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. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Book review: Five Dark Fates by Kendare Blake

Reviewer's Note
I won't post the book summary for this one, as it's the final book in the series. That being said, I will not reveal any spoilers for Five Dark Fates or any other of the books in my review. If you're not up to date with the Three Dark Crowns series, you have plenty of time to get caught up before this final installment comes out on September 3rd!

Flo's Spoiler Free Review
Five Dark Fates was one of my most anticipated, if not my most anticipated book of this year, so I was beyond the moon to read it. I am so, so happy to report that it did not disappoint! I flew through this book in under 48 hours. This series is just so compulsive readable. You find yourself flipping the pages because the pacing is so strong and steady, while it builds and builds to the conclusion.

I definitely had a book hangover this one and had to step back for a few days before writing my review so I could process my thoughts. In a nutshell: Five Dark Fates is a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to a fantastic YA fantasy series. Each one of the queens has a fulfilling role in the fate of the island. That's not to say that my heart wasn't wrenched out a bit, so be prepared! But each queen's story ended in a way that was true to her individual character. I can honestly say that I understood each queen's arc and where it led her. They were realistic, and I really enjoyed following their journeys from book one to book four.

The best kind of ending for a series is one where you set down the last book with a bittersweet feeling in your heart: you are sad to leave the world and the characters, but you are also so proud of them and you know that they will be alright. I definitely had this feeling for Fennbirn at the end of Five Dark Fates.

I will end by reiterating what I said above -- if you haven't read this series, I highly, highly encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed! Kendare Blake has given us such a fun roller coaster of a fantasy ride. Pack your bags and head to the island.

If you have read the series and are eagerly anticipating this conclusion -- you will not be disappointed! Pick this one up as soon as you can.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Audiobook review: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Book Summary
Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Flo's Review
Okay, I've poured some wine and am now ready to tackle this review. (I think Daisy would approve!) I don't even know where to start, y'all. I gave this one 4 stars because I didn't love it quite as much as I did Evelyn Hugo, but it was still such a fun ride. I scrawled some notes as I listened to this audiobook that I will now try to decipher.

First of all, I think what impressed me most about this book was that I liked it a lot...despite the characters. Let me explain. I have always been the type of reader, where if I don't like at least one of the characters, you lose me with the book. There are numerous popular books that I DNFed because I didn't like any characters, and therefore could not find anyone that I cared about, latched on to enough to keep me going. 

So the characters here...I can't really think of any of them that I'd want to be friends with, or even hang out with. Well, maybe one or two. I guess let's start at the top. Daisy Jones. Ehh. She had her vices and she knows them in hindsight. I even think she might have been aware of them in real time. Friend material? No. She said something at one point about how her life was the same thing and she was sick of it and that's kind of how I felt about her. Billy. Ehh. He knew his struggle well, but his vices? I don't know if he realized them. Warren I feel like I would just roll my eyes out, but then be indifferent toward. Pete, also indifferent. I mean, you do you, bro. Good for you. No on Eddie. I feel like he'd complaining the whole time? Lol. Karen would be okay, I guess? I think I'm just ehh toward her because I love Graham. If the Six had t-shirts with individuals on them, I would buy the Graham shirt. Next to Graham, I really enjoyed Camila. I think because my personality and life outlook mesh most with hers. But my point here -- besides Camila and kind of Graham, there was no character that really grabbed me. Usually that means I don't connect so well with the book. But despite my lukewarm feelings toward most of the characters, I still really enjoyed this story. I've talked with my book club girls about how Taylor Jenkins Reid writes characters so well that you literally feel as if they are real people, like you could Google them and they'd come up in the results. I definitely felt that about all of the Six and related characters.

The audiobook...was fantastic. I am so, so happy I listened to this one on audio. The story is told as an oral history and every character had a different actor voicing them. I didn't like Daisy's voice at first, but she completely fit her. That's true with the other characters as well. Billy was sexy. Graham was comfortable, approachable, warm. Eddie was whiny. Warren thought he was the stuff. I cannot commend the actors who read these parts enough. They all did so, so well. 

The format...the oral history was brilliant, because as the author says in the beginning, different people remember events in different ways. It was funny to see how they remembered them differently, but also made you understand the characters so much more. As with all people, how they saw the events unfolding around them influenced how they acted. With this format you can see how someone saw something as one thing and responded to that, meanwhile someone else saw it differently, wondered why the person responded as they did, and then responded differently. Sometimes the differences made me laugh. But they completely made me more emphathetic toward the characters. Eddie is a perfect example here. When you see it from his perspective, you completely understand what he would get so upset about. This was also completely interesting in how Billy saw his role and what he did in the band versus what everyone else saw.

