Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Book review: Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

Book Summary
Nate never imagined that he would be attacked by his best friend, Cam.
Now, Nate is being called to deliver a sworn statement that will get Cam convicted. The problem is, the real story isn’t that easy or convenient—just like Nate and Cam’s friendship. Cam challenged Nate on every level from the day the boys met. He pushed him to break the rules, to dream, and to accept himself. But Nate—armed with a fierce moral code and conflicted by his own beliefs—started to push back. With each push, Nate and Cam moved closer to each other—but also spiraled closer to their breaking points.

Flo's Review
Aww, come here Nate and Cam, and let me hug you both! I was lucky enough to win an annotated copy of this book, and it was the best thing ever. Zack's comments had me laughing most of the time, but he also pointed out a lot of details about the writing that I wonder if I would have noticed were they not pointed out. For example, things are often said 3 times, and that represents the Holy Trinity. I think I would have noticed the triple plays, but I don't know what I would have known why. There are several allegorical settings and phrases as well.

The short chapters in the book were great, because it made me just want to keep reading on. And the scenes. The scenes! I think this is where Zack excels. There is so much emotion, both good and bad, in this scenes that I left every one really feeling something. It makes sense that the individuals scenes are so stand out, because Cam has the kind of memory where he remembers them all. The scenes were across the board as well. Some made me so mad; others so sad; others put a sweet smile on my face with their delicacy.

There were also a few twists with the story that I didn't see coming -- because let's be honest, I never see these things. Mind blown!

I'm really glad I got to experience this story. If you have the chance, I hope you are able to as well.

Audiobook review: A World Without Princes (The School For Good and Evil #2) by Soman Chainani


Flo's Non-Spoilery Review
So, last year at the Miami Book Fair, they were having this amazing deal on The School for Good and Evil books. It was a BOGO, and you got a free tote bag, and he was there to sign your books! It was truly the best thing ever. I already had a signed copy of book one, so I happily bought books two and three. Sometimes buying books in a series when you haven't read the first one backfires on you, so it was, admittedly, a gamble. Thankfully, it went my way.

It was so nice to head back to the School, even if it was different this time around. I still enjoyed spending time with some of the characters that I'd met in the first book. It was a little slow for me around the middle, but by the end I was holding my breath as I listened to the audiobook and thought to myself, "Come on! Do it! Do it!" There was also a plot situation that I thought I'd figured out mid-book, and it turns out I was wrong! (Honestly, not that surprising. Lol.)

Like its predecessor, A World Without Princes started strong with the action and kept it pretty steady throughout. I am fully invested in this world and in these girls, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they have to tackle next in the third book.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

EXCLUSIVE GUEST POST: Alison Gervais, author of The Silence Between Us

Guest post
The Silence Between Us is my very first own voices novel that tells the story of Maya, a Deaf teen, attending her senior year at a hearing high school. One thing that makes this book a little different is its inclusion of American Sign Language, which is a lot different than English.

One of my favorite scenes inThe Silence Between Usto write – while not necessarily an exciting one – was later on in the story when Maya visits her new Ear, Nose & Throat doctor at Children’s Hospital. There are different types of hearing loss and our hearing can sometimes change, so it’s important to check in with an ENT every once in a while (if not regularly, depending on your situation) to make sure everything is looking good. I felt it important to include this scene because the medical aspect can sometimes be overlooked when you think about hearing loss.

This was like a blast to the past for me, not only because I used to be a patient at Children’s Hospital in Denver, but also because from the age of five onward I had frequent visits with my own Ear, Nose & Throat doctor. I never enjoyed having my ears poked and prodded at, or the procedures that came about over the years. Because my own hearing loss increased over time, it was important to have regular visits with my doctor to monitor how things were progressing. All the hearing tests I needed to have as a result got old pretty quick.

There’s been this running joke between my mom and I about the speech perception part of all my hearing tests, when the audiologist would say certain compound words to me while I sat in the soundproof booth – like hotdogor rainbow. Anytime my mom or I hear one of those words, we have to finish off the list with all the other words, like pancake, doghouse, baseball, ice cream. To anyone not in the know, it definitely comes across as pretty weird, but it still gets a good laugh from us. Even if I don’t have very fond memories of my various doctor visits over the years, at least I can smile about this particular one.

I hope readers enjoy the glimpse into this part of Maya’s story and maybe even view hearing loss as a whole a little differently afterward.

About the author
Watty Award winning author Alison Gervais is an undergraduate student at Colorado State University Pueblo, and has been writing for as long as she can remember. In 2011, she began posting her work on Wattpad.com, and has been active on the site for the past five years.


