is the price of true love?

Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks. 

Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined. Caught in a race against time, Emma and Julian must save the world of Shadowhunters before the deadly power of the parabatai curse destroys them and everyone they love.

Flo's Review
It is finally finished. All 900+ pages, 30+ plus hours. It's a 5 out of 5 star book, and I wasn't expecting anything less. I swear, no other book series takes me through the entire gamut of emotions that Shadowhunter novels do. It was long, but I intensely enjoyed every single minute of it.

James Marsters read the audiobook, and he did a PHENOMENAL job. His voice inflection is everything. I swear, listening to him read this heightened the experience for me so much. He slows down his reading to add dramatic emphasis, and lowers his voice to an almost-whisper in all the right places. I would get chills listening. 

I immediately loved The Dark Artifices with Lady Midnight. Cassie brought it from the very beginning of book one and never let up. I just love the way she does her characters. She describes them so well and so intimately -- their every little quirk and all their secrets. She introduces them to you entirely, and I felt like I came to know them like close friends. 

I will look forward to seeing these characters again. I'm definitely happy that we are so close to Red Scrolls of Magic. If you've read the other two books in their series, get a hold of this one, take a deep breath, and then go diving in head first. And if you haven't read any of The Dark Artifices? Get on that!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Book review: The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Book Summary
Two sisters become unwitting rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor in this sweeping tale of ambition, sacrifice and betrayal for readers of Sabaa Tahir and Alwyn Hamilton.

All hail the Girl King.

Sisters Lu and Min have always understood their places as princesses of the Empire. Lu knows she is destined to become the dynasty's first female ruler, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then their father declares their male cousin Set the heir instead—a betrayal that sends the sisters down two very different paths.

Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes on the run. She needs an ally—and an army—if she is to succeed. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shapeshifter. Nok wants to keep his identity secret, but finds himself forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved…

Alone in the volatile court, Min's hidden power awakens—a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set's reign…or allow Min to claim the throne herself. But there can only be one Emperor, and the sisters' greatest enemy could turn out to be each other.

Flo's Review
This was an interesting read for me. The word building was fantastic. I enjoyed reading about the Inbetween especially, but also about the other cities and areas within the world. The people and places were all distinct and fascinating. Secondly, the pacing was on point. It was an addictive story: I just kept flipping pages and thinking, "Okay, I'll read this one more chapter." Then it would end, and I would just keep on reading.

The sticking point for me was the characters. I recognize this is because of a personal characteristic of my own reading. Specifically, in order for me to enjoy a book, I have to like at least one of the characters. I've got to be rooting for someone. I love being invested in a character -- wanting what they want, holding my breath as they go through the trials on the quest for this goal. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but for the most part, if I don't find a character I care about, then it makes it hard for me to care about the book. That's what happened here. Several minor characters, major and minor, mention how Lu is an entitled princess, arrogant, and stubborn. She definitely is. And at the end of the book, I did not feel any character growth from her -- she was still the same demanding princess she was at the beginning. Min, her sister, had the biggest transformation of the main characters in the book. I don't want to spoil too much, but I didn't like Min before, during, or after. 

Nok was the main character I liked best. But so much of his story is told in vague pieces, in flashbacks as he remembers events that happened to him before the start of the story. It took me too long to really piece together what happened to him, and without that I found it hard to really know him. But of the three, I think his story in Book 2 will be the most interesting.

I recognize my own reading preferences reflecting my thoughts on this book, so in conclusion -- give this one a try! The world building is amazing, the culture is rich and diverse, and the writing is excellent.

The Girl King publishes January 8, 2019. Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, December 28, 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Laurie Boyle Crompton, author of Pretty in Punxsutawney

Book Summary
A mashup of Groundhog Day and Pretty in Pink, the book stars a senior who is forced to relive the first day at her new school in an endless loop. Andie is convinced she needs true love's kiss to break the curse, but instead discovers how a high school filled with cliques and misfits can find common ground despite everyone's differences.

