Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Scattering, by Kimberly McCreight (Outliers #2)

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Yes, Wylie, things have been quiet in the press so far,” my dad goes on. “But if I can convince the NIH to fund a full-on study of the Outliers and get peer-reviewed publication that will change, and quickly. There’s already some Senator Russo, from Arizona. He’s on the Intelligence Subcommittee and he’s insisting on a meeting. Somehow he got wind of my funding application. My guess is he’s worried about protecting some secret research the military has been doing.”

“Secret research?” Fear surely shows on my face.

My dad grimaces, then holds up his hands. “I just mean, in the way everything the military does is secret. They’ve been looking into how to use emotional perception in combat for decades,” he says.


As the second book in the trilogy, The Scattering was great. It introduced a few more characters, while looking a little more in-depth at Wylie’s "gift."

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Scattering, by Kimberly McCreight (Outliers #2)
Wylie may have escaped the camp in Maine, but she is far from safe. The best way for her to protect herself is to understand her ability, fast. But after spending a lifetime trying to ignore her own feelings, giving in to her ability to read other peoples’ emotions is as difficult as it is dangerous.

And Wylie isn’t the only one at risk. Ever since they returned home, Jasper has been spiraling, wracked with guilt over what happened to Cassie. After all they’ve been through together, Wylie and Jasper would do anything for each other, but she doesn’t know if their bond is strong enough to overcome demons from the past.

It is amid this uncertainty and fear that Wylie finds herself confronted with a choice. She was willing to do whatever it took to help Cassie, but is she prepared to go to the same extremes to help complete strangers . . . even if they are just like her?


I honestly can’t wait til the third book in this trilogy by Kimberly McCreight is published next May. As with The Outliers, The Scattering started a little slow, describing the characters and places we’d need to know. But once she gets rolling—look out! This was another page-turner that had me mumbling my realizations while my kids wondering what I was going on about.

Wylie continues exploring her emotional perception gifts, and is surprised to find herself with other girls who potentially have the same gift. Unfortunately, no one is sure why they have been gathered, and everyone is just assuming the traits they may have in common.

As the story continues, she is less sure of who to trust, and has to rely primarily on her own instincts to save herself, while deciding how much help and support she owes to those around her.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the first two books of The Outliers trilogy, and can’t wait for the release of the third book, The Collide, in May 2018. I would give The Scattering 4 out of 5 stars. The fifth star for me is usually worthy of a re-read, and this suspenseful trilogy wouldn’t be quite as surprising on a second read.

Click here to purchase:
The Outliers (#1)
The Scattering (#2)
The Collide (#3)

Becki Bayley loves her heated mattress pad, tall boots, and yum yum sauce. She’s been blogging in SE Michigan at sweetlybsquared.com for more than 15 years.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Wait for Me, by An Na {ends 11/17}

Mina

I drove home thinking about Ysrael's story. Woke up Suna and helped her into the apartment and could still picture Ysrael's eyes, the jut of his chin. He's lived so many lives, I thought as Suna and I entered our bedroom and got ready for bed. So many lives and I can't even figure out this one.

This book is more of a novella than a novel: it clocks in at 186 pages. Because of that, it was a quick read, and I like that it went between Mina's POV and her sister's, Suna.

Official synopsis:
A teen pretends to be a perfect daughter, but her reality is far darker, in this penetrating look at identity and finding yourself amidst parents’ dreams for you, by Printz Award–winning novelist An Na.

Mina seems like the perfect daughter. Straight A student. Bound for Harvard. Helps out at her family’s dry cleaning store. Takes care of her hearing-impaired little sister. She is her parents’ pride and joy. From the outside, Mina is doing everything right. On the inside, Mina knows the truth. Her perfect-daughter life is a lie. And it isn’t until she meets someone to whom she cannot lie that she’s willing to consider what the truth might mean, and what it will cost. Because Ysrael, the young migrant worker who dreams of becoming a musician and who comes to work for her family, asks Mina the one question that scares her the most: What does she actually want?


I overall liked this book—because of its length, it's a quick read. The prose is well-written, too, so at times it almost feels more like poetry than a novel.

Mina's parents, especially her mother, want her to succeed in life, but as a result, they put too many expectations on her. She's at that period in high school where she is taking standardized tests, like the SATs, and her mother pressures her to do well on them. A local neighborhood boy, Jonathan, is headed to Stanford, and her mother makes her go and retrieve his used SAT prep books. What she doesn't know, though, is that Mina and Jonathan's relationship isn't very solid right now, and it's because of events that recently transpired between them.

At the same time, the family hires a migrant teen, Ysrael, to work at their dry cleaning store, and he and Mina start to become close. Mina also helps care for her younger sister, Suna, who has hearing issues.

