Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Sleuth or Dare series by Kim Harrington

Partners in Crime, Sleepover Stakeout, & Framed and Dangerous by Kim Harrington

When best friends Darcy and Norah have to create a fake business for a school assignment, they come up with a great idea: a detective agency! Darcy loves mysteries, and Norah likes helping people, so it's a perfect fit.

But then their pretend agency gets a real case. Someone is missing, and it's up to Darcy and Norah to take on the search. Unfortunately, there's someone else out there who doesn't want the two detectives stirring up any trouble. . . .

With the help of hidden clues, spy gadgets, and trusted friends, can Darcy and Norah crack the case in time?"- Book 1 summary from Amazon

You guys, this is such a cute little middle-grade series and I'm so glad I checked these books out of the library. I really enjoyed Harrington's debut and have been trying to fit her other books into my reading schedule but it's so hard to find time! These are some really quick reads (all at less than 200 pages) and Norah is such a fun main character. Harrington writes these in such a great way and it's hard to put the books down! I always wanted to see how the mystery was going to turn out and just what exactly was going on!

Darcy and Norah's friendship is at the center of the series and it's really nice to see that. They work really well together and I loved following along with them on their crime-solving. There is also a cute little romance that flows through all three books and Harrington handles it really well and it's simply adorable.

Overall, a wonderfully creative trilogy (with crime cases that stand alone in each book) for anyone loving a little mystery!

FTC: Borrowed all 3 books from the library. Links above are Amazon Associate links; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Blog Tour- Broken by CJ Lyons

Broken by CJ Lyons
"Fifteen-year-old Scarlet Killian has one chance for a normal life. Only problem? It just might kill her. Diagnosed with a rare and untreatable heart condition, Scarlet has never taken the school bus. Or giggled with friends during lunch. Or spied on a crush out of the corner of her eye. Scarlet has come to terms with the fact that despite the best efforts of her doctors and parents, she's going to die. Literally of a broken heart. So when her parents offer her a week to prove she can survive high school, Scarlet knows her time is now... or never.

Scarlet can feel her heart beating out of control with every slammed locker and every sideways glance in the hallway. But for the first time in her life she makes real friends. She also makes new discoveries about the truth behind her illness... a truth that might just kill her before her heart does."- summary from publisher

I liked this book and it was interesting to read a story with this particular angle, and Lyons does a good job educating the reader about this rare disease without it seeming too much of an info-dump. Scarlet is a great main character, and I do think readers will identify with her and enjoy her sense of humor as well as the wonder of being in a high school and learning one's way around. There is kind of a love triangle (and a little insta-love but there is some good chemistry between them shown throughout the book) but it never really becomes fully-formed due to one of the guys really being more of a protector than a real love interest, which I liked.

The thriller aspect seemed a bit tagged on. There's some hints here and there throughout the book but it really doesn't get going until like the last 75 pages or so which makes it feel a bit rushed. I also didn't feel enough closure at the end of the book; I was really hoping for a bit more.

Overall, Lyons has written a wonderful, engaging YA debut and I cannot wait to see what she writes next!

and here's an interview with CJ:
1) How did you get the idea for Broken?

Scarlet’s character is loosely based on my own experiences as a pediatrician. I diagnosed my niece, Abby, with the same congenital heart condition, Long QT, when Abby was only twenty minutes old and BROKEN is dedicated to her.

Watching my niece refuse to allow her disease to define her was such a contrast to some other patients’ parents who would insist on making their child’s disease (most not life-threatening) the center of the child’s world that I couldn’t help but wonder what would it be like to grow up being treated as a “patient” all your life, or worse as the “dying girl,” rather than ever having the chance to figure out who you really were, dying or not.

What better disease to give a character like that than something rare and hard to diagnose and treat like Long QT? Of course, Scarlet is nothing at all like my niece (the best adjective to describe my niece would be “fierce” whereas Scarlet is very naïve and used to being controlled by the adults in her life) but by having Scarlet start the story as someone unsure of who she really is as a person, it makes her struggle and transformation as she faces the truth behind her illness all the more powerful.

After all, it’s easy for someone who is already strong to stand up to bullies or uncertainty or injustice…but how does a kid who has lived all her life in a hospital, basically just waiting to die, learn how to be a hero and find her destiny?

2) What are you working on currently? Can you tell us anything about it?

I just turned in my second YA Thriller and this one was so hard to write! It deals with two kids, Jesse and Miranda, being blackmailed by a cyber-predator using capping (screen capture images) and how they find the courage to stand up to him (with the help of their parents). They go through hell and some of the things that happen to them were so painful to write that I was weeping as I typed—but then I was crying again when I wrote the ending as they rose above it all and triumphed.