The girl power...I've heard this book touted as "girl power" type story. I...guess? Here's the thing. Daisy's repeated, "I do what I want, when I want, and too bad if you don't agree" thing is supposed to be powerful, but kind of came off to me as ... self-absorbed. Yes, you do. But at the same time, realize how your actions impact others, you know? Karen...like I said, I think my view is just tainted because I Heart Graham. LOL. I did really, really like the female friendships in this though. Daisy, Karen, and Camila never spoke badly about each other. It was the complete opposite -- when they talked about each other it was with admiration and respect. They also supported each other and lifted each other up, to the end. That, I think, is the girl power I take away from the story. 

[How cool is the fan club kit? And there's a Spotify playlist.]

I think I heard that this is going to be a Netflix series? I can't wait. It's going to be fantastic! I am so looking forward to hearing some of these songs.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Book review: Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

Book Summary
Small-town Wisconsin high school senior Allison Smith loves her life the way it is-spending quality time with her widowed father and her tight-knit circle of friends, including best friend Marian and maybe-more-than-friends Neil. Sure she is stressed out about college applications . . . who wouldn't be? In a few short months, everything's going to change, big time.
But when Ally files her applications, they send up a red flag . . . because she's not Allison Smith. And Ally's-make that Amanda's-ordinary life is suddenly blown apart. Was everything before a lie? Who will she be after? And what will she do as now comes crashing down around her?

Flo's Review
As I shared on Instagram when I received this book, I was already highly anticipating it after talking about it with Elizabeth at Miami Book Fair last year. I really enjoyed Just Another Girl and was excited to see what Elizabeth had in store for us next.

My favorite weekend days are those where I just just lie in bed or on the couch under a blanket with a drink of choice (tea, wine, whatever) and just let myself get lost in a book because I have no other responsibilities. I am so happy that I was able to do that with Past Perfect Life today! After a big brunch at Cracker Barrel, I curled up in bed and started reading. I did not put the book down again until about page 130ish. I moved from the bed to the couch and continued reading. Then I did not put it down again. There's something so deliciously satisfying about reading an entire book in a day and I'm always so happy when I do it.

It also says a lot about the book. I mean, if I can read 300 plus pages in a few hours, it means I am truly, truly engrossed. I was so invested in this story! Ally is a great character. Funny, smart, but also shy, a hard worker, and all those other good things Neil said about her in the beginning. Also -- Neil. ❤️❤️

Her situation is one that I could not fathom being in and it was so fascinating and engaging to consider, through reading her thoughts and reactions, what that would even be like. (Note: I'm being purposefully vague so as to be sure not to spoil anything for anyone.) This book raises a lot of questions about what makes you you? Is it family and DNA alone? Is it how you are raised? Is it the friends you surround yourself with growing up? Is it a combination? If so, how much do these different elements factor in?

Whenever I can't put a book down, it's because the pacing is done so well that you don't even notice. And as I mentioned before, Ally was a great protagonist. Even though she suffering a lot, and for obvious reasons, she remained kind and accommodating, true to those she loved, open, and willing to do whatever it took for the people important to her.

The combination of the great pacing, a protagonist you want to be friends with, and Neil (lol) made this book such a delight! Past Perfect Life publishes July 9th from Bloomsbury.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Book Summary
High school senior Frank Li is a Limbo–his term for Korean-American kids who find themselves caught between their parents’ traditional expectations and their own Southern California upbringing. His parents have one rule when it comes to romance–“Date Korean”–which proves complicated when Frank falls for Brit Means, who is smart, beautiful–and white. Fellow Limbo Joy Song is in a similar predicament, and so they make a pact: they’ll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks it’s the perfect plan, but in the end, Frank and Joy’s fake-dating maneuver leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love–or himself–at all.

Flo's Review
This book was a little hard to get into right at the beginning because of David Yoon's writing style -- it's distinctive and unique, and you have to acclimate to it. But once you do, you get to the point where you're so swept up in that story that you don't even recognize it. Probably because it just becomes part of the story, and it's just so obviously the way Frank thinks that it doesn't seem different any more.

The cover of the book, besides being beautiful, is 100% accurate. Because you think this story is about one thing, but it goes so, so much deeper than that. Yes, the pact is a part of the plot, but it's far from being the whole story. It's one facet of the story, and definitely a big one. It's the instigator, the impetus for a lot of questioning, growth, and subsequent actions on Frank's part. I think I read that this might be getting adapted for TV or movie, and if that's the case then I feel like the story in that medium will focus on the fake dating pact, which is fine. That in and of itself makes for a fun story.

But it's really the WHY behind the pact where Frank's story of senior year lives. I loved reading about the Apeys, because they were the smarty pants and they completely owned it. They had each other and it was just a great group. In the author's thank you at the end, David Yoon mentions his real-life Apeys, so I'm really glad he had this group of friends in school.

Then the Gatherings. My family 100% has those on major holidays. It was fun to read about what happened at the Gatherings and about the Limbos, because 100% accurate. I had my own group of Limbos, and we even had a nickname for ourselves. So I completely related to that.

I loved reading about Frank's experience as a Limbo. I enjoyed learning more about Korean culture and Korean-American culture. And speaking of accurate -- David Yoon did such a good job encapsulating the experience of senior year. On one hand, you spend so much time and effort working toward what's next, planning for what's next, looking forward to what's next. But on the other hand, high school can house some good memories and comfort. It's emotional to move away from that. In that aspect of his life, Frank is also in limbo. (Sorry. This book is full of puns, so of course at least one had to make it into my review.)

Speaking of the puns, I just adored Frank's relationships. His conversations with Q. His conversations with Joy. So great. I can't say too much about the ending without being spoilery, but it was so real, so raw, so fitting, so true. It hit me in all the feels.

Frankly in Love comes out September 10th from Penguin Teen, and frankly, I think you're going to love it.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Book review -- Iron Magicians: The Search for the Magic Crystals by Cetrix and Yuio

Book Summary
This middle-grade graphic novel series makes YOU the hero of a fantasy quest—pick your panel, find items, cast spells, defeat enemies, solve puzzles, and play through new storylines again and again!

Step inside a steampunk re-imagining of nineteenth-century Paris, where magic and machines exist in harmony. The Eiffel Tower—a secret weapon built with magic—is almost complete, but the crystals that power the structure are missing! Find the hidden crystals and survive your dangerous mission.

• Select your character and begin your quest.
• Numbers are hidden in every panel. Decide where you want to go next, and then flip to the panel with the matching number.
• Solve puzzles, cast spells, and defeat enemies in your quest for success. Only after you’ve collected all the crystals will your journey be complete.
• If you fail your mission, just start again from the beginning! You can play the book again and again, making different choices every time. 

Remember, this is no ordinary comic book—what happens next is up to you!

Flo's Review
I admit that I was intrigued by this concept as soon as I heard about it. And I'm happy to say that the execution was as fun as I'd hoped. In a nutshell, this was a combination of a comic book and a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The instructions are a little complex and may require attention and focus from a middle grader. For me, just reading for fun on a Saturday night, I chose to focus not on the puzzles but on following the storyline through the pages. And like I said, I had fun with it! I definitely think I will be giving this book to my niece or nephew, as it strikes me as a good one to give to a child to get them critically thinking while still having fun. 

Also, it looks like Comic Quests is a whole series! So if an adventure in Paris around the time when the Eiffel Tower was built is not your forte (which I can't imagine why not?!) then you can choose one of these.

Thank you so much to Quirk Books for sending me copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Audiobook review: Finale by Stephanie Garner

Flo's Spoiler Free Review
Oh boy. It's going to be hard to keep this spoiler-free, but I didn't want to just write something for the people who have already read Caraval and Legendary. After all, I definitely want to encourage you to read them all.

I was *highly* anticipating Finale, and I'm so, so glad it did not disappoint! The end of Legendary left me with a "Ahh! OMG!!" kind of feeling, so I was 100% ready to dive into this conclusion. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by Rebecca Soler, who can do no wrong. (She also read the Cinder series, among many others.)

Finale followed in the footsteps of the previous two books, but continuing to bewitch me with its magic. Stephanie Garber's world is awe inspired. It expands my mind with its colors and possibilities. It encourages the reader to dream bold and dream wild. 

I also really enjoyed seeing and learning new aspects of all the characters -- Legend, of course, but also Julian, Paradise, and even some of the horrible Fates. I found myself liking Scarlett better than Tella in this one, which is interesting -- because I didn't love Scarlett in Caraval and I really enjoyed Tella in Legendary. But maybe having both of their points of view in one book really showed their true characters. I don't know, I just found myself admiring Scarlett in this book and finding Tella to be...headstrong to the point of eye roll and sometimes a little irritating? 

But I have to say it again, the best part of this series is how much it completely swept me away. It was truly immersive. I wasn't stuck in traffic on a busy highway on a rainy morning -- I was seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling unbelievable, impossible things. 

I absolutely recommend this series.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Book Review: Rowan by Josephine angelini

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

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

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

Author Interview

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

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

Read more with Melanie Cantor after the page break.

Book review: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Book Review: Never Never Part 3 by Colleen Hoover

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

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

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

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

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

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

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

Also, I want to visit Doha now.

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

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Cleaning Up My TBR - Down the TBR Hole

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

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

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

1. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

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

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

Verdict: Keep.

2. Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger

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

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

Verdict: Remove.

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Remove.

4. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

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

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

Verdict: Keep.

5. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

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

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

Verdict: Remove.

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