The ending of this book is not your typical HEA (Happily Ever After), but I found it to be realistic. I did think it was a bit abrupt, but it may have been a result of the story being so short. If you are the parent of a teen, have ever been a teen (and remember those years well), or like YA literature, you will enjoy this book.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Friday, November 17th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen. 

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Wait for Me, by An Na

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Book Review: The Radius of Us, by Marie Marquandt

Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

"And then what happened? The toffee sticks to my teeth, almost forcing my mouth shut, so I can’t tell this nice woman how I felt that night. How I walked to my car, on legs exhausted from a double shift at the restaurant. How I went alone through the dark August night. How humid the air felt - so humid that its heaviness pressed down on my bare shoulders. I didn't want to stop to get my mother half-and-half. I didn't want the smell of fried chicken clinging to my scalp...I do not want to tell this nice woman how I was halfway to my car, the only car left parked against the curb. I don't want to tell Karen how I had been late to work twelve hours earlier, how I had barely squeezed my economy car into the only remaining spot on this now-abandoned street. I do not want to tell her how I heard him first, his feet pounding, and how I turned to see him running toward me, with crazed eyes. How my legs launched into a run, trying to close the distance to my car. I didn't see his body when it slammed against my back. I only felt it, hurling us both to the ground. And then he pressed my face against the cracked sidewalk and wrenched my hands above my head. I felt his knee in my back, smelled his stale breath, warm against my cheek. He dug his hand into my pockets, and I freaked. I felt his hand near my crotch, and I knew he would try to pull my pants off. I bit his arm and he flinched. My red lipstick smeared across his forearm. I saw it there, part of me on him. That's when I tried to break free. I flipped my body over and struggled to stand. He punched me in the gut. I was on the ground, lying on my side, folded over myself. He kicked me, maybe twice, until I was flat on my stomach. Then he dug through my pockets. 

"Please don't hurt me," I heard myself beg quietly, over and over. I think what I really wanted to say was, Oh please, God, don’t rape me. Please don’t. He was on top of me again, holding me down with his body while his hands roved. I could see his face, his smooth skin and his wide brown eyes. I couldn't look away, because his eyes looked terrified. They looked as scared as I felt. "Be still," he said. "Don't make me hurt you." I squirmed, feeling his hands there. "I don't want to hurt you, I need money." Could that be true? I wished I'd had a purse so he could just take it and go, but my money was shoved into my front pockets. Tips - ones and fives, split with the wait staff. He pulled my phone from my pocket and threw it aside. He found the cash and pulled me to my feet. "Leave," he said, "Run!" And then he was gone. Just like that. I watched him sprint away, a wad of my money in his hand. He told me to run. Why did he tell me to run? I could not run. Everything hurt. I wasn't even sure I could stay on my feet. I reached for my phone..."He came up to you and what happened, Gretchen?" Karen asks. "He took my money," I say. "I had cash in my pocket - tips - he took them out and ran away. That's all" A lie. I lie to my mom, staring out the window. I lie to my dad, gripping my knee. I lie to the nice prosecutor, Karen, and to myself. I lie because there's more. This isn't even the most disturbing part, the part I've forbidden myself to think about or acknowledge. The part I can’t tell myself. 

This book is told from alternating points of view: Gretchen, an 18-year-old American girl from Georgia who experienced ‘an incident’ as it was referred to by her in the story; and Phoenix, a 19-year-old asylum seeker from El Salvador, currently living in Georgia with a sponsor family. Right off the bat, I was enjoying this book. The flow was an easy pace and I liked Gretchen. While she seemed to have something that troubled her caused by the incident, she still seemed like she was trying to get her life back together and was a smart and fun character. And Phoenix seemed like a good person trying to escape gang life in El Salvador and make a better life for him and his little brother in America.

Official synopsis:
Ninety seconds can change a life ― not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.

Ninety seconds can change a life ― not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became thatperson ― the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.

Ninety seconds can change a life ― so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?

Told in alternating first person points of view,
The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt's The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.

While I liked all of the minor characters in this book from Gretchen’s friends, to Phoenix’s sponsors and other people he met during his journey, I started to get annoyed with the main characters. Probably because this is a teen love story, and it seemed trivial to me that they were comparing Gretchen’s ‘incident’ with Phoenix’s experience, which was much more traumatic. Honestly, the first paragraph insinuates that ‘something more’ happened to Gretchen that she won’t let herself think about, and honestly, I don’t think they mentioned it. And if they did, it was fleeting and trivial and I forgot it. 