I thought it would be a stand alone, but after I finished it (the working title is DAMAGED, but I’m not sure if we’ll be keeping it) I realized there aren’t many books out there that tell you the rest of the story, the price to be paid for defeating the bad guys, so I’d love to tackle another book with Jesse and Miranda and show how their courage, strength, and relationship continue to evolve.

3) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor(s)? Or, if you don't like those, a favorite snack to have while writing or as a reward for writing?

Watermelon, I especially love how it’s green on the outside and pink on the inside, yet tastes nothing like a real watermelon...it’s like gobbling down an abstract expressionist painting!

4) You created this program called Buy a Book, Make a Difference. How did that get started, and tell us how people can help.

I lost a dear friend during my pediatric internship. Thanks to the work of dedicated police officers and forensic experts, his killer was caught. But there are some areas of the country where crimes go unsolved and killers go free because of a lack of forensic training.

After I hit #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, I wanted to give something back—both to honor Jeff’s memory as well as my readers’ generosity. I began the Buy a Book, Make a Difference (http://cjlyons.net/buy-a-book-make-a-difference/) program to raise funds for worthy charities (for BROKEN, we donated to American Heart Association, we’ve also given to Reading is Fundamental, Doctors without Borders, and St Judes Children’s Hospital) and also to create scholarships in Jeff’s name.

So far we’ve created fifty-four CSI scholarships for police officers from underfunded communities all over the US and Puerto Rico.

The best way people can help is to share this link: http://www.sirchie.com/training/training-programs/farkasscholarship.html (it goes directly to the Sirchie forensic institute’s page with info on the scholarships, not to my site) with their local law enforcement departments and let them know that if they need the training, there’s someone willing to help.

5) Broken is your YA debut. Had you read much YA before attempting your own? What do you like most about writing YA?

I’ve always loved reading YA and everyone kept telling me that as a pediatrician, I should write it. But honestly, I never found a story that I thought was worthy of my kids—my patients—until BROKEN. Writing for kids is tons tougher than writing for adults. Most grownups read for entertainment, but kids read for so much more. They want to vicariously experience the world and the choices they’ll be expected to make as adults as well as learn who they are and how they can fit into that larger universe once they’re the ones in charge.

Funny thing is, once I began BROKEN and found my YA voice (very different than my adult thrillers’ narrative voice), I realized I could be much more emotionally honest than with my adult work—which also meant I could tell edgier stories. After finishing BROKEN, I now have ideas for more YA thrillers and can’t wait to write them!

6) What book(s) are you currently reading, or are about to start?

I just finished Jess Shirvington’s Endless, am working my way through the awesome Wonderbook (a must read for all writers!) by Jeff Vandermeer, am re-reading Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides, juggling a few nonfiction research books on psychopaths, stalking, and surviving disasters, and am getting ready to start an advance copy of Lisa Gardner’s Fear Nothing…can you tell my greatest fear is being stranded without a book, lol!

About CJ:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-one novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.

Winner of the International Thriller Writers’ coveted Thriller Award, CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at www.CJLyons.net

Monday, November 25, 2013

Zits: Chillax by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Zits: Chillax by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman
"In Zits: Chillax, Jeremy Duncan, high school sophomore and future rock god, offers up a comedic outlook on teenage life, including school, parents, chores, bands, and friends.

Jeremy and his best friend, Hector Garcia, are planning to achieve a lifelong dream…going to a rock concert! Without parental supervision. But the Gingivitis concert falls on the same night their friend Tim is donating bone marrow for his mom, a cancer patient. Not a problem: Jeremy and Hector are determined to go to the show…for Tim."- summary from Amazon

I absolutely love the comic strip Zits and had no idea it was getting the novel treatment like Big Nate before it until I received the ARC in the mail. I was very excited about reading this book and it contained a lot of the same humor it's known for in the strip, and it is nice to see these characters a little more fleshed out. But at the same time, I just didn't think it worked really well as a novel. It felt a little bit forced and Jeremy's voice just didn't seem realistic. It's a quick read, but there were times I wanted to put the book down and just move on to something else. It's not that it's a bad book by any means but it's not something I'd suggest you run out and get. It's a library read that'd be good for fans of the comic strip and reluctant boy readers. One of the other things that felt a bit weird too was the artwork in the book; obviously, it makes sense since it came from a comic strip but in a teen novel, just makes it feel very young. It works for Big Nate since that's for middle-graders, but teen readers might feel a little weird reading a book with drawings in it.

