Series Challenge Friday: Amanda from Late Nights With Good Books Talks about Duologies and Duets

On Duologies
When Heather first approached me about writing a potential guest post for the Summer Series Challenge, I started brainstorming immediately. There have already been so many insightful posts written about series. What could I possibly say about series that hasn’t been said about series and how we read them? Or that isn’t fairly obvious among frequent series readers? It was actually the books I elected to read for my participation in this challenge that provided me with my answer: duologies.
Duologies (sometimes also referred to as duets) are stories that are told over the course of two novels. They’re generally considered to be a type of series since the main story arc is large enough that it spreads over to another book. Duologies, however, are much more contained than trilogies, quartets, quintets, or longer series, and therein lies their appeal for me.
 Trickster’s Choice & Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce
The problem with longer series:

The main issue that I have with series is the level of commitment they require. Our time is one of our most valuable and limited resources, after all. There are many very good reasons why book-stat recording websites such as Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble have more ratings and higher sales for earlier books in series. How easy is it to fall behind in a series? Or to have had such a huge gap between reading one installment and picking up the next one that you don’t remember enough to actually read it without going back and re-reading previous installments? By deciding to read a series, many times I’m deciding to preference one author and his/her (pro)long(ed) story over more than one author/story at that time.
While none of these are necessarily bad things by any means, these reasons do cause me to stop and think about whether I really want to start a new series before picking up a first book. This is an especially relevant question to ask in certain genres or audience levels (YA books and urban fantasies in particular seem to publish a lot of series).
 Eon & Eona by Alison Goodman
The problem with standalones:

Standalones are certainly shorter on many aspects that I do love about series. Less time can be devoted to character development, worldbuilding, and complex storylines, among other aspects found within novels. Not that a good standalone is necessarily devoid of memorable characters, unique worlds, or clever stories; rather, the author has only one book in which to accomplish all of these things. This is certainly not an easy task by any means, and who doesn’t end up wishing for just a little more by a standalone’s conclusion? It’s probably also a fair assessment to say that standalones have a greater chance of being overlooked simply because they cannot generate the amount of hype that an ongoing series can, both by readers and publishers.
I’ll admit my bias here that none of these potential pitfalls related to standalones dissuade me from picking one up with the knowledge that it is, in fact, a standalone. It’s a smaller investment, after all, and gives me the opportunity to read more stories from more authors.
Dreamhunter & Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox
How duologies can mediate this divide:

For me, duologies offer the perfect solution to many of the problems I commonly encounter while reading either longer series or standalones.
If the curiously-expanding series phenomenon confuses you,
If you find yourself groaning to learn that a standalone is now becoming a series,
If the very idea of middle-book syndrome makes you dread starting second installments,
And if the thought of waiting years upon years for the full series to release causes you anxiety,
You should consider reading a duology.
If it saddens you to hear that some authors expend so much effort creating characters and stories they won’t return to,
If you like the comfort of familiarity in the novels you read,
If you look forward to the hype surrounding the release of a beloved story’s continuation,
And if you just aren’t satisfied with just a one-shot story,
You should consider reading a duology.
With their set structure, duologies solve many of the uncertainties that tend to come with reading longer series. They offer more than standalones can, yet still are finite in their scope.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with series. I cannot count the number of times I’ve complained that this one book I want to read is part of yet another series, but at the same time I do find myself every once in a while closing a standalone and wishing that this wasn’t the end. I’m sure many voracious readers can relate to my feelings, which is why I want to suggest that duologies bridge the gap between the often-conflicting desires that tie into our decisions on whether to read a standalone or series next.
For the reasons I listed and more, I hope that readers, authors, and publishers alike can really come to embrace the unique reading experience that duologies provide. (And let me know of some duologies that you’ve come to enjoy.)

Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

12842115Just One Day
by Gayle Forman
January 8, 2013
Dutton Juvenile
320 pages
Source: Around the World ARC Tours


A breathtaking journey toward self-discovery and true love, from the author of If I Stay
When sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Just One Day is the first in a sweepingly romantic duet of novels. Willem’s story—Just One Year—is coming soon! (Goodreads Summary.

* Guys, I love to add quotes and excerpts. Especially when they speak to me like Forman’s did in Just One Day. 
But please know going in that this is an ARC review.
 Quotes and excerpts have been taken from an unfinished copy and therefore may change before the final print*

Opening Line

What if Shakespeare had it wrong? 

My Take On It

Before I get started on this review, let me first say that when I began this blog, nearly one year ago, I primarily read paranormal/ supernatural and dystopian YA. I had read a little bit of contemporary YA, but for the most part I skipped it. I thought that someone like me, who had left her teenage years behind a long time ago, was going to have a hard time relating to a contemporary realistic YA book.  I think the first YA book I read that made me feel differently  was John Green’s An Abundance of Katherine’s. Then I read Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca and soon after Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss. Well, needless to say,  I WAS DEAD WRONG in my views of Contemporary YA.  Not only can I relate, but I have come to LOVE it. In fact, most of the books I have read over the last year that have meant so much to me (The Sky is Everywhere, Small Damages,Wanderlove, Saving June) fall into this genre.

In addition, I was introduced to the New Adult genre this year, an offshoot of YA that focuses on the important time when a young adult has finished high school and is moving into the adult world. I love New Adult because it focuses on a time of self discovery in a young person’s life. A time of new freedom and independence which can be exciting but also scary. It’s a time in my life that holds some of my fondest memories.

