Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Blog Tour and Book Sketch: Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry




By: Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry
Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 320
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon


Goodreads Summary: Best friends are forged by fire. For Winona Olsen and Lucille Pryce, that fire happened the night they met outside the police station—both deciding whether to turn their families in.

Winona has been starving for life in the seemingly perfect home that she shares with her seemingly perfect father, celebrity weatherman Stormy Olsen. No one knows that he locks the pantry door to control her eating and leaves bruises where no one can see them.

Lucille has been suffocating beneath the needs of her mother and her drug-dealing brother, wondering if there’s more out there for her than disappearing waitress tips and generations of barely getting by.

One harrowing night, Winona and Lucille realize they can’t wait until graduation to start their new lives. They need out. Now. All they need is three grand, fast. And really, a stolen convertible to take them from Michigan to Las Vegas can’t hurt.



First Thought After Finishing: I would love a book with more of Winona and Lucille’s adventures!

The synopsis of Hello Girls had definite Thelma and Louise vibes, and just like it promised, this book was a fun read. I kept turning page after page to see what shenanigans the girls would get themselves into next.

Winona Olsen has the perfect life—or so it seems. Nobody would guess what her life is actually like in her house or what her father acts like off-camera. Lucille Pryce is the opposite—nobody would ever envy her. Except possibly Winona. A chance meeting one night forged a friendship that could endure the worst life had to throw at them. But when they realize that they can’t wait until graduation to be free of their small town, they hatch a plan to get away—a plan so crazy enough, it might just work. What are a few felonies compared to a lifetime of freedom?

Hello Girls was a fast-paced whirlwind of adventure. Winona and Lucille were never without a plan for very long. Lucille is a quick-witted schemer who is completely devoted to her friendship with Winona. Despite everything, she was determined to make her life better, and I loved that about her. Winona was slower to open up, but her quiet strength eventually came through. The two friends were a great balance, and their friendship shone through in the story.

However, there was a certain amount of suspension of disbelief required in this book. Despite the initial fun of this adventure, there were definitely darker moments and morally questionable acts from all characters involved. The adult side of me couldn’t believe the things the girls got away with (both legally and in terms of their consciences). Everything didn’t go perfectly according to plan, but I couldn’t help thinking that the girls were rather lucky.

If you can get past the logistical problems, this book is a quick and entertaining read. If these authors have another collaboration, I’ll definitely check it out!

Most Memorable Aspect: The unwavering friendship between Winona and Lucille.





~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHORS ~ ~ ~


Brittany Cavallaro is a poet, fiction writer, and old school Sherlockian. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the Charlotte Holmes novels from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, including A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE, THE LAST OF AUGUST, and THE CASE FOR JAMIE (forthcoming in March 2018). She's also the author of the poetry collection GIRL-KING (University of Akron) and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She earned her BA in literature from Middlebury College and her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in Michigan with her husband, cat, dog, and collection of deerstalker caps.

Find Brittany Online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



Emily Henry is the author of The Love That Split the World and A Million Junes. She is a full-time writer, proofreader, and donut connoisseur. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the New York Center for Art & Media Studies, and now spends most of her time in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the part of Kentucky just beneath it. She tweets @EmilyHenryWrite.

Find Emily Online:
Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Blog Tour and Book Sketch: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small




By: A.K. Small
Published By: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: May 21, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA
Buy the Book: Amazon


Goodreads Summary: Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.



First Thought After Finishing: Oh, these characters!

If a book is about ballerinas, chances are good that I will read it. I love stories about ballerinas and ballet school (Center Stage is one of my favorite movies), and books set in foreign countries help curb my wanderlust by helping my live vicariously. Since Bright Burning Stars combines two of my favorite things, I was excited to dive in to the story.

Marine and Kate are students at the Paris Opera Ballet School. Since early in the program, they have been been friends and even made pacts about being sisters forever. However, with the final year of school upon them, they have to face the harsh reality—only one of them can win The Prize (a place with the company), and the other will have to leave. They think they can continue helping each other, but soon their weaknesses catch up with them, forcing both girls to make decisions that might affect their futures forever. But when ballet is your whole life, is there room for anything—friendship, love, or loyalty—or can there only be dance?

