Wednesday, December 28, 2016

By Your Side by Kasie West

Book Summary
In this irresistible story, Kasie West explores the timeless question of what to do when you fall for the person you least expect. Witty and romantic, this paperback original from a fan favorite is perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson.

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?

Flo's Review
Aww, this was adorable, of course! The progression of Autumn and Dax's relationship is believable because they don't hate each other at first; they are just working off of what they've heard and what they perceive. But then they get to know each other, the friendship develops, and then the romantic chemistry becomes harder and harder to dismiss. 

I adored Jeff and found myself thinking at one point, "Aww, I love them both!" But don't worry -- this book didn't have the traditional "love triangle" feel to me. But there were several struggles going on: Dax's life situation, Jeff and his situation, Autumn and her anxiety. The odds were almost against the two of them and so that made this that much more poignant. 

I must have skim-read the summary because the plot unfolded differently than I was expecting. This ended up being a good thing, because I don't think a whole book of what I pictured would have been sustainable. This was a fast read; I was able to read it during my travels home from Christmas break.

Kasie West fans will definitely enjoy her latest offering, as will anyone looking for a charming and lovely contemporary YA romance, By Your Side publishes January 31st.

You Don't Know My Name by Kristen Orlando

Book Summary
Fighter, Faker, Student, Spy.
Seventeen-year-old Reagan Elizabeth Hillis is used to changing identities overnight, lying to every friend she’s ever had, and pushing away anyone who gets too close. Trained in mortal combat and weaponry her entire life, Reagan is expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the ranks of the most powerful top-secret agency in the world, the Black Angels. Falling in love with the boy next door was never part of the plan.
Now Reagan has to decide: Will she use her incredible talents and lead the dangerous life she was born into, or throw it all away to follow her heart and embrace the normal life she's always wanted? And does she even have a choice at all?
Find out if you are ready to join the Black Angels in the captivating and emotional page-turner, You Don't Know My Name, from debut novelist Kristen Orlando!
Flo's Review
You guys. Let's talk about how much I love this book. I started it on vacation, and I was literally running about an all-inclusive resort in Mexico wishing I could have more time to read! I love Reagan. I was drawn in immediately to her friendly, loving, and adaptable character. She is basically this prodigy, but she doesn't act superior or entitled. Instead she feels trapped. I like that her struggle is one that many people can relate to, even though the exact circumstances are not. There have been many variations of the "this is the life my parents expect me to have, but I feel trapped by it" story, but this one definitely brings a unique spin to it. 
I love Reagan's mom. She's a badass. Reagan knows it, and loves her for it. I love their relationship and I love the strength of these two females. And while we are talking about characters, can we talk about the great, supportive, affectionate, kind super swoon-worthy Luke?! He's also strong and brave and loving and...okay, okay, I'll stop gushing. But he's definitely a new book boyfriend. The Big Bad (to borrow TVD terminology) is super creepy and super evil and I shudder thinking about him, even right now as a I type.
The stakes in the story go up dramatically pretty quickly, and I actually wasn't expecting the turn that the events took. The pacing is amazing -- fast and effortless. I was turning the pages so fast because I wanted to see how she would pull this off/how they would pull this off/what was going to happen. And the ending: I'm still not emotionally recovered from it. I really hope I can get my hands on the next book in The Black Angel Chronicles soon. I'm scared for Reagan and what she will encounter!
This book is fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough! It publishes January 10th so pre-order your copy or get to the bookstore when it's available!
Thank you to Macmillan for providing me with an Advance Reader's Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry

Book Summary
We never know what will happen next in Florida. We know only that, any minute now, something will. Every few months, Dave Barry gets a call from some media person wanting to know, “What the hell is wrong with Florida?” Somehow, the state’s acquired an image as a subtropical festival of stupid, and as a loyal Floridian, Dave begs to differ. Sure, there was the 2000 election. And people seem to take their pants off for no good reason. And it has flying insects the size of LeBron James. But it is a great state, and Dave is going to tell you why. Join him as he celebrates Florida from Key West at the bottom to whatever it is that’s at the top, from the Sunshine State’s earliest history to the fun-fair of weirdness and gunfire (“Our motto: ‘Come back! We weren’t firing at you!’”) that it is today.

It’s the most hilarious book yet from “the funniest damn writer in the whole country” (Carl Hiaasen, and he should know). By the end, you’ll have to admit that whatever else you might think about Florida—you can never say it’s boring.

