Saturday, March 30, 2019

Book review: Eyes on Me by Rachel Harris

Book Summary
Look up the word “nerd” and you’ll find Lily Bailey’s picture. She’s got one goal: first stop valedictorian, next stop Harvard. Until a stint in the hospital from too much stress lands her in the last place a klutz like her ever expected to be: salsa dance lessons.

Look up the word “popular” and you’ll find Stone Torres’s picture. His life seems perfect—star of the football team, small-town hero, lots of friends. But his family is struggling to make ends meet, so if pitching in at his mom's dance studio helps, he’ll do it.

When Lily’s dad offers Stone extra cash to volunteer as Lily’s permanent dance partner, he can’t refuse. But with each dip and turn, each moment her hand is in his, his side job starts to feel all too real. Lily shows Stone he's more than his impressive football stats, and he introduces her to a world outside of studying. But with the lines blurred, can their relationship survive the secret he's been hiding?

Flo's Review
As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I would adore it. And as I was reading it, I adored it. It took me awhile because of life, but I finally finished it this weekend. And I adore it.

Hot Stone Torres was totally hot. Though the friendship with Angela seemed a little manufactured (like she really had no friends she hung out before Lily and Sydney so now she does everything with them?), it was still delightful. I did enjoy the story line about her and Chasing Trouble. I would love to see that in another story! I respected Lily's dad for something he said toward the end. (That's all I can say there without spoilers.) There were a few minor editing things that I noticed, but they did not affect the enjoyment of the story for me. Like I said, I've only ever thought this book was adorable. 

The "eyes on me" theme was consistent throughout the novel, which was nice. Stone said it in the beginning and Lily said it at the end, but throughout the story characters eyes were described in detail during emotional scenes. It was a touch that was subtle, but powerful at the same time. 

To read an exclusive guest post about the book from author Rachel Harris, click here: 
GUEST POST: Rachel Harris for EYES ON ME.

Book review: You'd Be Mine by Erin Hahn

Book Summary
Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things. 

But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic death, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen. 

Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.

Flo's Review
I'm kicking myself, y'all. I've had this book for months. I was lucky enough to get an early ARC and I knew I was going to read it before it came out. But wow! I really wish I'd read it sooner. I read the majority of it today and loved it so hard.

These characters. Wow. They are both feeling so much, and in turn you really feel them and feel for them. The idea of two flawed people finding love is just so simply beautiful at its core, in contrast to the complication that the relationship inevitably is. 

The song lyrics hit all the right notes. (Sorry. Pun totally intended!) The ones that were supposed to be fun were fun, and the ones that were supposed to be deep really cut deep. I found myself flipping back to read different song lyrics as I went further into the book.

Reading this book was an easy as Sunday morning. I just kept turning the pages like it wasn't even a thing. I was on a flight, but between the time I touched down to when I got home to finish it, I kept trying to sneak in a few words or sentences -- waiting for the shuttle, in line to pay my parking ticket, etc. 

I knew that I would adore this book, because I love all the contemporary romances (bring on the Kasie West, the Jennifer E. Smith, the Miranda Kenneally!), but I don't think I really fathomed just how much. I think I may have found a new favorite YA contemporary author in Erin Hahn. 

You'd Be Mine comes out April 2, 2019 from Wednesday Books.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Audiobook review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Book Summary
Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

Flo's Review
This book is so cute! Which, I have to admit, I don't often say about ghost stories. But from the very beginning of this story, I was sucked in. Cassidy is a great narrator, and I really enjoyed her voice. I loved the irony of her parents looking for ghosts without knowing that their daughter actually sees them. Jacob and their rules of friendship were also heartwarming, especially as you see how the two of them have each other's backs.

The packing of the story is also fantastic - I never felt a lag in the action. There was world building that needed to be done, since this is the first book in a series, but it didn't have the problem that many first books in series often do with too much exposition and not enough plot. Indeed, at the end I was almost holding my breath as I rooted for Cassidy to succeed in saving herself.

Speaking of the end: it wasn't a complete cliffhanger, but I have questions and curiosities! I cannot wait to see how things play out in Tunnel of Bones.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Audiobook review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Book Summary
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Flo's Review
What a fantastic audiobook this was! I'm so, so glad I listened to this one. Trevor read it, and because of that I got the full experience of hearing the language and learning the names as they're meant to be heard and known. I cannot imagine that I would have enjoyed this half as much just by reading it. 

Well, actually I would have. Trevor Noah is so smart and clever. It's clear he did his research, and I learned so much just by listening to him. Listening to this audiobook allowed me to learn about lives and experiences that I might never have the opportunity to otherwise. This book really is an important part of making our world smaller and of helping us all to understand each other. What I mean by Trevor being clever -- and no, I didn't just say that because I wanted to make a rhyme! -- is that he always finds a way to relate his completely different experience of growing up in South Africa to the familiar experience of readers in the Western world (and those in other parts of the world as well.) He shows us, "People are people. We are not that different. We are the same." 

But he is also introspective about society and how things ended up the way they did. He shares a story and then often gives such thoughtful commentary on it afterward. It was brilliant. Through hearing his story, we see that Trevor is empathetic as well. And WOW -- I have the utmost respect for his mother. That woman is amazing, and I would love to have even a little bit of her strength, faith, courage, flexibility, and love. 