Let me just say—the ballet is strong with this book. The author studied dance and grew up in Paris, so everything in the story has a ring of authenticity. I loved the technical terms and bits of French sprinkled throughout the writing. Even without perfect knowledge of ballet terminology, all of the spins and jumps described helped the dancers fly off the page and onto a stage in my mind (and made me want to buy tickets to my city’s ballets next year!).

Bright Burning Stars is told in dual POVs, with chapters alternating between Marine and Kate. Knowing that only one could ultimately win, it almost felt like the chapters were competing for me to root for one girl over the other. I found myself drawn into both girls’ stories, celebrating their triumphs, sympathizing with their heartaches, and wanting to fix their problems when life became hard for them to handle. This book didn’t just show the difficulties of thriving in a competitive ballet school, although those elements were certainly part of the story. Sabotage, shifting rankings, boys, and constant pressure tested the girls’ friendship more than perhaps a normal high school would. However, both Marine and Kate have their own non-ballet baggage, and watching them work through these problems was a journey relevant for both teens and adults.

In addition to Marine and Kate, we see glimpses of their classmates and their teachers. Hands-down, my favorite characters were Luc (sorry to Cyrille the Demigod) and Monsieur Chevalier. If there were ever a spinoff about Luc, I would love to read that. I may or may not have some choice words for a few other characters, but what can I say—the world is comprised of flawed human beings, and that deserves to be represented on the page. Because of that, I read through this book rather quickly. I needed to see how the answer to the ultimate question—would you die for The Prize?—played out. When I did reach the ending, I found myself wishing that there was still more story to be read.

This book delves into myriad issues that teens (and adults) face. While it was good that the author did not shy away from these, I also wish that each one, when they appeared in the story, would have been given more time on the page and a more thorough resolution. I have so many feelings about the ending of this story, which for the sake of spoilers, I will omit here. But if you read this book and need someone to talk about it with, you know where to find me!

Overall, I appreciated this story and the way it made me reflect on my own life. A.K. Small has another book coming out in 2021 which sounds very interesting, and I will definitely be reading that one as well!

Most Memorable Aspect: The descriptions of being one with music or one with an instrument. It’s almost indescribable, and yet it was here on the page.





~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~


A.K. Small is thrilled for her debut novel, BRIGHT BURNING STARS, to come out May 21, 2019 through publisher Algonquin Young Readers. Her talent for writing and passion for classical ballet fuse together in this novel and earned A.K. Small the honor of an Entertainment Weekly review.

In addition to BRIGHT BURNING STARS, A.K. Small spends time on short stories. Her short story, Anthrocon, 2017 was just nominated for a Pushcart prize by the Bellevue Literary Review. Other stories such as the Flour Baby and The Interior Designer were also nominated or runner-up to prizes.

She also ran a column titled, "A French Girl's View Du Monde" at Barrelhouse Magazine.

A.K. Small graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2009 with an MFA in fiction. When she's not reading her favorite authors (Rainbow Rowell, Angie Thomas, Anna Gavalda, Jandy Nelson, Ann Hood, Sue Miller, Anais Nin, Tayari Jones, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Wright, and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name a few!), she's studying her favorite dancers: Sylvie Guillem, Noella Pontois, Marie-Agnes Gillot, and Aurelie Dupont.

A.K. Small grew up near the Sacré Coeur in Paris and married her Tobagonian soul mate. She has three gorgeous daughters and owns a min-chi named Dallas.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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Monday, April 15, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: All We Could Have Been by T.E. Carter



ALL WE COULD HAVE BEEN
By: T.E. Carter
Published By: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: April 23, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon


Goodreads Summary: Five years ago, Lexie walked home from school after her older brother failed to pick her up. When she entered her house, her brother sat calmly, waiting for the police to come arrest him for the heinous crime he had just committed.

Treated like a criminal herself, Lexie now moves from school to school hiding who she is—who she's related to. She struggles with loving her brother, the PTSD she now suffers from, and wanting to just live a normal life. But how can she be normal when she can’t even figure out how to just live?

This is a powerful look at the assumptions we make about people. Lexie's emotional journey to separate her brother's horrific act from herself is stunning and heartbreaking. This is Lexie’s story and journey—not her brother's—and it will stay with you long after you turn the last page.



First Thought After Finishing: What a journey!

I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book--the sister of a convicted murderer seemed like such an interesting perspective. This book was an emotional journey, to be sure, but there was also an examination of the nature of people and whether or not change is possible.