Just One Day is a book that encompasses all the best qualities of both YA and New Adult fiction. It is a book that focuses on themes like self discovery and personal identity. It’s a book that looks at changing relationships between parents and daughters as well as between close friends. Just One Day is a book that examines college life and traveling abroad. And it is also a book that looks at first love, love at first sight, connections and bonds formed over a short period of time,  and the concept of destiny and fate. Just One Day is a book about choices and a book about trust. To me it is the quintessential coming of age story, written as only Gayle Forman could  write it. I thought If I Stay was an incredible book, and I loved the sequel Where She Went even more. Just One Day tops them both.  Just when I thought I couldn’t be more amazed by this talented author, she raises the bar yet again.

As Just One Day opens, following an awesome and very relevant excerpt from Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It , we are introduced to Allyson, a recent high school graduate who is wrapping up a trip to Europe with her best friend Melanie and the other members of the Teens Tour! travel group.  Allyson is tired, ready to go home and start the next phase of her life: college and then med school. She grudgingly admits to herself that this Trip of a Lifetime has, in reality, been a bust. Nothing has lived up to her expectations so far and she’s ready to call it a day. While waiting in line to attend The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet, Allyson meets a tall, lanky boy with amazing dark eyes passing out fliers for a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, staged by a company known as Guerrilla Shakespeare which is to be held later that evening. After telling her that “the night is too beautiful for tragedy,” Allyson talks Melanie into ditching Hamlet and attending Twelfth Night instead.

As the hot day softens into twilight and I’m sucked deep into the illusory world of Ilyria,  I feel I’ve entered some weird otherworldly space, where anything can happen, where identities  can be swapped like shoes. Where those thought dead are alive again.  Where everyone gets their happy-ever-afters.  I recognize it’s kind of corny, but the air is soft and warm, and the trees are lush and full, and the crickets are singing, and it seems like, for once, maybe it can happen. 

The experience sets in motion a chain of events Allyson could never have imagined. The next day, aboard a train bound for London, the last leg of her journey home, Allyson again meets the  striking actor from the night before. An instant connection is made between she and Willem, a twenty year old Dutch native who is getting ready to return home himself after two years of living on the road. When Allyson mentions that she is disappointed to have never visited Paris on this trip, Willem suggests she do it. Journey to Paris, with him, for just one day. And although she barely knows him, and although it’s is extremely out of character, Allyson takes a deep breath and agrees.

What follows is a day and night that Allyson will never forget. So a question for you: do you believe in love at first sight? I’m on the fence about that one. But what I DO believe in is feeling a spark, a chemistry, an instant connection with someone. I know because it has happened to me. And that is exactly what happens with Allyson and Willem. Allyson opens up to Willem, in ways she could never open to anyone else, not even her best friend. Isn’t it sometimes easier to confide in someone you don’t know very well, because they are less likely to judge? Allyson finds herself admitting to Willem that she doesn’t want to go to med school, that’s her parent’s dream, not hers. She admits to feeling let down by this trip, and feeling hesitant about starting college. She admits to not wanting to disappoint others, and that most of her decisions stem from this fear. They talk about travel. They talk a little about family. They talk about time and fate and karma. And they talk about love.

“Have you ever fallen in love?” 

“No,” I reply. “I’ve never been in love.”

(…) “That’s not what I asked,” Willem says. “I asked if you have ever fallen in love.”

The playfulness in his voice is like like an itch I just can’t scratch. I look at him, wondering if he always parses semantics like this.

Willem puts down his fork and knife. “This is falling in love.” With his finger he swipes a bit of the Nutella from inside his crepe and puts a dollop on the inside of my wrist. It is hot and oozy and starts to melt against my sticky skin, but before it has the chance to slither away, Willem licks his thumb and wipes the smear of Nutella off and pops it into his mouth. It all happens so fast, like a lizard zapping a fly.

This is being in love.” And here he takes my other wrist, the one with my watch on it, and moves the watchband around until he sees what he’s looking for. Once again, he licks his thumb. Only this time, he rubs it against my birthmark, hard, as if trying to scrub it off. 

“It’s something that never comes off, no matter how much you might want it to.”

“You’re comparing love to a stain?”

He leans so far back in his seat that the front legs of his chair scrape off the floor. He looks very satisfied, with the crepe or with himself, I’m not sure.


(…)”How many languages have you been stained in?” I ask. 

He licks his thumb again and reaches across the table for my wrist, where he missed the tiniest smudge of Nutella. This time he wipes it- me- clean. “None. It always comes off.”

Guys, this is one of the most beautiful “falling in love” books I have ever read. EVER. It is poignant. It is emotional. It is FULL OF AMAZING SWOON.

When he finally kisses my mouth, everything goes oddly quiet, like the moment of silence between lightening and thunder. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi. Five Mississippi. 


We kiss again.  The next kiss is the kind that breaks open the sky. It steals my breath and gives it back. It shows me that every other kiss I’ve had in my life has been wrong. 

So, you have read the above summary and you know that this is only the beginning of the story. After an amazing day and night together, Allyson wakes up alone. Willem is gone without a goodbye. The carefree Allyson, who had slipped into an alter ego that Willem named Lulu (after silent film star Louise Brooks who Allyson reminds him of,) is instantly thrown into a tailspin and all the former self doubt and questions rush back in. Allyson, lost and distraught, slinks back to America with her tail tucked between her legs.

I knew going into Just One Day that there would be moments of  joy and wonder (it’s Gayle Forman, after all) and moments of utter heartbreak (again, it’s Gayle Forman.) And there is. Allyson returns home, enters college and reverts back to her old life. Except stepping back into the role of dutiful daughter and friend isn’t as easy as she expected. Meeting Willem, becoming Lulu, even for just one day, has irrevocably changed her, and there is no going back.

