Dani and Jessie May Recap

Saturday, May 31, 2014
How was everyone's May? A lot of us were at BEA, but sadly Dani and I weren't among them (this year when it is in Chicago!). We managed to be pretty productive on the blog, so if there was something you missed, click the link!

Reviews Posted:
The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead (Age of X #2)
I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends by Courtney Robertson
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
Book Tour: All that is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon
Book Tour: I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith
Book Tour: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro
Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn (Broken Hearts #1)
Review Take Two: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu
Book Tour: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose
Review Take Two: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Two Minute Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss #2)

When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?

TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master’s injured gladiators. But his warrior’s heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag’s owner, doomed by her father’s greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she’s been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air..

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them — to Lucia’s father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

Fun Stuff:
Top Ten Book Covers I'd Frame as Art
Book Blast: Curses & Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shecter


Two Minute Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Series: Anna and the French Kiss #2
Pages: 338
Published: September 29, 2011
Source: borrowed library
Rating: 5 out of 5
Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit--more sparkly, more fun, more wild--the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket--a gifted inventor--steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Reviewed by Danielle

I'd have dipped my toes into contemporary YA a long time ago, if I knew there were characters like Anna Oliphant or Cricket Bell in them.

Stephanie Perkins is my favorite discovery of the year after her second home run with Lola and the Boy Next Door. It's not even that I love the character, which I do, or the love interest, with I dooooo, it's great writing, complex motivations, and an effortless diversity that make Lola brilliant.

The second book in a romance series, the kind that stars another couple, but brings the first back in a supporting role? It's usually pretty hard to separate one from the other, because the characters, (especially the male love interests who are usually cardboard standees,) are all written in the same voice. Not so here! I can hear the Brit in St. Clair. I can hear the eccentric nervousness in Cricket and the confusion and doubt in Lola. It's so well done.

As far as basic plots go, there’s nothing overly groundbreaking about a boy and girl who live next door falling in love. Even the “communicating through notes on their facing windows” has been done. But what really struck me was the care put into Lola and Cricket’s home lives. Calliope, Cricket’s twin, could easily have been written as a one dimensional villain, but she’s not. Likewise, I loved the way Lola tackled the stereotypes of gay dads head on, by saying neither is the woman and they both do typically masculine and feminine things. And they love each other and Lola and I love them and I’m swooning again.

If I had one quibble, it would be with how much Anna and St. Clair are deployed. They’re a little like fairy godparents, flittering around and showing up rather conveniently to bring Lola and Cricket together. Other than that? I can’t find a thing to complain about.

OK, one more thing.


Review: I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends by Courtney Robertson

Friday, May 30, 2014
Title: I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain
Author: Courtney Robertson
Genre: biography, non-fiction
Series: none
Pages: 272
Published: expected June 24, 2014
Source: Publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Courtney Robertson joined season 16 of The Bachelor looking for love. A working model and newly single, Courtney fit the casting call: She was young, beautiful, and a natural in front of the cameras. Although she may have been there for all the right reasons, as the season unfolded and sparks began to fly something else was clear: She was not there to make friends.

Courtney quickly became one of the biggest villains in Bachelor franchise history. She unapologetically pursued her man, steamrolled her competition, and broke the rules—including partaking in an illicit skinny-dip that sealed her proposal. Now, after a very public breakup with her Bachelor, Ben Flajnik, Courtney opens up and tells her own story—from her first loves to her first moments in the limo. She dishes on life before, during, and after the Bachelor, including Ben’s romantic proposal to her on a Swiss mountaintop and the tabloid frenzy that continued after the cameras stopped rolling.

For the first time ever, a former Bachelor contestant takes us along on her journey to find love and reveals that “happily ever after” isn't always what it seems. Complete with stories, tips, tricks, and advice from your favorite Bachelor alumni, and filled with all the juicy details Courtney fans and foes alike want to know, I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends is a must-read for every member of Bachelor nation.

Reviewed by Danielle

I watched The Bachelorette in 2003 like the rest of America, but I've never been a big fan of The Bachelor series. That's not to say I don't love reality tv or dating shows, I do, but The Bachelor always seemed so stuffy. If I'm going to earn the reputation of loving "trashy" tv, I'm going to earn it. After watching a girl do a shot from another girl's genitals on Rock of Love Bus, what appeal do endless picnics with a vineyard owner hold? But when I heard the biggest villain in Bachelor history was releasing a tell-all? You’d best believe I marathoned season 16.