Flo's Review
I am the only member of my family to live in Florida, so I can always count on my family to call and text me with comments regarding Florida -- especially around elections. And I can't tell you how many crazy "this actually happened in Florida" type stories I've seen. So as soon as I discovered that this book was a Thing, I knew I had to get it.

The first part was HILARIOUS and exactly what I thought this book would be. It was filled with random, crazy facts about Florida and random, crazy anecdotes about Florida described with Dave Barry's classic dry humor. I literally laughed out loud at many a section. But while these Random Acts of Crazy in Florida can fill a book, I guess they can't really fill a book? So after the Introduction and A Brief History of Florida, the rest of the book is devoted to hearing about Dave's visits to random, crazy attractions in the state. Unfortunately, I did not really enjoy the first one ("The Skunk Ape") and that left me setting aside the book for awhile before picking it back up again. I finally decided to just skip the rest of that chapter and move on. The next 6 were okay: I really enjoyed some, like hearing about Weeki Wachee and Spongeorama, and others were just okay, like hearing about LIV. 

All in all, this is a fast and fun read. If you like hearing about quirky places to add to your bucket list, this will make a good read for you. As for me, I will have to agree with a few of Dave's final words: I love this crazy state.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

Book Summary
Three girls. Three boys. Two rival schools. This could get messy. The Ashbury-Brookfield pen pal program is designed to bring together the two rival schools in a spirit of harmony and "the Joy of the Envelope." But when Cassie, Lydia, and Emily send their first letters to Matthew, Charlie, and Sebastian, things don't go quite as planned. What starts out as a simple letter exchange soon leads to secret missions, false alarms, lock picking, mistaken identities, and an all-out war between the schools--not to mention some really excellent kissing.

Flo's Review
I was introduced to this book by my #otspsecretsister on Twitter. I discovered that my library had the audiobook and decided to give it a listen. Listening to an audiobook of letters has its pros and cons: 

Pros: The different characters were each voiced by different people. At first I didn't really like Lydia's and Emily's voices, but then the more I read the more I thought the voices fit them. Plus, the voices all had accents (this book is Australian) and I really enjoyed that.

Cons: Letters, etc. take longer to read in audio format. The reader has to say the all the email addresses over and over and that can get a little tedious.

But on to the actual story part. I was absolutely loving it for about 70 percent of the book. I didn't like the parts with "The Notebook (TM)", but I loved the letters between the girls and their pen friends. Loved them. The individuality of the characters, the growing and relationships. I especially loved how we never saw a scene with the three girls. We got to know how they were as friends through the stories they told in their letters and diaries about hanging out together. Yet their friendship was still established so solidly. Brilliant, Jaclyn Moriarty. 

Unfortunately, for some reason the author felt like there needed to be a dramatic end scene or something. So this whole situation between the two schools was added to the story, and I really didn't like it. I don't think the book needed it to tell this story. Chapters 29 and 30 basically. But I did like the ending for Cassie and the final reflection from Lydia. 

Overall, I found this very enjoyable and was really happy whenever I was listening to it -- a sign of a good book and audiobook! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Book Summary
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.

Flo's Review
It's always crazy to me how the timing on some things comes together because of happenstance. I have been wanting to read this for awhile. I bought it for my Dad for Christmas many years ago, but I don't think he ever read it. Last year, I almost took it back so I could read it, but I restrained myself. Then earlier this year, I made a trade at the local used bookstore for this audiobook. I love audiobooks, and was excited to snatch this up when I saw it. 

The audiobook sat on my shelf for months.

Then, about two weeks ago, I finished listening to an audiobook I unfortunately didn't like. So the question of what I should listen to next was even more loaded -- I did not want to strike out twice. I saw this on my shelf and decided to go for it.

There is so much to love about this story. What absolutely made this for me was that Obama read it. I always love listening to him speak. I've heard him tell a lot of stories about people he has met, so it was so nice to hear him tell his own story. This audiobook won a Grammy for "Best Spoken Word" and it was well deserved. He did a great job of imitating the voices of all the men and women in his life. 

Dreams From My Father had the same beautiful writing and lyrical quality of his speeches. Some sentences gave me the chills because they were so lovely. He is very good at setting a scene -- describing the people and the setting. I didn't actually know his story; all I knew was that he was born in Hawaii. But I really enjoyed seeing the lives of his parents and grandparents. He was able to get into his family's heads and emotions so well.

I am not going to get political on here, but I did want to tell you why I started this post talking about timing: because the day after I started listening to this book was November 9, 2016. 

A fun bonus of this CD was Obama's 2004 DNC keynote, which I also hadn't heard before. It was an add-on to the audiobook, but the speech started with summarizing everything I'd just listened to. As such, it made for a great transition out of the story of his past and into the now. 

This is just a good story; no matter what your race, political affiliation, or thoughts on the Obama Presidency, I think there is something to take away from Dreams from My Father.

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Book Summary
Dash and Lily have had a tough year since readers first watched the couple fall in love. Lily’s beloved grandfather suffered a heart attack, and his difficult road to recovery has taken a major toll on her typically sunny disposition. 

With only twelve days left until Christmas—Lily’s favorite time of the year—Dash, Lily’s brother Langston, and their closest friends take Manhattan by storm to help Lily recapture the holiday magic of New York City in December. 

Told in alternating chapters, The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily reunites two beloved characters and is bound to be a Christmas favorite, season after season.

Flo's Review
Totes adorbs. While Dash and Lily's Book of Dares was a light, fun read, this sequel took it a little bit deeper. Not that it wasn't light and fun, but Dash and Lily's relationship has evolved. They have been together for almost a year now. This is the story of going from mutual like and infatuation to falling deeply and fully in love. That can be a vulnerable, messy, and emotional journey for any couple, and Dash and Lily are no exception. I loved that Dash never gave up on Lily. I loved seeing more of Lily's family, and looking into Dash's family and how he saw himself based on them. And, like the first book, this one also had its good portion of random people and events that brought a smile to my face.

Speaking of bringing a smile to my face, there were two scenes that tied for my favorite. One involved a water gun duel and was just super fun, especially since I'm so obsessed with Hamilton. The second involved my main obsession -- New Kids on the Block! Yes! And not only New Kids, but my favorite New Kid in particular -- Joey McIntyre! I was SO excited! I was lucky enough to meet Rachel and David at YALLFEST (I read the book on my plane ride to and from Charleston), so I got to thank them both for the Joey McIntrye reference in person.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Happy Book Birthday to The Goblin Crown by Robert Hewitt Wolfe!

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday dear The Goblin Crown: Billy Smith and the Goblins, Book 1!
Happy birthday to you!

Here's the summary:

Billy Smith is having a rough first day of high school. The new kid at exclusive Francis Drake Prep, Billy embarrasses himself in front of fiery, beautiful Lexi Aquino. He makes an instant enemy in Kurt Novac, the school s surly star quarterback. Then suddenly Billy, Lexi, and Kurt are mysteriously transported to an underworld teeming with goblins, strange animal hybrids, and powerful magic the fact that they re stuck there is probably Billy s fault, too. With help from an unlikely goblin leader named Hop, the teens soon discover that goblins can be both fierce and friendly, with their own rich language, culture, and history a history that foretells of a human arriving to claim the Goblin Crown and lead them to victory against the deadly, invading Hanorians. Could Billy anxious, awkward Billy be the mythical Goblin King? Could saving the goblin race be his destiny and the key to getting him, Lexi, and Kurt back home?

If you're interested in getting a copy, here's the Amazon link

Monday, November 7, 2016

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

All In (The Naturals, #3)

Jacque's Review:

All In is the third book in the Naturals series.  For those of you who are not familiar with the series, it is a murder mystery series involving 5 teenagers recruited by the FBI for their abilities to profile, read emotions, detect lies, and analyze statistics.  Due to their individual upbringings and unusual childhoods they naturally honed these skills to exceptional levels.  

This time around there is a serial killer on the loose in Las Vegas.  So far he has killed 1 person at a different casino each day starting on January 1st.  The FBI is called in because the casino owners want to put an end to this as quickly and quietly as possible before business plummets.  To top things off, there is a huge professional poker tournament just around the corner that must go on as planned.

The naturals struggle with the case because there doesn't seem to be a common denominator.  Different locations, different methods and no common element between the victims,  The only connection between the cases is a mysterious set of numbers found on the wrists of each victim.  

In addition, there is a breakthrough in Cassie's Mother's murder case.  Some remains were found that are believed to be hers.  Jennifer takes this portion of the story in a direction I don't think anyone would have anticipated.  What was deemed to be solid evidence in the case isn't as solid as it appeared and everything Cassie believed to be true is far from it.  

