Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

By: Erin Stewart
Published By: Delacorte
Release Date: October 3, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn't need a mirror to know what she looks like--she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be "normal" again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends--no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.

But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn't have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn't afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she's going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

First Thought After Finishing: I was not expecting that to be so emotional!

There is something fascinating in stories of survival and rebuilding. Perhaps it is because we are grateful that those experiences are not our own, or it is simply human nature to puzzle out that which we do not understand. I had heard this book mentioned several times, and the synopsis intrigued me. I found myself glued to the pages, fascinated with this new approach to navigating high school life.

One night—that’s all it took to change Ava’s life forever. Before, she was a theater junkie, center stage in every performance. After, burns covered 60% of her body, and she was a patchwork quilt of skin grafts, though not even the grafts could fix the shape of her nose or her missing ear—or the fact that her parents and cousin perished in the fire. Now, she is only a specter of her former self, haunting her cousin’s house as though she could replace the daughter her aunt and uncle lost. When the “Committee on Ava’s Life” decides she needs to reintegrate to high school, Ava balks at the idea. But it’s only ten days. She can survive that long—she’s a survivor, after all. Ava is prepared to keep her head down, her headphones on, and drown out the world. But she didn’t count on Piper, Asad, or the fact that perhaps she too could be a phoenix.

“She moves her fingers to her chest. ‘You decide how your scars change you /here/. You decide how much love you let in. You chose to live that night in the fire, and you need to keep choosing it.”’

I rarely read contemporary YA unless I am in the mood for a quick, beach-read-vibes romance or the story deals with heavier issues. As an adult, the general teen drama and pettiness so often found in contemporary stories does not interest me, and as a high school teacher, I see quite enough of it. Scars Like Wings, though in a high school setting, has so much more than that. To be sure, part of the story deals with navigating high school with a face that looks like Freddie Krueger at best, Phantom of the Opera at worst. But as Piper tells her from the first day at Crossroads High, nobody survives high school alone. The initial stares will eventually fade, but it is the support network that must be in place to escape the crushing loneliness.

“‘I’m not gonna sit here and pretend to know why God lets things happen to good people like you and your folks, but I know this: God puts people in our path, and my path crossed yours that night,’ she says. ‘Your story is part of mine now, and I know that’s how he wants it—our hearts all jumbled together.’”

Enter Piper, another burn survivor who flaunts her status. Unlike Ava, who wants to fade into the background, Piper makes a statement of standing out. Her infectious positivity and refusal to be ignored slowly but surely help Ava emerge from her self-imposed cocoon. Piper is exactly the kind of cheerleader friend that everyone needs, but that hardly means that her life is a bed of roses. She becomes a main character in her own right, and when we are finally given a glimpse into her psyche, you cannot help but want to envelop her in a hug as tight as her compression garments and not let go. As for her other friend, Asad—I still have mixed feelings about him. However, I appreciate that the story does not shy away from gritty reality simply because Ava is a burn survivor. As the vice principal often says, she gets no special treatment, and that was refreshing.

“She lost a daughter. I lost a mother. But as we sit there side by side, the differences don’t matter. Pain is pain.”

Piper and Ava’s friendship reflected nuances present in everyday life, and that was often a roller-coaster journey on its own. But for me, the true emotional power of this book came from the familial conversations, the ones exploring the impact of being a child without a mother (and what she could do to make her adoptive mother happy) and of being a mother without a child. Ava’s aunt and uncle are, without a doubt, some of the best parents I have read in YA novels. Their family has a seemingly impossible road to navigate, and yet with time, they are able to live into a new normal. The depths of their love and sacrifice in the face of loss will tug at your heartstrings and not let go. Even reflecting on their conversations now is bittersweet—their pain is still tangible, but so is their love. As someone lucky enough to still have her mother, it makes me want to be a better daughter while I still have the chance.

“‘There’s always beauty in the ashes. Sometimes we just can’t see it yet.’”

We all have scars—some are just easier to see. We all have doubts, loss, and heartache to some degree. But after reading this book, you start to believe that you too can rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Powerful, poignant, thought-provoking, and dare I say inspiring, this debut novel from Erin Stewart is not to be missed.

Most Memorable Aspect: Learning to love again as a family. (Also all of the Broadway references and quotes.)

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Erin Stewart is the author of SCARS LIKE WINGS, her debut novel. Erin is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and a BYU undergraduate who works as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a weekly columnist in Salt Lake City.

Erin lives in Utah with her husband and three children. She is represented by the amazing Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Week One:
10/1/19 - Feed Your Fiction Addiction - Review
10/2/19 - BookHounds YA - Review
10/3/19 - Lifestyle of Me - Review
10/4/19 - Fictitious Fox - Review

Week Two:
10/7/19 - Fire and Ice - Review
10/8/19 - Moonlight Rendezvous - Review
10/9/19 - Novel Novice - Excerpt
10/10/19 - Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers - Review
10/11/19 - Here's to Happy Endings - Review

Week Three:
10/14/19 - Treestand Book Reviews - Review
10/15/19 - Smada's Book Smack - Review
10/16/19 - Riddle's Reviews - Review
10/17/19 - Jena Brown Writes - Review
10/18/19 - Book-Keeping - Review

Week Four:
10/21/19 - A Bookish Dream - Review
10/22/19 - Life Within the Pages - Review
10/23/19 - Portrait of a Book - Review
10/24/19 - The Pages In-Between - Review
10/25/19 - Paper Readers - Review

Week Five:
10/28/19 - Southern Girl Bookaholic - Review
10/29/19 - Do You Dog-Ear? - Review
10/30/19 - Novel Novice - Excerpt
10/31/19 - Two Points of Interest - Review


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Friday, October 18, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

By: Julia Drake
Published By: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: The Larkin family isn't just lucky—they persevere. At least that's what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn't drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family. Tall, funny, musical Violet can't stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family's missing piece - the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

First Thoughts After Finishing: I want adventure in the great wide somewhere...and I miss the beach!

I am (almost) always a fan of retellings, so when I saw that this was inspired by Twelfth Night and set in a coastal town of Maine, I knew that I needed to read this book. In many ways, this book mirrored the ocean—the story stayed in the shallows until, in moments when you were not expecting it, the continental shelf dropped away and the depths were open for exploration.

Violet is descended from a shipwreck survivor who helped found the town of Lyric, Maine. She is convinced that she has the “shipwreck gene,” that her life is destined to be dashed into pieces on rocks and leave her floundering to recover. And in fact, that hardly seems far-fetched. A teenager at loose in New York City, she makes more than questionable decisions that leave her as emotionally frozen as if she had been the one thrown from safety into icy water rather than her great-great-great-grandmother. While her brother Sam struggles to cope with a mental disorder, Violet turns to the numbness of sex and drugs. After Sam’s suicide attempt, he is sent to treatment in Vermont, and Violet is sent to spend the summer with her uncle in Lyric. The city holds many memories for her, but a return to the past might be exactly what she needs for her family’s future. With the help of friends that she never expected to make, Violet embarks on a quest to uncover the long-lost shipwreck of Lyric and of her family.

“Survival was its own quest: we needed to choose to survive over and over again. We had to wash up on shore, and we had to choose to keep washing up every single day.”

Many contemporary stories are character-driven, and The Last True Poets of the Sea is no exception. The book followed the pace of a small coastal town, particularly one that is not overrun by tourists despite the summer season. The plot itself could have been distilled into a fourth of the pages, but the depth of the character development ensured that the book never felt slow. Violet is by turns fascinating and frustrating. I kept hoping for a revelation that would explain her self-destructive path, but one never came. However, this is not to say that her past was not explored. Certain stories were gradually revealed that made me sympathize all the more with Violet’s internal battle to be a better friend, daughter, and sister. She gave words to those feelings that are all too easy to creep in, particularly in an age of disconnectedness. Her brother might be the one with a diagnosis, but the exploration of Violet’s mind highlights how not all struggles come with a name. Throughout the book, her gradual realizations are important reminders for all readers, whether they are teenagers or adults.

One of the highlights of this book is a slow-burn romance with emotions ebbing and flowing like waves lapping the shore. The relationships did not unfold in quite the way I was expecting; in fact, this book probably has one of the best uses of a love triangle that I have seen. For a long time, there were only small eddies of romantic current, but once Violet and Liv were able to admit to themselves and each other how they felt, it was like a tidal wave unleashed—so much feeling but almost over before it seemed like anything had happened. However, I loved the fact that even though there was queer representation, it was not the sole focus of the story. Being attracted to both sexes was only one facet of Violet’s character and hardly the one that defined her, which I appreciated.

Friendships also played an important part in this book, particularly the idea of friendships as an anchor. I loved Violet’s diverse friend group, especially Orion, and I would have enjoyed seeing all of them interact more. Familial relationships also shared the spotlight. The Larkin family dynamic is one that is all too familiar—nothing is necessarily wrong, but at the same time, they are not the happy family they wish to be. I appreciated that there was a process to rebuild relationships; the family was not fixed by a single day or single conversation. Also, Toby may be the best uncle ever—I would like to sign up for his puzzles and pastries!

Despite the engrossing nature of the character development, I do wish a bit more time had been spent uncovering the family genealogy and the shipwreck history rather than reading the unifying thread at the end of the book. Overall, however, this book was a quick read that drew me into the minds of new characters and left me with much to think about. I will look forward to seeing what Julia Drake writes next!

Most Memorable Aspect: Exploring so many timely issues without over-labeling everything.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Julia Drake grew up outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, she played some of Shakespeare's best heroines in her high school theater program and their stories would stay with her forever. She received her BA in Spanish from Williams College, and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She currently works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that fosters love of writing in young adults. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and their rescue rabbit, Ned.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Week One:
10/1/19 - Twirling Book Princess - Excerpt
10/2/19 - BookHounds YA - Excerpt
10/3/19 - Wonder Struck - Review
10/4/19 - Dazzled by Books - Review

Week Two:
10/7/19 - The Layaway Dragon - Review
10/8/19 - PopTheButterfly Reads - Review
10/9/19 - Novel Novice - Excerpt
10/10/19 - Southern Girl Bookaholic - Review
10/11/19 - Fyrekatz Blog - Review

Week Three:
10/14/19 - Jena Brown Writes - Review
10/15/19 - Fire and Ice - Review
10/16/19 - Moonlight Rendezvous - Review
10/17/19 - A Bookish Dream - Review
10/18/19 - Portrait of a Book - Review

Week Four:
10/21/19 - The Pages In-Between - Review
10/22/19 - Lisa Loves Literature - Excerpt
10/23/19 - Two Points of Interest - Review
10/24/19 - Do You Dog-Ear? - Review
10/25/19 - Nerdophiles - Review

Week Five:
10/28/19 - Novel Nerd Fiction - Review
10/29/19 - Book Keeping - Review
10/30/19 - Eli to the Nth - Review
10/31/19 - That Georgia Gypsy - Review


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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: Crier's War by Nina Varela

Crier's War
By: Nina Varela
Published By: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Series: Crier's War #1
Pages: 448
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will. Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla. Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

First Thought After Finishing: I need answers!

The synopsis of this book offered all of the best elements of current young adult literature: a fantasy world, science fiction and historical elements, a slow-burn romance, and political rest. In Crier’s War, Nina Varela delivered all of this, crafting a story that felt both familiar and new, leaving me with anticipation for the sequel.

Once upon a time, there were no Automae, only humans. Then a barren queen, desperate to be a mother, issued a challenge: Build her a daughter and obtain innumerable riches. Thus the first Automa was Made, and so began a new era. However, itt did not take long before Automae—with their superior strength—usurped power from the humans and relegated the humans to a servant role. In the aftermath of the War of the Kinds, the Automa Sovereign Hesod rules Rabu, and his Made daughter Crier is poised to follow in her footsteps. That is, until she meets the human Ayla, a victim of the continuing class war and spitfire who makes Crier come alive in ways she never imagined. Crier is drawn to Ayla and makes the human her new handmaiden, unwittingly giving Ayla the opportunity for revenge she has always dreamed of. Crier wants to become a benevolent ruler, to make her father proud, and to explore these new feelings. But with tensions growing between humans and Automae, the constant threat of uprisings, and Crier’s engagement to Scyre Kinok, it seems that the only path forward may be war—within the country, and within herself.

From the beginning of the narrative, I was drawn into the world. Glimpses of journal pages documented the history of the world, and their reappearance throughout the story helped to shade the picture already in place. Despite the recent war that should have made Crier and her father separate and distinct from humans, Sovereign Hesod harbors a fondness for human traditions. In Crier, this fondness becomes a dream of returning (in part) to a life before the war. Automa are not supposed to have feelings, yet Crier never felt like a distant narrator. Throughout the book, her emotions—worry, longing, fear, and more—were tangible, and she was a more sympathetic character for it. She stood in stark contrast to both Ayla, who actively tried to have no emotion save her anger and her drive for purpose, and Kinok, who is too embroiled in schemes to display anything but cold, calculated manipulation.