While Courtney certainly came across as a mean girl on tv, I don’t understand the venom directed at her post-show. The book isn’t really image maintenance, because she never denies saying things like, “how did that taste coming out of your mouth?” or going skinny dipping, but again, maybe it’s because I watch a different class of reality tv, because none of that is that bad. While she’s a little arrogant in writing, I found myself liking Courtney a lot.

As for the memoir, it is ghost-written and the writing is on par with other semi-celebrity books. It briefly touches on Courtney’s childhood before breaking down into stories of dating before, during, and after The Bachelor. Her “I don’t like girls and they don’t like me” schtick wore thin immediately, but for the most part she comes across as a driven, no nonsense person with terrible luck in dating. She doesn’t slam any exes or the other girls, except for a few well documented exceptions. She doesn’t insult those who play the game or call other women names. She dishes a lot of dirt, sexual and otherwise, but she’s not a bitch.

Now, I know what you’re looking for in this review. Dirt. Yes, Courtney dated celebrities before appearing on the show. Yes, she does kiss and tell. The show is real, although we only see a small portion of what’s filmed and most confessionals are filmed later and heavily manipulated through leading questions. Yes, she gives all her thoughts on the other women and Ben. Yep, she’s kissing and telling with him too. Yes, she dated other members of Bachelor Nation after the breakup. Yes, it’s juicy. No, it’s not a particularly balanced account, and no, Ben doesn’t come out looking good, but I did appreciate that he’s not strung up as a monster. He’s just portrayed as a dick who did the show to promote his winery, (duh, I knew that on episode two,) and isn’t a very attentive partner. Sucks.

My real problem with the book was there wasn’t enough time devoted to the show itself. There’s a lot of down time while filming, but some weeks get barely a mention. There’s more information on (a lack of) pooping than there is about the challenges. Courtney tells us that by the end she was really close to the production crew, but never mentions interacting with them. I just felt like it could have been expanded, since I think that’s what a lot of readers are looking for. The other issue was the epilogue, which looks at where everyone mentioned is now. Or rather, last December when the book was written. Now, I understand publishing takes time, but they couldn’t update that before it went to print? Even if that seems long to me, the issue is no one’s anywhere. Everyone’s still looking for love, so it didn’t feel necessary. Though one ex-boyfriend’s entry did make me laugh, so there’s something positive.

I like the book. It’s an easy read, full of gossip and behind the scenes info. It’s probably best to take it with a grain of salt, like reality tv itself, but it’s a great roadtrip or beach book for Bachelor Nation.

Book Blast & Giveaway: Curses & Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Viky Alvear Schecter

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Genre: YA Historical

When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?

TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master’s injured gladiators. But his warrior’s heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag’s owner, doomed by her father’s greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she’s been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air..

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them — to Lucia’s father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

Buy the Book

Vicky Alvear Shecter

About the Author

Vicky Alvear Shecter is the author of the young adult novel, CLEOPATRA’S MOON (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra’s only daughter. She is also the author of two award-winning biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta.

Author Links

Book Blast Schedule

Monday, May 12
Bibliophilia, Please
bookworm2bookworm’s Blog

Tuesday, May 13
Broken Teepee
Passages to the Past
In the Hammock Blog

Wednesday, May 14
CelticLady’s Reviews
The Most Happy Reader
I’d So Rather Be Reading
History From a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, May 15
Kinx’s Book Nook
A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Historical Fiction Obsession
Friday, May 16

Booktalk & More
The Mad Reviewer
Book Lovers Paradise
Sunday, May 18

Giant Squid Books

Monday, May 19
Caroline Wilson Writes
So Many Books, So Little Time

Tuesday, May 20

West Metro Mommy
The True Book Addict
The Musings of ALMYBNENR

Wednesday, May 21
Book Nerd
Tower of Babel
Hardcover Feedback
WTF Are You Reading?

Thursday, May 22
Paperback Princess
Bittersweet Enchantment
Friday, May 23
History Undressed
Historical Fiction Connection

Saturday, May 24
Literary Chanteuse
Just One More Chapter

Sunday, May 25
A Dream within a Dream
The Little Reader Library

Monday, May 26
Pages of Comfort
Griperang’s Bookmarks
Raizza’s Book Blogging Adventure

Tuesday, May 27
Princess of Eboli
Ageless Pages Reviews
The Musings of a Book Junkie  


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Review: One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Title: One Man Guy
Author: Michael Barakiva
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Published: expected May 27 2014
Source: Macmillan for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Funny and heartfelt, One Man Guy serves up the raucous family humor and gentle romance of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as told with David Sedaris–style wit

Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.