Interview with Laurie Boyle Crompton
Tell me about writing Pretty in Punxsutawney. How did you come up with the idea?
I had this idea to write a story about a girl who loved ‘80s movies. I had the character in mind already, and I even pictured her parents. I pictured her being close with her mom, with that feel of Pretty in Pink.The way that Molly Ringwald had her mentor sort of person? I envisioned the mom in that role. 

I loved the idea of starting over at a new school, and how difficult that would be. And then I arrived at this character that I already had in mind. I wanted to stretch myself and try writing a person starting each day over and over, and the two married together perfectly.  What could be more difficult to relive over and over than the first day at a new high school? 

Can you talk a little bit about the social commentary in the story?
When I’m writing from a particular point of view, I also like to make observations through that character. When I was channeling Andie in particular, [there was] the issue of the eating disorder that Kaiahas. That happens to be an issue that is really near and dear to my heart. It is something that is certainly a problem. A lot of kids wrestle with it, and it continues to be an issue. Andie realized that the girl wasn’t her enemy. They weren’t in competition with each other. The girl on girl aggression? That’s not real, it’s all constructed. She needed to break that down to be rooting for Kaia in that specific space. I did that with intention. I love Kaia and I wanted her to find help and to recognize that she deserves to eat.

What is your favorite ‘80s movie?
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! The water bottle I carry around says Save Ferris on it. No matter what mood you’re in, it’s like, “Alright, I’m going to go out and seize the day! How much fun can I pack into one day?” It’s silly and over the top, but so many people respond to that because it’s a great, classic, feel-good kind of movie.

Read more with Laurie after the page break.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

Book Summary
On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she'd become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.

She didn't.

And then she died.

Now she's stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge--as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.

Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly's afterlife has been miserable.

But this year, everything is about to change. . . .

Flo's Review
I don't want to say too much about this book, because I went in knowing next to nothing about what to expect -- and I think that's one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Every time a new aspect was presented I kept thinking, "How creative! How clever!" I really enjoyed the Project Scrooge storyline. It was just so interesting to me to see how the whole operation unfolded.

This was also a delightfully easy and addictive read. I literally read it in two sessions. Usually I don't do well with unlikeable protagonists, but I was just so intrigued with the story that I didn't really mind Holly. I just took her as she came. And, of course, her attitude was in line with the story.

The Unearthly trilogy by Cynthia Hand was one I really enjoyed (Team Tucker! Who's with me?!??), so I was definitely happy to pick up another one of this author's works. I checked this book out from the library, but I just might have to buy myself a copy. This is one I could possibly see myself enjoying in my Christmas To Come.

Throwback to my review of Unearthly

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Book review: Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, and Kasie West

Book Summary 
What's better than one deliciously cozy, swoon-worthy holiday story? Four of them, from some of today's bestselling authors.

From KASIE WEST, a snowy road trip takes an unexpected detour when secrets and crushes are revealed.

From AIMEE FRIEDMAN, a Hanukkah miracle may just happen when a Jewish girl working as a department store elf finds love.

From MELISSA DE LA CRUZ, Christmas Eve gets a plot twist when a high school couple exchange surprising presents.

From NIC STONE, a scavenger hunt amid the holiday crowds at an airport turns totally romantic.

So grab a mug of hot cocoa, snuggle up, and get ready to fall in love...

Flo's Review
This was exactly what I hoped it would be. Four quick, easy-to-read, heartwarming stories full of holiday cheer and fun. Kasie West's story was classic Kasie West, and my favorite of the four. I love road trip stories, so this one was right up my alley and so adorable. I wanted to hug him, I loved his friends and sister, and this was all around so fun to read. The second story wasn't bad. I liked the Hanukkah miracle character (I'm trying to not to spoil it here -- lol). That element made the story for me. The third story....ehhh. I was "Ehhh" while reading it, and I got to the end and was like, "Ok." It might be because I recently watched the Disney/Mickey & Minnie version of the story and liked that one better? The Nic Stone story was deep while also being cute. It made great social points, while also just being fun. A scavenger hunt?! What's not to love?!!? Plus, I've spent so much time in the Atlanta airport, that I could so easily visualize everything that was described. 