At this point in the story the pace slows down as Allyson, in the grips of a deep depression, muddles through her days and nights at college. Yes, it is a little Bella Swan/New Moon-ish in feel. Except that Allyson isn’t depressed just because she lost a boy. Allyson lost so much more that day in Paris. She lost an identity. She lost the chance to become the person she inwardly longs to be. And that is what makes this book so compelling. Allyson’s struggle to find herself, to stand up to all the self doubt and fear that she feels inside, and to challenge herself to become the person she wants to be.

I have a full life. How can I be this empty? Because of one day? Because of one guy?

When Allyson reaches a turning point, and with the help of some new found friends (D’Angelo, you ROCK) she realizes that the only way she is ever going to be able to move on is to go back to Paris to try and discover some answers: What really happened to Willem?  Was what she experienced over the course of that day one sided, or did Willem feel it too? The remainder of the story is Allyson readying herself both physically and mentally for her return to Paris. And as Allyson finally begins to let people in, she rediscovers hope and trust.

I was absolutely fist pumping and cheering Allyson on as she made that return trip to Paris. You guys, I was so swept up in this story, I felt like I was living it through Allyson’s eyes. I don’t know how she does it but Gayle Forman allowed me, a married mom of two, to feel personally connectedto this story in so many ways. There is magic, not the kind found in paranormal or supernatural books, but REAL, LIFE MAGIC written into Just One Day.  Just One Day is a book that will lift you up, make you laugh and smile, and  break your heart in the next instance. It will take you on a journey, just as Allyson journey’s to find Willem and, ultimately, herself. It is powerful and it is authentic. It may be just an every day story, something ordinary that could happen to anyone, but it is made extraordinary by the talented story telling of Gayle Forman.  In my opinion, Just One Dayepitomizes all the best things about Young Adult and New Adult contemporary literature. I wish that I could have read a book like this when I was just starting out. But honestly,  I think that the themes and messages found in this book are lessons that anyone, young or old, will easily relate to.

Guys, trust me. This book is not to be missed. I read a touring ARC that I had to mail after one week. It was a busy week because I had copious amounts of notes, quotes and excerpts marked that I had to jot down before sending it on. Needless to say, I have already pre-ordered a copy for myself because this is a book I will definitely read again and again. Especially as we near Fall of 2013, when the story continues through Willem’s point of view, entitled Just One Year. I am already FULL of speculations as to what his story is will be:)

Believe me when I say that you are going to want to read this book. And then come back and let me know what you think so we can discuss it in all it’s blazing glory, okay? Please? Thanks:)

5/5 Stars- This one gets all my stars:)

More Than Just Second Fiddle…On My Love of Secondary Characters

What do Han Solo, Magnus Bane, Duckie Dale and Finnick O’Dair have in common? 

They are all shining examples of unforgettable secondary characters in fiction (or in Duckie’s case, film.) If you are a reader of this blog than my love of secondary characters is WELL documented. Some of my closest bloggy friends often tease me about how I have fallen, yet again, for another secondary character. In fact, I often find myself falling harder for the secondary, supporting characters  than the main characters. Does this happen to you too? It would appear that I am not alone in my feelings. Do a search on secondary characters and you will find a ton of articles and lists written by people just like me, people who can’t get enough of the supporting characters found in fiction. Here is a link to a post entitled “When Secondary Characters Attack.”  I even found a Secondary Character Blog Hop beginning this month for people like me! So, it seems I am in good company.

First a few facts. A secondary, supporting or minor character in fiction and literature can be defined in a number of ways. But most source’s agree that they are written to complement the major characters and help move the plot events forward. A supporting character is meant to enhance the story and add depth and dimension to the plot or the main character(s). And I have found that most of my favorite secondary characters also add an element of comic relief. Give me a book with humor over dull and dry any day. Author Katie McGarry (Pushing the Limits and Dare You To) admits to sometimes enjoying the writing of secondary characters more than her main characters:

 Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of love for my hero and heroine, but sometimes I come across a secondary character who steals my heart or just makes me laugh. 

Yes! My sentiments exactly. Furthermore, what I have discovered is that the books that I enjoy, especially the books that I REALLY, REALLY love and connect with, almost always feature strong secondary characters. And yes, sometimes they do overshadow my love for even the book’s main characters (which Rachel Burkot, assistant editor for Harlequin’s Romantic Suspense line, termed the “Epic Secondary Character Eclipse Phenomena.”)

Loving secondaries as much as I do has really made me try to think about them more critically. And I’ve found that most of my favorite secondaries can be categorized into one of four groups: the sidekick character; the quirky/ eccentric character;  the mysterious and/ or charismatic character and the villain or antihero character. And I have favorite secondaries that fall into each of these groups.

The sidekick is the classic supporting character: think Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes or Samwise Gamshee to Frodo Baggins. The term sidekick makes me feel very action/ adventure-y, Han Solo to Luke Skywalker, for example, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. Sidekicks can be full of dry, sarcastic humor in addition to being supportive, brave, wise, and, very often, self sacrificing.

Favorite secondary sidekick characters:


  • Kenji Kishimoto (Shatter Me and Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi)
  • Carswell Thorne and Iko (Cinder and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer)
  • Finnick O’Dair (Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins)
  • Roar (Under the Never Sky, Liv and Roar and Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi)
  • Benebic “the Beast” Waroch (Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph by R. L. LaFevers)
  • Zuzanna  (Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor)
  • Kim (If I Stay by Gayle Foreman)
  • Hassan Harbish (An Abundance of Katherines by John Green)
  • Cokie Coquard (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)
  • Dove and Corr (The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater)

The quirky/ eccentric  character is almost always humorous in some way. They are also often artsy or odd. Sometimes they are seen as an outcast or a misfit, like our friend Duckie Dale above or the eccentric Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.