Sloan, the statistician, eventually discovers a pattern that links each of the cases.  The locations and dates of the murders are tied to a mathematical code or sequence that has been around for hundreds of years.  They just need to discover when and where the next murders will take place in order to catch their UNSUB. (Unknown Subject)

If you enjoy YA and thrillers/mysteries this is definitely the series for you.  I have thoroughly enjoyed every book in this series and have been glued to each detail from start to finish.  I love all of the characters and their unique abilities as well as their individual personalities.  They are all so different, but they complement each other beautifully and have really developed into a family.  

The final book in the series, Bad Blood, was just released last week.  I should receive it from the library within the next few days and can't wait to see how the series will conclude.  If you haven't started the series yet, now would be the perfect time. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson

Book Summary
In this fantastical thriller, five young teens tapped as models for theme park "guides" find themselves pitted against Disney villains and witches that threaten both the future of Walt Disney World and the stability of the world outside its walls.

Using a cutting-edge technology called DHI—which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging—Finn Whitman, an Orlando teen, and four other kids are transformed into hologram projections that guide guests through the park.

The new technology turns out, however, to have unexpected effects that are both thrilling and scary. Soon Finn finds himself transported in his DHI form into the Magic Kingdom at night. Is it real? Is he dreaming?

Finn's confusion only increases when he encounters Wayne, an elderly Imagineer who tells him that the park is in grave danger. Led by the scheming witch Maleficent, a mysterious group of characters called the Overtakers is plotting to destroy Disney's beloved realm, and maybe more.

This gripping high-tech tale will thrill every kid who has ever dreamed of sneaking into Walt Disney World after hours, and wondered what happens at night, when the park is closed.

Flo's Review
I thought I was going to fall in love with this. Maybe that was part of the problem.

It has all the elements of stories I love: it's a middle grade adventure series, like the Magisterium and Percy Jackson. It's about Disney World, and I love Disney World. In fact, I bought the entire Kingdom Keepers series at the Miami Book Fair a few years ago. (To put a little perspective on this: each book was $2, so I felt it was a worthwhile splurge.) 

Unfortunately, this came up lacking for me.

And I tried. I tried so hard. I knew early on that I wasn't feeling it, but I pushed myself past my usual 100 page stay-or-go mark and read all the way through the end. But there were a few things that made this crash and burn for me, and looking at other reviews, I know that I'm not alone:

1. The characters -- The 5 DHIs seemed underdeveloped. This is a good thing for me to note as I head into NaNoWriMo. After 300+ pages, I don't feel like I really know any of these kids. Finn is the closest. But the others just got a paragraph introduction to them in the beginning of the book, and that's all the distinguishing characteristics we got. Except for Charlene. I think I was rubbed the wrong way with her because Wayne explained that all the DHIs were specifically picked for different reasons. Charlene's character card said she was picked for her good looks and athleticism. Good looks first. I mean, I guess that's understandable, being that it's show business, but something rubbed me the wrong way about a kid's book (middle grade book, I mean) being like, "This girl got to be special because she's pretty." Maybe if her character had been really cool, I could have let that go. But all she did in this book was whine and protest. I read a spoiler for what becomes of her in the spin-off series, and all I can say is that I hope she grows as a character in the other books, and doesn't just get this new thing because of her "good looks." Okay, enough about that.

2. The villains -- Very loosely explained. I kind of didn't understand who they are and how they work. And what they're trying to do. Maybe this is explained more in subsequent books. But in this book all I really saw was a fight with some pirates and then Maleficent turning things cold. Why was she scary? What was her end game? Maybe an Overtaker back story could have been helpful.

3. Loose threads -- There were a few story lines/instances that were presented and then never touched again. All of a sudden, it would be the next chapter and that was that. I'd think, "How was this resolved?" or "What was the point of this?" Perhaps some things got cut in the editing process?

4. Audio narrator -- I love audiobooks, and have been lucky to listen to some great narrators. Unfortunately, this was not one of them. I think part of the reason I disliked Charlene was because she was read with a snobbish voice. Willa was read with a voice like a man. Finn was read in a whiny tone. It was hard to enjoy these characters without enjoying their voices.

5. Lack of magic -- Disney World is one of my most favorite places, "the most magical place on Earth." Somehow, I never felt the specialness, the magic of the setting. And there was such great potential to do so.