Overall, an average book based on an amazing comic strip.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Truth About You and Me by Amanda Grace

The Truth About You and Me by Amanda Grace
"On her first day at Green River Community College, Madelyn Hawkins meets Bennett Cartwright, her biology professor. He’s funny. He’s interested. And he has no idea that Madelyn is only sixteen.

When they’re together, Madelyn feels more alive than she’s ever felt before. And she knows Bennett feels the same way. She also knows that if she tells him her real age, their relationship will be over.

So Madelyn makes a simple decision.
She won’t tell him."- summary from Amazon

This is my first Amanda Grace book (though I've read her real life alter-ego Mandy Hubbard) and it certainly won't be my last. I absolutely enjoyed this book and it's such a departure from the usual plotline of these kinds of books. I liked that the underage girl wanted the relationship and pushed for it; there's a real relationship here, aside from that secret (which shouldn't matter at all, in my opinion). I'm sure quite a few people will be put off by the age difference and the whole teacher/student thing, but that didn't bother me at all. I don't necessarily know what Grace wants to say with this book, but for me, it showed that not all of these relationships are bad or that the teacher is a predator or whatever.

I liked how Grace told the book through Madelyn writing the letter to Bennett and there's some interesting reveals as the book goes on, utilizing that format. It's a good way of telling the story, looking back on it from present day and the events that had unfolded.

Overall, a really well-written, emotional and, yes, romantic book. I definitely recommend it and I'm excited to go back and read previous titles from Grace.

FTC: Received e-galley from Netgalley. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guest Blog- Johanna Parkhurst

Wait, you want little ol’ me to write a guest blog?! Thank you SO MUCH, Book Chic! Especially because you knew I was going to get on a soapbox and you invited me anyway. Just give me a second here while I climb up on said soapbox…there we go. Let’s get started.

I’m a middle school teacher/curriculum writer who’s been a proponent of having more books with LGBT characters in schools for quite some time now. Then I wrote a young adult novel, Here’s to You, Zeb Pike, that stars two gay teenage boys. So I don’t think it’s too surprising to anyone that I’ve been writing and reading a lot lately about the importance of having LGBT literature in schools.

But let’s face it. While many great teachers are all about showcasing diverse literature in their classrooms, this subject gets teachers fired. Parents get angry. School boards get weird. Tennessee tries (over and over) to pass laws saying that you can’t even use the word gay in a classroom. As important as it is that teachers stand up for LGBT lit in their classrooms, it ain’t always easy.

I get it. I’ve been there. Lemme tell you a story about it.

My second year of teaching, I had this student. We’ll call him Drew. Drew was possibly one of the sweetest students I’ve ever taught. Kind, curious, open-minded. And apt to say things like this to me in passing:
“I don’t understand why all the other boys in 8th grade are always talking about girls’ butts and boobs. Don’t they understand it’s their minds that matter?”

“I have this amazing Karen Carpenter CD I’d love to bring in to share with Creative Writing class tomorrow. Do you know about Karen Carpenter? I think everyone should.”

Drew and I were pretty tight, for a teacher and a 13-year-old boy who kept espousing the virtues of a 70s pop star. I tried hard to give him space to be himself—and just to be clear, I wouldn’t even venture a guess as to exactly what Drew’s identity was or has turned out to be. But both Drew and I knew that he was different from the other boys in his class.

At the time (this was circa 2005) it didn’t even occur to me to stack my classroom library with books about kids who didn’t like girls’ boobs and were obsessed with “Close to You.” For one thing, there weren’t many YA books like that readily available then. For another, I didn’t feel super empowered to introduce more diverse literature into my school. I was working in a pretty conservative area of the world back then: Colorado Springs. Surely you’ve heard of it? Home of Focus on the Family?

I bet Drew turned out okay despite this lack of diverse literature in his middle school language arts classes. I lost track of him a few years ago, but I have a strong feeling he’s fine. Drew was always going to find a group of drummers to march with, no matter what beat he was stamping out at the moment.

Whether or not he’s okay isn’t really the point, though. Drew deserved to see his own ideas and feelings represented in the books I taught and put in his classroom. He needed me to go to bat for such books.

I’ve thought back on that year in my teaching career a lot. I’ve been very lucky since then, and for the last few years I’ve worked in schools where diverse literature is appreciated. My current students have phenomenal access to books with LGBT characters. But sometimes I wonder: what would I do if I was still back at that school, and Drew and I were still hanging out and discussing As Time Goes By?

Well, here’s what I think I’d do now.

For one thing, I’d start small—no need to start teaching Will Grayson, Will Grayson on the first day of school when James Dobson’s living down the street. I’d get the conversation started by walking up to my principal with a book order for items like Breaking Boxes by A.M. Jenkins, On the Right Track by Sam Kadence, and Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. And if my principal had any of the following responses to my request, here’s what I like to think the new, more learn-ed me would say.

RESPONSE #1: Something along of the lines of “Kids this age are so young. We might be influencing them to believe they’re something that they’re really not.”

MORE LEARN-ED ME: “Do you ever worry that you’re convincing a girl to be straight when you give her a Sarah Dessen book? My girl Sarah sure isn’t worried about that.” (And by “my girl,” I mean that I follow her obsessively on Twitter.)

RESPONSE #2: The classic “Parents will complain.”

MORE LEARN-ED ME: “With all due respect, if a parent complained that they didn’t want a book about an Asian character in their kid’s library, how would you respond to that? Shouldn’t we keep the responses to discriminatory censorship requests the same across the board?”

RESPONSE #3: (Awkwardly, because it’s an awkward topic for middle school administrators) “Books about sexual orientations and gender generally involve sexual topics.”

MORE LEARN-ED ME: “Due respect stays the same, but that’s just not true. Plenty of picture books feature LGBT characters. This isn’t about introducing students to ideas about sex, it’s about introducing students to all different types of people. Heather has two mommies no matter what age she is.”

That’s pretty much the heart of it, you know? Tim Federle, author of Better Nate than Never, wrote this great article for the Huffington Post that puts it faaaar better than I ever could: “All kinds of people deserve all kinds of stories. When we support books that feature diverse kids, we're telling those kids that we support them too, that they are, more than anything, OK. The opposite is true when we shut those kinds of books down.”

Well said, Tim.

So Drew, wherever you are, I’m sorry I wasn’t learn-ed enough back then to give you all kinds of stories with all kinds of characters. I hope someday you come across a copy of Here’s to You, Zeb Pike and know that you, and every other student I ever taught who was “different,” inspired those characters.

And thanks for giving me an appreciation of Karen Carpenter that I might otherwise have missed out on. Though I have to admit that I still don’t get the fascination.

Johanna Parkhurst grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Vermont before relocating to the rocky mountains of Colorado. She spends her days helping teenagers learn to read and write and her evenings writing things she hopes they’ll like to read. She strives to share stories of young adults who are as determined, passionate, and complex as the ones she shares classrooms with.

Johanna holds degrees from Albertus Magnus College and Teachers College, Columbia University. She loves traveling, hiking, skiing, watching football, and spending time with her incredibly supportive husband. You can contact her at johannawriteson@gmail.com or find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/johannawriteson.

Johanna's book Here's to You, Zeb Pike is in stores now and can be ordered online from Amazon and other online stores. You can find out more about Johanna at her Facebook page and you can add her book on Goodreads.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger

Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger
"People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club.

In this latest book, Russel and his friends Min and Gunnar are laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise – the tendency for life to never turn out as expected. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot but mysterious homeless activist named Wade, even as he's drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min is learning surprising things about her girlfriend Leah, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest technology obsession.

But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?"- summary from Amazon

Geography Club was one of the first GLBT YA books I ever read and I absolutely adored it, making Hartinger one of my favorite authors. I loved the two sequels that followed and was excited to read this newest installment after 6 years since the last one. I wasn't as impressed with this book. I liked returning to these characters and seeing what new things they're going through, but I just didn't feel that connection I did with the first three (and most especially, the first book).

I liked the freegan aspect that Hartinger incorporated in the new character of Wade, and learning about that whole movement made for an interesting plot thread. But it became a little out of control toward the end with what he and his friends are planning and unbelievable, for me at least. I personally preferred reading about the emotional arc between Russel and Wade, which brought in something I don't usually see in YA books. I don't want to give anything away though.

Overall, if you've been reading the series, this book is worth picking up to catch up with your favorite characters. If you haven't and are looking for a good, quick GLBT read, this is worth it, but I'd also suggest starting from the beginning. It's not necessary, as Hartinger does provide backstory as needed, but I think it would definitely make it easier and more fun. All of them are currently available as e-books.

FTC: Received e-galley from Netgalley. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Across A Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Across A Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
"Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction--the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars--is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries' weapon is a drug that damages their enemies' brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo... is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can't risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he's hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country's revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he's pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she's not only risking her heart, she's risking the world she's sworn to protect."- summary from Amazon

I absolutely adored For Darkness Shows the Stars, which is a companion book to this (but should be read first, in my opinion), and was excited to read this book. I didn't feel as enthralled with this one though; it's still a very good book but I felt I had to push myself to continue a bit more when I started out with it. Once the story gets going though, I had a hard time putting it down.

I loved Persis as a character and enjoyed reading about her journeys as the Wild Poppy and having to conceal her true nature when in court. It was an interesting plot point to read. I also enjoyed being able to see into the minds and hearts of other characters as the story saw fit, flitting around to Justen every so often as well as other secondary characters.

The world building here was done really well too. The whole Reduction is re-explained here but there's a whole different side to it from For Darkness Shows the Stars. It was nice to see it done in a new way here, and also to introduce a whole bunch of advanced technology into the mix. There's also another part I'm very happy about, but want to keep that under wraps since it's a spoiler.

Overall though, another really good novel from Peterfreund. Definitely check out this and the companion novel, For Darkness Show the Stars. They're simply wonderful books.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Author Interview- Diana Peterfreund

1) What made you decide to retell classic novels, and how did you choose the ones you did?

I love retellings -- Clueless (Emma), West Side Story (Romeo & Juliet) and even Forbidden Planet (The Tempest). I have had "write a retelling of Persuasion" in my idea file for years... just waiting for the right world to make it work, and that was For Darkness Shows the Stars. Years ago, I'd played around with a gender-switched Scarlet Pimpernel set in space which didn't work out. When, many months after finishing For Darkness Shows the Stars, I realized that the world could hold a Pimpernel, that the "revolution" many of the characters speak of in For Darkness could come to pass in a slightly different environment -- well, I was off and running. My favorite piece of the puzzle came when I realized that the beheadings of the original could stand in for the damage of the Reduction. After writing the rustic, post-apocalyptic dark ages in For Darkness, I was so excited to fill Star-Swept with tons of lush details, gorgeous clothes and cool technology.

2) What are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about it?

The first book in the OMEGA CITY trilogy, a middle grade series about a group of kids who stumble upon a vast, underground Cold War bunker city, and the adventure they have there. Think Goonies with nuclear bunkers and rocket ships. It'll be out in 2015. I also just finished the first two books under my new romance pen name, Viv Daniels. ONE & ONLY is a swoony, angsty new adult romance that will be out in November. The other is for a holiday anthology called ONE ENCHANTED SEASON that I'm doing with a bunch of my romance writer friends. It's been a VERY busy summer!

3) In my previous interview with you, I asked about your volunteering at the National Zoo. Do you still do that? Are you working with the tamarins still?

Alas, they closed down the free-range tamarin program to make more room for the elephants. But now that I've got my very human monkey at home (she'll be three this year), I don't have as much time as I used to, anyway. I'm still a member of the zoo, though, and I try to visit as much as I can.

4) You now have several YA novels under your belt. What's your favorite and least favorite aspect of writing YA?

Yes, four YAs on top of my five adult books! How time does fly! My favorite part of the YA community is definitely the readership. Ain't no fan like a YA fan. They are so passionate and engaged and open and voracious. My least favorite aspect is how many clueless adults underestimate that readership, and the books they love.

5) I've already asked your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor, so what's your favorite snack to have while writing, or as a reward for writing?

I always need my morning tea. I have quite the tea collection, and that doesn't even include my cast-iron, cherry blossom-embossed teapot (go, DC!) or my antique teacups. It's a whole ritual at this point, really.

6) What book(s) are you reading now, or are about to start?

I just glommed the entirety of (the available books in) Courtney Milan's Brothers Sinister series: The Governess Affair, The Duchess War, The Heiress Effect, and A Kiss For Midwinter. Such good historical romance! I also finished SCATTER, ADAPT AND REMEMBER, which is a non-fiction book about surviving extinction-level disasters. (Research, baby!). And I was lucky to read an advanced copy of Mari Mancusi's dragon apocalypse book, SCORCHED. It's been a busy summer for me -- two books and a novella to write--which left me way too little time for reading.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Right of Way by Lauren Barnholdt

Right of Way by Lauren Barnholdt
"Here are Peyton and Jace, meeting on vacation. Click! It’s awesome, it’s easy, it’s romantic. This is the real deal.

Unless it isn’t. Because when you’re in love, you don’t just stop calling one day. And you don’t keep secrets. Or lie. And when your life starts falling apart, you’re supposed to have the other person to lean on.

Here are Peyton and Jace again, broken up but thrown together on a road trip. One of them is lying about the destination. One of them is pretending not to be leaving something behind. And neither of them is prepared for what’s coming on the road ahead…"- summary from Amazon

I've not read the companion book this was based off of- Two-Way Street- though I've owned the book since it was originally released, but that doesn't really matter. Readers are re-introduced to the characters from Two-Way Street, and I'm sure it'll be great for those who have read the book to see them pop up again as side characters and see what they've been up to. But the main focus is on Jace and Peyton, who share narrator duties, and who have a very love-hate relationship (emphasis on the hate in the beginning).

It's an interesting story and definitely works best being told in the dual perspective, getting a good look into each of their mindsets. There were plenty of times though where I was a bit annoyed at both of them for holding back their feelings sometimes. I mean, I know that otherwise there'd basically be no story if there wasn't that tension and stuff but still. And there was another part about no secrets/being honest in a situation where I felt it was warranted that the secret was not told until the person was good and ready to tell it to the other. That kinda made me a bit angry with the character who was demanding that.

Overall, it is a good book though, infused with humor, sexiness, a random dog and a wild road trip. And now I really need to go back and catch up on all the Barnholdt I've missed over the years!

FTC: Received e-galley from Edelweiss. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna

The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna
"Sophie Sophia is obsessed with music from the late eighties. She also has an eccentric physicist father who sometimes vanishes for days and sees things other people don’t see. But when he disappears for good and Sophie’s mom moves them from Brooklyn, New York, to Havencrest, Illinois, for a fresh start, things take a turn for the weird. Sophie starts seeing things, like marching band pandas, just like her dad.

Guided by Walt, her shaman panda, and her new (human) friend named Finny, Sophie is determined to find her father and figure out her visions, once and for all. So she travels back to where it began—New York City and NYU’s physics department. As she discovers more about her dad’s research on M-theory and her father himself, Sophie opens her eyes to the world’s infinite possibilities—and her heart to love."- summary from Amazon

This was a really interesting book. I may not have understood most of the physics stuff, but I don't think that matters anyway. It's a very compelling story with some memorable characters and an interesting "illness" (not really sure what else to call it). Sophie is a great main character and Luna makes it easy to relate to her and empathize with what she's going through. I absolutely love the character of Finny (much of it has to do with the fact that he's gay, so sue me) and he's a great friend and confidante for Sophie.

Of course, I can't leave out Walt, the shaman panda, because he's pretty darn awesome, insightful and witty. Her conversations with Walt and interactions with these other worlds really made me curious as to how it plays out in the real world. Occasionally Walt is given food from the real world and eats it; how do you explain the missing food? It's an interesting question and not one I think the book really addresses. Not that it matters that much.

It's a wonderful journey the reader goes on with Sophie, and luckily, it's not really hampered by a romance. There is a crush and some romance-y elements, but the reader doesn't really get to know the love interest too well (I can't even remember his name) but it's left on a hopeful note at the end of the book, which is nice.

Overall, a fascinating, smart debut and I'm excited to see what Luna has in store for us next!

FTC: Received e-galley from Netgalley. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle
"For as long as she can remember, Wren Gray’s goal has been to please her parents. But as high school graduation nears, so does an uncomfortable realization: Pleasing her parents once overlapped with pleasing herself, but now . . . not so much. Wren needs to honor her own desires, but how can she if she doesn’t even know what they are?

Charlie Parker, on the other hand, is painfully aware of his heart’s desire. A gentle boy with a troubled past, Charlie has loved Wren since the day he first saw her. But a girl like Wren would never fall for a guy like Charlie—at least not the sort of guy Charlie believes himself to be.

And yet certain things are written in the stars. And in the summer after high school, Wren and Charlie’s souls will collide. But souls are complicated, as are the bodies that house them . . ."- summary from Amazon

Myracle is one of my favorite authors, and this book proves why. It's a fantastic love story full of ups and downs, some sexy bits, and a wonderful connection between the two main characters. It really helps too having the story told in the dual perspective because the reader can really get a feel for these two characters and understand their thoughts and where they're coming from when approaching this relationship. I did have a problem with Wren's chapters in the beginning just because she was so innocent and clueless about herself; it got on my nerves, though I know that it's part of her emotional arc throughout the book- learning to become her own person with her own opinions.