About the book
Moving halfway across the country to Colorado right before senior year isn’t Maya’s idea of a good time. Leaving behind Pratt School for the Deaf where she’s been a student for years only to attend a hearing school is even worse. Maya has dreams of breaking into the medical field and is determined to get the grades and a college degree to match, and she’s never considered being Deaf a disability. But her teachers and classmates at Engelmann High don’t seem to share her optimism.

And then there’s Beau Watson, Engelmann’s student body president and overachiever. Maya suspects Beau’s got a hidden agenda when he starts learning ASL to converse with her, but she also can’t deny it’s nice to sign with someone amongst all the lip reading she has to do with her hearing teachers and classmates. Maya has always been told that Deaf/hearing relationships never work, and yet she can’t help but be drawn to Beau as they spend more and more time together.

But as much Maya and Beau genuinely start to feel for one another, there are unmistakable differences in their worlds. When Maya passes up a chance to receive a cochlear implant, Beau doesn’t understand why Maya wouldn’t want to hear again. Maya is hurt Beau would want her to be anything but who she is—she’s always been proud to be Deaf, something Beau won’t ever be able to understand. Maya has to figure out whether bridging that gap between the Deaf and hearing worlds will be worth it, or if staying true to herself matters more.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Audiobook review: Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch

Flo's Spoiler Free Review
I'm opting out of putting the book summary up as usual because this is a sequel and the summary is completely spoilery for book #1. 

Because I'm trying to be spoiler free, this will be a short review. I am fascinated by this world. I love reading about the characteristics of the Seasons and the Rhythms, and their interactions with each other. In this book, Meira and her crew travel to another Season and two Rhythms, and I really enjoyed the immersion into their worlds.

Unfortunately, I continue to not like Meira. I just can't with her. But I don't want to be talking bad about the girl so I'll just say this: it's definitely the world building and the plot that are keeping me going with this series.

There was a twist at the end of this one that I wasn't expecting, and it left me with so many emotions. Though I'm going to take a little break from Primoria right now, I am looking forward to reading the 3 POV finale for this trilogy, Frost Like Night.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Blog Tour with Giveaway: Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker


ABOUT SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME:
The bestselling author of The Simple Wild and Keep Her Safe and “master of steamy romance” (Kirkus Reviews) delivers a sizzling novel about an ambitious and high-powered executive who reconnects with her first love: the boy who broke her heart. 

Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counselors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is still alive and strong, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

FLO'S REVIEW
Happy book birthday to Say You Still Love Me!

Say You Still Love Me is the perfect end-of-summer read. It's a book about summer (partly), but it's a summer of the past, so the summer scenes are misted with nostalgia. These scenes were my favorite, because I spent many summers in the woods as well.  And while my adventures were nowhere near as steamy as Piper's, I, too, have fond memories of those weeks away from real life. I love that the friends Piper made in the past have stayed with her in the present.

I struggled with Piper Present in the beginning. She was just so ... wallowy. (Is that a word?) She was supposed to be this rockstar #girlboss, and all her thoughts were just stuck and stuck on this guy, and not on all the work drama going on around her. Luckily, that shifted as the book went on and she did end up rocking the office situation.

I was completely floored by the reveal at the end -- did NOT see that coming! It seemed super dramatic and I don't know that things needed to be that serious, but I understand that it had to be something big that Piper discovered at that time.

This was my first K.A. Tucker book, and after reading it I am interested in picking up another one of her titles, whether past or future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge. She is the bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water series and the novels He Will Be My RuinUntil It FadesKeep Her Safe, and The Simple Wild. She currently resides in a quaint town outside Toronto with her husband and two beautiful girls.

SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME
BY K.A. TUCKER
Atria Books Paperback ǀ On Sale: August 6, 2019 ǀ 320 pages ǀ ISBN: 9781501133442; $17.00
eBook ISBN: 9781501133466; $7.99


Grab your copy of SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME:

Now for the fun….the #SayYouStillLoveMe Contest!
Enter the Rafflecopter to win a finished copy of SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME! (3 prizes in total). Contest is open until 8/27.
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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book review: A Song for the Road by Rayne Lacko

Book Summary
When a tornado destroys his Tulsa home, fifteen-year-old Carter Danforth is trapped in the pawnshop where his daddy hawked his custom, left-handed Martin guitar six years earlier―and then took off, leaving Carter with nothing but a hankering to pluck strings and enough heartache to sing the blues. Injured by the storm, Carter’s mother is laid up in the hospital. She wants Carter to fly out to Reno and stay with her sister. Too bad Carter already spent her hidden cash stash to buy his dad’s guitar. Rather than tell her the truth, he embarks on an epic road trip in search of his father in Santa Monica. But Carter isn’t a runaway. He reckons he’s a “running to.”