Ever since her brother committed and confessed to murder, Lexi's life has never been the same. She was never particularly popular at school, but now school is a battlefield, and she is always the victim. Lexi has spent the past five years moving every year, praying that nobody would find out, but she has yet to survive a school year. But this year will be different, she promises herself. She will keep her head down for 162 days, nobody will find out about Scott, and she'll graduate and be done with it. Only not letting people in is much harder than it sounds, especially when the possibility of friends is so tempting. But what will she do if they find out?

This book delves into the age-old question: Can people truly be loners? Lexi wants to keep to herself, but when she meets Ryan and Marcus, she can't help but be drawn to them, although for different reasons. Ryan's enthusiasm and general kindness make him impossible to ignore, and when he introduces Lexi to his friends in the drama club, she can't help but be caught up in their infections energy. With Marcus, she can't help but want to know him better, and to want him to know her, despite the warnings from her aunt. And although all of these characters may seem straightforward, there is more to each of them than meets the eye.

Lexi has been battling a fair amount of mental health issues ever since her brother's arrest. She has a therapist and has internalized many of his sayings, but that hasn't solved any major problems yet. The depth of Lexi's pain goes beyond what might be expected. But with the help of Marcus, she starts to realize that perhaps she wants more out of life. In some ways, Marcus is a bit of a crutch for her, but I think everyone needs that at some point. The themes of the book certainly made me think--is it human nature to be selfish? How fair is it to expect people to change? How does one keep trying for genuine connection in the face of so much hurt? These questions may not be definitely answered in the book, but I think they have the possibility to make the reader reflect on their own emotional lives.

To be honest, a few of the characters--especially Ryan--disappointed me. I wanted more for him; I wanted to see something more hopeful. In other ways, I would have liked to see more depth and development from Lexi. I felt a sense of disconnectedness through most of the book, and although that reflects her current emotional state, there was an opportunity for so much more depth of feeling. Still, I would be open to reading more from this author in the future to see what other emotional journeys there are.

Most Memorable Aspect: The premise is unlike anything I've seen before.





~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~


TE Carter was born in New England and has lived in New England for pretty much her entire life. Throughout her career, she’s done a lot of things, although her pas-sion has always been writing. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her hus-band and their two cats.


Find her online:
Website



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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Sketch: Dating You, Hating You by Christina Lauren


Dating You, Hating You
By: Christina Lauren
Published By: Gallery Books
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Series: None
Pages: 350
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Reading Level: New Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: Amazon


Goodreads Summary: All’s fair in love and work. The first standalone romance by New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Christina Lauren (Beautiful Bastard) is a sexy, compulsively readable romantic comedy that dives headlong into the thrill and doubt of modern love.

Despite the odds against them from an embarrassing meet-awkward at a mutual friend’s Halloween party, Carter and Evie immediately hit it off. Even the realization that they’re both high-powered agents at competing firms in Hollywood isn’t enough to squash the fire.

But when their two agencies merge—causing the pair to vie for the same position—all bets are off. What could have been a beautiful, blossoming romance turns into an all-out war of sabotage. Carter and Evie are both thirtysomething professionals—so why can’t they act like it?

Can Carter stop trying to please everyone and see how their mutual boss is really playing the game? Can Evie put aside her competitive nature long enough to figure out what she really wants in life? Can their actor clients just be something close to human? Whether these two Hollywood love/hatebirds get the storybook Hollywood ending or just a dramedy of epic proportions, you will get to enjoy Christina Lauren’s heartfelt, raucous, and hilarious romance style at its finest.



First Thought After Finishing: I need to read more romance stories!

I’ve heard for a while that Christina Lauren books are popular, but I’ve never had a chance to read one before. This book lived up to its promises—fun, fast-paced, and more than a little flirty.

Evelyn Abbey is a top-notch talent agent in Hollywood. She loves her job, and she is good at it, too—so good, in fact, that she has never really had time for a relationship. But all that changes when a friend sets her up at a party. Finally, she’s found someone she can see herself with—at least, until he’s suddenly her competition at work. Will sabotage drive them apart? Or will they figure out how to mix business with pleasure?

I love the fact that New Adult is a growing genre. As a thirtysomething professional who has never been married, it’s nice to have stories I can relate to. Evie is the kind of adult I want to be—confident, competent, with a good group of friends behind her, and happy with the way her life is going. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to work hard to be the best, especially in a male-dominated field. Enter Carter, who is in many ways the perfect match for Evie. He understands her work and respects how capable she is. He is also ambitious, but he hasn’t been corrupted by Hollywood, at least not yet. He’s the kind of guy that we all hope is still out there for us.

In terms of chemistry, Evie and Carter definitely have it. Both their competitive tension and their romantic tension are easily felt. I loved seeing what they came up with as the competition went on, but I was also rooting for them to find their way back to each other. Told in dual POVs, I felt that I got to know both characters very well. It was fun to see their banter as well as how they both reacted to tough situations, not to mention seeing the practical jokes they devised. This book also has a dash of intrigue and mystery woven throughout the story

Admittedly, this book did not have quite as much romance as I was expecting. In terms of language for the romance scenes, the descriptions fell short of other scenes I have read. And at times, I just wanted more of them and less of the work environment, but I can’t deny that it was fun to see a glimpse of Hollywood politics. Still, the book was a quick read that kept me interested from start to finish.

Most Memorable Aspect: Seeing the ins and outs of behind-the-scenes Hollywood.

Snapshot Review: If you are looking for a sassy romance with a flair for the dramatic, definitely add Dating You, Hating You to your t-read list. I will be picking up more books from Christina Lauren!




Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book Sketch: Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye


Circle of Shadows
By: Evelyn Skye
Published By: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: January 22, 2019
Series: Circle of Shadows #1
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Friend
Buy the Book: Amazon


Goodreads Summary: Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied behind his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.

As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging to the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when Sora and Daemon encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group.Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.



First Thoughts After Finishing: How am I supposed to wait a year for the next book?

I love a good fantasy story, and adding flair from other cultures is always a bonus. In this case, Evelyn Skye's Asian-influenced fantasy story brought to life worthy fighters in a lush setting infused with magic. Although I have not read Skye's first books, I am convinced that she knows how to tell a good story!

Ten years ago, Kichona citizens were at war in the Blood Rift, until Empress Aki defeated Prince Gin and restored peace. Still, the honorable society of taiga warriors that has always been maintained is alive and well. Sora and Daemon have spent their life training to be taigas. Blessed by the goddess Luna as babies, they were sent to the Academy to learn to fight. On the brink of graduation, they are sent on a mission that will help determine their first official assignment. While returning to the Academy, they catch sight of suspicious activity and hurry back to report their findings to the Council. As it turns out, the Blood Rift might not be over. Sora and Daemon have taken an oath to protect their country, but if they start investigating surreptitious activities, will they be able to protect themselves?

My favorite stories are the ones with multiple layers that are gradually revealed over the course of the book. Circle of Shadows definitely meets that criteria. There is magic in this book, to be sure, but at its heart, this is a story of relationships. I loved the different bonds that were explored—gemina bonds with their loose telepathy, friendship that requires sacrifice, loyalty to cause and country, and the bond between siblings. It was easy to feel the emotions of all the characters coming to life on the page. I also loved the mythology and folklore woven throughout the story. I hope to see more of their legends of gods and goddesses in the next book!

As for the characters themselves, I loved that they retained distinct personalities despite taiga training. Among the four main friends—Sora (Spirit), Daemon (Wolf), Fairy, and Broomstick—each had their own strengths complementary strengths, and respect for those helped them to be such good friends. Throughout the book, these characters must come to terms with what they believe and what they are willing to risk in support of that belief. With shifting POVs, we are given glimpses into each character’s head, and this is definitely a group of friends you would want to have. Their bravery, though not always shown in a conventional way, as well as their creativity and resourcefulness kept me turning the page to see what would happen next. I loved watching Sora grow into the taiga everyone believed her to be, and as I saw so much of myself in Wolf, I couldn’t help but root for him each step of the way.

As far as fantasy stories go, Circle of Shadows was not full of plot twists. The world building, though descriptive, left me confused about the difference in taiga and ryuu magic. As much balance as there seemed to be in this book, it bothered me that Prince Gin seemed to be undefeatable. I hope that this resolves resolves itself in the next book. With that being said, if you enjoy a good fantasy story, you will likely enjoy Circle of Shadows as well.

Most Memorable Aspect: The mythology woven through the story.




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