What I also love about this book is that it takes teen love very seriously. Wren is very inexperienced, and Charlie is more experienced in the physical way but certainly not emotionally, so there's a lot of growing and a lot of firsts for these two as they navigate this new relationship. I mentioned earlier that there are sexy bits in this book- Myracle writes a sex scene that is just done so perfectly; it is sexy, but it's also filled with so much love so it's not tawdry or meaningless. I also think this is the first time I've ever seen the C word in reference to the male anatomy written in a YA book. What I also enjoyed was Wren being very much in charge of how things will go down for their first time. The guy isn't pressuring at all, and it's her that makes a very big decision regarding their first time (well, two really) that makes sense for those two (and for other teenagers in a similar position). I'm sure Myracle will get much flack for it (it's almost unheard of, even in the gay stories I read), but it works and they're both being smart about it.

Overall, it's just a fantastically written contemporary book and I highly recommend it. I'm so glad she came out with a new YA and I'm excited to see what she does next.

FTC: Received signed ARC from my friend Susan (thanks!). Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot

The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot
"Heather Wells is used to having her cake and eating it too, but this time her cake just might be cooked. Her wedding cake, that is.

With her upcoming nuptials to PI Cooper Cartwright only weeks away, Heather's already stressed. And when a pretty junior turns up dead, Heather's sure things can't get worse—until every student in the dorm where she works is a possible suspect, and Heather's long-lost mother shows up.

Heather has no time for a tearful mother and bride reunion. She has a wedding to pull off and a murder to solve. Instead of wedding bells, she might be hearing wedding bullets, but she's determined to bring the bad guys to justice if it's the last thing she does . . . and this time, it just might be."- summary from Amazon

Let's just be honest, this review doesn't really mean much. I mean, it's a new Meg Cabot book- you know you're gonna get it. But the publisher wants a review, so here it is.

This was a fantastic book. I've been a huge fan of the Heather Wells series and was very excited when it was announced that two more book would be written (this and last year's Ready to Rock) after the supposed ending of Big Boned. Cabot's written a perfect series-closer, though I've heard from a BookTalk Nation video chat she did in September that there might be one more book on the way. While I would welcome many many more Heather Wells books, this would've been a great way to leave the series. It's handled so beautifully, and with a cameo from one of Meg's other leading ladies that may have made me squeal with joy.

Reading this book made me really want to re-read the previous four. While I read the fourth last year when it was released, it's been several years since I read the first three (they were released 2005-2007 and I read them at that time). I love spending time with these characters and all the little call-backs and plot refreshers made me nostalgic. I have actually started the re-reading process and it's so much fun. Since it's been so long, it's almost like having a few new Heather Wells books to read!

Cabot really does an amazing job building up all the secondary characters so they feel real and the reader really gets to know them over each novel. It helps so much to infuse life into the world of the series and provides a wonderful familiarity. I particularly love Gavin- he always provides such wonderful humor and is so over-the-top that it's a joy to read scenes he's in.

Like with the last book though, I felt like the murder and the motive weren't as up to par with the ones in the first three books. It just didn't feel very realistic to me. That's honestly my only complaint though, but with so much other stuff going on throughout the book (Heather's mom coming back, her wedding planning, other surprises), it wasn't that big of a deal.

Overall, another great book from Cabot. While there isn't anything announced yet, I look forward to whatever Cabot has in store for us next!

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Giveaway + Interview- Monsters by Ilsa J. Bick

Monsters by Ilsa J. Bick
"The Changed are on the move. The Spared are out of time. The End...is now.

When her parents died, Alex thought things couldn't get much worse--until the doctors found the monster in her head.

She headed into the wilderness as a good-bye, to leave everything behind. But then the end of the world happened, and Alex took the first step down a treacherous road of betrayal and terror and death.

Now, with no hope of rescue--on the brink of starvation in a winter that just won't quit--she discovers a new and horrifying truth.

The Change isn't over.
The Changed are still evolving.
And...they've had help.

With this final volume of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick delivers a riveting, blockbuster finish, returning readers to a brutal, post-apocalyptic world where no one is safe and hope is in short supply.

A world where, from these ashes, the monsters may rise."- summary from Amazon

Thanks to Media Masters Publicity and Egmont USA, I have a hardcover copy of Monsters by Ilsa J. Bick to give away. US residents only. All you have to do to enter is just leave a comment on this post by Friday, November 8 at 9pm EST. Leave your email address if it's not readily accessible (i.e. if it's not on your blogger profile). If there are any questions, leave them in the comments. Also, if I can find them, I may be giving out a second prize consisting of the ARCs of Shadows (Book 2) and Monsters (Book 3)- let me know if you prefer one prize over another, or if you're fine with either. So more opportunity to win!

and here's an interview with Ilsa:
1) How did you get the idea for the Ashes trilogy? Is it sad to see the story ending now with the release of Monsters?