I'm not upset that I took a chance on this story. I really do love the concept, and it looks like the subsequent books in the series visit the other parks, besides just the Magic Kingdom, where this one took place. It is a MG story and perhaps I am going too deep with it. At the end of the day, I can see how it's a fun, light, entertaining story. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

For This Life Only by Stacey Kade

For This Life Only

Jacque's Review:

For This Life Only is very different from Stacey's other books.  It doesn't contain her usual quick wit and humor that I have come to expect.  In fact, it was a bit of a tearjerker at the end, so you may want to keep that in mind if you are planning on reading this book in public.  Stacey grew up as a PK (pastor's kid), so I'm sure this book was harder for her to write than most of the others because it certainly hits closer to home than ghosts and aliens.

Jace and his brother Eli are the twin sons of the local minister.  Their father expects everyone in the family to maintain a perfect image and to always reflect positively on the family and the church.  Their grandfather was the minister before their father took over and everyone assumes they will eventually carry on the family tradition.  For Eli, that may be a possibility, but Jace is well on his way to a baseball scholarship and plans on moving as far away as possible.  Everything changes the night Eli and Jace are involved in a car accident.  Jace injures his arm and leg and will never be able to pitch again.  Eli was even less fortunate.

The majority of the book revolves around Jace's family struggling with the loss of Eli.  Jace always viewed Eli and the "good twin" while he was the "bad twin" or the screw up.  They were two halves of a whole and without his brother, he is only half of what he should be.  

Jace has always been taught to believe in the afterlife, but after nearly dying and losing his brother, be begins to question his beliefs.  He can't turn to his family or the church, so he seeks guidance from Thera, who he discovers was secretly friends with Eli.  The reason for the secrecy....she is the daughter of the local psychic and the church does not approve of this profession.  The church would also like to take over her mother's property, which is located directly across the street from the church, and they have been trying to force them out for years.  The more Jace gets to know Thera, the more he realizes his brother may not have been as perfect as he seemed.  

Overall, this was a very thought provoking book.  Stacey doesn't attempt to provide the answers to Jace's questions about loss and the afterlife.  She does; however, share some research and evidence that allows readers a chance to explore their own thoughts on the subject without pressuring anyone into a certain set of beliefs.  We also get to see Jace mature and stand up for himself and the things he believes in, which provided a silver lining in this otherwise tragic story.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Four to Score by Janet Evanovich

Four to Score (Stephanie Plum, #4)

Jacque's Review:

Stephanie Plum is back in action as Trenton, New Jersey's most lovable bounty hunter.  She may not be the most talented, but she certainly is the most entertaining.  

This time around she is looking for Maxine Nowicki, who was arrested for stealing her estranged boyfriend's car and failed to appear for her court date.  It seems strange to everyone that Maxine would run from the police for such a minor offence.  This could have all blown over by simply paying a fine and returning the car.

Stephanie soon discovers that Maxine's good friend Margie "accidentally" cut off her finger and Maxine's mother has a nasty head injury, which was also an "accident."  In addition Maxine’s former boyfriend, Eddie Kuntz, is willing to pay Stephanie $1,000 to find Maxine, so there is clearly more to this story than meets the eye.  

Eddie starts receiving mysterious clues from Maxine, which are in a secret code that nobody can solve.  Stephanie recruits the services of her elderly neighbor's nephew who is a pro at solving these types of puzzles.  He also happens to be one of Trenton's most famous drag queens, which really spices things up.  Add in Lula, Grandma Mazur and the other usual suspects and you have one hilarious page turner.

In addition to the hunt for Maxine, things are beginning to heat up with Joe Morelli.  Stephanie is forced to move in with him when someone sets her apartment on fire.  She doesn't want to bring any trouble to her parents' house, so she turns to Joe for help.  They have had a love/hate relationship since Stephanie was 6 years old, but they may be moving in a more positive direction.  

I'm still very early in this series, which currently has 23 novels plus some holiday stories.  I'm not sure how long Evanovich can keep up this all luck / no skill bounty hunter routine while still keeping the series funny and fresh, but so far so good.  I gave Four to Score 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and will definitely continue onto book five.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Book Summary
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king's marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.

Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Countdown to Heartless
I am super excited to be part of the Countdown to Heartless blog tour! Check out our Twitter and Instagram page for today's fun challenge!

Flo's Review
Wow. I was late to get on board the Cinder series train, but I was definitely glad when I finally hopped on. Like many others, I was so incredibly impressed by Marissa's way to take elements of stories familiar to us and add them to a larger narrative all her own. So when I first heard about Heartless, I knew that I would love seeing Marissa's conception of Wonderland.