So if you're looking for a quick, easy, fun holiday read, definitely pick this collection up!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Book review: Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Book Summary
Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent's school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn't all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad's restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent's school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie's growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

Flo's Review
Adorable. This book, you guys. Adorable. 

I first heard about it because I attended the Foodie Funactics event at YALLFEST this year and Stephanie was the one who put it together and moderated it. As soon as she described this book, my two friends and I were like, "Ooohhh....!" I knew it was going to be a must-read.

I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, and the best thing about it is that the author reads it! She does such a great job, too. Everybody sounds really distinct. This was no easy feat, either, because the students are from all around the world. Stephanie does a great job with the accents, I must say.

You can tell this story was written by a foodie, because the food is described just as lovingly, if not more so, than the romance. I really enjoyed it. Not knowing a lot about how to cook or bake myself, it was fun to see these characters' relationships to food and how they were in the kitchen. Stephanie did a great job with characters. By the end of the book I felt I really knew everyone in Rosie and Henry's friend group well. They were all fully fleshed out individuals, not side characters with minimal characteristics there to comment on the main story line. My favorite, and I already told Stephanie, was Henry's rooomate Hampus. Hampus is everything, you guys. From his morning workouts, to him foraging for food, to Swedish TV show marathon all-nighters with Henry -- Hampus is everything. 

Rosie and Henry were both awkward and realistic teens, and I was rooting for them the whole time. The only qualm I had with this book was the lack of Paris. It was sold as this fantastic love story in the city of love...and I felt like I rarely saw Paris. Like, this story could have taken place in Liberty, Ohio, without much alteration. That's a shame. Paris has so much potential for first love scenes.

But that's it! Other than that, I simply adored this one. Also, I randomly baked a cake about a week or so ago, while I was listening to this audiobook. Coincidence? I didn't do it intentionally, but all the food in this book is so amazing, and maybe I was inspired? 

So, go read this book. In the meantime, I will contact the author again and try to convince her to write a sequel revolving around Hampus. 

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on

Friday, December 14, 2018

Q&A with David R. Gillham, author of ANNELIES: A Novel

Book Summary
The year is 1945, and Anne Frank is sixteen years old. Having survived the concentration camps but lost her mother and sister along the way, she reunites with her father, Pim, in newly liberated Amsterdam. As Anne struggles to overcome the brutality of memory and build a new life for herself, she grapples with heartbreak, grief, and ultimately the freedom of forgiveness. A story of trauma and redemption, ANNELIES honors Anne Frank's legacy as not only a symbol of hope and perseverance but also a complex young woman of great ambition and heart.

Author Interview

ANNELIES is a work of historical fiction that asks the question: What if Anne Frank survived the Holocaust? What sparked your interest in reinventing the life of such a treasured writer?
Anne Frank’s story has always been a story of hope, and hope is the common thread of my writing. Especially under conditions where it’s hard to imagine that such a thing can survive. Probably the most famous passage from Anne’s diary is dated in July of 1944, and in it she writes that, even in the face of war and persecution, she still believes in the basic goodness of people. But the question has been asked, could she still have believed this after experiencing the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? It is a challenging question, and one, which I wanted to try at least to answer. This novel is my attempt to do so.

How did you approach writing about a Holocaust victim? How are you able to provide validity to Anne’s story?
As I wrote this story, I was constantly aware of the fact that Annelies Marie Frank was a real person, a person who wrote what would one day become an important addition to world literatures. And yet she died tragically as one of millions of unknown faces. In imagining a life for her had she actually survived, I hope to accomplish two things: to give Anne the life she was cheated of and, through telling the story of one girl, to tell the stories of all the “Annes,” thereby underscoring the lost potential of the millions who perished. Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope, and it is my hope that if I can offer a reminder of what has been lost, we can dedicate ourselves to repairing the world.