In other stories, gender and tradition serve as the obstacles to romance, but not here. In this instance, political unrest and class differences serve as the chasm needing to be crossed. The palpable tension between Crier and Ayla is heightened through alternating points of view that weave together seamlessly into one story rather than feeling like battling perspectives. The ebb and flow of their growing feelings for each other occurred naturally, though it largely happened in their thoughts rather than in actual encounters between the two. Their rare intimate moments were quite touching, and I would have liked to see more of them. Instead, most of the page time was dedicated to unraveling the puzzles presented by Kinok, Queen Junn, and Ayla’s past. Both girls encounter more than a few surprises along the way, and trusts and loyalties are often called into question, both of which made for a gripping read.

“’Fever and fervor,’ said Junn.
‘There is very little difference, in the end.’”

This quote aptly describes so many aspects of Crier’s War, from the dangerous political climate to the all-consuming thoughts of new love. Varela did an excellent job of crafting this feeling for her story as well—I read most of the book over two days and found myself disappointed when I had to set it aside. I am eagerly anticipating the sequel and the answers it provides!

Most Memorable Aspect: The crafted human fairy tales, how they were shared, and their adoption for political code.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel. You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Spotlight: Sam Saves the Night by Shari Simpson

By: Shari Simpson
Published By: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Series: Sleepwakes #1
Pages: 304
Genre: Paranormal
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Thirteen-year-old Sam has no friends, but you can't really blame her. She lives her life in a state of chronic exhaustion thanks to her nightly sleepwalking jaunts, which include trips to the store, treehouse-building projects, and breaking-and-entering escapades-none of which she remembers in the morning. Her condition is taking its toll on her family (and her life), so when her mom takes her to see a wacky strip-mall sleep specialist, Sam is wary, but 100 percent in.

The night after the doc works his mojo, Sam wakes up outside her body, watching herself sleep. FREAKY! But once she gets over the panic attack, she realizes there's a whole world of detached-souls out there, called SleepWakers-cliques of kids like the Achieves, who use their sleep time to learn new things; the Numbs, who eat junk food and play video games all night long, and the OCDeeds who search for missing things and organize other people's stuff. And then there are the Mean Dreams, led by Madalynn Sucret, the nicest girl in Sam's school, who shows Sam that she can use her power to get back at a bully who's been tormenting her. Sam is intrigued-until it becomes clear that Madalynn is the real bully and the "tormentor" is just, well... sad. Now Sam is faced with uniting the various tribes of SleepWakers to fight back against Madalynn and the Mean Dreams in the most epic battle the night has ever seen.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Shari Simpson is a playwright and screenwriter who cowrote the off-Broadway hit Maybe Baby, It's You and the Disney Channel Original Movie The Swap, both with her longtime writing partner, Charlie Shahnaian. She also won the 2012 BlogHer Voice of the Year for Humor Writing. Shari lives in Hoboken, NJ, with a patient husband, two hilarious teenagers, a demonic cat, and her pug, Mila Kunis. This is her first novel.

Find Her Online:
Twitter | Goodreads


Week 1:
10/1 - Cindy's Love of Books - Review
10/2 - Portrait of a Book - Spotlight
10/3 - Moonlight Rendezvous - Review
10/4 - BookHounds YA - Excerpt

Week 2:
10/7 - Struck by Stories - Review
10/8 - Twirling Book Princess - Excerpt
10/9 - Shortcake Bibliophage - Excerpt
10/10 - Love, Stars, and Books - Review
10/11 - Dazzled by Books - Review

Week 3:
10/14 - YA Book Nerd - Review
10/15 - Life Within the Pages - Review
10/16 - Fictitious Fox - Review
10/17 - Fyrekatz Blog - Review
10/18 - The Try Everything - Excerpt

Week 4
10/21 - Novel Novice - Excerpt
10/22 - Nerdophiles - Review
10/23 - Southern Girl Bookaholic - Review
10/24 - Two Points of Interest - Review
10/25 - Little Red Reads - Review

Week 5
10/28 - Pop the Butterfly Reads - Review
10/29 - Savings in Seconds - Review
10/30 - Wonder Struck - Review
10/31 - Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers - Review


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