Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Peek In The BiblioBin #213

Welcome to our Stacking the Shelves post! Stacking the Shelves (or as we like to call it, A Peek in the BiblioBin) has been created by the folks at Tynga's ReviewsIt's a way for bloggers to share what books they've won, received for review, purchased, borrowed from the library or friend, received as a gift, grabbed off the bookshelf, etc.

For Review:

Overexposed (In Focus #4) by Megan Erickson

Just Friends by Monica Murphy

Roman Crazy (The Broads Abroad) by Alice Clayton and Nina Bocci

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Off The Bookshelf:

A Promise of Fire (The Kingmaker Chronicles) by Amanda Bouchet

Friday, August 26, 2016

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf

* * * *

What is Kaycee willing to risk for the sake of love? 
And what will she risk for acceptance?

In Sunshine, Tennessee, the main event in town is Friday night football, the biggest party of the year is held in a field filled with pickup trucks, and church attendance is mandatory. For Kaycee Jean McCoy, life in Sunshine means dating guys she has no interest in, saying only “yes, ma’am” when the local bigots gossip at her mom’s cosmetics salon, and avoiding certain girls at all costs. Girls like Bren Dawson.

Unlike Kaycee, Bren doesn’t really conceal who she is. But as the cool, worldly new girl, nobody at school seems to give her any trouble. Maybe there’s no harm if Kaycee gets closer to her too, as long as she can keep that part of her life a secret, especially from her family and her best friend. But the more serious things get with Bren, the harder it is to hide from everyone else. Kaycee knows Sunshine has a darker side for people like her, and she’s risking everything for the chance to truly be herself.

South of Sunshine was one of those books I noticed on the library's display shelf because of its cover. But underneath the endearing title and picturesque cover is a troubling story about how denying your true self can be destructive.

Kaycee is in her senior year of high school and itching to get out of her small town so she can drop the pretence. She has dated guys but mostly to deflect attention away from the fact that she really likes girls. This is a community that hasn't met the 21st century yet. Their narrow minds about different ethnicities and homosexuality keep Kaycee in the closet. When Bren shows up at the high school she's like a shiny, exotic new toy. She's automatically different because she's part Hispanic and she also happens to be gay. Kaycee feels a strong pull towards her but tries her best to deny any of it. 

"Because once again, just like I did last night and like I've done for all these years of denial, 
I think if I ignore it, it doesn't exist. That's what I have to do to survive this town."
~ Kaycee, p. 174

Reading this book was both maddening and eye-opening. Thank goodness Kaycee is a charming and sweet kid, otherwise this read would have been harder. Sunshine is a judgmental town, superficial to the core. You know it's bad when the churches are segregated and then there's segregation within the church based on social status. Here, within this dysfunction, is where Kaycee has to come to terms with who she is. No wonder her head and her heart are a mess! Religious bigotry is one of my few triggers. I can't ever grasp how any institution that should stand for love and caring can be so cruel to those who are at their most vulnerable. The town's bigoted attitude about anything they're unfamiliar with had me in a foul mood so imagine my surprise when Kaycee's mom and her best friend take the story in a different direction by making important revelations! It taught me an invaluable lesson that I don't always know where someone's fears stem from. It's easy to assume that intolerance can be boiled down to ignorance but those two showed me that there's more to that theory. 

"I remind myself that God loves me ..."
 ~ Kaycee, p. 123

That passage from self-awareness to self-acceptance can be intimidating depending on the level of support that is available. Elmendorf wrote Kaycee's gradual coming out so beautifully. She also gives us a glimpse of what coming out means to a teen - the joy it can bring, the toll it can levy, the love it can let in but also the weight of disappointment and hurt when someone you love refuses to acknowledge your truth. I hate that anyone has to even go through this simply because they want to be true to who they are. And it's unfair to have that person carry the guilt for anyone's lack of acceptance or understanding. When it comes to LGBTQ novels, I find it's the coming of age ones like this that I respond to the most. Therefore, I'm so glad I picked up South of Sunshine.  

~ Bel

The Aftermath by R.J. Prescott


Cormac "The Hurricane" O'Connell's star is on the rise. Billed as the most promising young boxer of his generation, his new career is taking him to places he never dreamed. But O'Connell only needs one thing in life: his wife.

In her final year of college, Em cannot follow him around the world but together they make it work. Just when everything they ever wanted is on the horizon, the past resurfaces to haunt them, and O'Connell realizes that justice might not be a part of his happy ever after. He couldn't protect Em once before, but in the aftermath of the hurricane, he will make sure that never happens again.

Source:  Advance Copy from Publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

We met O'Connell, Emily and the gang in The Hurricane.  The Aftermath really is just that.  It's told from O'Connell's point of view as he deals with the fallout and emotional aftermath of everything that happened in The Hurricane.  I'm staunchly anti-spoiler, so feel free to read my review of The Hurricane here without fear.  

O'Connell is trying to deal, but he's got so much anger and fear and guilt.  God, the guilt.  If you've been around the blog for a while, you know I'm all about the bromances in books and this series delivers.  This ragtag group of fighters are family and they are awesome.  They rally around O'Connell as he continues to make it as a championship contender.  They rally around Emily to be there when O'Connell can't.  

And just like in The Hurricane, O'Connell is swoon-worthy.  Check this out:

Wrapping my arms around her tiny waist, I haul her in for a kiss.  The way that some guys kiss their long-term girlfriends or wives is an absolute travesty.  A kiss should never be routine, like saying hello or good-bye.  Kissing the person you love should be sign language for the soul.  It should say I love you, I need you, and I'm happy to see you or sorry to see you go.  If you can't kiss like that, you should really keep your fucking lips to yourself.

Seriously, why aren't guys like these real?!  No one can ask why we love our fictional boys after reading that.  Or how about this:

God, sometimes it's like she reached into my chest and held my heart in her hand, just to remind me why it belonged to her.

R.J. Prescott is killing me!  She had better write Liam's story and Kieran's and Tommy's and Earnshaw's!  And Danny could find himself a good woman through all these stories too.  Just sayin'.  Truth be told, I want Liam's story first.  The hints we got in The Aftermath about Liam's story were my favorites and I can't wait to read all about it!  

Anyway, if the smoking hot cover wasn't enough motivation for you to buy this book, well, you're crazy, but also, I'm telling you the story is also great.  


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Hurricane by R.J. Prescott


Emily McCarthy is living in fear of a dark and dangerous past.  A gifted mathematician, she is little more than a hollow, broken shell, trying desperately to make ends meet long enough to finish her degree.

Through an unlikely friendship with the aging, cantankerous owner of a boxing gym, Em is thrown into the path of the most dangerous man that she has ever met.  

Source:  Advance Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

It recently came to my attention that I somehow forgot to review The Hurricane.  Apparently, I need adult supervision, because I really liked this book and want everyone to know it!  The Hurricane is Emily's story.  It's the story of how she survived a horrific childhood and escaped to a place where she hides - not just from her past, but from her present.  She meets Danny at the diner where she waits tables.  The old guy befriends the skittish young girl and eventually offers her a job at his boxing gym.

Enter Cormac O'Connell.  O'Connell is a rough boxer who fights to burn off his anger and frustration with his mother.  He's listless and lacks focus, but when he sees Em in the diner, he knows he has to shape up to create a life for her.  With that O'Connell dedicates himself to going pro as a boxer and winning Em's heart.  But with Em's background and secrets, the path to true love is like an obstacle course.  

The Hurricane is a beautiful love story.  Not just between Em and Cormack, but a story of the coming together of a family.  The guys at the gym have always been a family, but protecting and loving Emily while helping O'Connell become a champion gives them purpose.  

But O'Connell, man, he just lays it all out there.  This is guy that is not afraid of his emotions when it comes to Em - he embraces them and goes after her, no holds barred.  

                      "I wish I knew the words to tell you how much I love you and how                      much you've changed my life.  Meeting you was like seeing the sun                      for the first time, after a lifetime of living in the dark.  I know you                        can do so much better than me, but if you'll have me, I promise to                       spend the rest of our lives fighting to deserve you."

Aww, right?!  This book is filled with touching quotes from O'Connell and the rest of the guys.  I recommend The Hurricane to all of you.  And then you have to read The Aftermath, which is told from O'Connell's point of view.  *sigh*


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

* * * * *

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

I have fallen in love with this book and I want everyone to know about it! When I picked it up I was told that I would love it and I knew it was true within the first few pages. 

A.J. Fikry is not an easy person to get on with. He has particular interests and specific ways of looking at things so if what you're selling doesn't fall into any of his pre-approved categories, then you'd best move on. He conveys his annoyance through sarcasm and dry humour. Sometimes it appears that he just can't bothered to relate to the modern world. Despite his oft abrasive demeanor, the locals don't mind him - he has his thing and people accept that. Then his life is literally changed overnight and thus begins A.J.'s gradual but wondrous change from a grumpy, book snob to beloved member of the small Alice Island community. I was incredibly amused by A.J.'s wit but it was his various insights through his letter writing and growing friendships that captured my heart. One quote in particular had me reflecting on my own life to see how my views have changed as I've grown older. I love that moment when a book becomes personal and impactful.

"...the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life." 
~ A.J.F

A.J. is surrounded by a small but close unit of friends. There is one in particular, police officer, Lambiase whom I thought of as a gentle soul. The budding friendship between these two different personalities is one of the best things about the book. Once again, I can't stress enough how much I felt for the conversations that take place within these pages. Many of them reveal so much about human nature, oftentimes presenting things from a different angle. It's like a "hallelujah" moment whenever an author can describe things or feelings that I find are difficult to put to words. I swear there were times when I felt that Zevin described perfectly what it feels like to love someone so intensely and also to lose so much. 

In many ways, reading this reminded me of another favourite of mine, A Man called Ove. He was also a grumpy man who seemed incapable of accepting the changes that happened around him. And just like Ove, A.J. learns that there's something and someone to live for. Above all, this book embraces the passion for reading and how books can help us understand and relate to the world, something any avid reader will appreciate. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will work its way into your soul and make a home there!

~ Bel

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Strong Side by Alison Hendricks


From Goodreads:

Their chemistry on the field is undeniable. But can they ever be more than friends?

Jason Hawkins is about to throw the biggest Hail Mary pass of his career.

If he can't turn NFL recruiters' heads this year, he'll lose his shot at the one thing he's ever been good at. But every quarterback needs a man he can count on down-field. For Jason, that man just might be the Tigers' new receiver, Derek Griffin.

Four years ago, Derek nearly lost everything after being outed by his teammates.

Now he finally has a chance to get it all back as a walk-on for Eastshore College... if he can resist his immediate attraction to the gorgeous and very straight star quarterback.

An instant connection during practice leads to an easy friendship that only grows stronger off the field. Derek is convinced friendship is all it'll ever be, but a very confusing moment of impulse leaves both of them fumbling for answers about their relationship.

As curiosity gives way to passion and passion gives way to something deeper, Jason and Derek will have to tackle their own personal demons to bring home the win and earn their happy ending.

I love sports romances.  I love m/m, so to add the two together is great fun.  I pulled Strong Side off Kindle Unlimited and was apprehensive, but ended up really enjoying the story!

There are a few editing kinks, but the story itself will keep you engrossed and entertained.  Watching Griff deal with his fears and allow himself to not just move forward, but fall in love was moving.

Hawk's jouney takes some twists and turns that he handles with more grace than may be strictly realistic, but that's what we love about romances, right?  Everything is much easier when it's happening in a book.

Strong Side is a good read with some steamy sexy times and an utterly satisfying ending.  Book 2, False Start, is anxiously awaiting its turn on my TBR.  

~ Shel

Monday, August 22, 2016

Daring the Bad Boy by Monica Murphy - Amazon Gift Car Giveaway!

Hi all!  Monica Murphy - the awesome author of a bunch of adult and new adult books has a new YA out, Daring the Bad Boy!  Check out this cover!  

To celebrate, Monica is doing a giveaway here on the blog.  Enter the rafflecopter below and you could win a $5 gift card to Amazon - which is perfect, because it's selling for $3.99!  

Here's the blurb - this book sounds so good, I can't wait to read it!

Truth or Dare was never this much fun…
Annie McFarland is sick of being a shy nobody. A session at summer camp seems like the perfect opportunity to reinvent herself—gain some confidence, kiss a boy, be whoever she wants to be. A few days in, she’s already set her sights on ├╝ber-hottie Kyle. Too bad her fear of water keeps her away from the lake, where Kyle is always hanging out.
Jacob Fazio is at Camp Pine Ridge after one too many screw-ups. Junior counseling seems like punishment enough, but the rigid no-fraternizing-with-campers rules harsh his chill. When a night of Truth or Dare gets him roped into teaching Annie how to swim, she begs him to also teach her how to snag Kyle.
Late-night swim sessions turn into late-night kissing sessions…but there’s more on the line than just their hearts. If they get caught, Jake’s headed straight to juvie, but Annie’s more than ready to dare him to reveal the truth.
Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains references to drinking, sexual situations, adult language, and an intense bad boy hero who will melt your heart.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Monica Murphy:
Monica Murphy is the New York Times, USA Today and #1 international bestselling author of the One Week Girlfriend series, the Billionaire Bachelors and The Rules series. Her books have been translated in almost a dozen languages and has sold over one million copies worldwide. She is a traditionally published author with Bantam/Random House and Harper Collins/Avon, as well as an independently published author. She writes new adult, young adult and contemporary romance. She is also USA Today bestselling romance author Karen Erickson.
She is a wife and a mother of three who lives with her family in central California on fourteen acres in the middle of nowhere, along with their one dog and too many cats. A self-confessed workaholic, when she’s not writing, she’s reading or hanging out with her husband and kids. She’s a firm believer in happy endings, though she will admit to putting her characters through many angst-filled moments before they finally get that hard won HEA.