How did you set about researching the novel? How did you use your talents as a novelist to imagine Anne’s story?
In writing this book, my priority has been to honor Anne’s story with honesty and accuracy, so I have remained true to the facts, as I understood them. I’ve read deeply, delving into Holocaust histories, biographies of Anne Frank, and her father, “Pim,” memoirs and transcripts of interviews of people who knew her, as well as studying her diary itself. I’ve traveled to the Netherlands twice in researching ANNELIESTo be better educated in the Jewish experience in Amsterdam, I’ve visited the old Jewish Quarter, the former Diamond District, and the Jewish enclave in the Transvaalbuurt, once left in ruins by a freezing population desperate for firewood. And specifically in relation to Anne Frank’s life, I’ve seen the bookshop where she likely picked out her tartan plaid diary, the Jewish Lyceum where she and her sister, Margot, were sent to school during the occupation, and the former Gestapo headquarters where the Franks and their friends were first detained after their arrest. I’ve explored the Frank family apartment in Amsterdam’s Merwedeplein complex. And, of course, I’ve spent hours inside the Anne Frank House itself. I’ve followed Anne Frank’s path from Amsterdam to the remains of the transit camp Westerbork in the northeastern Netherlands, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where all the inhabitants of the “House Behind” were shipped by the Nazis on September 3, 1944, to Bergen-Belsen inside Germany, where Anne and Margot Frank died of typhus months later. Through study and access to these resources, I have done my level best to portray the historical backdrop against which the Franks lived with authenticity, sincerity, and respect. 
The portion of the novel set during the period before the Franks went into hiding fictionalizes a chronicle of events recorded in Anne’s diary, although that timeline has been slightly adapted to accommodate the drama, and the dialogue of the characters largely imagined. The dramatic action of the novel after the return of my character “Anne” from Bergen-Belsen is completely fictional of course, though the background of events against which the action unfolds is based on my research of actual postwar history. 

Your last novel, City of Women, was also set in World War II. What attracts you to writing historical fiction, specifically in this time period?
I’ve always been drawn to the past, and consider myself a life-long student of history. I think that history offers many lessons to the present, and that, as a novelist, I am drawn to portraying the parallels. As far as the Second World War is concerned, it seems to me that its sheer scope and tragedy continues to exceed our ability to understand it. So we keep trying. Certainly there have been other brutal and scarring calamities in the length of human history, but few if any have so irrevocably changed the face of the world, and still resonate so widely and deeply. We are living today with the consequences of that war. 

One of the most important relationships in the novel is between Anne and her father, Otto “Pim” Frank. How did you develop this father-daughter relationship, both before and after their traumatic experiences?
Dramatically, Anne and Pim represent two different approaches to redemption after trauma. One approach  (Pim’s) refuses to dwell in the tragedies of the past, and looks only toward a better future. The other approach (Anne’s) refuses to relinquish those tragedies, and by facing them, must try to overcome her own anger and guilt. Both paths may to lead to redemption and forgiveness. Both are valid, even when in conflict, because both are fueled, in the end, by the power of hope. Hope is at the heart of ANNELIES.
In developing the fictionalized relationship between my characters of “Anne” and “Pim,” I read biographical and historical works, such as those produced by Mellissa Müller, Carol Anne Lee, and R.W. Jansen. I watched dramatic performances based on Anne’s experiences. I studied accounts of their father/daughter relationship and their personalities left by friends such as Miep Gies. I watched and re-watched postwar film interviews given by Otto Frank, and listened to the stories of the late Cor Suijk, who knew Mr. Frank personally. But really it was Anne Frank herself, in the pages of her diary, who provided me with the contours and depth of their relationship, which I have attempted to portray and upon which I have extrapolated. 