On his way west, Carter picks up licks, chord changes, and performance techniques from a quirky cast of Southwestern charmers: a rock star, a thief, a bluesman, a chanteuse-turned-chef, and the dream of a girl back home. A Song for the Road reads like a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and Easy Rider―by the time he reaches the end of old US Route 66, Carter has learned how to deep-fry yucca blossoms and tell the truth of his life through music.

Flo's Review
I'm a sucker for a good travel story and this one did not disappoint. Carter met his fair share of characters along the road, and it was interesting to learn about them as he did. I might have cheered when some people from the beginning of the novel made a reappearance down the line. 

A Song for the Road is deeply about music -- finding yourself in music, learning music, music as liberation. Carter's love of music is so apparent, and perhaps the one constant in his life at the moment. Everything that happens to him somehow involves music. I liked the little touches of detail in the novel -- the way that Carter would write letters to Kaia in sparkly pen and how he created a new dish (the recipe is in the back of the book.) Also, who of us doesn't have a Ledbetter type person in our lives?! I think he was my favorite person Carter met on the road.

While I was reading, I flagged the comment "Love doesn't walk away." It's such a powerful phrase -- four words that hold a lot of meaning, intention, commentary. I thought, "Wow, nice." Little did I know that they would come back around! How does it come back around, you ask? I guess you'll have to read and find out! 

A Song for the Road publishes August 27th from SparkPress. Thank you to the publisher for sending me an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie


Goodreads Overview:

First, there were ten—a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they're unwilling to reveal—and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. And only the dead are above suspicion.

Jacque's Review:

I added this book to my TBR list when I was watching the PBS Great American Read series.  I enjoy murder mysteries and felt this was a classic I should probably read.  Then it was on my son's freshman year summer reading list, so we decided to read it together.

The book starts out with each of the guests receiving an invitation for an unforgettable week on an exclusive island.  Some are enticed through a needed vacation, while others are offered various forms of employment.  For example, a doctor is summoned to evaluate Mr. Owen's wife who supposedly refuses to seek medical care.  A police officer is asked to investigate/uncover some suspicious activity.   A married couple is offered employment as the cook/housekeeper and butler/handyman.  

All of the guests appear to have nothing in common, but they soon discover a link between them.  A recording accuses each of them of committing a murder the legal system can not hold them accountable for.  As the guests begin to die one after the other they realize these are not suicides as they originally thought.  They are being targeted and nobody will leave this island alive unless they are "very careful."  They search the island and can't find anyone else, so they conclude it must be one of them that is committing the murders.  Then they search everyone's possessions.  There aren't enough clues to point at anyone, yet the guests are falling faster than dominoes.  

This was an interesting tale, but it wasn't your typical murder mystery.  The author didn't leave a number of clues that in retrospect should have enabled the reader to solve the mystery on his or her own.  There is a very lengthy epilogue that spells out everything that took place on the island.  Without this additional information, I don't think anyone could have uncovered the truth.  That isn't exactly my idea of a murder mystery.  I realize this book was written in the 1930's and times and expectations may have changed.  This may have been the norm in that time period, but it wasn't nearly as engaging as trying to solve the mystery yourself.  As my son and I were reading we would discuss who we thought was the leading suspect, who was going to get picked off next, etc.  Without credible clues and evidence this soon became a fruitless process and my son began to lose interest.  

Overall, I enjoyed the story and could piece things together in the end with the help of the epilogue.  I do not think Preston was too impressed with the story and was just happy when it was over.  If it weren't for the help of an audio book when we had a weekend car trip, I don't think he would have ever finished it. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Audiobook review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Book Summary
The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

Flo's Review
This has literally been on my TBR list for the longest! I met the author at YALLFEST several years ago and got this book signed. Then I put it on my shelf. Then I heard it was going to be a movie (is this still true?), so I told myself to bump it up on my TBR. But it still sat on my shelf. Then at last year's Miami Book Fair, they had a great sale on the books in this series, so I went ahead and got the next two, and got them signed. All three sat on my shelf. Finally, my book club made this our August read, so I dove in.

