Book Reviews

ONCE AND FOR ALL: That Time I Wrote a Gushing Post About My Favorite Author

AMAZON RATING: 4.2 stars out of 5 | GOODREADS RATING: 3.79 stars out of 5 | MY RATING: 5 out of 5

Since I was a kid, I remember my mom taking me to Borders (RIP) on Saturdays to look for books. I’d head straight for the Young Adult section and spend forever judging books by their covers and back-of-the-book copy, until finally choosing one and devouring it once we returned home. (Shout out to my mom for always encouraging a strong love of books!)

This was how I discovered Sarah Dessen. I picked SOMEONE LIKE YOU up from a shelf at Borders probably sometime around 2004. And… I didn’t like it.

I wasn’t ready for Sarah. But Sarah was there. Waiting.

Months later, bored around the house and looking for something to do, I picked that book up again and decided to re-read the story of Hallie, Scarlett, and the time they had to act like adults long before they were ready. And this time, I had found a new favorite author.

I can’t explain to you why my opinion changed that second time around. But the next time I was at Borders, I picked up another Sarah Dessen book. And the next time… and the next time… before long, I was looking up her release dates and eagerly awaiting her next books, begging to go to the bookstore as soon as they were available.

This story brings me to today’s impromptu, out-of-order review of Sarah Dessen’s latest novel, ONCE AND FOR ALL.

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Long story short, this book does not disappoint. Coming from one of the biggest young adult contemporary authors that currently exists, that’s no surprise. One of the things I’ve always loved about Sarah’s books is that while they deal with the normal high school problems that many teens face, she also confronts some of the bigger issues we hope no teens ever have to deal with: homelessness, abandonment, abuse, teen pregnancy and so much more. ONCE AND FOR ALL is no different.

Louna works for her mother’s successful wedding planning business, and she’s just looking forward to starting over now that high school is behind her. She’s surrounded every day with the ideals of true love lasting forever, but there’s just one problem: Louna has already been in love, and it didn’t last forever. In fact, it didn’t last nearly long enough. Ethan’s no longer a part of her life for reasons she finds hard to face and hard to understand. Yes. I’m being purposefully vague.

Along comes Ambrose (who reminds me so much of Dexter from THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER that it’s ridiculous), and the last thing Louna wants to deal with is a clumsy, bumbling optimist who thinks the sun never stops shining and just wants to save dogs. On that last point, I identify with Ambrose on a deep, personal level. 😀

I won’t say which hard-hitting point Sarah uses in this particular book, because I want you to read it yourself, but ONCE AND FOR ALL is worth every second I couldn’t put it down. Every time Ethan was mentioned, I COULD. NOT. STOP. On a side note, does Ethan and Louna’s night on the beach sound a crazy amount like Auden and Eli from ALONG FOR THE RIDE (whom they meet at some point, funnily enough), or is that just me?

I have no complaints. I’m biased. I will never have a complaint against a Sarah Dessen book. Sarah, you have inspired me since I was 12, and others since before that. If I ever write contemporary, I want you to know that you are the reason. ❤

 

Still coming is a review of COLD SUMMER by Gwen Cole, with an extra little surprise! Let’s hope I can write reviews and stop reading long enough to catch up with myself sometime soon… 🙂

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Book Reviews

ONE OF US IS LYING: My Realization That I’m Never Right

GOODREADS RATING: 4.06 out of 5 | AMAZON RATING: 4.4 stars out of 5 | MY RATING: 4.7 stars out of 5

 

My husband and I constantly do this thing when we watch TV shows where we guess what’s going to happen next or as a result of whatever a character is up to. SPOILER ALERT: He’s ALWAYS right, and I’m ALWAYS wrong.

I was definitely wrong about who the killer was in Karen M. McManus’s debut novel, ONE OF US IS LYING.

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I knew I wanted to read this book the first time I saw it in Barnes and Noble a few months ago. I have a group chat with some of my friends from college (shout out to my 2014 Bluestone Babes, you guys are the real MVPs). I texted them and said, “Guys, I found a book that’s basically The Breakfast Club BUT WITH MURDER.” And as someone who can say all of Bender’s lines along with him in that movie, I absolutely had to read this book!

 

So the book starts out on the way to detention. You have the usual suspects… “You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?” (I couldn’t resist.)

