Sunday, January 27, 2019

Book review: Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway

Book Summary
He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner's Curse in Joanna Hathaway's Dark of the West, a breathtaking YA fantasy debut.

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.

Flo's Review
I entered a Twitter contest just to win this book, and I was lucky enough to actually win! I was intrigued by the premise of Dark of the West as soon as I heard about it. This was a book about war, much in the vein of the Ember series by Sabaa Tahir. The horrible General in this book has the same 'Human life? Eh' vibe as the Commandant. He's also terrible, and also unfortunately related to the the kind, compassionate, hot leading male in the story. Athan (said male) not only has a strained relationship with his father due to their different world views  but also has interesting and complicated relationships with his siblings, which were interesting and painful to read. This family. Oy!

But you know who was an awesome character? Cyar! If we could all have friends like Cyar! The bond between Cyar and Athan is evident in their easy banter, in how they talk about each other, in what they would do to protect each other, in what they have already done and continue to do for each other. I honestly feel like I ship the bromance between Athan and Cyar over the romance of Athan and Ali. 

Speaking of the romance, Dark of the West to me was very much like a fantasy war story, in which one element is the romance. I felt like the marketing of the book elevated the romance aspect so that I was expecting it to play more heavily in the narrative. And maybe this was why I didn't feel as connected to or affected by the romance as I'd hoped. I definitely felt Athan's struggle as he worked through what he was feeling and how that affected what he was asked to do. Maybe it was Ali's side that was lacking for me? Ali as a character was okay, but she was definitely outshined by Athan, her mother, and some of the other characters in the story.

The pacing was excellent. I found myself doing the, "Just one more chapter," thing several times as I read. Having the map in the finished copy will definitely help the reader to keep all the locations in the story straight.

Joanna Hathaway loves flying in airplanes (per her bio), and that love and expertise comes through strong as she describes Athan's time in the air. There is one particular letter in the book that was so, so beautiful. Finally, the end of the book comes with a twist that I wasn't expecting, but then when I thought back about it, made perfect sense. So well done.

Dark of the West was full of elements that make a great story: stellar pacing, shocking action, slow-burning romance, questionable character loyalties, and a surprising ending. It publishes February 5th, 2019 from Tor Teen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book review: Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

Book Summary
Having just been dumped by his girlfriend, British-born Hugo is still determined to take his last-hurrah-before-college train trip across the United States. One snag: the companion ticket is already booked under the name of his ex, Margaret Campbell. Nontransferable, no exceptions.

Enter the new Margaret C. (Mae for short), an aspiring filmmaker with big dreams. After finding Hugo's spare ticket offer online, she's convinced it's the perfect opportunity to expand her horizons.

When the two meet, the attraction is undeniable, and both find more than they bargained for. As Mae pushes Hugo to explore his dreams for his future, he'll encourage her to channel a new, vulnerable side of her art. But when life off the train threatens the bubble they've created for themselves, will they manage to keep their love on track?

Me and Jen at a YALLFest past. I honestly don't remember which year....
Flo's Review
I adore Jennifer E. Smith. (Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see my reviews of her other books.) I know that if I am looking to read a cute, fun, and fast contemporary YA love story, Jennifer E. Smith is my gal. So over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, I was in the mood for just that. Luckily, I had a copy of this waiting for me.

(Random side note: I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC at YALLFest. I don't think the Underlined team was expecting me to fangirl so hard over getting a Jennifer E. Smith ARC. I rambled on to the girl for like 5 minutes straight about how much I adored every single one of Jennifer's other books.)

Luckily, this one did not disappoint. I was impressed with how well Jennifer got Hugo and his Briticisms down. He remained consistent throughout. I was happy that I really enjoyed both Hugo and Mae. Jennifer E. Smith is the queen of capturing all the excitement, fear, anxiety, and anticipation of high school seniors about to head off to college. Field Notes on Love is no exception. 

I always love travel stories. I think you can learn so much about yourself by taking yourself outside of your normal environment. For Hugo, this was especially true. Additionally, I just love seeing new places with new eyes -- I really enjoy seeing characters' reactions to places I have seen and wish to see.

Field Notes on Love comes out March 5, 2019 and if you want a shot of adorable, then I'd suggest you scoop this one up!

Read my other raving reviews of Jennifer E. Smith books:

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book review: Bloom by Kevin Pancetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Book Summary
Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

Flo's Review
I've been meaning to read a graphic novel for awhile and had this one on deck for when the mood hit me. Today was the day. I was so glad to pick this one up! The color palette of this book is shades of blue, which fits with the small beach town where it takes place. As Peeta Mellark has always been and will always be my #1 fictional boyfriend, I was immediately drawn to Hector -- another cute baker boy. I also enjoyed both the main girls in the book. Hector's friend from home and Ari's friend in the band. Both were fun and brought vibrancy into the story.

And, of course -- the food! Reading about and seeing the delicious Greek dishes that Ari's family makes and the desserts that Hector makes? Mmm. It's nice. And in the back of the book, the authors have included one of the recipes. 

Unfortunately, I did not like Ari. I get that he's a kid who is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, but he was just too ... wallowing in his issues to enjoy reading. I'd also wanted to read this one specifically because of the romance, and while I kind of saw how it slowly grew over time, at the same time it was like... I don't know? I felt that Ari liked Hector, but I never really felt the attraction on Hector's side. 

Overall, I'm really glad I gave this story a read. I will definitely be reading more graphic novels in the future.

Bloom publishes on February 12, 2019. Thank you to First Second for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Internment by Samira Ahmed

Book Summary
Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp's Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Flo's Review
Wow. This book. Wow. I've been waiting to write my review in hopes that I can put together something powerful and coherent, but it's been a few days and I don't think it's going to happen. I'm still so shook, y'all. This book is powerful. Whoever thought words don't mean anything, have no power, can't change the world? Read. this. book.