I was not wrong. This book pulled me in right away and did not let me go. It hurt so good, you know? It hurt to read because I ultimately knew how things were going to end up for Catherine, and that the ending was not going to be wanted. I grew to really enjoy the bubbly, creative, fun Catherine of this story and it was so hard knowing what she would turn into.  And Marissa did the turn really well. I was afraid at one point in the story that it would be a light switch -- she's nice and lovable and suddenly she's awful. But it's not at all. I was able to see how and why her heart was hardening, and with a very clever final twist, how she became truly heartless.

The characters that we know and love from Lewis Carroll's story are given such depth. I was especially impressed with the Mad Hatter. Wow. His character is so, so well done. His story is clever and emotional, and the last scene where we see him was so emotional. I enjoyed seeing Cheshire popping up to gossip and the awkward, bubbling King. I laughed to myself every time I read about the Hare, because his name is Haigha, pronounced "hare" and I think that's awesome.

Jest is going to get his own paragraph, because Jest. He's the king's joker, but he is actually very clever, whilst the King is a fool. He's dark and mysterious and totally hot. His relationship with Catherine was realistic, and did I mention he's hot?! I'll take this joker any day!!

Heartless comes out November 8th, and I really think you will enjoy it! Imaginative, clever, emotional, fun -- it is all of this and more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Book Summary
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Flo's Review
First of all -- HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY TO GEMINA! The second book of The Illuminae Files releases today, so I thought this would be a good time to post my review of book #1, which I just finished yesterday. What a unique and creative book! I never see twists, so the twists (two big ones that I'm thinking of) stopped me cold. I don't read a lot of sci fi because I tend to lose focus when it gets to technical. But Illuminae never did that for me. The story was always about the characters and their relationships. 

I actually listened to this on audio, and it was very good. I had heard from a friend that it was, but I was admittedly skeptical -- if you have seen this book, you know that its layout and formatting is non-traditional. I thought I would lose some of the experience by simply listening to the audio. But I don't think I did. The audio was great because it had noises that fit with what was going on. I didn't just read about the screams - I heard them. I loved the reader for the surveillance guy and also for Ezra. Honestly, all the voices were great. (Even the creepy "Briefing Note" voice of Illuminae.) But I think I will read the second book to get that experience as well.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff are coming to my favorite local bookstore, Books & Books, on November 10th and I couldn't be more excited to see them! (Click here for more information about that event.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

GIVEAWAY: American Pastoral, Movie Tie-In Edition & The Lovely Reckless

Release Date: 10/21/2016
Rated: R

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Phillip Roth novel, AMERICAN PASTORAL follows an all American family across several decades, as their idyllic existence is shattered by social and political turmoil that will change the fabric of American culture forever. Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Beginners) makes his directorial debut and stars as Seymour “Swede” Levov, a once legendary high school athlete who is now a successful businessman married to Dawn, a former beauty queen. But turmoil brews beneath the polished veneer of Swede’s life. When his beloved daughter, Merry, disappears after being accused of committing a violent act, Swede dedicates himself to finding her and reuniting his family. What he discovers shakes him to the core, forcing him to look beneath the surface and confront the chaos that is shaping the modern world around him: no American family will ever be the same. AMERICAN PASTORAL also stars Academy Award® winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) as Dawn, Dakota Fanning (The Runaways, The Twilight Saga) as Merry, Emmy® winner Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black), and Academy Award® nominee David Strathairn (Lincoln, Good Night, and Good Luck). (Synopsis from Lionsgate.)

Thanks to our friends at Allied Media, we have a copy of the book to giveaway! You can enter on our Twitter page by retweeting this tweet: or on our Instagram page by commenting: If you don't have either, feel free to comment below. US only, contest ends 10/20. Good luck!

UPDATE! We decided to sweeten the deal by throwing in an ARC of The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia! So this lucky winner will get BOTH books! Good luck!!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Review: The Partner by John Grisham

The Partner

Jacque's Review:

I was a huge fan of John Grisham's legal thrillers back in high school, but I haven't read many since.  I decided to pick up where I left off and read his 8th book, The Partner, which was released in 1997.  I've heard that some of his never books aren't as good as the originals, but he certainly had his A game when he wrote this novel.

The Partner is about a young attorney in Biloxi, Mississippi named Patrick Lanigan who faked his death to start his life over.  He was in a bad marriage and discovered the partners in his firm were planning on firing him before he could cash in on their corrupt scheme.  He carefully gathered the evidence he needed before staging a car accident and sailing off into the sunset.  The partners of the firm put on a good show at the time of his funeral, but were secretly grateful for their good fortune.  

