Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: Not Now, Not Ever, by Lily Anderson

*All Amazon links included are affiliate links - I receive a small percentage if you choose to purchase through these.

Getting admission to Camp Onward wasn't easy. I'd sat through a two-hour-long test while I was supposed to be at my last ACLU club meeting of the school year. I'd crafted an essay about why I was the perfect candidate for Rayevich College. I'd emptied my savings to pay for my train ticket. I'd changed all of my social media profiles to a picture of a sunset.
Elliot Gabaroche was everywhere and nowhere.

Ever Lawrence, seventeen-year-old girl and newly certified genius, was going to summer camp.

This book is technically a sequel, to The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You, but this one can be read as a standalone, in my opinion. I realized later that the characters from the first book have minor roles in the second, but I'd be willing to bet that Elliot/Ever (the heroine in this book) is not present in the first novel.

Official synopsis:
Elliot Gabaroche is very clear on what she isn't going to do this summer.

1. She isn't going to stay home in Sacramento, where she'd have to sit through her stepmother's sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn't going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mom's base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender's Game, Ellie's seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it's much less Luke/Yoda/"feel the force," and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn't appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she'd be able to defeat afterwards.

What she is going to do is pack up her determination, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and run away to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College—the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program, and her dream school. She’s also going to start over as Ever Lawrence: a new name for her new beginning. She’s even excited spend her summer with the other nerds and weirdos in the completion, like her socially-awkward roommate with neon-yellow hair, and a boy who seriously writes on a typewriter and is way cuter than is comfortable or acceptable.

The only problem with her excellent plan to secretly win the scholarship and a ticket to her future: her golden-child, super-genius cousin Isaiah has had the same idea, and has shown up at Rayevich smugly ready to steal her dreams and expose her fraud in the process.

This summer’s going to be great.

I love books about teens (Young Adult lit) and this one was definitely interesting, as Ever (aka Elliot) has an interesting backstory. Her mom is in the military, and wants her to enlist. Her step-mom and father want her to go to college, but I believe somewhere nearby—she lives in California. Unbeknownst to all of them, this summer she's at a camp for geniuses, with the possibility of winning a college scholarship to Rayevich College—which is in Oregon.

There's a bit of a love story mixed in, of course, but the focus is mostly on Ever, and how she matures in only a few short weeks at camp. Things get complicated when she finds out her 15-year-old cousin, Isaiah, is at camp too, and ALSO didn't tell his parents where he is, but the two of them end up finding a solution.

Overall, I liked this book, although I'd be curious to know even more about Ever's background—she hasn't seen her biological mother since she was 5, for example, and I assume that's because the mother is in the military and always busy ... but it's not explicitly said.

I'd like to read the first novel in the "series" now, too, although it may have to wait a bit—both my TBR and "e-TBR" (e-copy) piles are crazy right now!

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes a good YA story or for anyone who is or has family in the military.

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

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, by Kate Winkler Dawson {ends 12/3}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Neighbors watched me digging,” he said. “They nodded ‘cheerios’ to me.” When they left, he dragged Ruth from the washhouse and rolled her into the grave.

In 1952, nine years later, she was still there, secluded by the fog
just another object planted in the garden. His garden. She was lying beneath him, many days. The war constable with a large forehead, thinning hair, and startling voice frequently dragged a rake less than two feet above her. His steps disturbed the dirt. He shoved plants into the ground just inches from her facehe fancied himself a talented gardener.

Death in the Air is a non-fiction book covering a couple subjects – serial killer John Reginald Christie of London, and the London fog/smog disaster of 1952.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Death in the Air
A real-life thriller in the vein of The Devil in the White City, Kate Winkler Dawson's debut Death in the Air is a gripping, historical narrative of a serial killer, an environmental disaster, and an iconic city struggling to regain its footing.

In winter 1952, London automobiles and thousands of coal-burning hearths belched particulate matter into the air. But the smog that descended on December 5th of 1952 was different; it was a type that held the city hostage for five long days. Mass transit ground to a halt, criminals roamed the streets, and 12,000 people died. That same month, there was another killer at large in London: John Reginald Christie, who murdered at least six women. In a braided narrative that draws on extensive interviews, never-before-published material, and archival research, Dawson captivatingly recounts the intersecting stories of these two killers and their longstanding impact on modern history.

In reading Death in the Air, I couldn’t help but feel the topics could have worked as two completely separate books. The author tried to show an intersection between John Reginald Christie’s killings of young women over the course of at least 10 years, and the thousands of deaths resulting from a toxic fog over the city for five days in 1952. While they did happen in part at the same time, the similarity ended there. It made it a sort of odd read by jumping back and forth between the two story lines.

I loved the ‘real people’ parts—reading about the people who lost family members to respiratory failure from the fog, learning about Christie and his victims, and even the real struggles of members of Parliament to prevent further deaths or miscarriages of justice. Not being a Londoner (where both stories took place), I also liked the tie-in that referenced an air pollution disaster just a few years earlier in Pennsylvania.

Death in the Air was also meticulously researched by Kate Winkler Dawson, and I feel completely equipped to choose either ‘London Smog in 1952’ or ‘Reg Christie, Serial Killer’ on Jeopardy. I could risk it all and win.

In conclusion, I would give Death in the Air 3 stars out of 5. This would be a great book for history buffs, serial killer aficionados, or prevention of air pollution advocates.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley liked zombies and sloths before they were cool. She’s been blogging around SE Michigan at SweetlyBSquared.com for more than 15 years.


Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Death in the Air!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, December 3rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, otherwise an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

Death in the Air hardcover copies

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}


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}


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}


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

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