I'm not 100% sure how I feel about this book. I think it's a 3.5 stars, but a solid 3.5. Like, I don't want to round it up to 4 stars, because I don't know that it warrants that for me. I enjoyed it as I was listening to it, and I thought about it at times when I wasn't listening to it. But it just felt short of, "I love this!" I'm not really sure why.

A lot happened in this book, y'all. A. Lot. It felt like so much action was packed into 488 pages. This may be because it's a middle grade book and so there's less of the teen angst and introspection and more of the big action. I never came to like Sophie. Agatha was alright. 

What I liked most about this book was the creativity. I don't know the story of how Soman came up with the idea for this series, but it reads like he might have started with this one idea -- "Hey, what if there was this fairy tale school with 2 sides: good and evil" -- and then everything built from there. The world building is fantastic. I loved seeing all the tiny details and thought put into what made Good good and Evil evil. 

For all my indecision on how I feel about it, I did immediately download and start book 2. I'm setting it aside for now so I can read another trilogy for an upcoming author signing, but I may actually flip back and forth between those books and these? Or maybe I'll come back to these when I'm done with those? However I do it, I don't think I'm done with the School for Good and Evil quite yet.

Book review: Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud

Book Summary
Fiercely independent and smart, Zora Emerson wants to change the world. She's excited to be attending a prestigious summer program, even if she feels out of place among her privileged, mostly white classmates. So she's definitely not expecting to feel a connection to Owen, who's an actual prince of an island off the coast of England. But Owen is funny, charming...and undeniably cute. Zora can't ignore the chemistry between them. When Owen invites Zora to be his date at his big brother's big royal wedding, Zora is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, along with her family and friends. Everyone is talking about her, in real life and online, and while Owen is used to the scrutiny, Zora's not sure it's something she can live with. Can she maintain her sense of self while moving between two very different worlds? And can her feelings for Owen survive and thrive in the midst of the crazy? Find out in this charming romantic comedy that's like The Princess Diaries for a new generation. 

Flo's Review
Happy book birthday to Truly Madly Royally! I knew I wanted in on this book as soon as I heard about it. I was lucky enough to meet the author and snag an ARC at BookCon, and it's the first book I got from that event that I've read. 

"I love me some Owen!" I told the author on Instagram, and it's so true. He is formal, and it's totally adorable. He's also sincere. Best of all, the banter between him and Zora is so natural and easy. They really are great together. There was an incident that made Zora mad at him, and I totally agreed! It was such a dilemma because I'm like, "I totally understand why Zora is mad! She'd better not just forgive him because he's a prince!" At the same time I'm like, "But I want them together!" Lol. Apparently Zora was not the only one to have a full range of emotions over this man.

This kind of felt like multiple books to me? Let me try to explain. It's a good thing to have other characters with their own stories -- that is realistic, because supporting characters' whole existence isn't just conversing with protagonists. But it almost felt .... extraneous here? I'm not talking about the Walk Me Home storyline -- that's integral to Zora. But the details of her family members lives. I understand going into her parents' divorce, but, I don't know, I felt we didn't need her brother's and best friend's relationship. I think because usually when I see another relationship in a story like this, it's acting like a foil for the main relationship. But this one wasn't. It was just .... there? Okay. Good for Skye?

The second part of the book also felt like it could have been it's own story. Zora and her mom's time in Landerel felt a little rushed. Just a little. Actually, it read fine. It just could have been so much more. It would have been amazing to really dive deep and explore the country. Then the tension between Zora and Owen's mom could have been played out a little more, again with more time. That whole part of the story really felt to me like it should be expanded and turned into a separate story.

On the flip side, I enjoyed this story because it was an easy, quick read. I think that's part of the charm for a story like this. So if you're harboring fantasies of meeting and falling in love with a real life prince, this one's for you.

Book Review: 7th Heaven by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro


Goodreads Overview:

A terrible fire in a wealthy suburban home leaves a married couple dead and Detective Lindsay Boxer and her partner Rich Conklin searching for clues. And after California's golden boy, Michael Campion has been missing for a month, there finally seems to be a lead in his case--a very devastating lead.

As fire after fire consume couples in wealthy, comfortable homes, Lindsay and the Murder Club must race to find the arsonists responsible and get to the bottom of Michael Campion's disappearance. But suddenly the fires are raging too close to home.

Frightened for her life and torn between two men, Lindsay must find a way to solve the most daunting dilemmas she's ever faced--at work and at home.