By the end of detention, only four students are left alive, and there’s no one who sticks out as the main suspect. The school’s outcast, whistleblower, and victim, Simon, had a lot of enemies.

There’s Bronwyn, the brain, who had a decent enough relationship with Simon that she thinks will keep her away from suspicion, but everyone has their own secrets to keep.

There’s Addy, the beauty, who would have done anything to make sure Simon didn’t dig into what she did while her boyfriend was away.

There’s Cooper, the athlete, who has MLB scouts staring him down and therefore has a lot to lose if Simon managed to ruin his reputation.

And there’s Nate, the criminal, whose frequent run-ins with the police make him a prime suspect for a crime.

There you have it, the Bayview Four. The only people in the room when Simon died, except for the teacher administering their detention. I’d tell you who I suspected the entire time, but I already said that I was wrong, and I don’t want to spoil anything for you!

I was completely hooked. McManus does a fantastic job weaving this story and showing how a group of people can come together in a tragedy. Everyone’s secrets get unraveled, debunked and laid out for the world in 358 pages of pure mastery. But who is the killer? I’ll give you a hint: if you truly guess it, I’m going to officially suspect you as either a murderer or a secret FBI agent. (Karen M. McManus…anything you’d like to tell us…?)

My only critique on this book was the difficulty I had with the switching POVs, but that’s such a trivial critique that it doesn’t even matter. The book switches between the Bayview Four chapter by chapter so you fully see into each of their lives, and the way that their lives are seen by the others. I had a hard time keeping up with it at the beginning, but it was also so interesting to see all the different angles!

 

Just tonight I finished COLD SUMMER by Gwen Cole, and that’s next up on the review list! Perfect now that it’s started getting super cold around here…

Book Reviews

THE HATE U GIVE: How One Book Changed My Life

Goodreads rating: 4.6 stars out of 5 | Amazon rating: 4.8 stars out of 5 | My rating: 5 stars out of 5

What Would Angie Thomas Do? That’s my new life motto.

Again, this was a honeymoon book. Or more like, a waiting-for-the-shuttle-to-the-airport-and-then-couldn’t-stop-thinking-about-it-on-the-plane-so-I-finished-it-immediately book. And then I texted my mom and told her she absolutely must read it. (She did. She loved it. As will you.)

If you’ve been reading my reviews, you know I don’t really give out 5 stars. I’m a brutally honest person when it comes to books, what can I say? But THE HATE U GIVE is more than just a world to lose yourself in for a few hours. It’s a world that traps you in and makes you think about your own experiences, how they affect the others around you, and what’s really going on in this country.

This book speaks on the Black Lives Matter movement in America. I’ve always agreed with the movement, myself, so I was always going to agree with this book’s message anyway, But what I love most about this book is that it is in no way anti-cop. It is in no way negative toward any position. It’s just about a girl facing the reality that her best friend is dead, after all he did was check to make sure she was OK. It’s about a girl who sees what the media is saying about her friend without getting the facts, or even mutilating the facts and taking them out of context to make sure that people don’t grieve for Khalil. Thomas does such a fantastic job telling a story with no bashing of the other side, and even including such an excellent example of a police officer as Starr’s own uncle.

Starr is, well, a star. She’s a beautiful role model and just wants to figure out how to navigate this sticky situation where she doesn’t even want to tell her white friends at her prestigious school about what happened. What happened was that she watched her best friend get shot by a cop who pulled them over after a party one night. She watches the news accuse him of being a drug dealer, as if that makes it all OK, without bothering to find out the real story, anyway. She finds out who her real friends are as Khalil’s trial looms and more and more truths come out.

This book is already in the works to become a movie. It’s been on the bestseller list, most weeks at #1 (rightfully so), since it was first released this past February. I will be (and have been) recommending this book to just about everyone I know. Seriously. It’s fantastic. Go buy a copy and read it. Now. I’ll wait.

 

 

Angie Thomas, you are a beautiful writer and I hope you don’t ever let anyone take the shine out of your Starr. Thank you for opening my eyes to the reality of the Black Lives Matter movement. Like I said, I’ve always supported it, but let’s be real: I’m a middle class white girl who grew up in suburban Pennsylvania and suburban Virginia. My experiences are not your experiences, and vice versa. Thank you for showing me the other side. Thank you for writing the book of the year. (Is that an actual award? It should be. And you should get it.)

 

Please stay tuned for a review of the new release ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen McManus!

Book Reviews

THESE THINGS I’VE DONE: Rebecca Phillips and How She Rips My Heart to Shreds

Amazon rating: 4.4 stars out of 5 | Goodreads Rating: 4.09 stars out of 5 | My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

I’ve somehow managed to get a cold (or something) in the summer, so let’s get caught up on my book reviews from my couch, shall we?

I’m going to start out by saying that I’m a harsh critic of books. I have multiple books on my Kindle (and probably on my bookshelf) that I started and never finished. So while I may critique a book to its core… if I finish it, I liked it overall. I’ll also go ahead and say there was one thing about this book that truly bothered me by the time I finished. But I finished. I was HOOKED. I absolutely had to know what happened next. Stay with me here.

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Since I don’t have a physical copy of this book because I bought the Kindle edition, please accept this photo of my pet bunny Sundance trying to read his first novel.

I read this book during the course of one day while on my honeymoon. You read that right: I spent that long in a single day reading a book while in Hawaii on my honeymoon. At one point my husband suggested getting into the pool and I made him wait because I was at a crucial part that I refused to back down from.

I had read one other book by Rebecca Phillips before: OUT OF NOWHERE, and I really enjoyed it and highly recommend, along with this one. THESE THINGS I’VE DONE just came out last month, and I’ve known about it for a long time (thanks Eric!) and couldn’t wait to read it!

The book is about a girl (Dara) beginning her last year of high school, on the heels of a year-long trip away from where she grew up to get away from rumors and her past. A past where her best friend died in a horrible accident… that she feels responsible for.

Dara’s guilt throughout this book DESTROYED me. Ms. Phillips does such an incredible job of making those emotions come alive. I felt her pain every step of the way, and as her relationship with Ethan changed throughout the book, I felt like I was there with her. In high school. It was weird. (Can we all just agree high school was a weird and oddly traumatizing time for all of us? Moving on!)

There is so much conflict in this book that I felt like I was on eggshells the entire time reading it. And I mean that in a great way. Everywhere Dara turned there was something holding her back from moving on from Aubrey’s death. She couldn’t escape it, and was told to stay away from the one person who had a shot of helping her try.

Which brings me to what bothered me about this book: I felt cheated that a confrontation that was hinted out throughout the entire book never happened (I’m trying SO HARD here to not give anything away. I want you to read it yourself!). Ms. Phillips does this amazing job of raising the stakes and making you need to know how it’s going to turn out, but one of the things that was destroying me, waiting for it to happen, never did. And I’m sad about it. I felt like that’s what could have been the defining moment for Dara: facing up to these people and what really happened when Aubrey died.

 

But all in all, I truly loved this book. I’ll probably end up reading her other ones that are out, and will continue to keep up with her as her writing career continues. I’m a sucker for YA contemporary (I consider my own book half fantasy, half contemporary, if that’s a thing) so this is definitely right up my alley. Thanks for writing, Rebecca Phillips ❤

Book Reviews

Snow Like Ashes Series Review

So, hey, everyone. It’s been a while…

I’ve been dying to write up this review ever since I finished this series maybe a month ago. I would’ve written it then, but I haven’t had time because I was busy planning my wedding and then getting married! 😀 Meet me and my new husband, Juan:

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Photo by: Maddy Williams Photography

But now that wedding planning is over and I’m home settled into this new wife life, I can also go back to my old book life, which is pretty exciting! (Update: got another rejection today, one day after I got back from my honeymoon. Perfect timing, book world!)

But anyway: SNOW LIKE ASHES trilogy by Sara Raasch.

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I was really, really excited about this series when I discovered it last year. I read the first one (SNOW LIKE ASHES), and then finally got my hands on the last two (ICE LIKE FIRE, FROST LIKE NIGHT) this summer. Meira is everything I need a leading lady to be: funny, badass, and believable. Her reactions and way of going through her life seemed real to me, and that’s super important to me while reading a book. Does anyone else act out parts while they’re reading? Or is that just me? Well, it ruins my scene when characters are unrealistic! I never had that problem with this series.