You know a book is worth a read when the black sheep (Hi! That part will be played by me this morning) still likes it enough to enthusiastically to rate it a 3.5/5. While seemingly the odd woman out on this book, I willingly proclaim that Michael Barakiva's One Man Guy to be cute, charmingly cheesy, and often fun. I didn't happen to love it as much as some, but Barakiva's debut is a prime of example of why more diverse books should be readily available in YA.

The reason I didn't rate this a four or higher was the characterization for non-MCs. I loved what Barakiva showed us about Alek and Ethan themselves (and their relationship as it evolved), but the side characters felt particularly flimsy to me. For how awesome Alek is when he shows his unflinching character about right and wrong, there's the misstep when Alek's extended family are little more than stereotypes or one-dimensional people.
I also had a few sideeyes for dialogue and teenage interactions shown, but for the most part, Barakiva knows how to portray people with humor and warmth.

That said, One Man Guy is ultimately sweet and believably realistic for the most part. It's a personal and honest look at the love life of a gay teen, and I want more stories in this vein to be published. There is a huge market for it -- as the reaction to OMG has shown. In this case, the hype is warranted. Alek is a great protagonist for many reasons (just as Ethan makes for a great love interest for several reasons) and stories like this deserve to be told. Michael Barakiva's debut is an enjoyable contemporary about two teenagers finding themselves, and love.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Tour Review: All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

Title: All That is Solid Melts into Air
Author: Darragh McKeon
Genre: general and literary fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Published: April 29 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Russia, 1986. On a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year-old prodigy plays his piano silently for fear of disturbing the neighbors. In a factory on the outskirts of the city, his aunt makes car parts, hiding her dissident past. In a nearby hospital, a surgeon immerses himself in his work, avoiding his failed marriage.

And in a village in Belarus, a teenage boy wakes to a sky of the deepest crimson. Outside, the ears of his neighbor's cattle are dripping blood. Ten miles away, at the Chernobyl Power Plant, something unimaginable has happened.Now their lives will change forever.

An end-of-empire novel charting the collapse of the Soviet Union, All That Is Solid Melts into Air is a gripping and epic love story by a major new talent.

It feels weird to call All That is Solid Melts into Air a "historical fiction" novel because the events of the story feel so recent, but 1986 is nearly thirty years ago. The events shown felt all the more immediate to me for this reason. Darragh McKeon's first novel is an ambitious work of literary fiction; it is a precisely-worded and long-winded debut. There is no doubt that the author can create a wide variety of attributes with his writing: from atmosphere to intriguing character-driven plots to evoking place-as-character. But the novel's unnecessary length and wordiness (thanks Kara!) can hamper the overall impact of the stories being shown.

I enjoyed a lot about this novel superficially. I could easily appreciate McKeon's grasp of writing and language, his obvious passion and knowledge for the characters, but I was also mired in the sheer verbosity. I never fully immersed into the story, even as Chernobyl happened, or even the catharsis of the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was always an outsider, an observer to the (admittedly minimal) plots and characters. I wanted to sympathize more, empathize at all, but it just didn't happen.

 McKeon's writing is undeniably gorgeous, but it's the stand-off kind of lovely ant that can have an effect on other aspects. The characters lack the warmth and charisma I would have liked to see, even if they were rendered with exquisite detail and attention. Despite and because the good and meh that make up the novel, When All is Solid Melts Into Air hits a stride, it can be really good. But at times, it can be slow and difficult to keep reading. There's a reason this book took me 4 days to read when I could have had it done in under 6 hours.

I give the author massive points for his talents and for using such an ignored event to effectively begin his sotry. While the entire novel wasn't as effective or polished as I would have liked, I finished All That is Solid Melts into Air with a more than healthy respect for Darragh McKeon and a mind to keep an eoye out for future literary novels from him.

 Tour Stops

Tuesday, April 29th: Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, April 30th: Ace and Hoser Blook
Thursday, May 1st: River City Reading
Tuesday, May 6th: Doing Dewey
Wednesday, May 7th: Book Loving Hippo
Wednesday, May 14th: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, May 14th: The Written World
Thursday, May 15th: Great Imaginations
Monday, May 19th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, May 20th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, June 5th: Drey’s Library
Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Tour Review: Crescent City by Kristen Painter

Book Tour Review: I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith

Title: I Am Livia
Author: Phyllis T. Smith
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 375 (ARC edition)
Published: May 1 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

Her life would be marked by scandal and suspicion, worship and adoration…
At the tender age of fourteen, Livia Drusilla overhears her father and fellow aristocrats plotting the assassination of Julius Caesar. Proving herself an astute confidante, she becomes her father’s chief political asset—and reluctantly enters into an advantageous marriage to a prominent military officer. Her mother tells her, “It is possible for a woman to influence public affairs,” reminding Livia that—while she possesses a keen sense for the machinations of the Roman senate—she must also remain patient and practical.

But patience and practicality disappear from Livia’s mind when she meets Caesar’s heir, Octavianus. At only eighteen, he displays both power and modesty. A young wife by that point, Livia finds herself drawn to the golden-haired boy. In time, his fortunes will rise as Livia’s family faces terrible danger. But her sharp intellect—and her heart—will lead Livia to make an unbelievable choice: one that will give her greater sway over Rome than she could have ever foreseen.

Though not without a few stumbles over its near four hundred page length, Phyllis T. Smith provides a lively, believable rendition of the life of one of Rome's most famous women with I Am Livia. The woman born Livia Drusilla, though later known by the name Julia Augusta, remains an intriguing woman thousands of years after her life and death. Both before and after marrying Gaius Julius Caesar, Livia was a formidable woman with both a keen mind and the ambition to go with it. Though a debut, the time and care spent crafting and recreating the life of Octavius's equal is readily apparent and reflected in the narrative. Phyllis T. Smith had both passion for and knowledge about these characters and this story and it shows.

A thoroughly unconventional woman for her time, Livia's life is often a story of unlikelihoods. From the daughter of one of the conspirators of Julius Caesar's assassination to the wife of Caesar's heir, Livia never did what was expected. Though she had an able mind, and eventually became one of Augustus's most valued advisers in his governing, Livia was supposed to be hampered by her sex. She refuses to be any kind of weak throughout the entirety of I Am Livia. She isn't always a scrupulous or honest person, but she is merciful and kind when needed. I loved that Livia wasn't a passive bystander in her own life. By all means, the real Livia wasn't, so Smith's determined version of the daughter of the Julii is credible and likeable.

The book chronicles a wide swath of Livia's life, encompassing from Caesar's death on the Idea of March to her first marriage to Tiberius Nero to Octavius being anointed First Citizen of Rome. Though that is a lot of time to cover, with several important world events during that span, Smith has an even hand on pacing. The book moves slowly, but naturally. It can be frustrating that all the action and battles are removed from Livia's POV, especially when they are so pivotal to the story, but the "letters to home" frame with Tavius worked well enough to keep the tension in the story.

I left this novel sorry to go, even after four hundred pages of politics and plotting. For all her faults and flaws, Livia was a remarkable woman. One who aimed to do more good than harm, but would passionately fight to defend her family. She was a complicated woman that many failed to understand in her own day and to see her story told with such care and impartiality is refreshing. Octavius may be the undoubtedly more remembered figure, but Livia Drusilla was just as pivotal in caring for Rome as her husband was.

Book Tour Review: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

Monday, May 12, 2014
Title: Cutting Teeth
Author: Julia Fierro
Genre: general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Published: expected May 13 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5

One of the most anticipated debut novels of 2014, Cutting Teeth takes place one late-summer weekend as a group of thirty-something couples gather at a shabby beach house on Long Island, their young children in tow.

They include Nicole, the neurotic hostess terrified by internet rumors that something big and bad is going to happen in New York City that week; stay-at-home dad Rip, grappling with the reality that his careerist wife will likely deny him a second child, forcing him to disrupt the life he loves; Allie, one half of a two-mom family, and an ambitious artist, facing her ambivalence toward family life; Tiffany, comfortable with her amazing body but not so comfortable in the upper-middle class world the other characters were born into; and Leigh, a blue blood secretly facing financial ruin and dependent on Tenzin, the magical Tibetan nanny everyone else covets. These tensions build, burn, and collide over the course of the weekend, culminating in a scene in which the ultimate rule of the group is broken.

Cutting Teeth captures the complex dilemmas of early mid-life—the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It confronts class tension, status hunger, and the unease of being in possession of life's greatest bounty while still wondering, is this as good as it gets? And, perhaps most of all, Julia Fierro’s thought-provoking debut explores the all-consuming love we feel for those we need most, and the sacrifice and self-compromise that underpins that love.

