Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (102)


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that highlights future releases that we are excitedly anticipating.


Guy in Real LifeBy Steve Brezenoff
Publication Date: May 27, 2014

From the acclaimed author of Brooklyn, Burning comes Guy in Real Life, an achingly real and profoundly moving love story in the vein of Rainbow Rowell and John Green, about two Minnesota teens whose lives become intertwined through school, role-playing games, and a chance two-a.m. bike accident.

It is Labor Day weekend in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and boy and girl collide on a dark street at two thirty in the morning: Lesh, who wears black, listens to metal, and plays MMOs; Svetlana, who embroiders her skirts, listens to Björk and Berlioz, and dungeon masters her own RPG. They should pick themselves up, continue on their way, and never talk to each other again.

But they don't.

This is a story of two people who do not belong in each other's lives, who find each other at a time when they desperately need someone who doesn't belong in their lives. A story of those moments when we act like people we aren't in order to figure out who we are. A story of the roles we all play-at school, at home, with our friends, and without our friends-and the one person who might show us what lies underneath it all.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Bet by Rachel Van Dyken Launch Day Blitz


Welcome to the Launch Day Blitz for Rachel Van Dyken's The Bet, available in print for the first time today!




About Rachel Van Dyken:



Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances.  When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.  She keeps her home in Idaho with her husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir Winston Churchill.  She loves to hear from readers!  You can follow her writing journey at www.rachelvandykenauthor.com.





Check out this excerpt:


Travis sighed next to her. “You don’t need a man like Jake to give you what you want. 

Believe me. When you have the perfect house and tons of money, you still won’t be complete if the man you share it with is out paying whores to do things you would never do.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Kacey joked.

“Kace! Jake isn’t worth it!”

“No.” She laughed. “I meant things that strippers do. Pretty sure I know how to please my man. I could drive circles around those girls. I just need the right guy.”

Travis tensed next to her. He cleared his throat and pushed away from the chair. He walked over to the counter and began cutting the pie.

What was his deal lately?

“Let me guess.” Kacey leaned over the counter. “Raspberry pie?”

“How’d you know?” He smirked. His voice was hoarse.

“It was the only pie your grandma taught you how to make, and if I remember correctly, you made it for your senior prom date.”

“Ugh.” Travis carefully cut it into eighths. “If I remember correctly, she spilled it on her dress and blamed me for making raspberries red.”

“She always was such a charmer. What was her name again?”

Travis chuckled. “Oh no you don’t. That’s just what I need. You digging up my past girlfriends and making fun of them. Besides, I don’t date girls anymore. I date women.” He eyed her up and down before slowly licking the fork.

Kacey averted her eyes, mainly because the picture of him licking that fork was so erotic she nearly jumped across the table and assaulted him. Apparently, this is what happens when you don’t have boyfriends and the closest relationship you’ve had in the past year has been with your e‑reader and a fictional duke named Henry.

“So . . .” Kacey nudged him a bit with her arm. “Women, hmm? What women are you dating? I don’t see any of them here for family dinner night.”

“There are no women.”

Kacey’s heart hammered in her chest.

“If you must know, there is one woman. One being the key word.”

She clenched her fist and cursed herself for bringing the subject up. “What’s her name?”

“Oh no you don’t!” Travis placed the knife on the plate and grabbed Kacey by the shoulders. “That’s just what I need, you stalking the one woman I’m interested in.”

Did he say he was interested in only one? Damn the man. Be unattractive! She wanted to yell. “C’mon, Trav, you know me. What harm could I possibly cause?”

“Junior year—” he began.

“Forget I asked.”

“Junior year.” He held his finger in the air as he was making his point. “Somehow you discovered I had a crush on Ashley Willis. I still don’t know how, considering I’m a guy and I don’t keep a diary.”

“No.” Kacey dipped a fork into the pie and licked the tangy berries off it. “But you did moan her name one time in your sleep. But carry on.”

He glared. “You told her.”

“Okay, Trav, come on. I did nothing of the sort. I merely hinted that you had a tiny bit of a crush on her.”

“Kace, making a poster with my face on it and heart stickers is a hell of a lot more than hinting. God, I don’t even think you know the meaning of the word discreet.”

“Do too!” she argued.

He walked around the table and pulled her into a tight headlock.

“Do not!” She fought against him but was helpless. “Do you give?” he whispered into her hair.