Review:

This is the 7th book in the Women's Murder Club series.  In this installment the ladies are working to catch a serial killer or killers who are targeting wealthy couples.  Robbery doesn't appear to be the primary motive.  Lindsay and her partner, Rich Conklin, are baffled by the fact that there are next to no clues at any of the scenes and there aren't any signs of forced entry.  The only clues that they can find to connect all of the crimes, besides the consistent MO of fire, are the books left at the scenes of the crimes with quotes written in Latin with the same handwriting.  

In addition, Yuki Castellano is the prosecuting attorney in the case of the missing Michael Campion. He is the son of a very wealthy politician who was born with a genetic heart condition. His parents have always guarded him and he has basically lived in a bubble his entire life.  He disappeared out of the blue with no trace.  After a month, the San Francisco PD receive a credible anonymous tip.  Lindsay and Rich follow up on it and a young prostitute, Junie Moon, is charged for his murder.  She confessed to the crime, but now she is claiming Lindsay and Rich pressured her into a confession and it isn't true.  She originally told a remarkable story, but there are no clues to back up what she claimed.  

The entire Michael Campion situation panned out exactly the way I thought it might in the end.  I don't want to give anything away, but it was a bit predictable given the lack of evidence.  The cases involving the fires and murders was far more difficult to crack and that is what really propelled this story forward.  The entire Women's Murder club came together to solve a devastating string of high profile murders.  The team caught a major break when the killers slipped up on what was supposed to be their grand finale.  The clues quickly piled up and Lindsay and Rich were hot on the trail.  

Overall, this was a highly entertaining murder mystery.  I am enjoying the series and will definitely continue.  The author is hinting at a possible love triangle between Lindsay, Joe, and Rich, which I don't think is really necessary in this series.  I thought Lindsay was finally going to be happy now that Joe moved to San Francisco.  He proposed in the previous book, but she still hasn't accepted because she doesn't think she is ready.  They are now living together, but her work is definitely the priority in her life at the moment.  Throughout this book some events start to put things into perspective.  I hope she makes the right decisions moving forward in this series.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Book Review: Shopaholic Ties the Knot by Sophie Kinsella



Review:

Becky's troubles will never cease to amaze me.  This time Becky isn't in financial trouble.  She simply can't say no to her mom or her soon to be mother-in-law who are both planning weddings for her on the exact same day on two different continents.  As multiple invitations are going out to many of the same guests and the arrangements are being made, Becky just hopes everything will sort itself out. 

On one side of the spectrum she could have the wedding of the year that would rival any celebrity's.  On the other hand, she could have a more traditional ceremony at her parent's home with all of their family and friends.  When she finally makes a decision and takes a stand, she is confronted by the wedding planner from hell and discovers she may be in well over her head.

In addition, Luke is finally coming to terms with the fact that his mother may not be everything he had always hoped she would be.   He is struggling emotionally and has a bit of a breakdown.  As a result, Becky doesn't want to bother him with the "petty details" of their wedding troubles and keeps putting things off for a better time, but unfortunately time is running out. 

These are very light and entertaining reads with quite a bit of humor mixed in.  I did feel like this one drug on a bit and wished they could have gotten things sorted out a bit sooner.  The constant stress Becky was under with the two weddings was a bit much after a while.  Overall, I gave it three stars.  I enjoyed the story, but it wasn't my favorite in the series.  

Thursday, July 25, 2019

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: A conversation with Annie Sullivan and Lauren Mansy



Flo's note
When I was given the opportunity to interview Lauren Mansy, author of The Memory Thief, and Annie Sullivan, author of Tiger Queen, I jumped on it! I enjoyed Sullivan's first book, A Touch of Gold, and I'm completely fascinated with the premise of Mansy's debut. 

Synopses of both these titles are at the end of this post, because I'm too excited and want to get right into the interview.

I had a fun conversation with these women about everything from why readers love fantasy novels to how to throw the best party! I've excerpted part of it below, which I've edited for length and clarity. 


What’s one take away readers can get from your books? 
Lauren: The main thing I hope readers take away is that it isn’t the hardships of our past that define us, but the strength we find in overcoming them. That’s something all throughout her journey that Etta [the main character] is fighting to hold onto, that hope.

Annie: The world we live in is not always a nice place. It can be hard to exist in sometimes. In both my books, I want readers to be able to go spend some time in a magical world for a while, so they come back a little more hopeful, happier, and believe in themselves.