About four or five years ago, I read a very good book with an end-of-the-world scenario and liked it so much I found myself wondering if I could pull off something like that. The problem I felt with that book—and others like it, though—was that the setups weren’t that believable; people were too well behaved; and/or we were dropped into societies eons after whatever catastrophe had taken place. So I decided that if I were to try something like that, the science would have to be fairly solid; people would act like the savages they can be; and I would let things evolve rather than simply drop readers into a world that’s already changed.

As for the end: I wrote a whole blog entry, “Letting Go,” about this, and you can read it here: http://www.ilsajbick.com/?p=2354. I also just did a PW podcast where they asked that question, too, and you can listen to that interview here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/podcasts/index.html?channel=5&podcast=153#path/pw/podcasts/index.html?channel=5&podcast=153.

But, in a nutshell, I’m both proud and pretty bummed. I did something I’ve always wanted to try, and that was to tell a very big, very complicated story: see it all the way through, juggle multiple plotlines and POVs, that kind of thing. I think I’ve pretty much succeeded, too.

Yet I’m also very sad to say good-bye. I still toy with ideas for a fourth book; I even know what it would be about. But you have to know when to let things go. If another book’s meant to be, it’ll notify me.

In the meantime, I’m really glad I’ve got another series coming out. Fills the void, and now I have new characters to torture.

2) You're a child psychiatrist. Does any of that background feed into your writing at all?

Oh, sure. How can it not? Shrinkage was part of my daily life for over twenty years. I’m always interested in what makes people tick, and I think my background helps me avoid easy characterizations, or caricatures, for that matter. Almost everyone has another agenda, and nobody’s really all one thing or the other. (Well, okay, if you’re an ax-murderer, maybe then. But having worked in a women’s prison, you learn that you have to try and see things from a different point of view. Not always a comfortable experience, and it can be downright creepy. But you still have to try.)

When people walked into my office—whether this was in my private practice or during my time in the military—they were in their darkest moments, at the brink of the apocalypse. I’m not joking. People came to me when all their normal modes of functioning or coping had broken down and life was no longer business as usual. Until the moment they walked through my door, parents could hang onto the idea of—and hope for—a perfect child. Seeing me was not only synonymous with defeat: it meant the death of that future. If that’s not catastrophic—if that’s not horror—then I don’t know what is.

I also saw a ton of people who were truly awful to those they profess to love. A lot of families are sometimes bound much more strongly by hatred than love.

So, yeah . . . I draw on that stuff all the time.

3) What are you currently working on? Can you tell us anything about it?

I just went through the first-round copy-edits for Book I of my new Dark Passages Series, WHITE SPACE, and am now in the beginning throes—really, think hand to hand combat—of the sequel, THE DICKENS MIRROR. If you want a general idea what the books are about . . . think The Matrix meets Inkheart and Inception, and that will give you a clue. They’re basically YA horror/psychological thrillers with a dash of sci-fi and, in the case of DICKENS MIRROR, historical fiction. I know; I’m hard to nail down.

Just as soon as I’m done with DM, I’ll go back to a new standalone I’m about halfway through and then revisit the first book in another projected series that I’ve also got about half-written. (So much to do, only so many hours in the day I can spend at a computer before my brain turns to oatmeal.) By the time I’m all done with those, I’m sure I’ll have thought of something else to write. If I haven’t, I’m in trouble. My husband might make me go back to work.

4) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor, or if you don't like those, your favorite snack to have while writing or as a reward for writing?

Heh. I try not to snack when I write, and when the writing’s going well, I sometimes forget to eat. I actually don’t use/see food as a reward for writing either. Food is, you know, fuel. On the other hand, I do have a dry martini on Friday nights (my reward for enduring the work week, although since I work on weekends, too . . . it’s kind of futile, you know?). But when I finish a book, I will give myself permission for a vodka martini (Belvedere, three olives, very dry) even if it’s not Friday.

But I do have three favorite Jelly belly flavors: chocolate pudding, chili mango, and lemon-lime.

5) What book(s) are you currently reading, or are about to start?

Currently reading and/or listening to: Storm Front by John Sandford; The Final Descent by Rick Yancey; Dr. Sleep by Stephen King; Never Go Back by Lee Child; and The Monster Variations by Daniel Kraus.