This book, you guys. I laughed at parts. I wanted to cry at parts. It made me think deep thoughts and celebrate the universality of humanity. And I learned so much. I highly, highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

GUEST POST: Rachel Harris for EYES ON ME

Get in the Groove
Is there anything sexier than a hot guy that can dance? Personally, it’s my kryptonite. 
Dance has always been a part of my life. Growing up in New Orleans where families are large and very very close, weddings and parties were held several times a year, and the dance floor was always packed. Formal lessons happened from the age of four to eight, at which point I quit because I didn’t want someone “telling me how to dance” (I may’ve been a touch stubborn, ha!), but they picked back up in high school when I joined the dance team. Dancing is even how my husband and I got together—we were on a double date, originally with other people, but we ended up switching midway through when my husband joined me on the dance floor. 
Most recently, dance entered my life via ballroom lessons I took with my husband for a year. We tried all the styles, but Latin was our definite favorite, in particular the rumba and salsa. They are just so dang sexy and fun! The connection between the partners, the emotion you put into each step, and the beat of the music is so incredibly addictive. 
Rumba ended up being our number one dance, and originally, it was going to be the style explored in Eyes on Me, too. However, once I dove into the book and really got to know my characters, I knew it had to be salsa. For one thing, salsa is faster paced, which is not only more forgiving for my occasionally clumsy heroine, but it’s also more youthful. The patterns and steps I chose were more fun, and a few of the tricks led to natural challenges to conquer.       
The real challenge for me came in balance. Giving readers who love dance enough to sink their teeth into, while not alienating readers who came simply for the hot football stud meets awkward Brainiac and could care less about the technical dance elements. Also walking the tightrope between describing the moves and keeping the story moving. For non-dancer readers, I wanted them to be able to understand without seeing the movement but not bore them, and for dancer readers, I wanted them to follow along and picture it easily in their minds. I hope I scored on both!
In the end, dancer or not, my true goal was in rocking the romance, which I believe is vital to any good routine. The trust required in a dance partner is also needed for a love interest. The insecurities and emotions spilled on the shiny wood floor cut at the heart of who we are as people…dance just helps speed up the exposure process. It was fun to explore the relationship between dance and love. Here’s a little snippet to show what I mean—Enjoy!
The music poured through the speakers—“Muevete” by D.L.G.—and after finding the beat, I began murmuring the count for her to follow. “Quick, quick. Slow. Quick, quick. Slow. One, two, three, four. Five, six, seven, eight.”
Dancing with music was harder. Even doing the same steps you’d mastered a second ago, the extra stimulus could jumble your feet. That’s where a strong partner came in handy. At least in theory.
“You’re ahead of the beat,” Ma said, modeling the steps alongside her. “Stop watching your feet and lift your head. Listen to the count. Trust that Agoston will guide you when it’s time to move.”
The muscles in Lily’s back twitched under my arm, and her jaw turned to granite. Sensing control was a bit of an issue for her, I tried teasing again. “Yeah, unlike you, I don’t walk into walls. It’s okay to follow me.” 
Her head jerked up, her gaze leaving the ground long enough to stare at me with a mixed expression of self-deprecation and annoyance. I grinned. 
“You really can let go,” I told her seriously. “I’ve got you. Believe it or not, this is supposed to be fun.” 
Lily exhaled heavily and darted a glance to the side. “I don’t like attention,” she murmured quietly, her blush deepening with the admission. “The mirrors in this room…they make it feel like everyone’s watching us.”
I couldn’t promise they weren’t. But I could help her forget about them. “Then keep your eyes on me,” I told her. “No one else here matters anyway. It’s just you and me and the music, okay?”

Ever danced salsa? If not, ever wanted to learn? Whether you’re a natural like Stone, a newbie like Lily, or have zero interest in getting on the dance floor yourself, just remember—if you stumble in life, just make it part of the dance 😊
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Rachel Harris writes humorous love stories about sassy girls-next-door and the hot guys that make them swoon. Vibrant settings, witty banter, and strong relationships are a staple in each of her books…and kissing. Lots of kissing. An admitted bookaholic and homeschool mom, she gets through each day by laughing at herself, hugging her kids, and watching way too much Food Network with her husband. She writes young adult, new adult, and adult romances, and LOVES talking with readers!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book review: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Book Summary
Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

Flo's Summary
I adored the Storm Siren trilogy (links to my reviews below), so I was super excited to read this one. What a fun concept! The result ended up being a mashup of so many great stories like Divergent, The Maze Runner, Theseus and the Labyrinth, and likely others.

The stand up parts of this story were the time in the maze. I was fascinated by all the adventures, puzzles, and challenges the contestants faced. Unfortunately, they didn't enter the labyrinth until more than halfway through the book. I know we needed all the information from the beginning of the story, but I felt myself glazing over a lot of it in my eagerness for the "action" to begin.

Rhen and Seleni's friendship was fantastic. They were two different women who wanted different things in life, but who stood by each other and supported each other's decisions. I don't want to comment on Holm because I want to be spoiler free here, but the story behind Holm was a commentary of its own that tied into the theme of the story. Naturally, we love Lute. (And by "we" I mean "me" -- but probably you, too, when you read it!) Finally, I adore this quote:

"What if I don't fully belong anywhere...because I belong to myself? Maybe that's the sea's strength, and maybe that's my strength, too. It's not that I don't belong. It's that I belong to me."

Right?! Didn't that just give you chills?! Succinct, but telling -- and very, very powerful.

To Best the Boys publishes March 19, 2019 from Thomas Nelson.

Thank you to the Thomas Nelson for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Storm Siren Trilogy:
Storm Siren:
Siren's Fury:
Siren's Song: