Showing posts with label Debut Author 2015. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Debut Author 2015. Show all posts

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Pages: 446
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pub. Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Source: Library
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.  Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.  It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.  There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself."
Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother in a world reminiscent of ancient Rome. They live in a humble abode in the poor section of the Empire and they don't attract too much attention.  Well, that's what Laia initially thought.  However, her brother seems to be involved with the Resistance, much to her surprise, and in the middle of the night, their house ends up being ransacked by the Masks, an elite group of warriors for the Empire.  Her brother is arrested for treason and while she escaped, she plans on finding the Resistance with the hopes that they will help her rescue her brother before his imminent death.  Then there's Elias, a solider at Blackcliff Military Academy and son of the infamous Commandant.  One would think that he is revered by his powerful mother, but that is not the case; in fact, Elias is against everything the Empire stands for. While he is strong and an elite fighter, he doesn't agree with the violence and misuse of power that runs rampant at Blackcliff, so much so that he wants to run away. But all that changes when he finds himself competing for the throne, that is if he can actually survive the Trials.  Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes is an engaging debut and although it's filled with violence and dark themes, it has incredible world-buidling and a compelling plot.

I wish I could say I loved Laia from the beginning of An Ember in the Ashes, but I didn't.  She was just an ok heroine for me; to be honest, I wanted more from her.  She is a bit too timid for my liking.  I was hoping she'd be more like Katniss, but that didn't deter the fact that I was rooting for her from the beginning. I just wish she would have saved herself a bit more often.  I do find her quest admirable though when it comes to saving her brother; however, she was just so naive about the whole thing.

Now regarding bad a** chicks, there's one of my favorite character, Helene, Elias's best friend. Now she is the kind of girl I love when it comes to fantasy novels. I wanted more from her as I found her to be especially intriguing. She is not only a fellow student at Blackcliff Military Academy and one of the only females, she is also one of the best fighters. She remained me of Rose from The Vampire Academy series and that's high praise.

Also, Elias was one of the best parts about An Ember in the Ashes. He's a complex character, not just a tough guy and he is driven by his morals.  I loved that he wanted more for himself than to just be a solider for the Empire and I was hoping he'd escape the Empire's clutches.  Once he starts competing in the Trials, that only added to the suspense. Man, those trials are brutal and had me on the edge of my seat.

The world building was superb in An Ember in the Ashes. That's where Tahir truly excels. What a compelling world! It was sort of a mash-up of ancient Rome meets The Hunger Games and I loved being lost in it.

What rubbed me the wrong way with An Ember in the Ashes was the sexual violence. I often found myself wincing more often than not, especially with all the references to rape and abuse/imbalance of power. I wish Tahir didn't rely on some of these plot devices that I found to be very unsettling. Also, regarding the violence, the Commandant is extremely cruel and the scenes involving her torturing others definitely almost made me put down the novel for good.  There's so much bloodshed! But I had to know what was going to happen to Laia and Elias.

Despite my hesitations regarding the brutality and sexual violence, I could easily see why An Ember in the Ashes was a runaway bestseller. I needed a book to get me out of a possible reading slump and that it did.  I will definitely be reading the second book in the series, A Torch Against the Night, which just came out this August.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book Review: First & Then by Emma Mills

Pages: 272
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: October 13,  2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life. Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself."

Devon Tennyson lives a pretty average life in Florida. Her best friend, Cas, is a popular football player (who she has secretly crushed on for years) and she loves going to the football games, but always watching from a distance. Devon is also trying to get her life together and figure out where she wants to go to college.  Things chance for Devon's family as she goes from being an only child to having a pseudo-brother when her cousin, Foster, moves in.  Foster has always been a bit quirky and never really fit in anywhere, so getting him acclimated to a new school and a new homelife at first is challenging for Devon.  One day they realize  that Foster has an innate talent for kicking footballs, which catches the eye of the football coach who needs a strong kicker.  This also puts Devon in contact with Ezra, the football team's star running back, and reluctant partner is gym class.  Emma Mills' debut, First & Then, is a brilliant combination of Friday Night Lights meets a protagonist that is similar to a Jane Austen character.

I loved the character of Devon in First & Then.  She'd rather read Jane Austen than go to a high school party, but she isn't a social outcast. She has many good friends, especially Cas, who has been her best friend for a long time.  She can always count on him to take her to school dances, hangout with him at parties, etc.  Devon is sort of lacking in the good girlfriend department though, but as the story progresses, she starts to open up to the possibility of more girls in her life. She even branches out and works for the school paper, which I loved. Also,  I especially loved Jordan, one of her other guy friends. He is one of the best characters. Ever.

Devon "meets" Ezra in gym class, but she has known about him for some time. Everyone knows of him at her high school; he's a football god. Ezra takes Foster under his wing, which means Devon comes in contact with Ezra quite often.  At first, they do not hit it off, but as they get to know each other, feelings develop.   I definitely loved the slow burn in this novel.

My only issue with First & Then was the abrupt ending. I wanted more and sort of felt Mills left us hanging. That's my only gripe.

First & Then is the perfect read for the fall. With its combination of references to Jane Austen and its Friday Night Lights vibe, there's something for everyone here.....One of my favorite books of the year!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: The Shadows by Megan Chance

Pages: 389
Genre: YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 3, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Grace Knox has grown up hearing the folktales of her Irish ancestors, especially about the warriors who fought for control of Ireland. In 19th-century New York City, however, these legends are far from Grace's mind. She's much more concerned with how to protect her family from debt collectors, and whether her childhood friend Patrick Devlin will propose. Patrick is a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, a group of young Irish American men intent on fighting for the independence of their homeland, whatever the cost. Patrick and the Brotherhood use ancient magic to summon mythical warriors to join their fight to protect Ireland. One of them, Diarmid, finds himself drawn to Grace, and she to him. When Diarmid discovers that, in their desperation, the Brotherhood has also summoned a rival group of ancient warriors, he warns Patrick that there will be bloodshed. Grace is caught in the middle of two men she loves, and discovers she alone holds the power to save Ireland but at a dangerous price."
Grace Knox should be living a worry-free life, dating boys and hosting tea parties, but her family's situation has taken a turn for the worse.  Since her father's death, debt collectors have been visiting her house everyday and her brother, who is now head of the household, is throwing away what money they do have on booze and gambling.  They have practically sold all of their family heirlooms and her mother even took a job as a piano teacher to make ends meet, but what they really need is for Grace to marry well.  So, now Grace is going to enter society early and thankfully her debut has good timing, because her life-long friend Patrick is back from Ireland. She hasn't seen him in years, but he confesses that he has feelings for her. Could he be the answer to her prayers? To complicate matters even more, Grace finds out that Patrick is part of the Fenian Brotherhood which supports Irish independence, but their brotherhood is more than that.  Grace also meets Diarmid, or Derry, and he seems to be inconveinantly popping up everywhere.  Megan Chance's The Shadows is an entertaining historical fantasy filled with Irish folklore.

I liked Grace right off the bat in The Shadows, but I wanted so much more for her than to just marry due to financial reasons.  However, that was the norm for the time period. Thankfully, Patrick enters stage left and seems to be the answer to all of her problems; plus, she actually likes him! But despite her best efforts, she has an attraction to Derry, a stable boy, and he seems to be showing up just about everywhere.  There's definitely more to Derry than meets the eye. I wasn't a big fan of this possible love triangle, but once readers figure out exactly who Derry is, then it makes sense.

I loved the Irish folklore in The Shadows . That is what initially attracted me to this book.  At times there were a lot of references to it and it got rather confusing, but if you like this kind of thing, then you'll enjoy this book.   

The time period was one of my favorite aspects of The Shadows . I think Chance captured the 19th century New York City well, especially as Grace's struggles to "save" her family as well as deal with her brother's downfall.  Chance did a good job combining historical details with fantasy elements as well as some romance.

The cliffhanger at the end of The Shadows  definitely had me curious, so I may pick up book two in the series, The Web, which is already out.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

Pages: 432
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: September 1, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne, four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail. Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot - and women - forward. The King's scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters:sweet, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power. In the tradition of The Other Boleyn GirlThe Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie's stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood; of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough."
The Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne all become entangled in the Court of Louis XV at glittering Versailles.  King Louis has always been faithful to his wife, but she is starting to age and he is starting to stray.  First, he shows interest in newly married Louise who is trying to find her way at court.  Once she becomes his mistress, she realizes that she has actual feelings towards him and he, apparently, feels the same way.  For many years they are together, that is until her sister, Pauline, writes begging to come to court.  Louise finally lets her come, thinking nothing will come of it as Pauline is not the prettiest girl, but apparently the entire court is enthralled with her personality and charm, including King Louis. So, Louise is cast aside like a day old bagel and she never really recovers from her sister's betrayal.   As time goes on, four of the five sisters end up in the arms of King Louis and I'd say the competition brings out the worst in all the girls.  The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie is the start of a new trilogy that is not only well researched, but very entertaining. You can't make this kind of drama up.