His hard-​muscled chest was heaving behind her. Did she give? Oh God, what she wouldn’t give for something, anything.

Ah! Red alert! What was she thinking? It’s Travis, Travis!

“Travis!” she screamed, totally unintentionally. He released her and winked.

“Come on. Let’s take the pie in before they think you stabbed me or something.”

“Close,” Kacey grumbled, though stabbing wasn’t necessarily what she had in mind. 

Rubbing his body down with berries and licking it off? Yes. Violence? Only that of a sexual nature.

She needed to trip and hit her head or something to shake Travis’s smile and scent out of it before she lost her mind.

“There you two are!” Grandma winked as they rejoined the family and began to enjoy the pie. “I thought maybe Travis was having an encounter in there with you, little girl.” Grandma winked again. Unfortunately, at that exact moment, Kacey, having taken a ginormous bite of pie, began to choke.

It worsened when Travis lifted his hands in the air and said, “I was trying to be discreet.”

Kacey glared.

His entire family laughed, and she kicked at him again under the table. He moved his foot in time and then stuck out his tongue like a two-​year-​old.

And really, maybe it was the sexual frustration, but she lunged for him, his chair tipped backward, and she straddled him, shoving pie into his beautiful face all the while screaming, “I’ll get you!”

In her mind, the family was cheering, when really everyone was completely silent.

Except Travis, who was yelling and cursing and spitting pie back out at her. Luckily, they had hardwood floors instead of carpeting.

Finally, when the pie was done, she wiped a berry off his face and licked her fingers. His eyes darkened, and for a minute it looked like he was going to kiss her.

He leaned forward and reached up behind her. And suddenly she had hot pie all over her face.

“I win, Kace,” he whispered huskily into her ear.


Yes, yes, you do.
  

And enter to win a signed copy in the Rafflecopter below.

~Shel



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nantucket Red (Nantucket #2) by Leila Howland

* * * 3/4


Cricket Thompson's lifetime of overachieving has paid off: she's headed to Brown University in the fall, with a spot on the lacrosse team and a scholarship that covers almost everything. Who knew living in the dorm cost money? An Ivy League education seems to mean living at home for the next four years.

When Cricket is offered the chance to earn enough cash to afford a real college experience, she heads back to Nantucket for the summer. But the faraway island challenges Cricket in ways she hadn't anticipated. It's hard to focus on earning money for next year, when she finds her world opening up in entirely new ways-to art, to travel, and, most unexpectedly, to a future completely different from the one she has been working toward her whole life. A friendship blossoms with Ben, the gorgeous surfer and bartender who encourages Cricket to be free, even as she smarts at the pain of seeing Zack, her first love, falling for her worst enemy.

But one night, when Cricket finally lets herself break all her own rules, she realizes she may have ruined her carefully constructed future with one impulsive decision. Cricket must dig deep to fight for her future, discovering that success isn't just about reaching goals, but also about listening to what she's been trying to ignore-her own heart.


I’ll just lay this out there – I simply adore Leila Howland’s Nantucket series. It’s cute, sweet and has enough of those awkward moments that anyone can relate to. It helps too that this is set on one of the most scenic spots around. Nantucket Red was like revisiting a favourite vacation spot.

At the end of Nantucket Blue, Cricket and Jake were just beginning to go public with their relationship while her friendship with Jules was still in tatters. Now she’s back at school trying to come to a truce with Jules so that they can lead their lacrosse team during their senior year. Jules is slowly coming around and while their friendship isn’t quite what it was, it’s better than how the summer went. In the meantime, Cricket and Jake have decided that rather than doing the long distance thing, they’ll go on a break instead. Hello? Have they not seen how that one Friends episode turned out?  You can see where this is going right?

The book continues to give us quick glimpses of Cricket through the school year until graduation when an unexpected opportunity comes her way to be able to live out one of her dreams. This causes her to switch her summer plans to find a job on Nantucket. Jules is happy to have her there whereas things have become extremely uncomfortable with Jake. Add to that, Cricket’s growing attraction to the surfer/musician-by-day-bartender-by-night at her job only confuses her about what she really wants.

Before I go further, I’d like to clarify that Nantucket Red isn’t just about Cricket and Jake. It’s about Cricket and what she still needs to figure out about her future. When she discovers a wish list that Nina (Jules’ mother) had written ages ago, Cricket feels it’s divine intervention telling her that she should explore the world and break out from her strict timeline. Even though she’s on Nantucket, she finds a way to fulfill that wish list, giving it her own twist. It has given her inspiration to look at her once solid plans through new lenses and she even starts to deviate slightly from her path which causes a potentially disastrous consequence. But it does force her to ultimately decide what’s in her best interest and that of her future.

Cricket’s growing up and it was a pleasure to see how she came to her decisions and how she managed to pluck the courage to do so. Graduating from high school is exciting and scary. Overwhelming expectations, especially your own that come from dreams and ideas mapped out for years can be unsettling. Cricket is a genuine sweetheart and she finds her strength with some very supportive friends and family in her corner.

Nantucket Red is just the perfect read for you if you just want something that’s delightful and easygoing. Like I said earlier, it’s adorable and sometimes that’s just what you need.

~ Bel

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Peek In The BiblioBin #98


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 lovely ladies at Tynga's Reviews.

Stacking the Shelves is a way for bloggers to share what books they have won, received for review, bought from the bookstore, borrowed from the library or friend, etc.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Burn Bright by Bethany Frenette

***
Audrey Whitticomb saved her entire city.

Well, kind of.  The superhero Morning Star (who just happens to be Audrey's mom) might have played a small part, and her sidekick, Leon-Audrey's sort-of boyfriend, who is gorgeous and frustrating-maybe helped, too.

But after two peaceful months, there is a vicious new threat in Minneapolis.  Her name is Susannah, and she's a Harrower, a demon hell-bent on destroying people like Morning Star, Leon, and Audrey-the Kin.  Like others before her, she seeks the Remnant, a Kin girl who has the power to unleash the inhabitants of the Beneath.  But to what end?   

Audrey already has a ton on her plate: dealing with her best friend Tink's boy drama, helping her other best friend Gideon figure out his nightmares, and exploring the highs and lows of "dating" Leon.  But when she develops a powerful new ability, Audrey seizes on the chance to fight, despite her mother's protests and Leon's pleas.

As Audrey gets closer to figuring out Susannah's motives and tracking down the Remnant, she'll uncover more than she bargained for.  The terrible truth is staring Audrey in the face.  But knowing the truth and accepting it are very different things.   

I enjoyed Burn Bright.  Audrey wants desperately to help protect not just the ones she loves, but the world, but she is haunted by the feeling that some knowledge is just outside her reach, and this knowledge would make the difference in the brewing war.  Unfortunately, those tasked with protecting and teaching her, underestimate her value and tell her to stay out of it.  But what's a headstrong girl to do, except prove to them that she can fight?

The world Frenette has created is fascinating.  Lots of action and drama mixed with a great mythology of superpowers, Burn Bright will drag you under and keep hold until the end.  

~Shel

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Third Degree by Julie Cross

***
I used to be "Isabel Jenkins, child prodigy." As lame as that sounds, at least it was an identity.  But now I'm not sure what I am.  I just failed the most important exam of my life - the emotional readiness test required to get into a medical residency program - and it turns out my parents can't stand each other.  Now I'm trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my life, and that means re-enrolling as a college freshman, but this time I'm shutting the books and majoring in being eighteen.  

But so far, my roommate hates me and I'm not into the party scene.   The only good thing about school has been getting to know my insanely hot RA.  Marshall Collins makes me wonder about everything I missed while I was growing up too fast.  Pretty soon we're hanging out constantly, but for the first time, I find myself wanting more than a no-strings-attached physical relationship.  And the lesson I really need is one Marsh definitely can't teach me: love.  Because I'm going to be alone forever if I don't learn fast.  

Isabel is a cross between Doogie Howser and Sheldon Cooper, which makes for some hilariously awkward moments.  She has absolutely no concept of inappropriate behavior or tact, so it's hard to feel anything for her.  Despite her high IQ, she's childish, immature and emotionally stunted.  I couldn't agree more with her supervisor's decision that she was not emotionally ready to be a doctor.  

Marsh on the other hand is awesome.  He's smart, dedicated, driven, sweet and understanding.  And hot, let's not forget hot.  I can't really figure out why he would fall for Isabel, he's far too good for her.  

With the funny social awkwardness and hot boys, Third Degree is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.  If you like new adult romances, you should check this one out.

~Shel


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Undone by Cat Clarke

* * * * 1/2




Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she's learning to live with it.

Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online ... and he kills himself.

Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down.

A searing story of love, revenge and betrayal from a bestselling author.


When I start to read a book like this, it’s usually with trepidation. There’s no way to know without reading through it how it’ll go, if by the end you’ll be shred to bits or filled with a glimmer of hope. I found out that Undone did both.

Undone begins in such a dark and grief-filled place with Jem so distraught and unable to bring herself to face life without her best friend, Kai. She relives their many moments as she’s holed up in her bedroom shutting off the world. She sees her best option is to off herself as there’s no point in going on without him. The day she decides to do it, she’s interrupted by Kai’s younger sister Louise, who was instructed by Kai himself to deliver a package to Jem. Within it are 12 letters, one for each month that Jem is directed to open on the 23rd of every month.

As unlikely as it seems, this whole exchange between Jem and Louise is rather funny. It basically wakes her up from her long grief stricken stupor. Jem’s internal monologue drips with sarcasm and dry humor. First, she’s deciding between the pros and cons of a sandwich or ordering Chinese takeout as her last meal, then her disappointment with her suicide attempt being thwarted and Louise cutting into her valuable suicide time. It all caught me off guard and I loved it.

So Jem reenters the world and unexpectedly becomes part of the in crowd or as she calls it, Team Popular at school. It’s at this point that she hatches a plan to seek revenge for Kai’s death. Of course, it’s not quite that easy but in Jem fashion which would be snarkiness and social awkwardness, she makes some serious headway with plenty of goofy moments too. There are also the somber moments when she reads Kai’s letters, filled with unconditional love, affection and jokes that come with a lifetime of knowing someone so well, that may have you reaching for a tissue. But even his letters can’t deter her from The Plan, as screwy and misguided as it may be.

The story proceeds through the next few months and Jem makes progress in her own personal life but revenge is never far from her mind even as her relationships with certain members of Team Popular get complicated. It's ironic that during this entire time she's finally participating in life as opposed to watching on the sidelines like she used to do with Kai and it doesn't even register with her. No, she's still planning her impending death. By the end, things come to a serious head and Jem is faced with choosing between what she has wanted for the past year and the potential for a future that she has never allowed herself to contemplate.

Undone is written so well and there were a few moments where I was reminded of another of my favourite books, Saving June, also about the aftermath of a suicide.  Whereas the latter’s story is much more heavy, Clarke manages to relate Jem’s story with compassion and humor. Things do get serious toward the finish and I was absolutely stunned silent by the end. Whether or not Clarke intended to, my personal belief is that the end is open to interpretation which I appreciate because I am still going back and forth between what I think happened, what I feel the author wants me to think happened and what I hope happened.  

Read Undone. It's outstanding and well worth it!

~ Bel

Waiting on Wednesday (101)


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that highlights future releases that we are excitedly anticipating.


Take Me On (Pushing the Limits, #4)By Katie McGarry
Publication Date:  May 20, 2014

Acclaimed author Katie McGarry returns with the knockout new story of two high school seniors who are about to learn what winning really means

Champion kickboxer Haley swore she'd never set foot in the ring again after one tragic night. But then the guy she can't stop thinking about accepts a mixed martial arts fight in her honor. Suddenly, Haley has to train West Young. All attitude, West is everything Haley promised herself she'd stay away from. Yet he won't last five seconds in the ring without her help.

West is keeping a big secret from Haley. About who he really is. But helping her-fighting for her-is a shot at redemption. Especially since it's his fault his family is falling apart. He can't change the past, but maybe he can change Haley's future.

Hayley and West have agreed to keep their relationship strictly in the ring. But as an unexpected bond forms between them and attraction mocks their best intentions, they'll face their darkest fears and discover love is worth fighting for.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Royally Lost by Angie Stanton

* * * 



Dragged on a family trip to Europe’s ancient cities, Becca wants nothing more than to go home. Trapped with her emotionally distant father, over-eager stepmother, and a brother who only wants to hook up with European hotties, Becca is miserable. That is until she meets Nikolai, a guy as mysterious as he is handsome. And she unknowingly finds herself with a runaway prince.

Nikolai has everything a guy could ask for-he's crown prince, heir to the throne, and girls adore him. But the one thing he doesn't have...is freedom. Staging a coup, he flees his kingdom and goes undercover on his own European tour.

When Nikolai and Becca meet, it’s their differences that draw them together. Sparks fly as they share a whirlwind of adventures, all the while dodging his royal guard. But Becca's family vacation ends in a matter of days. Will Nikolai and Becca be forced to say goodbye forever, will his destiny catch up to him, or will they change history forever?


Being stuck in the Midwest, epicenter of the craziest winter weather in a long time, has me longing for summer like you wouldn’t believe. Of course, if I’m going to mentally escape, I’m going to choose a spectacular destination to distract me from reality. Royally Lost fits that bill easily.

It’s very straightforward – Becca wants to be anywhere but with her parents on vacation in fabulous Europe while her brother manages to find ways to disappear and do his own thing. Becca, who is very unimpressed with Europe, (seriously what is up with that?) would rather hunt down the nearest McDonald's than have to suffer through another historical tour. Nikolai has run off in search of anonymity for as long as he can have it. It's refreshing for him to be the master of his own schedule for a change. When Becca and Nikolai meet, they take an instant liking to each other and it’s good times from there. Nikolai knows his temporary emancipation from his royal duties is short-lived especially with his disappearance and face plastered all over the headlines making his time with Becca urgent and bittersweet.

While the events that transpire are predictable and Becca and Nikolai are cute together, the real star of this book is the breathtaking Danube River and the various stops they make on the river cruise. I enjoyed looking up pictures of the many locales and dreaming that I was there as well, though unlike Becca, I would have happily soaked up all the historical information I encountered. See what I mean?

Picture courtesy of welldesignedjourneys.com

Picture courtesy of cruiseshipholidays.blogspot.com


Royally Lost belongs in the “happy” section on your bookshelf. If you’re looking for an escape, a cute romance or something that’s not overtly melodramatic, this one will suit you well!


~ Bel

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

***

Internationally renowned thief and con artist Nicolas Fox is famous for running elaborate and daring scams.  His greatest con of all: convincing the FBI to team him up with the only woman to ever capture his attention, Special Agent Kate O'Hare.  Together they'll go undercover to swindle and catch the world's most wanted - and untouchable - criminals.  

Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency.  Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artifact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public.  Nick and Kate must work under the radar - and against the clock - to devise a plan to steal the piece back.  Confronting Grove's elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills of their ragtag crew, including flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate's dad.  

A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal.  But it'll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty's priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O'Hare. 

Ok, I'm really enjoying the Fox and O'Hare series.  It's new and different from the Plum Series (which I adore), but still has flavors of all the plum lovable elements.  In The Chase, Kate and Nick find themselves taking on a dangerous and powerful foe.  Reuniting with characters from The Heist, the team sets out to con the biggest con artist - a politician.  Hilarity ensues.

I liken The Chase to White Collar and I could easily picture Matthew Bomer's wicked smile when Nick is being wicked, and he's wicked a lot.  With fast-paced action and a truly colorful cast of characters, you will love The Chase.

~Shel










Thursday, April 17, 2014

Her Sexiest Mistake by Jill Shalvis

***
Mia Appleby finally has the life she always wanted.  She's escaped her trailer trash childhood and built a nice life for herself with a marketing job and a cute, little condo.  But no matter how much baggage she's ditched from her past, she still hasn't managed to shake her greatest weakness-men.  So when her new neighbor turns out to be single and oh-so-sexy, Mia's worried she's playing with fire...

Kevin McKnight can't get enough of his gorgeous neighbor, but after one amazing night, she's already showing him the door.  Something tells him this is the way she handles most men.  But Kevin is far from your average guy-and he's ready  to prove it to Mia.  When a blast from her past shakes up Mia's life in a major way, will she stick with her self-sufficient solo act... or take a chance leaning on Kevin's strong shoulders?

Hilarious, sexy and fun.  Need I say more?  Yes?  Ok, well Her Sexiest Mistake is about a young professional woman who finds herself playing mother to her teenage niece, whom she has never before met.  And a sexy neighbor, don't forget the sexy neighbor, who, coincidentally enough is a high school science teacher that has the skills to deal with a troubled teen.  

I've said it before and I will say it again, you will never regret a Jill Shalvis book.  She's the queen of the awkward moment and her signature steam will keep you wanting more.  Her Sexiest Mistake is one of her earlier works, but well worth the read.

~Shel




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (100)


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that highlights future releases that we are excitedly anticipating.


We Were Liars
By E. Lockhart
Publication Date: May 13, 2014

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Summer I Wasn't Me by Jessica Verdi - Review & Guest Post

* * * *




Ever since her mom found out she was in love with a girl, seventeen-year-old Lexi’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.

You are on the road to truth. Help is on the way.

The road signs leading to New Horizons summer camp promise a new life for Lexi—she swears she can change. She can learn to like boys. But denying her feelings is harder than she thinks. And when she falls heads over heels for one of her fellow campers, Lexi will have to risk her mother’s approval for the one person who might love her no matter what.


Lexi is a very mild-mannered kid. Although she’s on her way to New Horizons to be “cured”of her gay ways, she’s more concerned with her widowed mother who hasn’t been the same since her dad died.  His loss has been a huge blow to them. For Lexi, her mother is all she has left.  She knows she’s gay but out of love for her mother and desperate to keep her remaining family intact, she’s willing to sacrifice her own happiness and go to this conversion camp. Is it right? No, but I can sympathize with where she’s coming from. She views New Horizons not as an adversary but as a necessary step toward reconnecting with her mother.

At camp, she’s grouped together with three other people – Matthew, the jokester who’s out-and-proud, Daniel, a very confused and sheltered boy trying to reconcile his feelings with what it means to be a good Christian, and finally Carolyn, who’s there to fix herself so she can fulfill her idyllic dream of having a family and kids. Sparks fly instantly between Lexi and Carolyn though neither do anything about it. Lexi reminds herself constantly why she’s there and what she has to gain AND lose should this not go well.

Let me count the reasons why I liked this book...

1) The ensemble cast is fantastic. All the characters from the religious counselors, to the confused parents to the frightened camp kids, bring so much substance to this story. 

2) Lexi is great. She’s not antagonistic towards anyone. She approaches her situation gracefully and questions things. She's not easily brainwashed. At one meeting, the kids are told that their gayness is a “sickness”. This statement provides for a very powerful moment of introspection for her as she recollects when she first knew she was gay. At no point has she ever viewed this as a sickness or a disease to be rid of. And it wasn’t like it was this melodramatic journey to get to that point. She just knew and she had clarity. 

3) Every opinion, belief, viewpoint is given equal “airtime”.  Whether you agree with them or not, this book is about each of their individual experiences and their own personal journey. Each of the camp kids has their own reason for being there – some reluctantly like Matthew and some voluntarily like Carolyn. It’s what they figure out for themselves that’s important.

4) This is a difficult story to tell but it's done articulately and courageously with the very emotional and turbulent moments handled delicately. Thank goodness for that because I would've been a wreck. Still that doesn't erase the horrors of the inappropriate and questionable things that happen at camps like this. I'll be honest, I'd heard of such places but had never given them much thought. Now that I've had some insight, how anyone can think it's okay to treat people in such a debasing and sometimes abusive manner like those mentioned here, is beyond me. 

The Summer I Wasn’t Me is thoroughly engaging, disturbing and inspiring. The characters involved keep you invested but the camp and its procedures are horrifying. My hope for anyone who reads this is not to just cling to the same old arguments or any religious predisposition. Set all that aside if you can. In the end, I hope the thought turns to the importance of treating a fellow human being with compassion. And then I hope that thought turns to daily practice.

~ Bel


Now that you've read my take on the book, I am pleased to have the author herself, the brilliant Jessica Verdi join us today to discuss her book in further detail. Welcome Jessica!


Hi, Bel! Thank you so much for having me on your blog! I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about my research process for The Summer I Wasn’t Me, so I’m hoping I can use this opportunity to discuss that a little!
This was a very research-heavy book, being that I personally have never been to a conversion camp. But because this world is so secretive, so purposefully hush-hush, there was only so much research I could do before hitting a brick wall. The things that go on at these camps are not only incredibly morally unethical, but emotionally (and often physically) abusive, and in many cases illegal. These kinds of programs have already been outlawed for youths in New Jersey and for all people, regardless of age, in California.
The bulk of my research consisted of doing a lot of technical research on so-called “reparative therapy” (the techniques and methods they use, the argument for the work, etc.), reading first hand accounts from people who have been to camps like these, and watching several documentaries. Every single “exercise” you see in the book came from research—I didn’t make any of that stuff up, including the horrifying events that happen (no spoilers!) in Chapter 29. In fact, one of the hardest parts of my research was watching YouTube videos of that very type of thing. It was extremely difficult to watch kids going through something like that, but I knew I owed it to the accuracy of the story to get every detail, even ones as awful as that, correct.
I was recently asked if I came across anything in my research that was just TOO much to put in the book, and I said no. Not that I didn’t come across some of the most terrible forms of abuse I’ve ever encountered, but I NEVER felt compelled to protect the people who run these programs, or downplay anything that happens there. This book was, from the beginning, going to be real and raw and honest—I’ve never had any interest in sugarcoating it.
The people in The Summer I Wasn’t Me of course are all fictional, and I made the physical setting up as well—the multiple cabin setup in the Virginia mountains felt right to me for the story, but I can’t be 100% sure of its accuracy. Basically after I did all the technical research, I let the characters and setting and story build up around it. It was interesting to be able to almost create a new world for this book, sort of like one would do when writing fantasy—the only difference being, sadly, these conversion programs are all too real.



Thank you Jessica for sharing your eye-opening research with us! You can learn more about Jessica Verdi and her other books by visiting her website at www.jessicaverdi.com or follow her @JessVerdi  And thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for arranging this guest post.

~ Bel

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

* * * * 



From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

*Bonus Backmatter includes a note about the author's CIA past, and a commentary by RAND researcher and president of ARCH International, Dr. Cheryl Benard. Recommendations for further reading are also included.



I happened upon this when I saw it included in a Stacking The Shelves post a few weeks ago. It’s different from my regular fare and I was grateful for the change of pace it provided.

Layla’s experience as a newly arrived exile is described so eloquently. There were even moments where I could easily relate to her cultural shock moments. But Layla’s perspective on life in general is eye-opening. The differences she encounters don’t necessarily scare her or deter her. She even allows herself to enjoy aspects of her new life though there may be constant clashes between the old and new that confound her.  But what is truly earth-shattering for her is learning that the whole world sees her overthrown murdered father as a dictator which is a very bitter lesson for her to swallow.  This even causes her to reassess her life and family as she has known it up to now, especially her mother. What we have here is not just a displaced teenage girl who has lost her father and her country but also a girl having to grow up too fast and be schooled in politics.

Seeing typical American experiences from the mundane like that of grocery shopping to the milestone high school dance through Layla’s eyes, will offer a fresh new perspective to the reader. Even the concept of having friends and “hanging out” is something new to her.  

I say read this. It’s one of the best books I’ve come across this year. It’s an absorbing story that grabs you and will also enhance your own view of typical every day life.

~ Bel




Thursday, April 10, 2014

If Only by A. J. Pine

If Only (Entangled Embrace, #1)
* * * 1/2

Sometimes it takes crossing an ocean to figure out where you belong.


It's been two years since twenty-year-old Jordan had a boyfriend—which means it's been forever since she, well, you know. But now she’s off to spend her junior year in Aberdeen, Scotland, the perfect place to stop waiting for Mr. Right and just enjoy Mr. Right Now.

Sexy, sweet (and possible player) Griffin may be her perfect, no-strings-attached match. He’s fun, gorgeous, and makes her laugh. So why can’t she stop thinking about Noah who, minutes after being trapped together outside the train’s loo, kisses Jordan like she’s never been kissed before? Never mind his impossible blue eyes, his weathered, annotated copy of The Great Gatsby (total English-major porn)…oh, and his girlfriend.

Jordan knows everything this year has an expiration date. Aberdeen is supposed to be about fun rather than waiting for life to happen. But E. M. Forster, Shakespeare, and mistletoe on Valentine’s Day make her reconsider what love is and how far she’s willing to go for the right guy.


Review:

Jordan is on the last leg of the trip that is taking her to Aberdeen University.  The nine hour train ride from London to northern Scotland should be fairly uneventful, right?  Well, apparently, the fates have decided that this train ride and her subsequent stay in Aberdeen will everything BUT uneventful.   Jordan strikes up an instant friendship (and attraction) with they guy sitting next to her.  Griffon, another American student attending Aberdeen, is a self professed serial monogamist.  He’s fun and easy to be around and all the girls love him – as Jordan learns when another female passenger writes her unsolicited phone number on Griffon’s hand.  But on the trip to the loo, Jordan runs into Noah.  Or should I say he runs into her when he trips out of the toilet.  When Jordan exits the bathroom, she finds Noah still standing in the vestibule because the doors are stuck.  Their close proximity and Noah’s growing anxiety over being trapped leads to a discussion learning their shared love of literature which THEN leads to a fabulous first kiss that made my romantic heart go all a flutter.