Why do you think readers are attracted to fantasy novels?
Annie: I have asthma, and I’ve had it since I was a child. When I was getting treatments, I wore a nebulizer mask that delivers medicine through mist. You’re sitting there tethered to a wall. When I’d be doing this three to four times a day as a child, my mom would read to me. Reading was a way to escape. That’s why I love fantasy. This world Is not always a happy place: people are not getting along with their siblings, they’re being bullied at school. Fantasy is reality in disguise. You can have the same problems described in a fantasy world. It’s a way to face real problems in a fun setting that shows you can overcome the odds. You can win. Your friend who you’re reading about did it. Hopefully you feel empowered to face those demons yourself.

Lauren: I would completely agree with all that. I have always been drawn as well to fantastical stories exploring worlds so different from my own. Fantasy is such a wonderful platform for exploration through the backdrop of fiction. I love the emotional journey characters take. In fantasy novels, characters can be extremely relatable. They are relatable on an emotional level, in the midst of dealing with extraordinary circumstances. I love that. There might be differences in the way we live, but we experience the same emotions. That connection stays with you long after you read a fantasy novel.

Can you talk about your writing process? 
Annie: I usually just start with an idea. I’m a pantser. I don’t like to outline ahead of time. I like to discover the story as I go along. I feel like if I’m entertained, then the reader will be, too. They may not know what’s coming as they’re reading, because I don’t know what’s coming as I’m writing. I write a minimum 500 words a day. Sometimes I hit 3000, and sometimes those 500 are a stretch.

Lauren: I also try to do the same thing. I love to write every day. I find I’m most productive in the morning hours. I get up early and get as much writing done as I can before my brain even fully wakes up. That’s when some of the most interesting ideas come. It’s always fun to see what my brain can come up with in the wee hours of the morning. I love trying to come up with a synopsis -- those are always very fun to me. I’m becoming more of a plotter over the years. I’ve fallen in love with plot points.

Annie, how did the experience of writing Tiger Queen differ from writing A Touch of Gold? What did you learn with the first book that helped you with the second?
Annie: It was quite different for each book. Each one was its own beast to tackle. A Touch of Gold took two years to write. I wrote it when I was getting my master’s in creative writing. It took a while, being my first book, to pull it all together. Tiger Queen took three months to write – I wrote a good chunk in Antarctica, which was interesting because the story is set in the desert. But Antarctica is considered a desert. That was a cool aspect of it. I would go out and feel snow stinging my face, and I’d replace that feeling with sand in the book. That become my setting.

It was a different experience because A Touch of Gold had a lot of magic in it. I think magic is one of hardest things to write. Magic in world building has to be impeccable. If one person can find a flaw in the magic system, you’re done. Your character is done. If this person has power and they know it, they have to use that. It’s the first thing they will think of – “I have to use his power” – so if your character is inconsistent, or your magic is inconsistent, that is a huge issue. Not having a lot of magic in Tiger Queen made it a lot easier to write.

Also, I think you get better as you go along.

Lauren, can you talk as well about your experience writing this debut novel?
Lauren: I didn’t start writing until after I graduated college. The Memory Thief took me about three years to write, and then I went through the process of getting an agent. Then my agent found an absolutely wonderful publisher to publish my book. I came to writing in a little bit more of an unusual way. I always thought I wanted to go into the business side of publishing, so I was pursuing work in the business side when I first began writing.

Once I started writing, I fell in love with it. I’d finally found my passion, and it was the best feeling in the world. I wrote sunup to sundown and started submitting my work. I’m grateful to have started the process that way. It takes time. You’re going to face a lot of rejection. At the same time, there are so many fun things that happen along the way and so many exciting moments that truly makes everything completely worth it.

I’d encourage anyone with a story they want to tell to not get discouraged if it takes a while. Keep at it. I started writing seven years ago, and my debut is coming out this year. Keep going, keep preserving. I, for one, want to read your story.

Do you have any fun plans for publication day? 
Annie: I usually have a big launch party at a local bookstore. With cake. Last year it was wedding cake.

Lauren: That’s so awesome!

Annie: The cake was covered with fondant books. On the top, it had a A Touch of Gold. Now everyone expects a really cool cake for my parties. I’m meeting with a cake person tomorrow. I may or may not have been researching tiger-shaped cakes. I have giveaways. Last time there was a photo booth where you could take selfies with props. On the actual day the book comes out, there’s a Backstreet Boys concert in town that I may go to.

Lauren: I just started planning a book launch party. I emailed Annie to give me all the tips on how to plan it, because she is famous for hers. I can’t wait to meet readers and spend time with family and friends. I’m so excited! It’s a dream come true.

About The Memory Thief
In the city of Craewick, memories reign. The power-obsessed ruler of the city, Madame, has cultivated a society in which memories are currency, citizens are divided by ability, and Gifted individuals can take memories from others through touch as they please.

Seventeen-year-old Etta Lark is desperate to live outside of the corrupt culture, but grapples with the guilt of an accident that has left her mother bedridden in the city’s asylum. When Madame threatens to put her mother up for auction, a Craewick practice in which a “criminal's" memories are sold to the highest bidder before being killed, Etta will do whatever it takes to save her. Even if it means rejoining the Shadows, the rebel group she swore off in the wake of the accident years earlier.

To prove her allegiance to the Shadows and rescue her mother, Etta must steal a memorized map of the Maze, a formidable prison created by the bloodthirsty ruler of a neighboring Realm. So she sets out on a journey in which she faces startling attacks, unexpected romance, and, above all, her own past in order to set things right in her world.

The Memory Thief publishes October 1, 2019 from Blink YA Books.

About Tiger Queen
From Annie Sullivan, author of A Touch of Gold, comes Tiger Queen, a sweeping YA fantasy adventure that tells the story of a fierce desert princess battling to save her kingdom. Fans of Rebel of the Sands and Meagan Spooner will devour this retelling of Frank Stockton’s famous short story, “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.

Tiger Queen publishes September 10, 2019 from Blink YA Books.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Audiobook review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Book Summary
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

Flo's Review
Carry On has been on my TBR for years. It was gifted to me by one of my Secret Sisters, and I placed it on my shelf with all the best intentions to get to it ASAP. Well...you know how the best laid plans go. Especially when it comes to TBR piles. Fast forward to the announcement of the second book Wayward Son. "I need to read Carry On before Wayward Son comes out!" I told myself. Then fast forward again to the Book Con announcement of Rainbow Rowell's attendance. "Yes!" I said. "Carry On is on my list to read before the beginning of June!"

So...here we are at the end of July, and I've just finished it. Still before Wayward Son, so I'm going to give myself a pat on the back for that. Shout out to the IGGPPC BookWorms for finally getting me to bump this up to the top. I'm so glad I finally read it!

It took me a little bit to get into the story at first. The beginning of the book felt like a huge info dump to me. I think that was unavoidable because we had to be introduced to a new world and a new magic system, so there might not have been any better way to do it. Simon was obsessed with Baz, but unnaturally so, and it didn't read as anything other than weird.

Carry On is divided into several books, and I really started to enjoy the story in Book Two for two reasons. First, the story really came into its own. Up until then, it read as similar to Harry Potter. I didn't mind that so much because I love Harry Potter, but nothing really felt new, storywise. I felt I knew all the characters and the school, etc etc. But with the start of Book Two, the story really took off in directions that are nothing like those in Harry Potter. I really started feeling the story here. Second, my favorite character to read was introduced in Part Two. I don't want to spoil anything about the book, so I won't say who, but guys...my swoony, swoony heart.

One thing I really enjoyed about Carry On was how Rainbow didn't take herself or the story too seriously. It reads like she was just writing to have fun, and this really shines through in her words and her tone. In some ways, it even reads a little bit like a parody. But while the magic spells are just fun -- nursery rhymes and song lyrics -- there is actually a deeper element to it. The magic depends on intention. The magician has to really believe, really feel, really want the spells he is doing. This is a great analogy for life. It's classic Disney: "There can be miracles, if you believe." And because I am a word nerd by profession and hobby, I love the nuances that language, history and language, language and society all have on the magic system.

The reveals were also done really well in this book. It might be the type of situation where people figure out what is actually happening before it's spelled out for the reader, but I never get that stuff, so of course I didn't. How the different characters reveal things in sync with what's happening in the story and with what other characters learn as they learn it was brilliant. 

I am so looking forward to Wayward Son! Come on September 24th!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Audiobook review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Book Summary
A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him. 

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Flo's Review
Okay guys. I don't know how I'm going to do this coherently. I loved this book. SO. MUCH. I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I have been giving a lot of books 5 out of 5 stars this year, and if that's the scale I've been working on, then this one is 6 out of 5 stars for me. Seriously. It's like, I was thinking about it when I wasn't listening to it (I audiobooked), and most of time my thoughts were, "Oh, I love this book! It's so cute!" I kept jotting down notes on Post Its for things I wanted to include in my review, but I'm pretty sure I've lost all the Post Its but one. Also, it's kind of late at night and my brain is a little mushy, but I want to get this review done now, before too much time passes. 

Okay, now that my disclaimers are done, let's dive right in!