Out of all the sisters, I felt the most for poor Louise in  The Sisters of Versailles . She gets married and she realizes that her husband is sort of an ogre and then finds herself as Louis' mistress. She is finally happy (for once!) and then her world starts crumbing down when Pauline arrives at court.  She never really gets over Louis and goes back to him many times in her life.

I couldn't get over how vicious some of the sisters were, especially Pauline. Yikes. Talk about mean girls?! Some of these sisters would stab you in the back without even hesitating. What is even more intriguing is the fact that these sisters are based on the real-life Nesle sisters, which I absolutely love.

The setting of Versailles was really captivating in  The Sisters of Versailles . I usually read about the Tudor Court, but I must say that King Louis XV's Court definitely gave the Tudor Court a run for its money.  The wealth, the fashion, the women, the was all there!

Although I enjoyed  The Sisters of Versailles , I have to say that it lacked that something extra special that would bump it up to four stars. While I thought it was entertaining enough, I felt like I could care for the sisters just a bit more.

Nonetheless, if you are looking for a historical read with a gorgeous backdrop filled with a lot of sisterly drama, then you'll want to check out  The Sisters of Versailles this fall.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Pages: 288
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pub. Date: August 18, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara's life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara's family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items - but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear. But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?"
Every October, Cara's family refers to it as "accident season," where strange accidents happen to her and her family members.  In the past, people have even died! Cara lives in Ireland with her mother, her sister, and her ex-stepbrother, Sam.  They are all aware of the dangers that accident season brings.  Things get really confusing when Cara notices Elsie, a former friend and classmate, in almost all of her photographs.   Elsie would be present in the background or you'd see a part of her hair in the corner of the shot, but either way, she was there.  When Cara tries to find out why Elsie is essentially stalking her, she notices the girl hasn't shown up for school and has gone missing.  The trail leads to an abandoned house that is very creepy and hides even more secrets.  The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle is an edge-of-your-seat mystery with a touch of fantasy that had me questioning everything.  

I'm not sure Cara was written to be an unreliable narrator, but she sure felt like it, especially when she started seeing Elsie in all of her photos. I wasn't sure what was real and what was part of her imagination.  Because she seemed so flighty, I had a hard time connecting with her in the same sense that I felt sort of removed from We Were Liars and was observing it from afar.  I also wasn't really feeling Cara's secret crush on her ex-stepbrother, Sam. It wasn't swoon-worthy by any means, but I did want these two to uncover the truth surrounding accident season and Elsie.

One of my favorite aspects of the The Accident Season was the setting of Ireland. I loved the little town, the river, and all of the mystical qualities the town brought to the story.  It was very atmospheric and the haunted house with all of its mysteries, not to count the disappearance of Elsie, really added to the creepiness of the novel.  Fowley-Doyle's writing was very lyrical as well, which also contributed to the story's mood.

The Accident Season is very trippy.  I could see the plot twist coming; however, I was completely invested in the story.  If you enjoy novels where secrets unfold slowly, you aren't sure what to believe, and you like a touch of fantasy, then you should check out The Accident Season. It would be the perfect read for this Halloween and fall season.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Review: First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano

Pages: 400
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: April 14, 2015
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Lima and Hailey have always been best friends: Lima shy and sensitive, Hailey funny and free-spirited. But Hailey abandons Lima to party with the popular kids and pursue Nate, her disinterested crush. As their friendship falters, Lima and Nate begin spending more time together. And before Lima knows what she’s feeling, she and Nate do something irreversible. Something that would hurt Hailey....if she knew it happened. Lima thinks she’s saving her friendship by lying, but she’s only buying time. As the secrets stack up, Lima is forced to make a choice: between her best friend forever, and the boy who wasn’t meant to be hers."
Sophomores Hailey and Lima have always been best friends. Hailey is a big larger than life and Lima has always been in her shadow.  But as they get older, things get more complicated.  Hailey is obsessed with one of their schoolmates, Nate, and Hailey has started gravitating towards the popular group. So in turn, Lima has started hanging out with an older crowd that her parents don't necessarily approve of and guess who shows up? Nate. Well, they hit it off, but there's one problem: Hailey. How can she tell her the truth about Nate? Lima is afraid it would break her heart as well as their friendship.  Juliana Romano's debut, First There Was Forever, is accurate portrayal of the ups and downs of a long-time friendship and ultimately, a coming of age story.  

We have all seen this before.....two best friends where one outshines the other and their relationship is almost a bit unhealthy.  As both girls start to branch out more, changes start coming.  I felt like Hailey was kind of horrible. She wanted Lima when it was convenient for her, which happens a lot in high school and of course, Lima made herself available. Other times, Hailey would treat Lima horribly. It's not like Lima was perfect either. I wanted her to be honest with Hailey about Nate, but she kept putting it off, which we all know only makes things more complicated.

Despite my issues with the girls, First There Was Forever seemed to fly by. The chapters are very short, which in turn makes it a quick read, but at the same time, I sort of wanted to dive deeper into Lima and find out who she truly was and that's hard when the chapters are so choppy.

The setting of California was my favorite aspect of First There Was Forever. I liked the references to Malibu, the Pacific Coast Highway and Beverly Hills. These kids aren't your average middle class family; they obviously are wealthy and sometimes this book felt like a mash-up of the TV shows Laguna Beach and The OC.

If you like coming-of-age stories that focus on female friendships, then you should check out this debut.  It wasn't my favorite book of the year by any means, but I found it entertaining despite its flaws. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: Forever for a Year by B.T. Gottfred

Pages: 432
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: July 7, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "When Carolina and Trevor meet on their first day of school, something draws them to each other.  They gradually share first kisses, first touches, first sexual experiences.  When they’re together, nothing else matters. But one of them will make a choice, and the other a mistake, that will break what they thought was unbreakable. Both will wish that they could fall in love again for the first time . . . but first love, by definition, can’t happen twice. Told in Carolina and Trevor's alternating voices, this is an up-close-and-personal story of two teenagers falling in love for the first time, and discovering it might not last forever. "
It's freshman year for Carolina, formerly just Carrie, and she wants to start fresh alongside Peggy, her best friend. With the help of Peggy's older sister, Katherine, who just so happens to be the most popular girl in school, they can break out of their nerdy status and become "it" girls as well.  That is if Carolina is willing to take orders from Katherine, resident mean girl and all around bad person.  In walks new kid, Trevor, who is not only good looking, but actually shows some attention to Carolina.  After some near misses and sabotage from Katherine, Trevor and Carolina finally hit it off and realize that they both like each other.  Trevor, a former football star, is trying to find his place here in his new school. His cousin goes to school here, but isn't exactly helping him find his way, in fact, he makes things more challenging.  So when Trevor hits it off with Carolina, things get much easier for him.  Except when they don't.  Their first love becomes the all-consuming unhealthy type that we often see in high school.  Between dealing with their family problems at home, first sexual encounters, and the ups and down of high school, it proves to be a lot for these two kids. B.T. Gottfred's debut, Forever for a Year, is an absorbing portrayal of first love. 

Carolina's life could go one way or the other in Forever for a Year. I was hoping that she would stay away from Katherine and Peggy, who seems to be Katherine's mindless minion. I wanted her to forge her own path, but as a freshman that is so hard. She is still trying to be "cool" and figure out where she belongs. Plus, she is dealing with her parents separation, which only adds more fuel to the fire.  Guys have never really paid attention to Carolina, so when Trevor starts to give her some genuine attention, things move quickly from there. 

Trevor is also dealing with some issues at home that are tough. He is supposed to be starting fresh at this new school and put his issues from last year behind him.  Instead of picking up where he left off with football, he realizes that he missed try-outs and should join cross country instead. This ends up transforming Trevor, especially as he challenges and pushes himself further.

So, Trevor and Carolina are only fourteen years old in Forever for a Year, but their relationship seemed to be much older, think seventeen/eighteen years old. I must be getting old, because I feel like fourteen year olds are just too young to be dating this seriously. It was a hardcore case of first love and it quickly became all-consuming.  This sort of makes me cringe, because at times it was an unhealthy relationship.  I mean they were talking marriage at one point?! Also, Carolina and Trevor were making some bad decisions regarding sex and it just proves how immature they truly are. However, I do applaud Gottfred for portraying an honest glimpse into first love and sex.  It was all very real. 

The point of view alternates from Carolina to Trevor, which was helpful to get both perspectives on various events in Forever for a Year.   At times, their inner monologues, insecurities, and constant obsessing ended up being too much, but then I remembered what freshmen in high school are like.  One word: Egocentric.

Gottfred's writing is really good.  There were some one-liners and quotes that I really enjoyed. For example, Carolina's dad gives her some advice: "In high school, everyone is figuring out who they're supposed to be.  You just be who you want to be instead of who you're supposed to be and you'll know something no one else knows."  I love this! 

So, if you are looking for an entertaining poolside read this summer that will make you appreciate the ups and downs of first love and how it shapes you for the rest of your life, then check out Forever for a Year

Thanks to Macmillan, I am hosting a great giveaway today for a SUMMER LOVE prize pack. One US winner will receive a copy of Forever for a Year plus a beach tote and sunglasses. Forever for a Year will hit book stores tomorrow, so this is perfect timing! The giveaway is open to US readers only and the deadline is July 16th.  Please refer to my giveaway rules. Good luck!

To learn more about the author, check out B.T. Gottfred’s Tumblr and follow the author on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Pages: 448
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: May 26, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school. Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best."

Imagine a really competitive ballet school in Manhattan filled with some of the country's best dancers. Sounds like a cut-throat place where every dancer is vieing for a place in the New York American Ballet Company, right? It is just how I imagined it and even more so.  Three very different girls all go to school there and have secrets that they are hiding.  First there is Gigi, a recent transfer from California.  She is the school's only African American student and her success angers many disgruntled ballerinas, especially when she is casted the coveted roll of Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker.  Bette, a former favorite, usually gets her way and doesn't take Gigi's success well.  She is coniving, scheming and backstabbing. Then there's E-Jun, otherwise known as June, and her mother, a former ballerina, has been threatening to take her out of ballet school and send her to a regular public school where she can get a better, more well-rounded education unless she starts getting lead roles. This sends E-Jun over the edge and she puts even more pressure on herself.  All three girls, although very different, share the desire of success which always comes at a high cost. Sonia Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton's debut, Tiny Pretty Things, despite its length, was a real page turner that fans of Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl and Black Swan will enjoy.

I can't say I really liked any of the characters, although I sympathized with Gigi the most. Despite this, I was completely absorbed with the story. Bette and June were the most interesting to me, because they are so morally corrupt at times and tragically flawed.  Bette is addicted to pills and can't handle life's ups and downs, especially when Gigi takes over the best roles and even starts seeing her ex-boyfriend.  Then there's June, who is obviously anorexic, and has a rivalary with her ex-best friend who downright harasses her at school. I mean cue all the mean girls in 
Tiny Pretty Things. They are pretty horrible to one another in this book, but I think the competitive nature of the school cultivates this sort of behavior and brings out the worst in some people.

Tiny Pretty Things is a glimpse into the competitive ballet world and I was completely addicted. The violence, the back-stabbing, the gossip, the parental was all really fascinating even though mean girls really aren't my favorite.

What I enjoyed most about 
Tiny Pretty Things was the cast of multi-cultural characters from various backgrounds.  It wasn't just about Caucasian ballerinas with trust funds as one might expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse group of girls; simply put, we need more of this in YA.  

Even though I didn't fall head over heels in love with 
Tiny Pretty Things, I still can't deny how entertaining it was despite the mean-girl antics. If you love Pretty Little Liars and want to be thrown into the cut-throat world of competitive ballet, then you should definitely check out this book this summer.  It would make for a great poolside read.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Pages: 352
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: May 12, 2015
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE. As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancĂ©, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve. But Ani has a secret. There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything. With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that's bigger than it first appears.  The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?"
TifAni, or Ani as she goes by now, seems to have it all in her glamorous New York life. She has a wealthy fiancĂ©  an upcoming Nantucket wedding, a fabulous job at a famous New York magazine, and money to spend on all of the latest fashions.  But she has a secret past. She grew up outside Philadelphia and attended school at the prestigious Bradley School deep in the heart of the Main Line. Even though Ani's family lives in the outskirts of the Main Line, Ani's mother was hoping she would brush elbows with children from old money. Well, her plan worked, but a major tragedy occurred at The Bradley School, one that directly involved Ani.  All of her secrets will come to the surface again when a documentary is being made to commemorate the horrible events that occurred at The Bradley School.  She is hoping the documentary will help her find some closure; however, as her wedding nears, she is finding herself and her well-kept facade unraveling a bit.  Jessica Knoll's debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, is captivating.  For me, it was chick-lit meets something darker, which made for an addicting beach read.

Knoll does a good job creating a main character that I don't necessarily like, but I just had to know what was going to happen to Ani and what moves she was going to make in Luckiest Girl Alive. She really says and does some despicable things, but I cared about her.  When she started at The Bradley School, she just wanted to fit in and was a vulnerable teenager.  The mean girl behavior she had to deal with and the horrible guys in her school I thought would push her to transfer, but she kept with it. She befriended a fellow outcast, Arthur, who is a bit of a tortured soul. I sort of felt the dark cloud hanging over Ani's head and unfortunately some horrible things happen to her during her experiences at The Bradley School...experiences that will forever shape her future.

Luckiest Girl Alive is told through the use of flashback to Ani's high school days and then it jumps back to present day. Presently, Ani is working in a New York magazine, essentially living her dream. She has the life she has always dreamed of, but her past is a dark shadow following her around. She tries hard to mold herself into someone that can't be hurt, but we all know that is just for appearances. It was interesting to see how Ani behaves in the present versus the flashbacks to her high school self. I enjoyed how Knoll let the story gently unfold by interweaving the present and the past.

So, I live in the outskirts of the Main Line, where a great majority of this story is told, and I was completely blown away by Knoll's descriptions of the its people and the landmarks.  Knoll herself attended a private school about three miles from my house, so it was equal parts fascinating as well as terrifying to hear her describe my neighborhood.  She didn't change a thing. Everything down to the restaurants (Yang Ming!), the street names (Lancaster Ave!), and the local hangouts (Peace of Pizza!) It was all very, very accurate. So, for me that added an extra punch to Luckiest Girl Alive.

The writing in this book was what kept me interested. Ani's voice is extremely strong and almost stream of consciousness at times. I kept wondering if she was a reliable narrator or not, but either way, I was intrigued. I can see why there are many comparisons being made to Gone Girl in that Ani and Amy have many similarities and similar voices, but I'd say that's where the comparison ends. Luckiest Girl Alive had some plot twists and was dark; however, the pacing wasn't as break-neck as I would have liked or nearly as suspenseful. So, that's why I recommend it as a chick-lit meets mystery/thriller sort of summer read for fans who don't mind something a bit darker.

With that said, I have my eye on debut writer, Jessica Knoll. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. And I am dying to know if they will film this future movie in my neighborhood! 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye

Pages: 400
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 2, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Heron Key is already weighed down with secrets when a random act of violence and a rush to judgment viscerally tear the town apart. As the little island burns under the sun and the weight of past decisions, a devastating storm based on the third-strongest Atlantic Hurricane on record approaches, matching the anger of men with the full fury of the skies. Beautifully written and seductive, UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY is at once a glorious love story, a fascinating slice of social history, and a mesmerizing account of what it's like to be in the eye of a hurricane."

It's 1935 in the Florida Keys, a community impacted by the Depression and the remains of war. Many veterans have returned to Florida or are newly arrived to the Keys due to a government job to build a bridge. There's Missy, an African American nanny to the wealthy Kincaid family, who although wasn't formally educated, she read encyclopedias for fun and now possess a wealth of knowledge. She is a nanny for Nelson and Hilda Kincaid, a prominent, but very unhappy couple. Hilda struggles with her weight and has haunting memories of her former life (Miss Palmetto) before she had her son and married Nelson, who takes every opportunity to cheat on her.  Then there's Henry, an African American veteran, who has returned home to the Keys after the war as he is going to work on the bridge.  There's also Dwayne, the town sheriff, who has to deal with racial tension amongst the locals as well as the veterans who often drink too much and get out of line.  Each person in this novel has to deal with some major conflicts and all of this get magnified once a hurricane is heading right towards Heron Key's shores.  Vanessa Lafaye's debut, Under a Dark Summer Sky, highlights racial tension in the south as well as what life was like for people living in the Keys during the 1930s, especially when disaster strikes.

There are many characters in Under a Dark Summer Sky and Lafaye jumps from character to character very often, so there are many points of view in this novel.  I found myself connecting the most to Missy and I wanted so much for her. She has always harbored feelings for Henry and once he returns, she hopes they can start anew.  Things get way more complicated when there's a random act of violence in Heron Keys and now the police are looking at the veterans, specifically Henry. 

Henry is a complex character in Under a Dark Summer Sky. He has dealt with so much during the war and its aftermath. He finally returns home to help build the bridge, but things have changed in the Keys; plus, he hasn't seen his family and friends in many years. Can they start again?

What was so eye opening in Under a Dark Summer Sky was how the veterans were treated and their living conditions. I had heard about this real life event in Florida's history many times, but it still impacted me greatly. It's very upsetting to see how our veterans were treated as they deserved so much more.

The impending hurricane keeps things moving in Under a Dark Summer Sky. Readers even get the perspective from meteorologists following the storm as well as Heron Key's residents. I was familiar with this horrific hurricane (1935 Labor Day Hurricane) prior to reading the novel and Lafaye did a great job bringing the harsh realities to life. This aspect of the novel had me on the edge of my seat.

My only issue with the book was Lafaye's focus on so, so many characters. Sometimes its hard for me to connect with all of the characters. I find myself losing interest in a particular character's story and wanting to return to another character's perspective. 

If you are looking for a smart historical read this summer with a gorgeous tropical setting, then check out Under a Dark Summer Sky. It was a real page turner!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review: Last Year's Mistake by Gina Ciocca

Pages: 256
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: June 9, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Before: Kelsey and David became best friends the summer before freshman year and were inseparable ever after. Until the night a misunderstanding turned Kelsey into the school joke, and everything around her crumbled—including her friendship with David. So when Kelsey's parents decided to move away, she couldn't wait to start over and leave the past behind. Except, David wasn't ready to let her go... After: Now it's senior year and Kelsey has a new group of friends, genuine popularity, and a hot boyfriend. Her life is perfect. That is, until David's family moves to town and he shakes up everything. Soon old feelings bubble to the surface and threaten to destroy Kelsey's second chance at happiness. The more time she spends with David, the more she realizes she never truly let him go. And maybe she never wants to. Told in alternating sections, LAST YEAR'S MISTAKE is a charming and romantic debut about loving, leaving, and letting go."
Every year Kelsey and her family spend their summer vacation in Newport, Rhode Island.  The summer before her freshman year of high school, she meets, in an unexpected way, her next door neighbor, David.  They hit it off instantly and their summer friendship becomes a full-time friendship when David and his dad move to Norwood, Connecticut, where Kelsey and her family live.  Everything was great between them until something happened to Kelsey, which resulted in her being bullied at school. To further complicate matters, both David and Kelsey start to have feelings for each other, but the timing wasn't right.  After a traumatic freshman year, Kelsey's father has a job opportunity in Newport, so they decide to move there.  Kelsey is actually happy about it, because this is a chance for her to move past things and sort of reinvent herself.  It's senior year now and Kelsey is a popular girl, with many friends, a good looking boyfriend, a new haircut and a new outlook on life; however, her world starts to crumble when she sees David walk through the doors of her high school.  Now Kelsey's past secrets collide with her new life in Rhode Island and obviously, Kelsey has some important decisions to make.  Gina Ciocca's debut, Last Year's Mistake, is filled with angst, teenage drama and romance, which make it a fun book for vacation this summer.

I can't say I really loved Kelsey in Last Year's Mistake. She is one of those girls who wants something, complains that she doesn't have it, and then when it's right there staring at her in the face, she doesn't know what to do.  So, at times, I was frustrated with her indecision and some of her choices.  However, I was really sympathetic towards her when she was dealing with some mean girls and a few health concerns that she had. 

I did love her connection with David in Last Year's Mistake. As I have said before, I love a good Dawson/Joey friendship that could possibly turn into something more. I like when people are friends before they are significant others, so this aspect of the novel was right up my alley. Even though their relationship was very tumultuous and the timing always seemed off, I still was rooting for them from the beginning.

The possible love triangle between David, Kelsey, and Kelsey's new boyfriend, Ryan, was a little cringe-worthy from time to time, but it did result in a ton of drama. 

The setting of Last Year's Mistake was pretty great, especially when it was summertime in Newport. I love the description of the beach town and the gorgeous homes.  Also, Ciocca did a great job capturing an exciting summer love and all that it entails.

Although this book didn't "wow" me like I was hoping, I did enjoy it overall, mostly because I liked juicy drama filled contemporary novels in the summertime that don't require too much thought; in that case, this one fits the bill. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon

Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: June 2, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Set in the weeks leading up to an idyllic New England wedding, this “enticing and refreshing” (Nancy Thayer, New York Times bestselling author) novel sparkles with wry wit, sweet romance, and long-kept family secrets. Iris Standish has always been the responsible sister: the one who studied hard, settled down, and always made the right choices—even when they came at the expense of her passions. Meanwhile, her sister Leah dropped out of college to “find herself” by hiking through Yellowstone and switches jobs nearly as often as she switches lovers, leaving Iris to pick up the pieces in her wake. But now Iris’s life is coming apart at the seams, and when Leah calls her back to their childhood home with a desperate cry for help, she is thrust headfirst into preparations for her sister’s wedding to a man their New Hampshire clan has never met…with her own marriage and family on the brink. Still, despite the rush of dress fittings, floral arrangements, and rehearsal dinners, Iris is learning to put herself first. And amid a backdrop of late-night swims and a soul-restoring barn renovation comes Cooper Woods, a high school crush who beckons with the promise of a new start."
Iris has found herself at an important crossroad. She has been married for many years to her husband, Paul, and has three lovely kids with him.  Things with Paul haven't been great for years, but she didn't see it coming when Paul announces he wants a divorce.  Iris finds herself going through the motions of her life and living it in quite desperation.  On a whim, she decides that a summer at her parents' farm on a beautiful lake is exactly what she needs as well as the children. Plus, she has to be up there in a few weeks to help plan her sister's wedding, even though they haven't talked in a few years. She is going to spend a few weeks without her children as they are at camp and then they will meet up with her at her childhood home.  Things aren't that simple for Iris though. Once she gets to the farm, she realizes that she had no idea what kind of operation her parents as well as her sister, Leah, had going on and it has become a rather successful business. She also can tell something is going on with Leah, but no one in her family will be straight with her. To Iris, it appears that Leah has jumped into this marriage with a man that she just met and to top it off, Leah acts strangely from time to time.  It doesn't help that Iris's teenage crush, Cooper Woods, is working on restoring her parents' barn, so she is constantly running into him and an unlikely friendship forms. The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon is an entertaining debut that examines the complexities within families, but also the ups and downs of moving on with your life.  The idyllic setting makes for a great summertime read.

Man, I could really feel Iris's walls closing in on her at the beginning of The Lake Season. She has put herself on hold and has done everything for her children, which puts her in a complicated situation when her husband wants to leave her. She is unraveling and lost until she decides to head back home to her childhood house on a gorgeous lake for the summer. This centers Iris eventually and helping with her parents' farm is cathartic as well as helping restore the barn with the charming, Cooper Woods.  Iris eventually finds herself again and finds a good balance.  Essentially, spending time at the farm has reignited her passion for life; plus, a possible summertime romance with a cute guy never hurt anyone, right?

Leah was irritating beyond belief in The Lake Season. She is the typical "look at me" sort of girl that is impulsive, is never held accountable and everyone walks on eggshells around her for fear that she may turn on them. I had a really, really hard time warming up to her and I hated how she treated her sister. I wouldn't have survived one second with someone as self-absorbed as Leah; however, as the story unfolds we find out why she acts the way she does.  The family is holding onto many secrets regarding Leah and they Iris know until much later.

The romance was charming in The Lake Season. I was rooting for Cooper and Iris from the beginning. I knew that Iris was going to be getting a divorce, so I thought it might be healthy for her to move on a bit and little does she know, it has the potential to develop into something more, that is if Leah stays out of it.  Then there's Leah's wedding which is constantly looming over the family's summer and even though Iris gladly helps to plan it, there's no doubt that something is up with Leah.

The idyllic setting in The Lake Season was very well done by McKinnon. I adored the details of the farm, the serene lake, the adorable town and all of the summertime activities. 

If you enjoy a novel with a gorgeous setting and a side of dark family secrets, you will enjoy The Lake Season, which I recommend to fans of Nancy Thayer and Elin Hilderbrand.

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