Did any other writers inspire you while writing ANNELIES?
I had not actually read Anne Frank’s diary until I read Philip Roth’s novel, The Ghost Writer. In it Roth’s protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, imagines that a young European woman in her twenties, whom he meets at the home of his mentor, is actually Anne Frank. It’s only a moment’s fantasy really, and Nathan quickly realizes that it’s his willing imagination at work. But it was The Ghost Writer that inspired me to pick up Anne’s diary and read it. I was thunderstruck. Not just by her insight and humor, but by her subtle brilliance as a writer. 
Much later on, Cynthia Ozick wrote an article in The New Yorker entitled, “Who Owns Anne Frank?”  It was quite a controversial piece in some ways, but what I recall most was when she asked the reader to consider what important works Anne might have produced had she lived. And that’s when it hit me, hanging onto a strap on the A-train on my way into Brooklyn, that some day I would write a novel about Anne Frank having survived. 
And then, of course, there are the many writers who experienced the Holocaust and bore witness, Eli Weisel, Isabella Leitner, Primo Levi, Etty Hillesum (the Dutch writer whose journal and letters were published after her death in Auschwitz.) Also there are the memoires and reminiscences of those who knew Anne Frank personally, such as Hannah Pick-Goslar, Eva Schloss, Nanette Blitz Konig, and Jaqueline van Maarsen. And many, many more survivors, on whose courageous testimony we have come to depend to form our understanding of what cannot be understood.  

What do you want people to take away from reading ANNELIES?
That hope can survive. That in the face of all obstacles, in the face of destruction, in the face of despair, hope can abide. In fact, it must abide. That is the message of the book. And that, I think, is what Anne Frank tried to tell us. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Blog Tour: Guest Post - The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

When I first heard about this book, I thought it sounded simply adorable! I am looking forward to reading it. So naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to participate in the blog tour. I was happy that author Teri Wilson agreed to share about her real-life experience judging beauty pageants. Read her Guest Post below, and then learn more about The Accidental Beauty Queen after the page break.

How was your experience(s) judging beauty pageants? Any funny/unique stories? Lessons learned?

 I’ve judged three pageants over the course of the past two years—the national Miss United States pageant in summer 2017, the Miss Central Texas pageant in Fall 2017, and most recently, the Miss San Antonio/Miss Bexar County pageant just a few weeks ago. The last two pageants I judged were both in the Miss America system. Miss America recently changed their pageant scoring system and completely eliminated the swimsuit portion, so it was really interesting judging with their system before and after the changes. 
The Miss United States pageant invited me to judge because I’ve had a few books made into Hallmark Channel movies and the pageant director and marketing director were both big Hallmark fans. They followed me on social media and saw how much I adore fashion and sparkle (I love following the royal family, so tiaras pop up on my pages a lot) so they reached out with an invitation. I was stunned, but also super excited to say yes. 
I love judging pageants, especially the teen divisions of the competition. Honestly, I’m pretty blown away by teenagers who compete. They are remarkably poised and can carry on conversations about many things I wouldn’t have known much about when I was that age. Without fail, they all have a strong commitment to community and charity work. That was definitely my biggest takeaway from my first judging experience. It was amazing seeing how much the contestants had done for others in their community. I know a lot of people poke fun at pageants, but from my experience the young women who choose to compete are truly wonderful people. I definitely wanted to emphasize this in The Accidental Beauty Queen, which is why it’s got such a pro-woman, body-positive message.
The talent competition is always a lot of fun. It’s amazing what can be truly entertaining. Who knew I loved yodeling? For real. The winner of the last pageant I judged did a yodeling number called “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” and she completely nailed it. It was adorable. I’ve also found myself sobbing through a sign-language performance of “How Great Thou Art.” Talent is really great because you just never know what to expect. I live for the day I’ll finally get to see flaming batons.