Favorite quirky eccentric secondary characters: 

  • Uncle Big and Sara (The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson)
  • D’Angelo (Dee) (Just One Day by Gayle Forman)
  • Calla (The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater)
  • Malachi Wolfe (Bloodlines, The Golden Lily and The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead)
  • Grimalkin and Ironhorse (The Iron Fey and The Call of the Forgotten Series by Julie Kagawa)
  • Clive the Cat (Wallbanger by Alice Clayton)

The mysterious character is just what the terms imply. He or she may be benevolent or malevolent and there is an element of the unknown  that always keeps the reader guessing.  A classic example would be Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Favorite secondary mysterious characters:

  • Phen and Angela (Unearthly, Hallowed, Radiant, Boundless by Cynthia Hand)
  • Ronan (The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater)
  • Tool (Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi)
  • Orma (Seraphina by Rachel Hartman)
  • Jaguar (The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepard)
  • Yolande (Sunshine by Robin McKinley)
  • Brimstone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor)
The charismatic character is often mysterious, or they may just be a character that you can’t help but like, even if he or she isn’t written to be the most likable. Maybe he or she is a criminal or a liar, or perhaps a sexy heartbreaker. Maybe they are ALL three. There is just something about them that fascinates the reader.
Favorite charismatic secondary characters:
  • Magnus Bane (The Mortal Instruments Series and The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare)
  • Kaleb (Hourglass and Timepiece by Myra McEntire)
  • Sybella (Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph by R.L. LaFevers)
  • Ridley (Beautiful Creatures Series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)
  • Santangelo (Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta)
  • Cosme (Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson)
  • Barron Sharpe (White Cat, Red Glove and Black Heart by Holly Black)
  • Gargarin (Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta)
  • Thomas McKee and Jimmy Hailler (Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta)
  • Cole St. Clair (Linger and Forever by Maggie Stiefvater)

And finally, the villain or antihero. This is the bad guy (or girl) that you love to hate. Or it is the character that has always been presented as the villain, having no heroic qualities,  but in the end turns out to be more redeemable than expected. Professor Snape in the Harry Potter books is who I think of when I think antihero.

Favorite secondary villain/ antiheroes: 

  • Froi (Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta)
  • DeMalo (Blood Red Road and Rebel Heart by Moira Young)
  • Samjeeza (Unearthly, Hallowed, and Boundless by Cynthia Hand)
  • Willie Woodley (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)
  • Jackel (The Immortal Rules and The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa)

You can probably see how many secondary characters fall into more than just one of these categories. And the ones that fall into all of them? Well, those are your SHOW STEALERS.

There are several secondaries that I have already listed who I would consider a show stealer. But if I had to choose just one? That’s actually easy:

  • Tiny Cooper (Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green)

(That book should have been called Tiny Cooper, Tiny Cooper.)

And I have to give a shout out to a few recent characters I have met that have grabbed my attention in a BIG way. Be on the look out for these secondaries in the coming months:

  • Toby (The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider)
  • Sturmhond (Siege and Storm by Leah Bardugo)
  • Ringer (The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey)

One thing I liked about putting this post together was seeing all the connections. Here’s one:  a handful of the secondaries listed above have gone on to play larger roles or become the ‘star’ of their own book. This, of course makes me VERY HAPPY:)

  • Froi (main character of Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marcehtta)
  • Thomas McKee (main character of The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta)
  • Kaleb (main character of Timepeice by Myra McEntire)
  • Magnus Bane (main character of The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare)
  • Sybella and Beast (main characters of Dark Triumph by R. L. LaFevers)
  • Ronan (larger role in The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater)
  • DeMalo (larger role in Rebel Heart by Moira Young)
  • Phaedra (larger role in Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta)
  • Cole St. Clair (larger role in Forever by Maggie Stiefvater)

Something else that is evident: John Green and Melina Marchetta ROCK at crafting amazing secondary characters.

Green excels at writing quirky, often adorably nerdy, always funny, charismatic, show stealing sidekicks like Hassan Harbish from An Abundance of Katherines,  Radar and Ben from Paper Towns, the Colonel from Looking for Alaska and, of course, the indomitable Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Melina Marchetta is surely the queen of creating unforgettable characters all around. And her secondaries hold just as much weight as her primary characters. Multi-layered, fully fleshed, mysterious and magnetic characters like Froi, QuintanaTrevanion, Tesadora, Phaedra, Lirah, Gargarin and Lucian from The Lumatere Chronicles. And Thomas McKee, Tara Finke, and Jimmy Hailler from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. Lastly, Santangelo from Jellicoe Road.

Another interesting factoid, when you break down my list of favorite secondaries by gender:

  • 34 are males
  • 15  are females

(Hmmm…that might be a topic for another post as well:)

There you have it! An examination of why I am, and will always be, in love with a well written secondary character, Epic Secondary Eclipse Phenomena” be damned;) So, who is you fave secondary? Who did I leave off my list that deserves a spot? I’ll take all the amazing secondaries recommendations you can throw my way!

The Flyleaf Review Turns 2! Plus a BIG announcement :)


It’s kind of hard to believe that my little blog has been up and running for 2 years! It feels like yesterday….
2013 was a big year–I read more than 155 books; I helped co-host the Summer Series Challenge with my friends Lauren @ Love is Not a Triangle and Asheley @ Into the Hall of Books; I had a number of interviews with the author’s of some of my favorite reads; and I also helped organize a couple of book tours for two books I LOVED. In addition, I continued to cultivate relationships with some fantastic publicist’s which in turn led to receiving some wonderful advance copies of books as well as participating in a number of blog tours.
I also faced some really big blogger burnout–landed myself in one giant reading and writing funk–one I am still working through right now. I continue to face the challenge that most bloggers face at some point or another, balancing blogging with ‘real life.’
So, it’s been a year of blogging ups and downs for sure. But through it all I continue to love blogging–I love getting to know other bloggers and readers through this blog, and I love getting the chance to discuss books
with all of you.
A couple of months back I approached a blog reader that I first got to know through The Summer Series Challenge. I asked Marlene if she would be interested in writing some guest post’s and reviews here on the blog. Marlene was an active member of Goodreads and I really loved all the thoughtful comments she left as well as her Goodread’s reviews. Marlene has been posting reviews over the past couple of months and I think it has been a breath of fresh air here at the Flyleaf Review–
So, I am THRILLED that Marlene has decided to join me here on a permanent basis as my new co-blogger! I can’t think of a better way to kick off the second year of The Flyleaf Review. If you have had a chance to read some of Marlene’s reviews and Top Ten Tuesday posts I think you’ll agree she is a terrific writer and I am so excited to have her join the team:)
I’m going to turn it over to Marlene and let her tell you a little about herself:
I’m Marlene, a 20-something college graduate who aspires to become an elementary school teacher.
I’ve always had a love affair with books but have only recently rediscovered my interest in YA fiction.
Right now, I’m making strides to read the best YA titles out there, so I’ll be needing lots and lots of recommendations.
Middle grade and children’s book recommendations are also welcome.
When I don’t have my head stuck in between the pages of a book or in search of my next read, you’ll catch me cheering on the Houston Rockets or the Houston Texans from my living room couch.
I’m the type of girl who proudly wears jerseys and t-shirts to support her favorite teams,
but who says I can’t be sporty and feminine too?
I love makeup! I create new eye makeup looks daily; at times, they are bold and colorful and at others,
tamed and neutral; they never turn out the same.
I use makeup as a form of expression –
just as writing book reviews allows me to express my reading experiences – whether they be positive or negative.
 In the end, no matter the experience, every work of fiction teaches me as a reader; with every page I turn,
I learn what works for me and what doesn’t. You’ll just have to wait to find out!
I’m honored and excited to be a co-blogger on the Flyleaf Review!
If you want to say hello or discuss books at great length, feel free to reach me on Goodreads and Twitter.
So, look for some changes to the blog in the coming weeks as Marlene gets acclimated and we work toward converting The Flyleaf Review from a one-woman show to a joint collaboration:)

And That’s What I Like About the South…Top Fifteen Favorite Books Set in the South

Big wheels keep on turning 

Carry me home to see my kin 
Singing songs about the Southland 
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think it’s a sin, yes 
–Sweet Home Alabama
Lynard Skynard
Ya’ll I’ve lived nearly my whole life in the South, minus a couple of years spent out West when I was a kid.
And I definitely consider myself to be a southerner–I like iced tea and porch swings and BBQ and collard greens and red velvet cake.
I know how to fry catfish and make hush puppies and I grow tomatoes, okra, and peppers in my garden.
I love my college football and baseball (Go Noles!)
I say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no sir’ and have taught my sons to do the same.
Amazing Grace” is my favorite church hymn
 and yes, I really and truly DO have a cousin called Bubba (swear to God.)
I love living in the South.
Yeah, it’s hot and humid 70% of the year,
and rarely do we have those nice little season’s known as Spring and Fall
(we often move straight from freezing cold to blistering hot)
but hey, I live 15 minutes away from the most gorgeous,
sugar white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, so who am I to complain?
And you know what else I love about the South? Books that feature a southern setting–
often written by a southern author who loves the South just as much as I do.
So here are my top ten fifteen favorite books set in the South

First, the Classics:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Maycomb, Alabama
Guys, this is the quintessential book about the South–at least the South as I think of it when I was a little girl. I was born more than a decade after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, but the small town of Maycomb– with it’s dirt roads that turned to red slop when it rained and “ladies who bathed before noon, after there three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum” could be the mirror image of the little town where my grandmother and aunts and cousins lived. And where I would spend hours entertaining myself on backyard tire swings, in steamy greenhouses, and picking scuppernong’s from an ancient old vine. So this book has the nostalgia factor going for it that will always make it a favorite of mine.
2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Are you kidding? OF COURSE this book makes the list. Is there ANYTHING more southern than selfish, stubborn, yet resourceful, Scarlett O’Hara shouting that “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!”while trying to save her beloved home of Tara? I’ve only read this book once, but like any good southerner I love to watch the Gone With the Wind marathon on AMC every Thanksgiving (after I’ve had my fill of sweet potato pie and college football, that is 😉
3a. Any of Eudora Welty’s Short Stories
I’ve read a lot of Welty’s short stories, and like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, they have that old, deep south feel to them. One of my favorites would be “Why I Live at the P.O.” because my grandmother used to take me with her to the Post Office to pick up her mail every day, she lived in such a rural small town that she didn’t have her own mailbox. The ladies who frequented it remind me of Welty’s southern matriarchs.

3b. Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Cross Creek, Florida

I had to come back and add this book in–I can’t believe I forgot it! Like Eudora Welty’s Mississippi books–Cross Creek is the picture of what my mom always calls The Old Florida. Rawlings was a northern transplant who moved to central Florida, bought a house and an orange grove, and fell in love with the land and the people. It’s also the only book on my list that is a memoir of sorts. It reads like a collection of short stories and my favorite is the one about the neighbors pig that Kinnan shot and had for dinner because it wouldn’t stop eating her ruffly-edged petunias:)

Young Adult & Middle Grade Books:

4. The Hourglass Series by Myra McEntire
Ivy Springs, Tennessee

The Hourglass Series, Hourglass, Timepiece and Infinityglass (which just released) are the first of four of my picks that are set in Tennessee and one of two that are based on the Tennessee town of Franklin. I love this series because Myra McEntire isn’t afraid to lay on the metaphors and has her characters think and say things like:

My breath caught in my throat. Hot buttered biscuits and honey.

You’re not what I expected.”

And also? Kaleb Ballard. Good gracious–what a fine specimen. 🙂

5. The Hundred Oaks Series by Miranda Kenneally
Franklin, Tennessee

The Hundred Oaks series, Catching Jordan, Stealing Parker,  Things I Can’t Forget and the upcoming Racing Savannah, are actually set in Franklin, TN (whereas the Hourglass series is set in the fictional town of Ivy Springs which is based on Franklin.) What is it with this town, anyway? Some mighty good writers are coming out of there…

So, straight up this companion series is one of my favorites. I love the down home feeling you get reading them. I feel like I KNOW that town, that high school, those ball fields, those churches and those people at this point. It could be any small-ish town in the South and yes, I CAN relate.

6. Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols
Nashville, Tennessee

I have never been to Nashville, ya’ll, but damn if I don’t want to go now that I have read Dirty Little Secret. Besides all the awesome music themes in this book–the city of Nashville plays center stage–from the Grand Ole Oprey, to Broadway where all the country music bars are, to Music Row with all the big label record houses can be found– Jennifer Echols totally brings that city to life in her book. I’m ready to roll up to one of those bars on Broadway and see Sam Hardiman on stage…

7. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Gunshot, Tennessee

John Green has three books set in the South. An Abundance of Katherines, which is my first Green book and still my favorite, as well as Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. The reason I love this book is that it TOTALLY pokes fun at the South–and hey, I’m not above a good laugh, especially when it comes to Southern stereotypes. I laughed my ASS off while I was reading this book. My favorite part, without a doubt, is the wild hog hunting scene. You should read this book for that scene alone, people. Seriously funny and seriously just like the South:)

8. The Raven Cycle  by Maggie Stiefvater
Henrietta, Virginia

The Raven Cycle Series,  The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, are set in author Maggie Stiefvater’s home state of Virginia in the fictional town of Henrietta. I love how the town is home to both the prestigious Aglionby Prep School, where Gansey and the rest of the Raven Boys attend classes, and also is the home of Blue Sargent who lives with her mom and “aunts” in house full of psychics. Another side of Henrietta is presented through Gansey’s friend Adam–who, for lack of a better term is as poor white trash as they come. And underneath that layered social strata is the magical world of Cabeswater which ties Blue, Gansey and Adam’s worlds together. Plus I love Maggie’s lush descriptions of the Virginia countryside.

9. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Lakeview, North Carolina
I’m pretty sure that all of Sarah Dessen’s books take place in her home state of North Carolina–so really any of them are great examples of a southern setting in a book. Many of her books take place in Colby, a North Carolina beach town–but I believe This Lullaby, my favorite Dessen book, takes place in Lakeview, NC. Remy and her girlfriends hang out at convenience stores and places like “The Spot” an abandoned lot out in the country where they often meet up to drink and discuss life. When I was in high school we used to hang out at an abandoned lot we called “The Cove”  and pretty much did the same thing. I don’t know if that’s a southern thing or a high school life thing, but I love it and I love this book:)

10. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
New Orleans, Louisiana
Ya’ll I live about 3 1/2 hours drive from New Orleans and it is one of my favorite cities. My first trip was to see The Cure in concert when I was sixteen–a trip my mom wasn’t completely aware of– and I have loved it ever since. And Out of the Easy not only captured that real New Orleans feel, it also educated me because it is set in the 1950’s. A favorite line from the book:

The scent of Havana tobacco draped thick from the magnolia trees in the front yard. Ice cubes mingled and clinked against the sides of crystal tumblers. Patrick said hello to a group of men sitting on the veranda. I heard the pop of a champagne cork and laughter from inside.

Gosh, does that little paragraph evoke a mood or what?

11. Lovestruck Summer by Melissa C. Walker
Austin, Texas
Guys, this book is like the best kept secret in YA. I read it after several bloggers talked it up and promptly fell in love. First and foremost, I am obsessed with the city of Austin and it’s alternative/ indie music scene. Attending a SXSW show is on my bucket list. So there’s that. But you know what else rocks about this book besides all the music stuff and awesome coming of age/voyage of self-discovery themes? Texas boys. Got to love them, you guys. And Lovestruck Summer’s Russ is one of the best:) What is it about Texas boys?? Sigh.
12. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Ft. Myers, Florida
At last we get to a book from my home state of Florida! So, I totally fell for Travis and Harper and their sweet, sweet romance in Something Like Normal. But you know what else I loved? The small beach town setting.  Dreg bars, beach house keg parties, and trips to the Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning– man that is SO my speed growing up on the Gulf Coast. Clearly Ft. Meyer’s resident Trish Doller is in tune with that part of the Florida life style:)
13. The Ghost Next Door by Wylly Folk St. John
Social Circle, Georgia
My all time favorite book from my childhood–the book that got me interested in reading in fact, was written by a fantastic children’s author and journalist right up the road from me in Social Circle, Georgia. There is more to the story–it turns out I know a grandchild of the late St. John, something I was beyond delighted to randomly discover just a few years back.

This supernatural/ ghost story/ mystery is set among big sprawling magnolia trees, perfect for climbing by the way, old abandoned back yard wells and ponds with slippery, moss covered rocks. It is a gorgeous, creepy, southern setting.