When the 90 million dollar settlement was wired into the firm's account it immediately went missing.  The firm was supposed to receive 1/3 of the amount (30 million dollars) with the remainder being transferred to their client.  Everyone began to question the circumstances surrounding Patrick's death and the search soon began.

When Patrick is found in Brazil four years later everyone thought he would finally be brought to justice and their stolen money wold be returned.  Little did they know the depths of the research and planning he had done the year before he left as well as while he was on the run.  

I was absolutely amazed by the level of detail.  Everything is woven together seamlessly and I couldn't help but root for Patrick to come out unscathed.  While his actions appeared to be inexcusable on the surface, he managed to have an explanation for everything.  There was always a bigger fish in the sea with regards to every accusation and Patrick had every detail covered.

I was highly entertained and would definitely recommend this book.  There was a shocking twist at the very end that I never would have anticipated.  I guess Grisham didn't want to leave readers with a too good to be true feeling and decided to drop a bomb in the last chapter.  Now I'm curious if there is more to Patrick's story in one of his future novels of if he truly was left hanging in the balance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Book Summary
Magic can save you.
Magic can kill you.

Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world.

But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer… and risk their own lives in the process.

As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands, it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm, unless it is stopped in time.

In this striking third book of Magisterium, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare present us with a school where anything, good or evil, can happen, and the only way to unlock the truth is to risk everything to find it.

Flo's Review
I admit, I have been forgetful. I'd forgotten how much Cassandra Clare likes her cliffhangers. And I'd forgotten how surprised I was at the end of The Iron Trial.


Admittedly, I knew something big was happened at the end of the book, due to minor spoilers on Goodreads. (I knew what, specifically, just not the details.) But that didn't stop me from being completely floored. I was so not expecting THAT. I have already read some theories on where they are going from here which make sense. I am eager to see the next steps, as they are not as evident as they have been at the end of previous books. 

That being said, it took me awhile to get into this book. For some reason, there was nothing really keeping me turning the pages until I found out about the end. But as I read, my motivation to keep going was that I needed to get the book back to the library (it's totally overdue) and not an overwhelming desire to see what happens next. Definitely the events in the book were all important, as they laid the foundation for the end. But I don't know. It read a little slow. Maybe more theorizing that action? Maybe a little too much of the Celia thing? Luckily, these books are short and easy reads, so it wasn't long before I was tied up in the end. 

Can't believe I have to wait another year until The Silver Mask!

Jacque's Review:

Call, Aaron and Tamara are on a quest to uncover who the "spy" is within the Magisterium and why he or she is targeting Call.  The most obvious reason is the fact that he is a Maker, which is someone who specializes in chaos magic.  There are very few Makers in each generation and very little is knows about their form of magic.  As a result, many people are afraid of them or perhaps want to be them.  The students don't believe that is the reason for the threats on Call's life because Aaron is also a Maker and he hasn't been threatened.

Call does have a secret that only his father and closest friends are aware of, which is most likely the reason for the attacks.  They can't share this information with anyone.  Call, Aaron, Tamara and Jasper must work together to solve this mystery on their own.

The conclusion of this book was not at all what I was expecting.  This is a middle grade series, but Holly and Cassandra certainly aren't coddling these characters or their readers.  There is an epic battle as one would expect and the fallout was more than a little shocking.  I have no idea what direction they will take the series next, but it probably leans more to the "Evil Overlord" side of the spectrum.

Overall, this book wasn't as fast paced and gripping as the first two books in the series, but that is often the case with middle books in a series.  Hopefully things will pick up again with book four or I'm afraid they will lose their appeal to younger readers.  I have a sixth grade son that probably would enjoy the first two books in the series, but he would likely struggle to get through this one.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

I didn't even notice that the actual cover under the dust jacket was super awesome, too, until today! I got this book back in May!

Book Summary
As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

Part epic fantasy, part twisted fairy tale, this dazzling saga will have readers shivering as Dinahs furious nature sweeps Wonderland up in the maelstrom of her wrath. 