My first thought is -- are they marketing this book as YA? It's SO NOT YA. I've read a good deal of New Adult (when New Adult was still a thing) and this feels more like that to me. I think it's closer to a Romance than a YA book, but it's definitely one of those that fall into the hazy area that needs to be better defined in the industry.

Alex was such a delightful narrator. I really enjoyed being in his mind. He's passionate, fun, flawed, and determined, and he would be such a great friend to have. His humor brought an entirely new dynamic and layer to the story that made it read completely differently. If Alex had a different personality, and Henry had a different personality, I don't know that the perfect chemistry and magic of the two would have been there. But I'll get back to their relationship in a minute. The humor in this book was fantastic. There were times that I was literally laughing out loud in my car as I drove along. Alex's reactions are priceless. And the scene with his mother and the PowerPoint was my absolute favorite thing.

The relationship between the White House Trio was unique and fascinating to read about, too. It was great how they were given an identity, which they owned, but then they also had their own identity and dynamic as well, outside of just being the White House Trio. The addition of the other three was perfect. There was a scene where there six of them went out and it sounded like so, so much fun. They fit together so well.

Speaking of fitting together so well -- Alex. Henry. Alex and Henry. I love these boys so much. I love these boys together so much. The two of them are like puzzle pieces, and the other person is the perfect fit that slides into place to make the complete picture. The author recognizes this, as she often describes how Alex will sleep, curled up behind Henry, just fitting there perfectly. It's a great physical and visual representation of the dynamic of their personalities. They are both funny. They are both wicked smart. They are both powerful. They are both great leaders. They are both vulnerable. They are alike in a lot of ways, but the in the specifics of those ways they are different. And the differences fit together. Them together just seems more complete than each of them separately. I cannot commend Casey McQuiston enough on how the relationship was visualized and made its way onto the page. It was absolutely phenomenal.

You guys, they write LOVE LETTERS to each other! Love letters! I am DYING. And then, and then -- the love letters have QUOTES. All these beautiful and romantic quotes from historical figures in both the U.S. and England. It could not be any more perfect and romantic for this word nerd! I listened to these letters back and forth and just swooned and swooned and swooned some more. I listened to this on audiobook, which was fantastic, but I am literally going to go out and buy a physical copy of the book this week just so I can flag and highlight my favorite passages. A lot of these are going to come from the letters. I wonder how much research it took on Casey's part to find these perfect, perfect quotes? Did she fashion the boys' letters around these amazing quotes, or did she really just happen to find the absolute most perfect excerpts from history?!?!

My favorite thing about this book was its message of HOPE. There was hope throughout the book. Alex is one of the most hopeful characters I have come to known, and I absolutely love him for it. It made sense that he was the narrator, because his hope was the baseline and guiding light for the story. His hope illuminated everything else, and even when things looked super bleak, I remained hopeful because Alex remained hopeful. He was able to see the good in so much and I admire him so much for that. There is hope on several levels in this book. When I put this book down, I felt hopeful for this country and the goodness of people. I felt hope that this country will move forward. And these are times when we desperately need this hope. Thank you so, so much Casey, for giving this to your readers. At first I questioned whether it was a good idea to have specific dates in this book and have them be an integral part of the story. But this is a story for right now. For 2019. This is a picture of modern times that I can see being put in a time capsule for future generations to review. History, huh? (That will make sense if you've read the book!) 

Speaking of history: what a great theme for the book. Through Alex and Henry we learn about the history of the U.S. and London on large and small scales. By that I mean we see history in the quotes, and read about the history of queer men and women. And just like the histories of the U.S., England, and the world are built on many different elements, so is the history of Henry and the history of Alex. Their histories play a huge part in the men they've become, and Casey illustrates this so well.

The love story has the classic and timeless element of "us versus the world," but it manifests in a different way in this story. Alex kept telling Henry that they will do this together, and I just love seeing the same idea that lovers throughout history (there it is again) have embraced coming forward as a strong element in these boys' relationship. One of my favorite books of 2018, if not my favorite, was What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. I am a hopeless romantic, and there is something so vulnerable, raw, and strong about young men trying to understand how their sexuality fits into who they are and who they want to be.

A quick note on the audiobook -- loved it! The reader did a great job going from British accents to flawless, believable  Spanish. 

I am almost positive that I missed something I wanted to talk about. I'm still in book hangover mode from this story, so I'm sure I'll think of it later. Maybe I'll add my additional thoughts to Instagram or Twitter. 

In conclusion, in case y'all couldn't tell...OH MY GOSH I LOVED THIS BOOK.