But when they arrive in Aberdeen, Jordan finds that Noah has a girlfriend that is also attending the University.  No big deal.  They just met.  Their kiss couldn’t have really meant anything.  And besides, this is supposed be Jordan’s big year of experiencing flings and being someone completely different.  So she continues a relationship with serial monogamist, Griffon.  But things get sticky when Griffon starts to fall for Jordan and Jordan and Noah can’t be in the same vicinity without sparks flying.  Instead of the fun care-free time expected of her first semester in Aberdeen, Jordan experiences months of emotional turmoil that she doesn’t know how to fix.

Griffon and many of the secondary characters were absolutely lovely.  With the exception of Griffon, many of the secondary characters seemed to lack depth.  Fortunately, it was not a major issue for me as they were still enjoyable to read and they played their part in furthering the story.   As for our main characters, Jordan and Noah?  I found myself disliking them just as much as I found myself liking them.  Much like their relationship with each other, my relationship with them was tumultuous.  You know me. I love a good angsty romance.  But these two seemed hell bent on being martyrs.  It takes them entirely too long to start fighting for the relationship they each want to have. But in the end they do fight and the chemistry between the two is just so well written that I couldn’t put it down.  Seriously.  I got 3 hours of sleep because I had to know what happened next.  So, yeah, these two may have driven me a bit batty but I still wanted to see them make it in the end.

If you enjoy a good angsty romance (with plenty of hilarious awkward moments to lighten the mood) and you are a fan of New Adult then this will be a great title for you.

Nat

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Waiting and Wednesday (99)


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that highlights future releases that we are excitedly anticipating.



The A-Word (Sweet Dead Life, #2)By Joy Preble
Publication Date: May 13, 2014

Jenna Samuels is about to turn fifteen. It's been almost a year since her stoner brother, Casey, bit the dust. Almost a year since he returned as her guardian angel, along with his "angel boss," Amber Velasco, the hot twenty-something former EMT. Almost a year since Casey and Amber used up their one-time-only angel power of flight to save Jenna from the evil Dr. Renfroe, swooping down to catch her as she tumbled off the balcony at the Houston Galleria. In short, a lot of A-word shenanigans and a mostly happy ending.

Except now Casey's begun to wonder why he's still hanging around—not that he minds protecting Jenna. She's a handful, but there's got to be a bigger picture, right? Something to distract him from his on again/off again, doomed relationship with cheerleader Lanie Phelps, who has no idea her boyfriend is, well, dead. After all, he can't use his angel wings anymore. Neither can Amber.

Enter Bo Shivers, Amber's "angel boss"—a mysterious A-word guy Jenna and Casey didn't even know existed. Whiskey-guzzling. Handsome in a grizzled way. Unpredictable. Okay, make that crazy. Bo lost his angel wings in an earthly flight a long, long, long time back—and he's been a thorn in Angel Management's side ever since. But Bo knows something is coming. Something big. Something that was worth forfeiting wings for Jenna... something that might just change everything for everyone.


Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend (Broken Hearts & Revenge, #1)By Katie Finn
Publication Date:  May 13, 2014

Summer, boys, and friendships gone sour. This new series has everything that perfect beach reads are made of!

Gemma just got dumped and is devastated. She finds herself back in the Hamptons for the summer—which puts her at risk of bumping into Hallie, her former best friend that she wronged five years earlier. Do people hold grudges that long?

When a small case of mistaken identity causes everyone, including Hallie and her dreamy brother Josh, to think she’s someone else, Gemma decides to go along with it.

Gemma's plan is working (she's finding it hard to resist Josh), but she's finding herself in embarrassing situations (how could a bathing suit fall apart like that!?). Is it coincidence or is someone trying to expose her true identity? And how will Josh react if he finds out who she is?

Katie Finn hits all the right notes in this perfect beginning to a new summer series: A Broken Hearts & Revenge novel.