Familiar characters such as Cheshire, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter make their appearance, enchanting readers with this new, dark take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Flo's Review
Having just finished Heartless by Marissa Meyer and wanting to stay in Wonderland, I finally reached for Queen of Hearts. This book has been on my TBR since I met the author Colleen Oakes at BookCon in May. It is the story of the Queen of Hearts before she became the brutal "Off with his head!!" lady that we know from Alice in Wonderland
Me with author Colleen Oakes at BookCon in May 2016
This was an interesting story. My favorite part was definitely the world building. It was really cool to see how Colleen translated some of the characters we are familiar with, like Cheshire, Harris (the White Rabbit), and the Mad Hatter. The different Cards held different positions in the government, so the Diamond Cards has specific roles, the Spades had a role, and so forth. And it was fascinating to read about Wonderland: the physical geography of it and the different areas. 

I didn't really like Dinah, and my reading style is usually that I have to like the main character (or somebody significant) to be invested in the story. But Dinah made sense. Knowing what she is going to become, it makes sense that she is already unlikable, and I do see how she grew up made her the way she is. I was also a little thrown with the passage of time in this story. I'd finish a chapter and then start a new one and it would like, (I'm paraphrasing) "So everything that just happened took place 6 months ago and now Dinah is..." Every time, I was like, "Wait. What?" Maybe because there were several time leaps like that and they were so understated? I'm not sure. It's not a negative or a positive, just an observation. 

Look at the chapter headers! The Q with the blood drip is on point. This is one the prettiest books I've seen in awhile.
I am curious to see how things go down in Book 2. Without giving anything away from this one, I'm curious about Cheshire -- there is some shade going on with him. Same with the Duchess. What's her story?

Books to Movies Giveaway Hop

When we first started Book Nerds Across America, we had a monthly feature where we all read and reviewed a book that was going to become a movie. Because we love books, and we love movies. We aren't able to do this all the time anymore, but we still do reviews of movies based off books every once in awhile. I think it's great! I really enjoy reading a book and then seeing how the director and actors bring it to life. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't -- sometimes I don't like them, a lot of times, I do. Anyway! All this is to say we are happy to participate in this Hop. Here's the prize...

It's a mini poster based on Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, courtesy of Quirk Books. (I accidentally ended up with two, so I'm paying it forward with one for one of you :). Have you seen this movie yet? I haven't, but I want to. We did read and review the book. This contest is US only (sorry - we will do another international giveaway soon!) and you can enter via the Rafflecopter. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now you can hop on!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

300 Things I Hope by Iain S. Thomas

Book Summary
From the creator of I Wrote This For You, comes a collection of 300 things that the author, Iain S. Thomas, and artist, Carla Kreuser, truly and sincerely hope for you – from hoping that you always have a pen, to hoping that you’re never lonely, and everything in-between. This collection of hope will move you and remind you of what’s important in life as you live it. Or at least, that’s what they hope. 

Flo's Review
When I read the synopsis for this book I said, "Oh, a fun little read!" This is exactly what this was. It was a perfect leisurely Sunday morning read over brunch. Iain S. Thomas has compiled a range of little snippets of things, all starting with "I hope..." and all only a sentence a two. Sometimes they are light and funny, sometimes they are short and serious, but they all got me thinking. I marked a few of my favorites:

"I hope you love someone like the solar system loves the sun."

"I hope you meet someone who's as close to your soulmate as possible while actually being real."

"I hope someone famous retweets you."

"I hope you reach beyond yourself, constantly."

"I hope your heart is made of something hard and soft at the same time."

This book is in the same vein of one of my favorite songs -- "My Wish" by Rascal Flatts:

Thank you to Central Avenue publishing for sending me an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Banned Book Week Giveaway Hop

It's Banned Book Week! If you haven't heard about it before here's the brief gist:

"The Banned Books Week Coalition is a national alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read. The Coalition seeks to engage various communities and inspire participation in Banned Books Week through education, advocacy, and the creation of programming about the problem of book censorship. The 2016 celebration will be held September 25-October 1.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association."

I grabbed that from the Banned Books Week website: The site also includes a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015:
  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”)
For the giveaway, I am going to be giving away a book that was one of the top ten challenged titles in 2014 for reasons of  "drugs/alochol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: date rape and masturbation." (*source). Marshall University has a good timeline of events surrounding this book. Geekade also has a detailed blog post about this.

I thought it was interesting that this title was also chosen as a World Book Night U.S. title for 2014. So that is the edition I am giving away. Without further ado...

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 
by Stephen Chbosky

I simply adored this book! The movie, too. (I also have not had such a linktastic blog post in a long time! Sorry, random aside.) Anyway, you can enter via the Rafflecopter:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thank you for stopping by! And now you can hop on: