Saturday, 30 January 2016

January DNF Roundup + Second Chance Pick

In 2016, I'm being a bit more ruthless with putting books aside for good. I put aside about 10 books last year and I'm already at 2 - maybe 3 - for this year. There's just too many books on my TBR and too many books I want to get for me to read a book I'm less than thrilled with. Plus, I don't have a ton of room for books - my storage space has been cut in about half since the move - so I really need to keep books going out if I'm going to keep bringing them in. So I figured I would start doing monthly-ish round ups. It'll probably be one each month, but if I only DNF one book some month, then it'd be kind of silly. 

Like I said, for January, I'm at 2 and I'm debating another one, but I'm gonna let you guys decide on that for me.

Abandon
Meg Cabot
Point
[April 26, 2011]
Hardcover purchased at signing

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she's never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.

But now she's moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.

Only she can't. Because even here, he finds her. That's how desperately he wants her back. She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.

But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.
This one was so hard to put aside. I've had it on my shelf for years - I bought it when Meg went on book tour while I was still in high school. It's a Persephone and Hades retelling, which is the only Greek myth I LOVE. And it's Meg Freaking Cabot, who I've adored for over ten years. How did this go wrong?

Honestly, I was just bored. It was 100 pages of flash backs and mentions of the past and build up - but in the actual present story, it had only advanced like a day. It was just so slow. I remember a lot of friends having issues with this one and when I asked for advice on twitter, many told me it was one of their least favorite Cabot reads. Ultimately, I knew that I wouldn't be picking up the rest of the books in the series. The writing wasn't hooking me, I still really didn't know Pierce enough to connect with her, and there was so much set up. And if I already knew I wasn't going to finish the series, why would I bother finishing the first book? So, I set this one down around page 120.
 
Kill the Boy Band
Goldy Moldavsky
Point
[February 23, 2016]
ARC from ALAMW16

Okay, so just know from the start that it wasn't supposed to go like this. All we wanted was to get near The Ruperts, our favorite boy band.

We didn't mean to kidnap one of the guys. It kind of, sort of happened that way. But now he's tied up in our hotel room. And the worst part of all, it's Rupert P. All four members of The Ruperts might have the same first name, but they couldn't be more different. And Rupert P. is the biggest flop out of the whole group.

We didn't mean to hold hostage a member of The Ruperts, I swear. At least, I didn't. We are fans. Okay, superfans who spend all of our free time tweeting about the boys and updating our fan tumblrs. But so what, that's what you do when you love a group so much it hurts.

How did it get this far? Who knows. I mean midterms are coming up. I really do not have time to go to hell.

I was so excited about this book because I LOVE the growing trend of writing teen fangirls.  It's something very representative of how I grew up and feels so real to me. But this one...didn't.

The writing was great. It was voice-y and distinct and fun. But it contrasted with the actual story. The story went places that - honestly - made me really uncomfortable. I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil things, but I had been kind of expecting a more literal accidental kidnapping and things kind of taking funny turns that seem totally outrageous. Instead...it was just scary logic. And it made me more uncomfortable with how fangirls were portrayed than anything else. I'm probably gonna be a black sheep on this one, but the humor wasn't humorous to me for long. I stopped around page 120 then skipped ahead to the final chapters and still felt okay in my decision to put this one aside.

And now for the one I'm not sure on.

Rebel of the Sands
Alwyn Hamilton
Viking Books for Young Readers
[March 8, 2016]
ARC from publisher

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.

Right now, this one is reminding me a LOT of Walk on Earth a Stranger. I'm - again - about 120 pages in and I'm intrigued by the romance and stuff is happening, but for the most part, it feels like a journey story. And while I love road trips, those are usually symbolic trips as much as they are physical trips. With something like this, it feels more like a drag through to the action. Where I left off, there trip had just become a lot longer than originally planned and that's just not something I wanna read - but I DO really like the romance and Amani is an intriguing character. But really the thing that has me most hesitant to put it aside is how many friends I know who LOVE this book - including friends who I usually agree with on books. I just need someone to tell me that this book is not going to be 250 pages of Amani and Jin wandering to a destination.

So, do I keep going or do I give up on this one? And what did you think of my other two DNFs this month?

--Julie

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Peter and Alice by John Logan

Peter and Alice
by John Logan


Summary: A remarkable new play from the acclaimed playwright (Red) and screenwriter (Gladiator, Skyfall) John Logan. Enchantment and reality collide at a 1932 meeting between Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the original Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Llewelyn Davies, the original Peter Pan. Peter and Alice, which opened on London's West End in March 2013, stars Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. 
The thing about plays is, they're written to be performed. Because of that, sometimes simply reading them feels like it's lacking that spark that will really bring it to life. Like they're just words on a page until you get to hear them spilling out of the mouths of actors and see the looks on their faces as they say them and only then can the story become what it was truly meant to be.

But this one...this one wasn't like that at all. I mean, it would probably be spectacular on a whole other level to see it performed (and I'm gutted I didn't get to see it performed by Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw), but it felt just as beautiful and complete and wonderful to simply read it.

I love Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, but I knew very little about the real lives of the children that inspired the authors to create those characters. This play changed that, but it's an odd one to talk about because it is a strange mix of the real and not real.

It's a mix of imagined conversations, but real tragedies. Fictional characters and their real authors and the real people they were named for... but most of their words were from someone else's mind. And it's all done so well. But it's hard to explain how my heart broke for the real people and the bad things that happened to them in their lives...but it also ached from the beauty of John Logan's words and the versions of these people that he created.

I hadn't considered how being the muses behind two of the worlds most famous children's stories would've impacted their lives, in ways both good and bad, how it would've changed them and the way people saw them.

I'm probably making no sense at all. If you like plays, read this one. If you don't like plays, this one may change your mind. If you like Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan, you'll love it. If you don't like either of those, read it anyway because it's excellent in its own right too... Basically, everyone should read this is what I'm trying to say (I've already harassed my best friends to add it to their reading lists too).

I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5.

Later.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff


Summary: This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.
This was probably one of the most hyped up books of 2015, everyone who read it seemed to love it, I don't think I saw one bad review of it... for quite a while there, I was thinking I was going to be in the extreme minority in disagreeing with the overwhelming wave of positive opinions. But, in the end, I did love it. Really, really loved it.

It literally took me three months to get through the first 200 pages of the book. It wasn't even that it was bad, it just wasn't holding my interest and could be quite boring at times. I was so tempted to just give up and add it to the DNF pile, but because of all the praise it had gotten I stuck with it...and I'm so glad I did because when it hooked me, it really, totally, completely hooked me.

I liked the originality of the way it was written, although only Kady and Aidan ever felt like distinctive characters...the rest kind of blended together and it was hard to get a sense of who they were but that didn't bother me too much.

The plot (although it was a slow starter) was entertaining and addictive, it was a nice mix of funny and heartbreaking and I loved that it's one of those stories where the female character gets to be the bad ass who saves the day. If you threw the TV shows Firefly and The Sarah Connor Chronicles in a blender, you'd probably get something a lot like this -- it reminded me of those shows in some ways (good ways).

Anyway, I'd rate the book 4.5 stars out of 5. It was totally worth the months of frustration while I had to drag my way through the first third of the book because the latter part more than made up for it.

Later.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage
by Courtney Summers

UK Release Date: January 28th 2016

Summary: Kellan Turner is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. But when she speaks up, she is branded a liar. Telling the truth has cost her everything, because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town.

But when news of Kellan assaulting another girl gets out, the cost of staying silent might be more than Romy can bear.
This book isn't an easy one to review. Mostly because it's really really difficult to just form an opinion on the book itself, separate from my opinion on the subject matter.

If I had to describe the book in one word? Important. This book is so important. It was raw and honest and such a necessary story to be told.

Over the past few years I've had so many arguments with people (often guys who just don't get it, but sadly a lot of girls too) about rape. Everyone knows rape is wrong, if you ask someone if they think rape is wrong then they will be horrified that you even asked...and yet so many of those very same people, when confronted with actual rape cases? That horror morphs into this ugly ignorance.

I've seen way too many people say rape culture doesn't exist. Or say it wasn't rape/assault even if the girl (or guy) was too intoxicated to consent. I've seen them blame the victims. Shame them for wearing the wrong things or going to the wrong places or not putting up enough of a fight. Seen too many say the victim lied. And that's not even getting started on how the media reacts to these cases.

One of the most infuriating things is when those people then go on to say things like "well if it's true, why didn't they report it?"... And that's why this book is important.

It tells them why. Tells them they are a part of the problem. That society, and its treatment of women and victims of rape/sexual assault, is a big reason why a lot of rapes go unreported. And it shows what rape culture is. Shows that it does exist and that it is so wrong and so awful, and that it's so important that girls--guys too, but especially girls--need to understand that.

...Now, to try to explain my thoughts on just the book. Because the message in the book, the points it was making? It did that wonderfully.

As for the book itself... I had some issues with it. Well, one issue really.

I loved that it didn't try to fix Romy with romance (like so many of these stories do) and I loved the writing--as I do with all of Courtney's books--but I had an issue with the main character.

One of my favourite aspects of Courtney's other books is that she writes girls that are interesting, instead of trying to write them as likeable (although usually I can't help but like them anyway)...and this one was the same, and I loved that.

Loved, because -- well, it loops back to the important thing. When it comes to victims, there's often this awful hierarchy going on, where someone is judged as being less of a victim (or not a victim at all) because she looks a certain way or dresses a certain way or because of her personal/sexual history or her social status (and the book actually shows and acknowledges this in a heartbreaking way).

So I love that the main character wasn't the easiest character to like, because there's no way someone could read this book and say that she deserved it, no way that they could say what happened to her mattered less because she wasn't what they think a victim should be. What happened to her was wrong, it was awful, it was something no one should have to go through...nothing about who she is can change that.

The problem was that I couldn't emotionally connect with her really. A book like this should have wrecked me emotionally, but it didn't. It felt like I was sympathising with her...but it never really felt like I was empathising with her. I cared about what was happening in a general sort of way (and because it's a reflection of the way a lot of girls in real life get treated too) but it never felt like I specifically cared about her as a character.

Maybe because she didn't feel like a particularly fleshed out? Nearly everything we get to know about her life and her as a person all links back to her being a victim (of bullying, of rape, of growing up with an alcoholic father), she didn't really get much personality beyond that...ask me to sort her into a Hogwarts house and I'll be drawing a blank because I didn't really get a sense of who she is or who she was or who she could be when she starts to heal.

That's really my only criticism of the book -- the way Romy's character was written wasn't really my cup of tea, it felt like something was lacking, but I've seen so many glowing reviews of the book that it makes me think this is just a subjective thing.

Anyway, sorry this review has been so long and rambling. To sum up: this book is incredibly important and if Courtney Summers wasn't already on my favourite authors list, she would be now. I'd rate it 4.5 stars out of 5.

Later.

Monday, 18 January 2016

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We
Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Grand Central Publishing
[April 7, 2015]
egalley/finished copy from publisher

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Which is how she gets into trouble.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.
I think it's pretty clear that this is a Julie book. If it wasn't, you may have noticed it was one of my top books of 2015. And now I can tell you exactly WHY that is, many months later, because the feels are STILL SO INTENSE

So, this is, essentially, a very loose retelling of Kate and Will's romance. There are some parts that line up so well - particularly in the beginning, but mostly in the general route of the story - and then there are other parts that completely veer off. It was kind of like the perfect mix of The Prince and Me and the actual story and it was just so perfect.

I loved every single character in this book. All of them were so well rounded and they had wonderful relationships. Bex was SUCH a fan character to ride along with. She was complicated and lovely and intelligent and just wanted to live her LIFE until this perfect guy comes along being a prince or whatever (but also Nick was almost perfect so I can't blame her). And of course there's Freddie, the wonderful younger brother to the prince who really did remind me of Harry in so many ways.

It was so romantic and swoony and funny. But also I cried...several times. Everything about this book screamed cute, chick-lit but then the feels were SO INTENSE and it got darker and I just I CARED SO MUCH GUYS. It was one of the most emotion-packed reads I've ever picked up because I was so engaged and so invested in these characters and the writing was so smart and I'm still so in love.

This is Not a Short Book by any means and I completely devoured most of it in one sitting, it was that enthralling. Like, 300-400 pages in one go because I could not put it down. It was absolutely perfect. I'm now absolutely desperate for not only more books like this, but more books in this series by these authors. Because really, I could not have loved it more. I read this book almost a year ago and I still care about this book and these characters so much it hurts and I kind of want to ditch all my plans and reread it right now. Please, please, please, if I have not already convinced you to read this book, do it!

--Julie

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Wrap Up (44)

On the Blog This Week:


Well, it's been awhile since I've done one of these! I'm not even going to TRY to catch up, but if you want to see some of what I've acquired, I've posted lots of pictures on my instagram of my physical book hauls. There were a lot of books that showed up while I was gone as well, but I'm not going to deal with all of those right now. We're gonna focus on the past week instead.

Book Haul: 

The ALAMW haul!

Day 1:

A photo posted by Julie (@juliecaughtreading) on

Day 2:



A photo posted by Julie (@juliecaughtreading) on

I'm not going to link to all of these, but I did make a shelf on goodreads for these books (I think I'm missing one but...ah well). 

Beyond those, I also acquired:


My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows (ARC from a friend)
The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray (ARC from publisher)
All the Feels by Danika Stone (ARC from publisher)
The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (ARC from publisher) 
The Way to Game the Walk of Shame by Jenn P. Nguyen (ARC from publisher)
The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin (egalley from Netgalley)

All in all, quite a good week for books! Though, I now have several book mountains. I really need to speed through these reads to make some more rooms! But, I'm working on it!

Books Read:

The Love That Split the World by Emily Martin
Outside the Lines by Lisa Desrochers
The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

I've had an excellent reading week, though I'm slacking on my desire to read a book a day this month. I shouldn't complain about already having 8 books read for the year, but I really do wanna make a bigger dent before I start classes again. (Though, the 3 hour daily commute is definitely gonna get me a lot of reading hours so, it won't be all bad.)

Odds and Ends

I'm working on being ready to go back to school for my final semester. It's proven to be a bit more complicated than I'd anticipated after being abroad, but I think it should all work out.

This week, my partners and I announced Blogbound Con, a convention for bloggers, by bloggers. We wanted a conversation, community based type of convention to really discuss the community and things happening within it and outside of it, and we're thrilled with the response so far. If you can get to NYC on July 10, please come join us! 

And, finally, today is my grandma's 90th birthday! It's so weird to think of my grandma being 90 because she's still quite a big younger in my head, even though I now live with her. And she's still healthy and happy and we'll be celebrating her quite a bit today!

How's your life going?

--Julie

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Trouble is a Friend of Mine
Stephanie Tromly
Kathy Dawson Books
[August 4, 2015]
egalley from publicist

Of course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him. No one does.

The first time Philip Digby shows up on Zoe Webster’s doorstep, he’s rude and he treats her like a book he’s already read and knows the ending to.

But before she knows it, Zoe’s allowed Digby—annoying, brilliant, and somehow…attractive? Digby—to drag her into a series of hilarious, dangerous, and only vaguely legal schemes all related to the kidnapping of a local teenage girl. A kidnapping that might be connected to the tragic disappearance of his little sister eight years ago. When it comes to Digby, Zoe just can’t say no.

But is Digby a hero? Or is his manic quest an indication of a desperate attempt to repair his broken family and exorcize his own obsessive-compulsive tendencies? And does she really care anyway?

This is a contemporary debut with razor-sharp dialogue, ridiculously funny action, and a dynamic duo you won’t soon forget.
A disclaimer you haven't seen in a while: I read this book a while ago, so I've forgotten some details (but with this book? Not enough to drastically ruin my memory).

This book is...a bizarre little book. It was pitched to me as a sort of Veronica Mars with a Sherlockian character in Digby. Which...isn't wrong. Zoe and Digby had this bizarre friendship dynamic that I could understand in some ways, but also that worried me in others. Mostly, the banter was entertaining, but Digby could be rather creepy.

That aside, I loved the mystery and general plot of the book. It was interesting and well thought out and well executed. I think it especially worked because it wasn't just a mystery of what happened to the missing girls, but also because Digby is a mystery. You had these two concurring things happening that made you think, so if you were bored of one, you still had the other to hook you in.

I did really like Zoe on the other hand. Where Digby was a bit creepy, a bit iffy, a bit entertaining at times, Zoe was this constant, very understandable character. She was worried about getting into her dream college and moving and her parent's divorce and she had a lot of doubts about Digby's plans and whether there was all that much to investigate. She was so normal and maybe not a fully realistic teen, but she had these parts to her that were so relatable.

I also loved the writing. The writing and the dialogue was what really made this book stand out as quirky. It was fast paced and charming and clever. It really pulls you in with the mysteries and the strange characters. This could have easily felt overdone or fake, but the writing tied it all together into something that was just fun.

I had my issues with Digby, but all in all, I really did enjoy reading this one. It's got the Veronica Mars and Sherlock aspects to it that it promised me, but with a quirkiness all its own that allows it to stand out from other books that claim to have these comp titles. It's not gonna work for everyone, but it worked for me and I'm excited to see what Tromly writes next.

--Julie

Friday, 15 January 2016

New Adult on the Block: Outside the Lines by Lisa Desrochers

Outside the Lines
Lisa Desrochers
InterMix
[January 19, 2016]
egalley from publicist

As the oldest son of a Chicago crime lord, Robert Delgado always knew how dangerous life could be. With his mother dead and his father in prison, he’s taking charge of his family’s safety—putting himself and his siblings in witness protection to hide out in a backwater Florida town.

Fourth grade teacher Adri Wilson is worried about the new boy in her class. Sherm is quiet and evasive, especially when he’s around his even cagier older brother. Adri can’t help her attraction to Rob, or the urge to help them both in whatever way she can.

But the Delgados have enemies on two sides of the mob—their father’s former crew and the rival family he helped take down. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds them. And if Rob isn’t careful, Adri could end up in the crossfire...
I'm a long time lover of Lisa's books and I've known Outside the Lines was a must read for me as soon as it was announced. It definitely did not let me down!

The beginning is a bit slow and repetitive at times, but the characters drew me in immediately. Adri seems fairly straight forward as this wonderful, nurturing kind of character, but there are certain layers that aren't revealed to that right away. Rob, on the other hand, is kind of a mess and not ready to admit it. The chemistry was there right away with the two of them, but what intrigued me the most was the relationships between Rob's siblings - especially Sherm. I loved seeing how Adri and Rob interacted with Sherm and the way he changed and how that changed them. The sibling relationships and the relationship developments were so well done that I was hooked. I played the "Just One More Chapter..." game many times while reading.

As always, Lisa brought the sexy times. I mentioned that Adri and Rob had amazing chemistry from the start, but the way it built up was masterful and believable and very, very swoonworthy. It was far from a conventional romance and every once and a while, I had to side eye one or the other for making bad choices, but it all made sense - it just wasn't what I wanted. Because, really, all I wanted was all of the sexy times.

One of my favorite things about Lisa's books is how she can totally mess with you. You'd think there aren't that many twists in a romance novel, but there are when Lisa writes them. I can't say too much because pretty much all of these moments are at the end, but there were definitely aspects I didn't see coming and they make me that much more intrigued for the sequel.

Basically, if you like romance, family relationships, books with aspects you don't see coming, and/or other Lisa Desrochers novels, this is the book for you to pick up next week. And then you can join me in not-so-patiently waiting for April and book 2's release.

--Julie

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Flashback Reading: An Interview with Lauren Morrill

Hello lovely readers! Today kicks off a new feature on the blog in which we feature backlist books. But instead of just reviewing them - which is also on the plan book for 2016 - I thought it'd be fun to interview or have guest posts by the authors specifically to focus on their pre-2015 releases. To start things off, Lauren Morrill is here to celebrate the two year anniversary of the release of Being Sloane Jacobs.

In your own words, how would you pitch/describe Being Sloane Jacobs?

Sloane Emily Jacobs is a former world-class figure skater with a Senator father. Sloane Devon Jacobs is a hard-hitting hockey player with an alcoholic mother. When they meet by accident on the way to sports camp, they decide to switch places for the summer, each in hopes of escaping her own problems. Told in alternating perspectives, it’s a little bit of The Parent Trap meets a little bit of The  Cutting Edge.


Were there any specific things that inspired Being Sloane Jacobs?


A lot of Being Sloane Jacobs came from my years playing roller derby. I wanted a chance to tell the stories of the women I’d skated with: competitive, driven, aggressive, and fiercely loyal to their sport and the people that play it. I wanted to show that girls who play sports, even a sport considered graceful and gentle like figure skating, are tough and strong. I’ve also always loved swap stories, so having the girls switch places was a lot of fun to write! The book is also set in Montreal, one of my favorite cities, so it was fun making a trip up there and eating tons of poutine. You know, for research.


How did you feel about releasing Being Sloane Jacobs in the months leading up to it? 


I was nervous, because BSJ was so different from Meant to Be. MTB was more of a straight romance. BSJ, though it has romance in it, is more about friendship and family. But at the same time, I was really proud of BSJ, and I loved writing it, so I felt confident readers would enjoy it. I know authors aren’t supposed to have favorites, but I won’t lie. Being Sloane Jacobs is mine.


How was releasing Being Sloane Jacobs different from releasing Meant to Be or The Trouble with Destiny?


Sloane was probably my quietest release thus far. Meant to Be made a pretty big splash, with that iconic cover. Plus, I was a debut, and now that I’ve been doing this a while, I realize how much excitement there is around debut novels. Sophomore novels can kind of get lost, and I feel like Sloane did. Sometimes I meet fans who love Meant to Be who didn’t even know Sloane existed! Which is a bummer, but I hope they’re finding it now. It’s a book that’s really close to my heart, and I think it’s probably the one that has the most of me in it. 


Have you considered writing a sequel or companion to Being Sloane Jacobs?


I know where Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon are now (and Nando and Matt!), but I don’t know if there will ever be a sequel. I’d love to have the characters pop into another story down the road, though! It would be fun to check in with them.


What comes next for you?


Now that The Trouble With Destiny is out in the world, I’m starting to focus on My Unscripted Life, which comes out in October 2016. It’s a return to my roots, with a straight-up contemporary romance that takes place in a small southern town where a movie has come to film. I’ve got a cover release coming soon!
You can learn more about Being Sloane Jacobs here, more about Meant to Be here, more about The Trouble with Destiny here, and more about Lauren here.
So, you're really interested in reading up on Lauren's books now, right? WELL, Lauren has been kind enough to offer up a signed copy of Being Sloane Jacobs to one of you! Just click through to the Rafflecopter below - as long as you're over 13 and a resident of the US.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!
--Julie

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen
by Victoria Aveyard


Summary: This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart ...
I went into this book with pretty low expectations because I'd seen such mixed reviews of it. Some people whose recommendations I trust adored it, while others hated it...and I guess I see where both are coming from because my opinion falls somewhere in the middle.

I liked the characters and the story was entertaining enough, and the romance in the book (although cliche) was cute and fun to read. Plus, I really liked Victoria's writing.

The problem for me really was that the more the book progressed, the more it started to feel like a slightly varied mishmash of other popular YA dystopia novels and nothing really stood out as being unique to this book. Elements of it reminded me of The Selection, or The Hunger Games, or Divergent...which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just that it became predictable because of that and it never really felt like something new and fresh and original (which is possible to achieve even in a novel with a similar plot/premise to other books because it's the execution that matters more than the details).

I enjoyed the book while I was reading it though, but it was quite forgettable once I had finished it -- it didn't linger with me much really. And this review is turning out more negative than I intended considering I did like it...it's just easier to explain the things that stopped me from loving it.

Anyway, to sum up: In spite of its flaws, I enjoyed reading the book. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5 and I'll definitely be picking up the next book.

Later.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Firsts
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
St. Martin's Press
[January 5, 2016]
egalley from publisher

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

Firsts is not a book for everyone. But it was very much a book for me. In trying to explain this, there are some minor spoilers, so if you want to be sure to skip those, I'll summarize at the end.

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn hit a lot of buttons for me, some that I didn't even know that I had. For one thing, the writing was sharp and witty. The voice of Mercedes as a teenager was so spot on; I love YA, but there's a strong tendency to make these teen characters seem more like adults. I was totally hooked on to it. I started it on a flight to Budapest and ended up spending two hours sitting in a cafe while I finished reading it on my first day there. 

That was one of the things I loved most about it - Mercedes was very much a teenager. She had so much to learn about herself and people and growing up. She made mistakes, because teenagers make stupid decisions sometimes, and some of them she grew from and others she didn't - because real teenagers do not magically become new people over the course of a school year. It takes time and Laurie Elizabeth Flynn illustrated that perfectly. She just felt so very real to me as a person who was fairly recently a teenager and still makes major mistakes and takes a long time to learn from some of them.

I also adored the fact that this novel took on sex in such a straight forward manner. So few YA books really address sex like this and YA needs more of that. It's, again, an honest thing about being a teen. And I loved that nobody really had a problem with how much sex she was having - it was the who that was really the dilemma. 

This book also featured one thing I hadn't even thought about before as something lacking in YA - a parent who just isn't good at being a parent. Often parents are dead or neglectful/abusive or overly involved. There's not much in between. But with Mercedes mom, Mercedes saw her as completely absentee, but it wasn't that clear and dry. Her mom just didn't really know how to be there and relate to her as a mom. I had a very similar relationship with my dad growing up, but I didn't quite know how to explain it until I read Firsts and saw so much of my parental situation in this book. Not every parent has the personality to BE a parent and it's a pretty common occurrence that I hope we see more in YA in the coming years.

I also loved the chemistry happening in this book and how it wasn't so cut and dry. There were a few people that Mercedes started to have feelings for and I wouldn't have been upset if she ended up with any of them. That is also my one issue though - while trying not to spoil too much, a girl shows up at school and Mercedes thinks she may have feelings for her, but it's never explored in a direct way. It was kind of skirted around, but it could've added a really interesting extra dimension to the story.

Like I mentioned when I started, this is not a book that'll work for everyone. One of the big reasons it did work for me was because I was able to remind myself that this is what being a teenager is like. It's messy and complicated and full of screw ups. It's also full of complex friendship dynamics and good guys and terrible guys and new friends and old friends clashing and exploring one's beliefs and trying to find a balance with parents. Being a teenager is kind of a mess and it's one that a lot of YA rarely fully captures - YA is my first love and always will be, but much of contemporary YA glosses over some of the realities of being a teenager. I understand the reasons behind it, but it's always important to show real teens a clear reflection of themselves so they're reminded that things about them are normal and aren't bad and I think Firsts gives so many teens that chance. It's a chance many of them likely haven't been able to have too often with contemporary YA. So, I'm glad this book exists and that teens will get it and I really, really hope you can give this one a chance as well.

--Julie

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

2016 Reading Challenge (+ 2015 Wrap Up)

So in January last year I posted a sort of bingo card of my 2015 reading goals (although I was just aiming to complete as many as I could) and this post is basically going to be discussing how well I did with it and posting my goals for 2016.

If anyone wants to join in with my challenge, feel free (you could use mine or you can edit it to suit your own goals -- I'll include a blank version at the end of the post).

Let's start with the 2016 challenge before getting to the wrap up for last year since that'll be quicker:

The aim of my 2015 one was really just to get me out of the habit of staying in my reading comfort zone (primarily reading recently released YA books from only a handful of genres, all in the same format) or to get to some of the books that have been on my shelves way too long (particularly classics).

I'm going to stick with that theme for this year because it was surprisingly fun. Some of the challenges I failed last year are making a reappearance this year (maybe altered slightly to be less ambitious), plus any I enjoyed, but most are new.

2015 Reading Challenge Wrap Up:


I'm a major procrastinator, so I did better than I thought I would with this. 17 (well, 17.5) out of 25 isn't bad, right? It would've been higher but I decided that I couldn't have any books count for more than one challenge.

Completed:

  • Read a book translated into English - As Black As Ebony by Salla Simukka, translated from Finnish.
  • Read a book recommended by a friend - Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawthorn, read on Julie's recommendation
  • Re-read an old favourite - I re-read the first Harry Potter book (audiobook, but still) for the first time in years.
  • Read a non-fiction book - I read Down Among the Dead Men by Michelle Williams, a delightful memoir of a mortuary technician.
  • Read 3 books with LGBTQ+ main characters - I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (gay character), What We Left Behind (trans character, lesbian character), Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (gay character -- technically not finished yet, but still...).
  • Complete a series - I actually completed a few (which is why it had 2 orange crosses then stopped counting), but the first one I completed was Jaclyn Moriarty's Ashbury/Brookfield series.
  • Read a children's classic - I read The Little Prince during a read-a-thon. Odd little book, but very beautiful.
  • Read 3 books with non-white main characters - I read Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, and It's About Love by Steven Camden
  • Read a thriller/crime novel - I read In a Dark, Dark Wood in December and really enjoyed it.
  • Read a book with more than 500 pages - Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas
  • Read a graphic novel - I finally got round to reading Maus.
  • Read an America classic - cheated a bit with this one by reading Of Mice & Men by Steinbeck which is a novella, but since I didn't specify it had to be a full novel...
  • A book that's been on the shelf for 2+ years - I read A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
  • Read a book that's been made into a movie - I finally read the novel version of Bridget Jones's Diary at the beginning of last year.
  • Listen to 2 audiobooks - I listened to Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and Yes Please by Amy Poehler (and loved them both).
  • Read a book of poetry - I read a book of Pablo Neruda's poetry (sadly a major disappointment).
  • Read something historical - I read These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly and it was wonderful.
Almost completed:
  • Read 2 British classics - I did read Pride and Prejudice this year for the first time and I started Jane Eyre, but a lot happened over Christmas/New Year so I didn't finish it in time for it to count.
Failed:
  • Read The Hobbit (or another fantasy novel) - Technically I did read fantasy novels this year, but I meant more...classic fantasy, not ones recently published, so I'm considering it a fail.
  • Read 3 of Shakespeare's plays
  • Read a Stephen King book
  • Read a classic horror novel/short stories
  • Read 2 Russian classics
  • Read a French classic
  • Read something published before the 15th century
And I think that's all. The challenge was surprisingly fun and there were definitely some books on there I wouldn't have picked up last year if it hadn't been for this, and it made me realise that I do really love classics when I'm in the right mood for them.

Here's the blank 2016 sheet if you want to join in (open in a new tab for the full size):
Later.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man
Gavriel Savit
Knopf
[January 26, 2016]
ARC from publisher

A stunning, literary, and wholly original debut novel set in Poland during the Second World War perfect for readers of The Book Thief.

Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

Destined to become a classic, Gavriel Savit’s stunning debut reveals life’s hardest lessons while celebrating its miraculous possibilities.
I went into this book excited to cry. Any book that's pitched as something like The Book Thief is a book that should be bringing the tears. Usually, those pitches aren't all that accurate and really just mean it's set during World War II. But in this one? This one was not kidding around. It really was like a middle grade version of The Book Thief.

The writing was beautiful and probably what makes the comparison to Book Thief most appropriate. It was lush and devastating. I was totally entranced while reading to the point that I stayed up quite late the day I read it, despite having a very long day and knowing I had to get up early-ish in the morning (to, of all things, visit a concentration camp). It was subtle and lovely and just...I could go on and on about how well it was written.

I also loved reading the journey of it all. There's this constant sense of anxiety when you're reading it because while it may not be a traditional thriller, there's something dangerous lurking everywhere in the places they traveled at the time and neither one was safe. That constant fear and worry sticks with you that this, maybe this, will be the spot where something goes wrong. It's a slow story in a lot of ways, but that's not necessarily how it reads, if that makes sense.

This had all the elements of an amazing story, but something about it still didn't click fully with me. Don't get me wrong, I cried and fell in love with the writing and Anna and the Swallow Man and the tension. I'll happily be picking up Gavriel's next book too. But there was just some little spark missing that kept this from being a favorite or a 5 star read. I can't even identify what it was, but there was something.

Still, this was such an important, painful, beautiful, hopeful read. It really did have echoes for me of reading The Book Thief and Between Shades of Grey. I cried and had to think a lot and just didn't want to set it down. If you're ready to cry, definitely pick this one up later this month.

--Julie

Monday, 4 January 2016

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends
by Marieke Nijkamp

UK release date: January 5th, 2016


Summary: 10:00 a.m. - The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. - The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.
10:05 - Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
This is a difficult book to review, for obvious reasons. It feels kind of weird to call it a "good book" given the subject matter, but it was. It was a really good book.

It was gripping, I literally could not put it down -- I'd picked it up intending to just read a chapter and ended up staying up all night to read the entire thing in one sitting.

The characters got under my skin before I even realised it had happened, and I loved that they were a diverse bunch and that it showed sibling relationships, and I really, really loved that the main romantic relationship in the book was between two girls. It was one of those rare multi-POV books where the POV switches didn't bother me -- often I read those and find myself latching onto a specific character and feel like I'm dragging through the others, but in this one I felt invested in all of them

Really, the only issues I had with the book was that the way Tomas's story ended felt a bit too contrived and I wasn't really a fan of a certain aspect of Sylv's story. A part of her story felt like it was just being used as a plot device to make the shooter seem like this evil, irredeemable guy...which really wasn't necessary because when someone goes on a shooting rampage in a school, you don't need to give them some twisted back story to make the reader hate them -- it's kind of superfluous.

I don't think it's a good book to read if you're looking for a story that really delves into the psychology of a school shooting -- one that focuses on the things that make these kind of people snap, or the impact it has on the lives of the people who are there, or the effect on the families of those lost. For a book like that, I'd recommend something more along the lines of Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.

This one...it was more -- in the moment? Because while it does include some back story for the characters and touches very briefly on the aftermath, that isn't the strong point of the book. The books strength comes from the fact that you feel the panic and the urgency of what is happening and it hooks you and gets under your skin.

I can't really explain more about that without spoilers, but it'll be obvious which things I'm talking about if you read the book...and you should. Read it, that is. In spite of those things, it was a really good book. I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5.

Later.

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