Adult Books
14. The Travis’ Series by Lisa Kleypas
Houston, Texas
Three words.

Hot. Texas. Boys.

And because it is an adult book it’s hot, Texas boys in action. 🙂 But the setting of Houston, with it’s wealthy socialite ladies and big wig oil barons is just plain awesome and the perfect escape for a middle-class girl like me:)

15. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches Series by Anne Rice
New Orleans, Louisiana

I read Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches and Vampire Chronicles books right after high school and became OBSESSED. And that was well before the Tom Cruise movie and  Twilight vampire mania. All you have to do is read a few chapters of The Witching Hour  and it is clear that Anne Rice has intimate knowledge of the city of New Orleans. If you are a fan of the real New Orleans–not just the French Quarter and Bourban Street–but those old graceful homes that flank the Garden District– then do yourself a favor and read some of Anne Rice’s NOLA stuff.  Her descriptions of that part of New Orleans are incredible.

There you have it! This southern girl’s favorite books with setting in the South! Do you like books with southern settings? Did I leave any off that you would have included? Drop me a comment and let me hear your thoughts on the subject:)

Ten Things I Love About Half Bad by Sally Green

18079804Half Bad
by Sally Green
March 4, 23014
Viking Juvenile
Source: Gifted to me by the uber generous Lauren @ Love Is Not A Triangle
THANK YOU, chica!


Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Easy. (Goodreads Summary)

