Tuesday, April 14, 2015

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY:)

Greetings readers! 

Today I'm honored to be a part of the One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart Blog Tour. Beth Kephart has been a go-to author for me since I had the privilege of reading her 2012 release Small Damages (click HERE for my uber-gushy review of that gorgeous book.) Since then I have read more beautiful books by Beth including last year's Going Over (you can find that review HERE) so I was, of course, SO ON BOARD when asked to participate in the tour of her latest book, 
One Thing Stolen. 

Each of Beth's books I have read and reviewed are different, one is a portrait of a teenage girl dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, another is the tale of two star-crossed lovers living on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall during the 1980's, and the last is a look at young woman suffering from a mysterious, debilitating, yet somehow wondrous, illness and the lengths those she loves will go to help her fight it. 
But even though all of these books are clearly different there are many similarities as well. Each book takes place in a European setting, and these backdrops become so much more then, well, backdrops. Whether it's the streets of Barcelona or the sun baked Spanish countryside; the melting pot of a 1980's West Berlin ghetto or the severity of the Communist East Berlin community across the wall; or the bustling city streets of modern day Florence sharing the stage alongside some of the greatest architectural wonders of the Renaisssance, Kephart brings these locations to life in vibrant and vivid detail with her enchanting words. I've described her writing as painterly in its beauty, but never has it seemed more like poetry than it does in One Thing Stolen

And each of the three books I've mentioned share another common denominator: they are all intense, introspective portraits of young women surrounded by AMAZING secondary characters that shine as bright as her protagonists.

Why is Beth Kephart a go-to author for me?  Intense, emotional characters. Vibrant settings that will paint a picture in your mind as your read. Lush, powerful, evocative writing that reads like poetry and will make you both marvel and feel completely envious that one writer can come up with these GORGEOUS WORDS time and time again. 

So, now that you can clearly see that I am a fan of this writer here is a little more about the book:

One Thing Stolen
by Beth Kephart
April 14, 2015
Chronicle Books

Something is not right with Nadia Cara. While spending a year in Florence, Italy, she's become a thief. She has secrets. And when she tries to speak, the words seem far away. Nadia finds herself trapped by her own obsessions and following the trail of an elusive Italian boy whom only she has seen. Can Nadia be rescued or will she simply lose herself altogether? Set against the backdrop of a glimmering city, One Thing Stolen is an exploration of obsession, art, and a rare neurological disorder. It is a celebration of language, beauty, imagination, and the salvation of love.

I've never been to Florence (major SAD face) and this is made more sad because having spent many, many years of my life studying this city, it's art and architecture, I feel like if I don't get to one day see for myself that statue of David carved by Michelangleo from a single block of marble, or stare in wonder and awe at the Duomo that Brunelleschi won the right to design and build, or stare at all the other incredible pieces of art from the Renaissance in the Uffizzi Gallery it will beak my heart. I'll get there one day! Until then I have amazing books like One Thing Stolen to take me to those far away places from the comfort of my armchair. 

Having a degree in Art History I recognized many of the landmarks that Beth highlights in One Thing Stolen but I asked if she would mind putting together some images of the places mentioned in Nadia's story so that readers can see what inspired her as she wrote. 

Cimabue in Santa Croce Cathedral

Florence at night

San Minitao

Ponte Vecchio, with the Duomo in the far distance, dawn

The River Arno

One of the shops from which Nadia steals

Carlos, teaching leather making at Santa Croce

Having read this story I can tell you that each of these photos is significant to One Thing Stolen--
I love seeing them here together like this. Thank you, Beth:) 

Chronicle Books is offering an excerpt from One Thing Stolen on Scribd. Just click on the link HERE to read!

And because I want you all to have a chance to read this book in its entirety for FREE we're giving away 

a finished copy to one lucky reader too!

This giveaway is for US/Canada entrants only.

All my standard rules and policies apply. 
You can read them HERE. 

Thanks for entering and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And don't forget to check out all the tour stops along the way!

Post Date
The Book Belles
Actin' Up with Books
The Reading Date
The 3 R's Blog: Reading. 'Riting, and Randomness
The Flyleaf Review
Eli to the nth
Forever Young Adult

I was a child writer-dreamer who never strayed far from that path. Today I’m the award-winning author of seventeen books—dreaming my way toward more by night, while running a boutique marketing communications firm by day. I'm privileged to teach creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania in spring semesters. I love writing about the intersection of place and memory for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I am honored to review literature for the Chicago Tribune. Always and most importantly, I am privileged to be a mom.

Find Beth here: website/twitter/goodreads

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Skandal by Lindsay Smith Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY Stops Here!

Hola friends! Today I am THRILLED to be a stop on Lindsay Smith's blog tour for her recent release Skandal! I was a big fan of the first book in this duology, Sekret, 
(you can check out my review HERE
and am pleased as can be to be joining the tour for this book as well.

This series continues to impress me-- all that I loved about Sekret--the cold war, communist setting, the psychic teen spy unit, the dastardly KGB, and some swoony romance between two Russian teens--is back in full force in Skandal, only this time the action takes place on our own shores. It's super cool to compare and contrast the setting in this duology. Also, how awesome are duologies?? Do you love them as much as I?

Here is a little more info on Skandal!

Skandal (Sekret #2) 
by Lindsay Smith
April 7, 2015
Roaring Brook Press

The dramatic sequel to Sekret, this psychic Cold War espionage thriller follows Yulia to Washington, DC, 
where she fights to discover the truth about her family without losing control of her mind.

My mind is mine alone.

Life in Washington, D.C., is not the safe haven Yulia hoped for when she risked everything to flee communist Russia. Her father is reckless and aloof, and Valentin is distant and haunted by his past. Her mother is being targeted by the CIA and the US government is suspicious of Yulia's allegiance. And when super-psychics start turning up in the US capitol, it seems that even Rostov is still a threat. Ultimately, Yulia must keep control of her own mind to save the people she loves and avoid an international Skandal.

Today I have the lovely Ms. Smith answering a Q & A about the book and afterwards I'm going to give you a chance to win a copy of Skandal for your very own!

But first a huge welcome to author Lindsay Smith!

Have you read many of the Russian classics (Anna Karenina, etc)? If so, which is your favorite?

I’ve read a wide variety of classic Russian literature, from the early classicists through the Soviets—Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Bulgakov, Akhmatova, Mayakovsky, and so on, and I love it all, but it can be unrelentingly brutal to endure! I will always have a soft spot for Dostoevsky, though I really think there’s a lot of interesting and original Russian speculative fiction being written right now that isn’t quite so bleak. Right now I’m enjoying a fun Inna Shagorodskaya book called When the Magician Came (Kogda Prishol Vol’shebnik) that’s a super-cute, light-hearted urban fantasy, a little bit like Jupiter Ascending crossed with Afterworlds.

What was one thing that surprised you about Russia the first time you visited it?

How densely packed the city planning is, even in tiny towns. I visited a small oil-company town in Siberia that’s probably less than a kilometer square, but it was crammed just as tight as the Moscow apartment suburbs, all concrete Soviet apartment blocks stacked on top of one another. Most Russians have their apartment in the city and a tinier vacation home, called a dacha, further afield, which is where they go to escape the crowd. Another surprising thing was just how calmly Russians would accept things that most Americans would consider major inconveniences—like, oh, the express bus into Moscow doesn’t feel like running today, oh well, guess I won’t get to work and get paid. No hot water for three weeks? We’ll just boil our own on the stovetop and use it to take a bath.
I was also amazed with how hot Russia can get in the summer! Ten months out of the year, the dense concrete apartment walls covered with hanging rugs are an absolute necessity, but those other two months, you feel like you’re roasting alive in those air-conditionless sarcophagi.

How is the Washington DC of the 60s different from the Washington DC of today?

While unfortunately DC still has a way to go, the DC of the ‘60s was heavily segregated between the tiny old-money enclave of Georgetown and the rest of the District. The Civil Rights Act, economic and social projects, the growing defense contracting industry, urban renewal, and government efforts to attract a young and well-educated workforce have brought a lot of positive change to DC, but it’s also raised the cost of living far beyond what the District’s longtime residents can afford.
Right now, my neighborhood is in the midst of a decade-long fight to start up DC’s first streetcar line to operate since the ‘60s: the tracks are built, the cars are bought, the drivers trained, and still the District government (which, thanks to our lack of congressional representation, can’t sneeze without begging Congress for a tissue) can’t agree whether they’re ready to open the line or not. The more things change...

What traits of Yulia’s do you share? Are there any traits of hers that you WISH you shared?

Yulia’s incredibly stubborn, occasionally to her detriment, which I can relate to! Stubbornness is great—I don’t think I’d ever have gotten published otherwise—but it’s good to know when to change tack. She also holds firm to her convictions, which I really admire, but don’t always have the guts to follow through on when it causes social friction. Similarly, I’m not as quick on my feet as she is.

You write beautifully about music. How has music influenced your own life?

Thank you! I come from a very musical family—my father’s a composer who’s written several musicals, and my parents started me on piano lessons when I was three. I switched instruments to viola later on—my hands are too tiny for those big Rachmaninoff power chords—but I’ve performed in orchestra, marching band, string quartet, musicals, jazz groups, and my awesome high school goth rock band (the music was secondary to the album cover photo shoots, naturally). I don’t have as much time in my life for music now as I’d like, but I love listening to classical and jazz when I’m writing, and metal and electronica when I’m not.

Can you tell us more about your next book, DREAMSTRIDER?

Dreamstrider is a high fantasy YA spy adventure with lots of dream magic and nightmare creatures! I liken it a little bit to Inception—the main character is able to use the dream world to influence people in the real world by literally taking over their bodies for a short period of time. She doesn’t fully understand why she has this ability, though, or why so many others have failed to achieve it. She grapples a lot with feeling like an impostor as she tries to make the best of her gift, and understand her place in her society and world—all while battling gangs, enemy nations, and nightmares made real.

It’ll be out this October, and we just revealed the cover, which I adore.

Oh, my. 

Lindsay, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by!

On to the giveaway!

The publisher is providing a copy of Skandal to ONE winner. This giveaway is for US/Canada entrants only. All of my standard rules and policies apply, you can read them HERE.

Fill out the Rafflecopter and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out all the stops along the Skandal Blog Tour:

Visit Lindsay’s website, follow her on Twitter, and follow her on Tumblr
Learn more about the first book in the duology, Sekret.
Join in on social media with #Skandal.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cover Reveal: All For You (Paris Hearts #1) by Laura Florand

Hey! I'm really excited today because I've been asked to participate in a cover reveal for one of my favorite new authors, Laura Florand. Where have you heard that name you may ask? Well she happens to be the author of the incredibly popular Amour et Chocolate books:

Image courtesy of Chachic's Book Nook

Now I looove my YA but I also love adult fiction, especially great romantic adult fiction. Florand's books had been popping up on my radar over the last year or so--many, many of my blogging friends were RAVING about them, but it was my friend Racquel over at The Book Barbies blog that totally convinced me. See those of us who are friends with Racquel know that she is a total ROMANTIC BOOK GURU...particularly contemporary romance and historical romance. When I need a great swoony romance book recommendation Racquel is my go-to girl. If I've heard about a romance book and have questions the chances are Racquel has read it and will not only tell me whether I should go for it but also recommend three or more books in the same vein. In other words: she ROCKS the romance book scene. 

So, Racquel was recently on Twitter gushing about The Chocolate Kiss and then she did the best thing EVER. She mailed me her copy to read (told you she's awesome!) because she loved it that much and wanted to spread the love around. I got it, I read it in basically a single sitting and I was HUNGRY FOR MORE. So as of this writing I've read the first three books in that series and plan to read more as well as one of the spin off series: La Vie En Roses. These books are like BOOK CRACK people, read one and you are HOOKED.  They bring all the feels--and I do mean ALL of them. The characters are amazing--you will fall just as hard for the heroine as you do her hero--trust me.

Flash forward to Racquel sending me a link to author Laura Florand's post asking for bloggers and reviewers to help reveal the cover of her latest series Paris Hearts--which is another spin off series from Amour et Chocolate. Listen, you know you are doing something right when you are able to stay in the same bookish world you have created and expand on it further and further with new characters--it means that readers cannot get enough of what Laura is writing, including me! 

So without further ado here is the reveal for the first book in the Paris Hearts series, All For You.

(Why yes, I do covet those candy apple red heels.....)

All For You (Paris Hearts #1)
Laura Florand
May 5, 2015

PARIS HEARTS: A new series from Laura Florand
Three young women trying to make their way in the most romantic city on Earth must learn how to open their hearts to love. 

RT Magazine calls her works “silky and addictive”, nominating Florand for Best Book of the Year, Publishers Weekly says they’re “decadent”, and Library Journal says they’re as “sexy and flirtatious as… poignant and caring”. 

Now international bestselling author Laura Florand brings you her sexiest, sweetest romance to date: All for You.

Some crushes aren’t meant to be
When her older brother’s best friend left to join the Foreign Legion, eighteen-year-old Célie moved on to make a life for herself as a Paris chocolatier. Now, five years later, the last thing she needs is another man to mess up her happiness.
Let alone the same man.
But five years in the Foreign Legion is a long time for a man to grow up, and a long time to be away from the woman he loves.
Especially when he did it all for her.
Half strangers, more than friends, and maybe, if Joss Castel has his way, a second chance…

I am so excited to start this series you guys! And if you haven't jumped on the Laura Florand bandwagon like the rest of the reading world it's never too late to start! And even better it appears that Florand will be releasing the second book in the Paris Hearts series this fall so there won't be a long, drawn out wait (YAY!) 

Here's is a little more info on the author and links to her website with info on all of her books and more:)


Laura Florand burst on the contemporary romance scene in 2012 with her award-winning Amour et Chocolat series. Her international bestselling books have appeared in ten languages, been named among the Best Books of the Year by Romantic Times and Barnes & Noble, received the RT Seal of Excellence and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist, and been recommended by NPR, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

After a Fulbright year in Tahiti and backpacking everywhere from New Zealand to Greece, and several years living in Madrid and Paris, Laura now teaches Romance Studies at Duke University. Contrary to popular opinion, this means she primarily teaches French language and culture and does a great deal of research on French gastronomy, particularly chocolate. For more information, please see her website: www.lauraflorand.com.  

More Praise for Laura Florand’s Novels

“The battle of pastries is an erotic subtext for their love affair, and every bit as decadent.” – Publishers Weekly

“All the elements of [Florand’s] successful recipe for reading pleasure—headstrong heroine, dashing hero, sinful desserts, and sultry situations—come together in another deliciously entertaining offering.” BOOKLIST

“Full of whimsical charm, great dialogue and what turns into a very sexy romance. The author weaves the food these two create into their romance so well… a truly charming book. Highly recommend.” – USAToday.com  

Romance blossoms in Paris, and chocolate plays a starring role.” - The News & Observer

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recent Reads: Short & Sweet Reviews of An Ember in the Ashes, The Winner's Crime, A Darker Shade of Magic, Made You Up and More

I have some thoughts on these six reads to share with you today:) 

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
April 28, 2015
464 pages
Source: ARC courtesy of publisher

Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
 (Goodreads Summary.)

An Ember in the Ashes is, without a doubt, one of my, and I'm betting yours, most anticipated debuts of 2015. I'm pretty sure it had me at "terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world." And I am here to tell you that this book TOTALLY lives up to that and all the other hype surrounding it. I'm not going to give a play by play of this book--why ruin it for you?-- but let's just say that I'm about 90% sure it's going to be a hit. A BIG one. 

First off its genre blending at its finest. Part fantasy, part dystopian, and part historical fantasy,  there really is a little bit for everyone when it comes to this book. Plus I see it being marketed as a crossover for the adult readers too--it's brutality and examination of numerous moral issues pretty much insures that. 

Ember is told in dual narration-- we meet Laia, the scholar girl (the lower, oft enslaved class) and Elias, a soon to be elite soldier in the ruling Martial Empire. Both of these characters are well formed and complex. Both grow and evolve as the book moves along--outwardly and inwardly. But there are a host of other characters that play important roles--Helene, Elias's fellow soldier and best friend being the first in line. I absolutely adored Helene--just as much as the two main characters. In fact every character I encountered spoke to me in one way or another: from Laia's fellow slaves to Elias' fellow soldiers. 

There is an evil villain in the form of the Commandant who is, awesomely enough, a small-framed woman (!) and there is also a supernatural element in the form of a group of mystical augers, or seers of prophecies. 

The book is vividly written, its a dark, dark story, and a great example of a not so virtuous Resistance pitted against an evil kingdomEmber also features themes of slavery and oppression; power and its inherent good AND evil side; as well as destiny and fate vs. free will. 

I know some readers are a little miffed and wary about the mention of a love triangle--and I'm not going to sugarcoat it--it's left open to the possibility. But I actually think that it falls more in the realm of the complicated  "love square" as there are four definite parties which may end up romantically involved in one way or another--should this move forward as a series. 

And that's another question. I've seen indications online that this is a standalone and on the other side of the coin, that the author has envisioned this as a series but it will hinge, I'm guessing, on sales of this first book. Honestly I can't see how Penguin or any other publisher could not pick this up as a series--there is just too much left unsaid, too many unresolved aspects of this story to warrant it ending here (See this? See what I'm doing here? This is me subtly begging and pleading for a sequel/ continuation of this as a series...) 

Basically I loved this book. I was completely swept up it as I read, and I really think it's  one of those books that everyone will be talking about come this April when it publishes. Go ahead and pre-order your copy now. 

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)
by Marie Rutkoski
March 3, 2015
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
416 pages
Source: Won in publisher giveaway

Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.
 (Goodreads Summary.)

What an intense read! Especially the last few chapters which barreled toward a monster cliffie I had already been forewarned about! Still, this is another winner (pun definitely intended.) It's a different book in many ways when compared to The Winner's Curse but I have to say, the fact that it shifted dramatically in tone (this one feels darker, more menacing, and yes, more heartbreaking) and focused even more on the alliances, secrets and betrayals between Kestrel, Arin and the rest of the cast made it a seriously strong follow up and, dare I say, even a better book than it's predecessor? 

Yes, I do dare say it and say it loudly-- it's got decidedly less kissing (though still brings the swoon) but boy do we get DEEP inside Arin and Kestrel-- and sometimes it's not a fun place to be. Both are complex characters, sharing admirable and not so admirable traits. It's hard watching these two dance around each other and their feelings, it's hard witnessing their bad decisions and poor judgement. It's hard to bear witness to some of their actions and the guilt that follows. It's hard to watch them let their pride, loyalties, and self righteousness blind them to what is so obvious to us. 

But even though watching all this play out is hard it never once made me lose my sympathy for these characters. It never once made me change my mind about them, even if it sometimes made me think less of them. Does that make sense? There were times I REALLY disliked what Kestrel was doing or saying but damn if I don't feel I understand her reasons-- and even admire her more in the end because of them. Pretty amazing that the author has been able to do this-- it's not easy taking your mc's and showing them in a rather unpleasant light but still have the reader's full support by book's end. Brava, Marie Rutkoski. 

I loved the conflict, I was shocked by the betrayals, I loved the new setting(s), I loved the new characters, I loved the direction it's taking, I loved the clever plotting, awesome surprises, and the masterful writing. 

Yes, it will be a long wait for Winner's Kiss but I'm not sorry I got to experience The Winner's Crime a little early. It's definitely one of the best I've read in a long while. 

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic, #1)
by V.E. Schwab
February 24, 2015
Tor Books
400 pages
Source: Finished copy courtesy of publisher for blog tour purposes

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London - but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.
 (Goodreads Summary.)

Guys there is a LOT to love about this book. It's an epic fantasy set in a magical world with not one but three alternate London's: Grey, Red, and White. And then there is that mysterious fourth London, Black, that isn't spoken about too much...The hero is Kell who is AMAZING. He's that incredible mix of good yet is also slightly immoral. Thoughts on Kell: as an Antari (or Traveler) a person able to travel through all the alternate London's by way of blood magic, he's revered yet feared, loyal and duty-bound but also manipulated and used as both a tool and weapon. Most of all he is the quintessential Man of Mystery and I think I'm kinda in love with him. 

But wait! There's MORE. Because alongside Kell there is Delilah Bard, and holy shit, I KNOW that I'm in love with her. If I could switch places with ANY character for a day it would totally be Lila. She's a wannabe pirate, a pickpocket and a cutthroat but she's also unbelievably clever, brave and not afraid to get her hands dirty in order to get what she wants. Is she a little on the immoral side? You bet she is.  She'd much rather steal what she wants than pay but I love her tenacious spirit, her will to survive, and her overriding belief in justice. Lila is fierce and a force to be reckoned with. Favorite character I've read this year, hands down. 

All the characters are stand outs: Holland and Barron, Rhy and the psychotic Astrid and Athos. There are just so many more wonderful things about this book--the story's awesome, the world-building magnificent, the action is gritty and at times VERY dark. In short it is JUST the kind of story I love and I can't recommend it enough. GO READ IT PEOPLE. :) 

**FYI: I'm giving away a copy of A Darker Shade of Magic! More info on that HERE :)** 

Seeker (Seeker #1)
by Arwen Elys Dayton
February 10, 2015
Delacorte BYR
448 pages
Source: ARC courtesy of publisher

Quin Kincaid has been put through years of brutal training for what she thinks is the noble purpose of becoming a revered ‘Seeker’.

Only when it’s too late does she discover she will be using her new-found knowledge and training to become an assassin. Quin's new role will take her around the globe, from a remote estate in Scotland to a bustling, futuristic Hong Kong where the past she thought she had escaped will finally catch up with her. (Gooodreads Summary.)

This is one of those books that has gotten some bad press at Goodreads-- when I first was introduced to this title a few months back it's summary had one of those dreaded, sure-to-crush-your expectations book comparison's written in. I think it  was compared to Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games. Wow. That's not a lot of pressure for a book to live up to, is it? (Game of Thrones?! Really? That's like being compared to The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, for God's sake!) Well, if you check out Seeker now on GR you'll see that that the comparison is nowhere in sight. Smart move, publishers. But I'm not one of those readers that lets those comparisons make or break a book for me. I ended up really enjoying this book. Is it perfect? No. There are weaknesses like the pacing and the disjointed, oftentimes jerky structure. But do those things spell the kiss of death? Not even close. This book has oodles and oodles of good things and even more potential for great things as the series progresses. 

What I loved: The story. It's a fantasy but not like every other YA fantasy out there. It's pretty dark and horrific at times--and I DIG that in a book. It's got some fabulous, complex characters and is told from multiple points of view. I enjoyed Quin, John and ESPECIALLY Shinobu--the three main characters. But there are surprises in this book: both in plot and in characters. In particular I'd say watch for the Young Dread because guys, she is a TOTAL SCENE STEALER. I would seriously continue this story just to get more info on her--she's that mysterious and compelling a character. 

The setting is awesome--globe hopping from from Scotland to Hong Kong (which was my favorite) and England. And then there is the romance. A lot has been said about a love triangle--and I'll admit, in the beginning it looked like it was definitely heading in that direction. But I am happy to tell you that it never materializes and by book's end it's just one boy and one girl. And there is no serious cliffie either--it ends in a good place with a lot of unresolved plot strings that will surely be expanded on in the sequel.

I feel like I've done nothing here but try to convince readers to give this book a chance--to try it and stick with it most of all--it really does end on a strong, strong note-- but guys, I really did enjoy this one. The characters and story have stuck with me months after finishing, and that is always a great sign in my opinion. 

Made You Up
by Francesca Zappia
May 19, 2015
Greenwillow Books
448 pages
Source: ARC courtesy of publisher

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. 

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up. (Goodreads Summary.)

Made You Up absolutely hooked me from page one. Narrator Alex has a very engaging, quirky voice--and Zappia's writing style felt realistic and true to heart. It's definitely got that it factor--the thing that makes a book extremely readable (maybe that's not a real term but you readers KNOW what I mean.) So this is a book about a girl struggling with mental illness--schizophrenia in this case. And you will spend the majority of the book right along with Alex wondering what is real and what is just in her mind. Mental illness themed books are touch and go with me--on the one hand I'm deeply curious but on the other I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the illness--obsessive compulsive disorder books in particular affect me this way. But I felt quite the opposite while reading Made You Up. I certainly sympathize with Alex but her illness didn't overwhelm me at all. I never had to take a break from the reading--I read this book from start to finish in just a couple of days. The characters really stand out. Alex is amazing--she'll garner your sympathy, but her attitude about life and her illness will make you want to high five her, and to top it all off she'll make you laugh at the same time. 

But I think it's Miles that really stole my heart. Miles is a most unusual character--and love interest. He and Alex have a tempestuous romance--the kind that starts off nearer to the hate than love end of the spectrum--and then it slowly turns around (don't you love those types of romances?) By book's end they are the perfect complement to each other in every way. 

Made You Up isn't without it's hiccups. There is a plot line involving another student and school administrator that wasn't my favorite but its a minor distraction. There are some surprises in this book, and one big twist. But what I loved the most was the ending. I won't spoil but I will say that it was, in my opinion, the most perfect ending for this book. Love good contemps with unusual characters? Love books that feature a mental illness storyline? Love books that make you laugh out loud? Made You Up is all of those things. 

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles #3.5)
by Marissa Meyer
January 27, 2015
222 pages
Source: Purchased

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. 

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series. (Goodreads Summary.)

If I had to describe Fairest in a single word  it would be DISTURBING. As in, that Levana is one disturbing chick. You thought she was a whack job in Cinder, Scarlet or Cress? Well in Fairest you get to see WHY she became a whack job. And you get to meet her extended family of whack jobs. And friends, it is one DISTURBING picture, trust me.

In Fairest we meet Channary, Levana's older sister and heir to the Lunar throne. We also get a peek at the politics of the Lunar court, we meet Everet the man that Levana is obsessed in love with, and we are introduced to Winter, who is of course, the star of the final book in the Lunar Chronicles.

Fairest is more like a mini-novel than novella--its 200 pages and is exactly the right length in my opinion. It's got meat to it--it's not some flighty little glimpse at some of the side characters leading up to the final book in the series. People have asked me if it's necessary to read Fairest before Winter and I have to say...yeah, I think it is.  And not just for readers like me who have been dying to learn more about the Lunar people, their gifts,  and its deranged queen. And it's not just because you get a sneak peek at the first 3 or 4 chapters of Winter. You should read Fairest because it will forever change your view of  the Lunar Chronicles uber villain. 

We all know that Levana is one hell of a bad guy.  But it's not until you discover what her upbringing was like, what it was like to grow up as the sister of Channary *shivers* that you can completely understand why Levana is as she is. And just when you think you might actually be developing-- GASP!-- sympathy for this woman, BAM! Meyers swings the story, and your emotions, in the opposite direction. And what you are left with at book's end is this truly horrific and, yes, I'm using that word again, DISTURBING insight into what might be one of the scariest, evil villains to hit YA since he who shall not be named... (Oh no! I just made one of those dreaded  book COMPARISONS! My bad...:) 

So. Should you read it before picking up Winter this fall? A resounding YES my friends. Yes. 

There you have it.
Are any of these six books on your TBR list? 
Or have you read any of them-- and if so, what are your thoughts on? 
Hit me up in the comment section below:) 

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