Since I’m doing a whole series review and don’t want to ruin it for anybody who hasn’t even read the first one, I’ll make sure I don’t do spoilers. Because I want you guys to go read these books. But I will say that out of the three, the first one was my favorite.

In SNOW LIKE ASHES, we’re introduced to Meira, a girl from the kingdom of Winter who has been in hiding with the rest of her kingdom’s inhabitants since Winter was destroyed years ago by Angra, who is basically trying to take over the world. With magic. Nbd. Meira, her best friend/crush Mather, and the rest of the Winterians are hunting for two halves of the deceased Winter queen’s locket, which holds Winter’s magic.

Without giving spoilers, basically everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and we end up with Meira in a love triangle for the rest of the series. Let me tell you something: I HATE love triangles. I think the TWILIGHT series turned me off to them forever. But Sara Raasch made me care about this one. Meira, Mather, and Theron are all great, deep characters, it’s easy to care about each person and what they represent.

It’s really hard to write a review on a series, let me tell you. So that I don’t give any spoilers to make you not want to go through the whole series I’m just going to do this:

THINGS I LOVED: The characters. This is a huge one for me. Bad character development will make me not even finish a book, let alone a series. These are real people with real problems and feelings and my heart hurts for each and every one of them. I also loved the world building. I’d almost go so far as to say she rivals the great J.K. Rowling in how she mastered her entire world and its multiple kingdoms and made it real. I do not give this honor lightly! (P.S. Hufflepuff for life.)

THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE: The second book in the series was a little slow for me. I felt like I was just waiting for the third one, which definitely picked it back up! You may feel differently!

 

I want this series to become a movie so badly. Come see it with me if it does and we’ll throw popcorn at Herod whenever he shows up on screen (you’ll feel it with me, TRUST ME). I’ve been using this series as a comp title for my own book because I feel it so much. Sara Raasch, you’re awesome, looking forward to seeing your new series come to life! ❤ ❤

Coming up next: Review of THESE THINGS I’VE DONE by Rebecca Phillips

 

Book Reviews

INKED: A Review of Eric Smith’s Awesomeness

Have you ever gotten a tattoo that ended up defining you?

In Caenum’s world, everyone has. And he’s terrified of what his upcoming Ink will tell him.

INKED by Eric Smith is a young adult fantasy novel about a world where all citizens get Inked on their 18th birthday. When you’re Inked, whatever shows up on your skin tells you what your profession will be for the rest of your life. Did flowers and plants start growing up your arm in beautiful, artful ink? Looks like you’re going to be a florist.

If this sounds restrictive to you, Caenum thought so, too, and immediately wants to run away to avoid being Inked and have a chance at choosing his own path. The only problem is, if you don’t get Inked, you’re considered an Unprinted, which basically translates to “social pariah on the run.” Oh, and Caenum gets involved with someone who does magic on their own WITHOUT any Ink, and this is a problem for all sorts of reasons I loved finding out over the course of their adventure.

I absolutely loved the whole concept of the magic ink in this book. The descriptions of how it moved on your body and even reacted to the world (for instance, if you had flowers, your tattoo would mimic the plants’ death in cold weather). The novel keeps chucking unknown enemies and unlikely friends at you until you’re screaming at your Kindle and trying not to chuck it at the wall, but in a good way. Because yes, this book is only available digitally 🙂

To give you an idea of Eric’s process, I got the chance to do an email interview with him because he’s an awesome person who will talk about books until he’s blue in the face. ❤

What made you want to write INKED?

So a few years ago, I was lucky enough to work at Quirk Books, where I did fun marketing things for books like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. While working on that though, I knew it was important to read in the genre I wanted to promote. After-all, you can’t be part of a community if you aren’t actually part of that community, you know? So I read a bunch of YA, and just totally fell in love with it. I always wanted to write, but hadn’t found my place. Thanks to all that, I had.

Who’s your favorite character and why?

Kenzi. He probably has the widest arc of all the characters in the story, including when we get to Branded. Villain to good guy to morally ambiguous. He wrestles a lot with his past and what it means for his future, which is something I think a lot of us deal with.

Did anything in your life influence the plot of INKED?

Yes! Two things. One, video games. I always loved the golden age of Square Enix RPGs, like Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana… and one thing that constantly happens in those kind of games, is we see some kind of ruling power doing messed up things with magic, and the people suffer because of it. And, you have a rag-tag bunch of heroes who rise up to fight back against it all. Inked follows a similar path, and was really influenced by those.