What started off a strong independent character (Gretchen) slowly seemed to get weaker and more annoying to me. And her suddenly getting over something so troubling to her because of a boy was bothersome. I liked the Spanish that was peppered throughout the story and some of the minor details of the other characters, but the love story seemed weak to me and made me lose interest in the characters and the overall story.

This was not my cup of tea ... 2 stars out of 5.

Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo. She also wishes that every day was Taco Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: The Diabolic, by S.J. Kincaid

Guest review by: Karen Doerr

“You are extraordinary.”

“What?” The word slipped from me in a stunned whisper. I had been waiting, dread-filled, but there was nothing but admiration in his voice.

“He spat out more blood. “I understand the brute power, the speed, but where did you learn technique?”

I blinked. Normally I disliked any questions about my upbringing in the corrals, but since I’d just nearly killed him, I felt I owed him an answer…

As a sci-fi nerd, I found the premise of The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid intriguing. I’m not normally big fan of Young Adult fiction, but this one managed to keep my attention. I found it very similar to The Hunger Games and would recommend it to any one who enjoyed that series.

Official Synopsis:
A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.

One of the things I liked most about the book was how it managed to throw a little bit of everything into the mix to appeal to a wider audience. Enough blood was present to remind me how dangerous the main character really was. Just as I was craving a bit of romance, a kiss would suddenly appear and make my heart flutter. I feel that this whole review could have been me explaining the different aspects from different genres and well known stories which were so skillfully combined. I also genuinely liked Nemesis, the main character. It was fun to explore this alien world through eyes lacking tear ducts. The author did a good job of twisting the usual coming of age story with a monster finding her own heart.

Overall, I enjoyed this light read. The author presented an interesting world where humanoids are a common fixture among the upper classes. As with most Young Adult fiction, the writing is at times a bit fast paced and I wished that more time had been devoted to describing this society. I favorably compare it to The Hunger Games, but of course there are some stark differences. I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot but the one thing that I found the book really lacked was an understanding of daily life for those not among the Elite. While I did understand the motives of the rebellion, I couldn’t sympathize with the everyman plight as all of my interactions were with the upper crust. It really could have taken a page or two out of Star Wars.

3 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}


Karen K. Doerr is a Hufflepuff from District 6 who takes her coffee with far too much sugar.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 11/8}

She turned then to face her reflection. It was true: at twenty-nine and as partner at the second most successful hedge fun in NYC, she didn't look a day over twenty-four. She was confident in her good looks and considered herself to be just as gorgeous as everybody told her she was. Her slender, heart-shaped face boasted elegantly chiseled cheekbones; a lightly freckled, ski-slope nose; big, stormy grey eyes shuttered by naturally long lashes; and a perfectly pouty set of pale pink lips.

... 

See, it is a truth universally acknowledged that any beautiful, brilliant, single women who is rich as hell will be in want of a husband. She'd heard it time and time again.

This novel is Melissa de la Cruz's contribution to the Jane Austen craze, but with a slight twist: it's Darcy Fitzwilliam, the woman, who is the rich and successful one here, and who falls in love with one of her high school friends, Luke Bennet, a carpenter.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, by Melissa de la Cruz
Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe from New York Times bestselling author, Melissa de la Cruz, is a sweet, sexy and hilarious gender-swapping, genre-satisfying re-telling, set in contemporary America and featuring one snooty Miss Darcy.

Darcy Fitzwilliam is 29, beautiful, successful, and brilliant. She dates hedge funders and basketball stars and is never without her three cellphones―one for work, one for play, and one to throw at her assistant (just kidding). Darcy’s never fallen in love, never has time for anyone else’s drama, and never goes home for Christmas if she can help it. But when her mother falls ill, she comes home to Pemberley, Ohio, to spend the season with her family.

Her parents throw their annual Christmas bash, where she meets one Luke Bennet, the smart, sardonic slacker son of their neighbor. Luke is 32-years-old and has never left home. He’s a carpenter and makes beautiful furniture, and is content with his simple life. He comes from a family of five brothers, each one less ambitious than the other. When Darcy and Luke fall into bed after too many eggnogs, Darcy thinks it’s just another one night stand. But why can’t she stop thinking of Luke? What is it about him? And can she fall in love, or will her pride and his prejudice against big-city girls stand in their way?


This was a fast and easy read. I'm a fan of books that provide a twist on Austen—Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible was great—but it was hard for me to get into this one. I definitely laughed at the quote above, about the "truth universally acknowledged" (a spin off of one of Austen's quotes from the original book) but otherwise, I actually found Darcy to be a little unlikeable.

Darcy has an on-and-off-again relationship with Carl, whom her father really wanted her to marry in high school—that was the original plan, to stay in Pemberley, Ohio (Darcy's hometown) and be a housewife or whatnot—but instead, Darcy left for NYC and established a life for herself there. When Darcy finally agrees to marry Carl, it's because Luke is already taken, so she figures that she'll just settle down since she can't have Luke.