Internment speaks directly to the reader. The tone is direct and strong, like the book's message. The different characters in the book are the different types of people we encounter every day. I know Laylas. I know Jakes. I know Mr. and Mrs. Amins. I know Directors. 

As I was reading this book I felt a lot of emotion -- SO MANY EMOTIONS. But the predominant ones? Fear and anger. I was so scared for Layla and her friends and loved ones, and so angry about what was happening to them. 

Samira Ahmed has a message, but she is not just saying something that she thinks is a good idea or that sounds nice. She is practicing what she preaches. She is sharing a message with this book, and her message is this book. (I hope that makes sense.)

Like I mentioned before, this book might make you sad. It might make you angry. If might even make you fearful. But it will make you proud of who you are. It will make you proud of humanity. It will give you hope. 

Internment comes out March 19, 2019. Thank you so much to the Novl for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, January 18, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Maureen Doyle McQuerry, author of Between Before & After

Book Summary
“The carnage began with the roses. She hacked at their ruffled blooms until they dropped into monstrous drifts of red on the parched yellow lawn … Only two things kept my mother grounded to us: my uncle Stephen and stories.”

Fourteen-year-old Molly worries about school, friends, and her parents’ failed marriage, but mostly about her mother’s growing depression. Molly knows her mother is nursing a carefully-kept secret. A writer with an obsession for other people’s life stories, Elaine Donnelly is the poster child of repressed emotions.

Molly spends her California summer alternately watching out for her little brother Angus and tip-toeing around her mother’s raw feelings. Molly needs her mother more than ever, but Elaine shuts herself off from real human connections and buries herself in the lives and deaths of the strangers she writes about. When Uncle Stephen is pressed into the limelight because of his miracle cure of a young man, Elaine can no longer hide behind other people’s stories. And as Molly digs into her mother’s past, she finds a secret hidden in her mother’s dresser that may be the key to unlocking a family mystery dating to 1918 New York—a secret that could destroy or save their future.

Interview with Maureen Doyle McQuerry

How did you come up with the idea for Between Before & After? How much did the story change from initial idea to final version?
The seeds of this story were planted by my father. He told stories about being an orphan in 1919 Brooklyn after his mother died from the Spanish flu and his family fell apart. But then, the story took on a life of its own. The basic storyline never changed, but I needed to dive much more deeply into the characters. One of the challenges was knowing when to shift from one storyline to the other. Molly’s story spans one summer, while Elaine’s spans many years. I had to balance the two.  I also had to find a way to connect the Hansel and Gretel story with the main storyline. Hopefully the fairy tale adds depth to the story reminding us that we can survive and flourish despite the difficulties we encounter along the way.
What connection do you personally have to this story, if any?
In many ways it is my family’s story. The trajectory of my father’s family was changed by his mother’s death in the flu pandemic of 1918-19. He was ten and after her death, he lived on the streets, surviving the best he could into adulthood. A young child growing up the on the streets brings all that childhood trauma into all future relationships. 
I grew up in San Jose, CA where Molly’s family lives. The landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area is close to my heart. Like Molly, I knew my family was full of secrets, and I was curious to know more. During the years I spent working on this book a very redemptive event occurred, I discovered I wasn’t an only child as I had always believed, but I have two living half-brothers and the book is dedicated to them.
Can you talk a bit about the process of weaving a fairy tale retelling into your narrative? Why Hansel and Gretel?
The story of Hansel and Gretel felt so closely tied to the narrative, that I couldn’t imagine writing the story without it. My challenge was helping readers see the connection. It’s a story of resiliency, two children abandoned in the darkest part of the forest, who despite all odds find their way home. There are still forests in our lives today. The streets of our cities can be as dangerous as the grimmest fairy tale. Fairy tales speak to us on the archetypal level. We need to be reminded that although the world is not a safe place, it’s possible to survive the woods and emerge changed, but with our humanity intact.
Read more with Maureen after the page break.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Audiobook review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Book Summary
Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery's never been there, but she's heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it's hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone's declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she's in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous--and most people aren't good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it's safest to keep your secrets to yourself.

Flo's Summary
What a fun story! I mean, I don't often put "fun" and "mystery" together, but something about these characters drew me in, and it was fun to try and figure it out...which I kind of did! I'm so excited, because I never figure out anything! 10 points to Hufflepuff!

But back to the characters. Karen M. McManus described them in a way that gave me such great visuals in my mind. I could see Ellery's curls, Malcolm's muscles, Ezra's general hotness. (Yes, I know he wouldn't be interested in me like that, but that's okay -- he would be such a good and awesome friend.) 

This book takes place in the Fall in the Northeast and it made me want to be there! (I mean, not in Echo Ridge -- too much going on in that town! I just mean somewhere where Fall weather is a thing, which it's not where I am.) But yes, the setting of Echo Ridge sounded beautiful. When Ellery and Ezra weren't stressing me out by walking through the woods, that is!

Two Can Keep a Secret had layers of stories, and that's probably what I liked about it most. Nothing-- like legitimately almost nothing -- was what is seemed, and there were a lot of different things going on beneath the surface. And they were all connected, but they weren't, but they were. Genius!

I also enjoyed One of Us is Lying and am pretty sure Karen M. McManus has a spot on my auto-read list. I listened to this one on audiobook and it just flew by! I truly enjoying listening to it while driving to and from work, and talking to myself in the car whenever a reveal or a bomb was dropped.

I definitely recommend you give this one a try!

Read our review of One of Us Is Lying

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Blog Tour: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Audiobook review: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Book review: The Girl King by Mimi Yu

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

All hail the Girl King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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