Of course, it was also influenced by scores of adult and YA fantasy that I’ve read through my life. I mean, you have to read voraciously to be any kind of writer. But those games had such a huge impact.

The other thing, was a tattoo artist friend back in Philadelphia. He gave me the little quotation marks I have on my wrists. He made an off comment one night, about all his tattoos, and how he’d “always be a tattoo artist” because of them. And it sort of gave me this lightbulb moment, about tattoos forcing you into a way of life. Choosing your destiny.

Now, of course, I know that’s not the case in real life. 🙂 You can have tattoos galore and work anywhere. I mean, I sure do. But it was something I wanted to explore in the story. Brian, if you’re reading this. It’s your fault.

What’s one thing you want readers to take away from the book?

That your destiny isn’t chosen for you. We are who are make ourselves. I feel like a lot of teenagers have to deal with that pressure from family, to maybe study a certain thing, pursue a certain career. That they are trapped. I wanted them to feel like they could break free from all that. That’s what Inked is about. Fighting to be you, as opposed to what someone else thinks you should be.

What are you most excited about regarding its sequel, BRANDED?

For the story to be finished! 🙂 Inked shows you the world, the struggles, and the start of the fight. Branded finishes it. Takes you away from just the few places you see in the first book and into the wider realm. I hope people like the bigger world!

 

In case you didn’t catch that, INKED is only the first in a duology of the world. BRANDED, the sequel, will be out on May 23rd! BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. You can go ahead and preorder it on Amazon if you so desire. (I did!)

Book Reviews

Talking As Fast As I Can: Why Lauren Graham Makes Me Inadequate

Amazon Rating: 4.6/5 | Goodreads Rating: 4.08/5 | My rating: 4/5

The literal second I saw that Lauren Graham (AKA Lorelai Gilmore AKA light of my life) wrote a memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between, I had to have it. I bought it for my mom for Christmas and as she unwrapped it, I immediately informed her I’d be borrowing it as soon as she was done.

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Please enjoy this photo of me pretending to be the other (creepy) half of Lauren Graham’s face.

Let me give you some background: I have seen every single episode of the original Gilmore Girls at LEAST seven times. I cheered Rory on as she panicked through high school to get into Harvard (and then went to Yale). I grumbled at the TV every time Luke and Lorelai missed an opportunity to get together. I cursed Emily right along with Lorelai when she messed up their relationship in the fifth season, even though the rest of the time, Emily gives me life. This show got me through middle school. While I was being teased at school, I had Rory and Lorelai at home, who were always there with a quick quip and some coffee. My mom and I sing “Where You Lead (I Will Follow” by Carole King on road trips regularly. I was a freshman in high school when the last season aired, and I actually remember telling my first boyfriend that he was very lucky that I still texted him and held conversations between the hours of 8 and 9 on Thursday nights. It was a problem.

Because of all this, I flipped out when the series did the reboot on Netflix and when I saw Lauren had written this book. But there was one part that will never fail to make me feel as inadequate in my own publishing journey as possible. Lauren talks about how with her first novel, she began writing as a release. When she just mentioned to her acting agent what she was up to, she was immediately set up with a literary agent and was basically signed and published in a heartbeat. (That’s an exaggeration. Writing a book, no matter who you are, is never done in a heartbeat.) Can I have your life, Lauren? I want it to just happen that easily! You make it sound like it was just a blip on your radar when we both know it was probably anything but. Publishing is hard. Writing a book is hard. Thanks for making me feel like the struggle is mine and mine only.

All that said, this book gave me feelings. Lauren describes her experience being a shut-in for a few days to hunker down and rewatch the entire original series with her own memories peppering in as she watches herself and Alexis Bledel as two of the most iconic characters of my lifetime. She gives a play-by-play of her most memorable days as they filmed the reboot for Netflix, and it was amazing to get that inside knowledge. Someday, I’ll read the novel Lauren published a few years ago. My TBR pile is alarming.

Disclaimer: Lauren Graham, you are amazing and I’m insanely proud of you for accomplishing all of your dreams, from making it on BroadWAY to landing the character of your dreams to writing (and publishing!) two books. Keep being you.