I'm aware that de la Cruz was probably being glib for most of this book, and/or taking a stab at the original (the characters in the original are just as ridiculous) but I'll be honest and say I was a little disappointed in it, versus the other books of hers that I've read. Her other recent book, Alex & Eliza, was also a romance, albeit a historical one, and I liked that novel much more.

If you're looking for a quick and easy read, though, this would fit the bill, and fans of Austen will appreciate the gender switch-up, which I did as well—and especially that you can be a successful woman and not *need* a man by your side, until you choose to have one, like Darcy did here.

2.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, November 8th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be emailed the next day and must respond with 24 hours, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe book

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, by Agnes Martin-Lugand

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

One last time, I snuggled up against Colin’s side of the bed, my head buried in his pillow, and cuddled Clara’s favorite soft toy; my tears made them damp. The alarm clock went off and I got out of bed, like a robot.

Reading Happy People Read and Drink Coffee wasn’t exactly the carefree pool read I’d been planning on, but I definitely wanted to know how everything ended for Diane and the others in her life. Maybe there can be a rule against saying ‘happy’ in the title, and then having a lot of the book be sad?

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, by Agnes Martin-Lugand
Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary café in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, the world as she knows it disappears.

One year later, Diane moves to a small town on the Irish coast, determined to heal by rebuilding her life alone-until she meets Edward, a handsome and moody photographer, and falls into a surprising and tumultuous romance.

But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland for good? At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane's story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring.

I was originally expecting a hipster, coffee-shop, feel good book when I started reading this on the plane to Vegas, but I learned better in a hurry. As I was flying away from my children and husband for almost a week, I got to read about Diane losing her family and the crushing effect it had on her.

Luckily, she finally chooses to move on (thanks for not giving us a lot of the depressing year or so in the apartment!) and relocates. Who hasn’t had that dream of running away before?

In Ireland, the shadows of Paris slowly lift, and she finds her way through a totally different normal. Learning her way around a whole new world is exciting an terrifying all at once. The romance that develops is reasonably predictable, but after the tragedies in the beginning, I was happy for the change of pace. The ending admittedly threw me for a loop, and I still haven’t decided if that was good or bad.

Overall, the descriptions and characters make this book worth the read. It was also a nice length for a flight, layover, and waiting around between conference meetings. I could read a few pages and not end up confused, which is perfect for a book I just had along for extra entertainment.

I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.
{Click here to purchase}


Becki Bayley loves hearing her children giggle, oatmeal scotchies, and baby sloth videos. She’s been blogging in SE Michigan since March 2002 at www.sweetlybsquared.com.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover {ends 10/30}

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover

My father is an atheist, although that isn't at all why he chose to purchase the foreclosed house of worship and rip it from the hands of the people. No, God had no say in that matter.

He bought the church and closed the doors simply because he absolutely, vehemently, without doubt, hated Pastor Brian's dog, and subsequently, Pastor Brian. 

Funny story about this book: I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I actually had forgotten that I had signed up for the book tour (thanks, past self ...) and almost didn't review it. Without Merit is definitely a book that you cannot skip.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover
The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

Poignant and powerful,
Without Merit explores the layers of lies that tie a family together and the power of love and truth.

This novel reminded me a bit of the Running with Scissors family combined with elements of David Sedaris's books. Merit is a twin, but isn't close with her sister, Honor. They live with their brother, Utah; half-brother, Moby (named after Moby-Dick, not the singer); father, Barnaby; step-mother, Victoria; and biological mother, also named Victoria, who lives in the basement. On top of all of that, they live in a church that their father bought from foreclosure just to spite the local pastor. 

All of the characters created here are very unique, which is why I liked the novel so much. Merit likes to collect trophies—but not trophies she personally has won, but rather, trophies that she finds in thrift stores. Her sister, Honor, likes to pursue relationships with teen guys who are on the brink of dying; her first boyfriend died during their relationship, and for some reason that stuck with her. Another relative gets thrown into the mix later on, too, which shakes up the family dynamic, and there are also secrets revealed by Merit in the latter half of the novel which threaten to break up the family.

My only complaint about this book is that the last few chapters take a while to wrap up—all of the plot points had mostly been finished, but the novel continued on for a few more chapters.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this book, and I'll have to check out more novels by Colleen Hoover in the future.

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

Enter to win below. This is a group giveaway that the other blog tour participants and I are hosting on our blogs.

Five lucky winners will receive a signed hardcover copy of Without Merit!

Giveaway will end on Monday, October 30th.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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