My Take On It

I’m not sure how I first heard about Half Bad–it was sometime late last year I think–but I knew when I read the synopsis that I HAD to read this book. Witches? Hello—they ARE my first love in all thing paranormal. And the fact that it was a male POV was just icing on the cake, friends. And then when all the praise for this book starting coming in from across the pond…it was a done deal after that. Half Badwas officially one of my most anticipated reads of 2014.  Luckily my super generous and very cool friend Lauren was able to snag me an extra copy of this beauty (and it a beauty isn’t it…look at that gorgeous cover) at ALA and I set about reading immediately. Have I mentioned how awesome my friends are? SO AWESOME.
Anyway, I got the book and read it in about a day. The verdict? I really, really enjoyed it. After reading I engaged Lauren and Jen, another bloggy friend who had also recently read it, in an email discussion. It turns out that all three of us shared very similar feelings about Half Bad. In fact, Lauren and Jen each wrote a collaborative review post on their blogs that is fabulous. Click on their names to read their take on this book.
I feel like doing a top ten–there was a lot I loved about Half Bad and this might be the perfect way to review it.
The Top Ten Things I LOVED about Half Bad
1. The protagonist Nathan
I really, really liked Nathan. I know some reviewers are a little more hesitant to jump on board with this guy–but I found the whole “Am I good or am I bad” question to be really compelling. I had so much sympathy for Nathan. Because of the way Half Bad is told–and I’ll discuss this a little more next–we get see how awful his life has been as the son of a White witch and a Black witch. And not just ANY Black witch–the Mack Daddy, baddest of the bad Black witches. As such, Nathan’s and outcast and I will always, always have a soft spot for this type character. Nathan’s not perfect–he does some questionable things and makes some poor decisions but that is what makes him so much fun to read. I see a lot of growth for Nathan as this series progresses.
2. The manner in which the story was told
Half Bad is interesting. It starts out being told in present time–and Nathan’s present happens to be imprisonment in a CAGE in Scotland. So right from the get-go things are INTENSE.
The second part has Nathan recalling back his past–and this is the part where we learn all the details about Nathan’s history. During this section we meet his grandmother and sisters and brother. We are told what happened to his mother. We also learn about his father–whom he has never met but who is well known for his notoriety. We watch him enter school and meet a girl who becomes his first love. And we also learn just how he ended up in that cage.
After these first two parts the reader is taken back to Nathan’s present–back in the cage– and the story remains in this tense for the remainder of the book.
Now I know this seems kind of strange–kind of an odd way to relay a story—but, for me at least, it totally worked. I’m not always a fan of the narrative jumping back and forth in time in the books I read–it usually confuses me at some point–but here is didn’t at all. I liked that we got to witness Nathan’s childhood and the events that lead to where he finds himself presently. I liked that it felt more like showing than telling written this way. I can’t say that this technique would always work but in this case it did.
3. POV
This naturally leads me to POV and perspective. The beginning of the book–the very beginning when we learn that Nathan is being held captive in a cage– is told in 2nd person POV. Nathan speaks in terms of “you”, as in “You wake up and remember where you are.”  I know that 2nd person POV is a tricky perspective to write and to read. Many readers aren’t fans of this tense.  I’m not one of those readers. For whatever reason, I totally was able to switch back and forth as Nathan switched from 2nd person POV in the beginning to 1st person POV for the remainder of the book. So much of this book is introspective, the reader getting a bird’s eye view into Nathan’s mind and mental state. The parts where he is imprisoned, and some parts where he is on the run, are periods of isolation for him. It just made sense to me reading those in 2nd person POV, almost as if he was talking to himself (because really he has no one else to talk to) and we the reader are listening in.
4. The FABULOUS secondaries
Ok, this is where Half Bad really shined, IMO. There are a lot of characters in this book– and most of them are written so darn well. I’m thinking about Arran. And Celia. And Ellen. And Rose. And GABRIEL. And old Mary. And Gram. And Mercury. And Marcus. And Trevor and Jim. So MANY great, great characters. You know, if you read this blog, how I feel about my secondaries. To say that they are important to me or that I’m mildly obsessed with them is an understatement. And Sally Green did not let me down in Half Bad. I love Nathan–but I have to say–there are a few secondaries that rival my feelings for this protagonist. If I had to pick a fave, it’s a tie between Ellen and Gabriel. 🙂
5. Alternate history and world building
Ok, I’m a giant fan of alternate history books. And great world building goes hand in hand with this, right? The premise of this book is that witchcraft is very much alive and kicking, and has been for thousands of years, although it is hidden from all non-witches–the fain–who make up the majority of the world. Green has written a unique mythology into the origin of the witches in Half Bad but the gist if it is this: There are White witches who use their powers for good and Black–who don’t. Of course these two factions are at odds with each other. The White witches are presided over by a council. This council keeps track of the White’s lineage but also keeps records of all half codes–or half breeds–witches that are of mixed heritage–part White and part Black or part White and part fain. Half code whets, witches under the age of seventeen who have not come into their powers yet–are also documented and registered. When a whet comes of age they are given three gifts along with the blood of a witch relative–with these gifts the whet becomes a full-fledged witch and develops his/or her special gift. Gifts can range from healing to shape shifting and beyond. And gifts can be stolen by other witches.
Nathan is a half code. His mother was a White and his father was a Black. But no one is sure which side Nathan will fall on once he comes of age. And the White council watches him very closely.
I think that the world building in Half Bad is done pretty well. There are some gaps and there are some lingering questions–BUT. I feel like Green is doing a pretty great job at relaying this information on to the reader. And I feel like more will be revealed about this world as the series goes on.
6. White witches vs. Black witches
So the crux of the story is about these two types of witches. One set, who is perceived as GOOD, and another who is perceived as NOT. Nathan is unique–as far as he knows, he’s the only half White/ half Black witch– at least in his part of the world.  And what I liked is that Nathan gets to spend time with both White and Black witches in Half Bad. Everyone wants to know which way Nathan will go but, as is usually the case, not everything is–wait for it–black or white.  As Nathan gets to know these two different groups it becomes obvious that there aren’t clear cut lines between good and bad–and it amplifies the suspense wondering who Nathan should trust and who might be out to betray him.
7. The mysterious father figure
From the outset we learn that Nathan’s father Marcus is the biggest, baddest Black witch of them all. He’s like the Charles Manson of Black witches. He’s loathed. He’s feared. He’s this legend of pure evil. And Nathan has never met him. Nathan feels a sort of morbid curiosity for this man–but gradually that curiosity grows into something more–not affection really—because how can you feel affection for a) someone you’ve never met or spoken with or b) a monster? But when faced with the task of possibly aiding in the capture of his father, Nathan reacts unexpectantly.
I won’t spoil anything here–but I will say that I am VERY intrigued by this character and anxious to learn more. Is he truly the villain the world makes him out to be? Or is he possible anti-hero material? Oh, how I love a good anti-hero. It’s anyone’s guess at this stage of the game but I am very, very curious.
8. This seems familiar somehow
It was probably a quarter of the way into Half Bad that I began to feel like there was something familiar about this story and these characters. Good witches and bad witches living unnoticed among humans. Outcast parent-less children. Half breeds. Moral dilemmas. A Voldemort-esque super villain. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?  I was totally, totally getting a Harry Potter vibe as I was reading. After I finished reading it was one of the first things that I remarked on to Lauren and Jen in my email. And yes, they noticed it too.
Now listen, this is NOT a Harry Potter rip-off. There are some similarities but this is a totally different story. But if you like Harry Potter and if you’re a fan of those things that I mentioned then I think you might really like this about Half Bad too. For me it was almost like slipping back into familiar territory. I didn’t feel like it was a hack job–it felt almost nostalgic to me. The point is, I enjoyed the familiarity.
9. The romance is NOT the focus–for now, anyway
There is a romantic plot thread in Half Bad–but it’s certainly not the central focus. And for me, this thread was the weakest and least developed part of the book. I’m not a major fan of the love interest, her motives are really unclear at this point in the book and I feel a disconnect from her that may be due to this, or maybe I feel this disconnect for other reasons.
What I do like about this romance being kind of iffy is that I’m hoping it means that there is room for new developments (maybe even a new love interest) in the next few books. Am I advocating a love triangle? No, not really. Am I hoping for an alternate love interest? Yes, maybe.
Now, if you have read Half Bad and want to hear a very interesting theory that Lauren came up with about the possible direction Half Bad could go in romantically speaking,  head over to her review and check out the SPOLIER section. Lauren has hypothesized a fascinating theory that I am hoping holds water. REALLY HOPING.
10. Lots of unanswered questions and therefore lots of potential
Half Bad is not an absolutely flawless book. The pacing is a little off–and there are a ton of dangling plot threads and holes. But this is the first book in a planned series of three (or is it four? I’ve seen both) books and I feel that, like most first books, Half Bad is setting the reader up for what’s to come. Laying the groundwork. Introducing characters. Defining conflicts (well, sort of) And also leaving the reader in the dark about a number of things. And you know what? I am TOTALLY cool with this. Why? Because I see so much potential in this series. I see so many different directions that this series could go in–and I know there are as yet unseen directions waiting for me to discover as well. It makes me excited as a reader.
So. Is Half Bad a book for YOU?  Do you like alternate history and  fantasy? Are you a fan of the outcast character on a journey of self discovery? Do you like characters that face moral dilemmas and questions about identity? Are you interested in books that host a cast of really interesting and well-crafted characters? Do you like romance but appreciate that it doesn’t overtake the entire focus of the story? Do you like books that make you question the whole good vs evil trope and everything in-between? If you answered yes than you should pick up Half Bad and give it a look. I do think it is the start of what could be an epic new fantasy series.