All this is packed into a page-turning, character-driven novel that crackles with life and unexpected twists and turns that will keep readers glued as they cringe and laugh with compassion, incredulousness, and, most of all, self-recognition. Cutting Teeth is a warm, whip-smart and unpretentious literary novel.

A close examination of a small group of interconnected people, Fierro's intense debut isn't afraid to create unlikeable characters or uncomfortable situations for those same characters.  It's a book primarily concerned with the associations between these complicated people; how they hide from one another, use one another, need one another, and sometimes love one another. It's not a cheery read, but it is honest and realistic. Set over the course of one seemingly-normal weekend playdate, the author uses a rotating POV to illustrate that, despite their differences, how alike these people are.

Julia Fierro's unflinching look at mid-life relationships may not have been written with me as the target demographic (as an unmarried twenty-something), but this quietly intense story is hard to put down. It's in the trainwreck kind of literature -- like with Revolutionary Road, this is a group of characters you're relieved to view at a distance. It's an interesting read, but these people are draining. They're all loud, demanding, selfish. They're full of whims and cruelty, personal history and hidden agendas. Fierro makes their interpersonal conflicts full varied tensions and reasons, and watching Tiffany argue with Susannah is pointedly a wholly different kind of conflict than when Michael and Rip disagree. It's a complete picture of a group of very flawed, very real people. It may not be comfortable, but it's authentic.

I did feel that the novel would...wander on occasion. There's a certain lack of plot for pretty much the entire novel that hampered my overall enjoyment of the story being told. While their conflicts and interactions are interesting and diverse, Cutting Teeth felt mostly like a series of cycling arguments and reactions between the adult characters. The only external tension is supplied via a frankly laughable internet-conspiracy-theory plotline that drives only one character. The book has its moments of humor, wit, and wisdom, but it can also feel adrift in its own narrative(s). I also wasn't fond of the nanny plotline -- the fighting over who got to "keep" or "have" her was just unnecessary.

That said, if you love a character-driven examination of how people relate to one another, you need look no further. If something like Games to Play After Dark or Revolutionary Road are your kind of fiction, Cutting Teeth is a perfect fit in that thought-provoking vein of storytelling.

Review: Broken Hearts, Fences & Other Things To Mend by Katie Finn

Sunday, May 11, 2014
Title: Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend
Author: Katie Finn
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: Broken Hearts & Revenge #1
Pages: 352
Published: expected May 13 2014
Source: I received an ARC from MacMillan for review
Rating: 4/5

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

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

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

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

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


An unexpected but thoroughly entertaining amount of fun, Katie Finn's first Broken Hearts & Fences novel does not disappoint. If the plot of twisty, angry revenge played out by passive-aggressive teenagers in the Hamptons doesn't sound like a good time to you, you need to sort out your priorities, mate. Though the main plot is wrapped up in the Hallie and Gemma/Sophie drama from before and in the current time, the romantic sideplot is also well-rendered and contains an excellent male love interest. For several reasons, I found myself drawn into Finn's story and ended it eagerly awaiting the sequel.

While reading this, I was struck by how much it felt almost like a murderless Dangerous Girls. The hidden machinations behind the smiles of these two "friends" are in earnest. A lot of teens like to say they "hate" this or that, but Gemma and Hallie know what it is like to really hate another. They know, in detail, what it is like to have a genuine enemy -- a Moriarty to a Sherlock, a Five-Fingered Man to an Inigo Montoya* situation. While neither truly is worse than the other, I admit I was seriously concerned when Gemma plotted having Hallie eat peanuts when she was allergic. That right there, my friend, is pure insanity and so very dangerous. Even if Gemma's other, final plan had much worse repercussions, the fact that was by accident and the anaphylaxis was planned and executed is just.. chilling.

Over the course of the novel both girls go to different depths to achieve their respective goals and it is not a pretty picture that emerges at the end of 350 pages. These are not perfect, nice little Upper East Side princesses, but careful and smart young women who know entirely too much about one another. It seems to be becoming a bit of a cliche, but books set in the Hamptons are notorious for the backbiting and frenemies, the fake people and the partying, all of which Broken Hearts, Fences, & Other Things to Mend have in spades.

Finn is a smart writer. Her writing itself is strong and genuine, but the smartest thing she does is pepper the narrative with small hints and allusions to other, more mysterious parts of the novel. While I had a theory early on about Hallie's relationship with Sophie/Gemma, it's not an obvious twist. The clues are subtle and hidden in the story really well -- if I hadn't had a hunch, I would have missed it entirely until the big finale. I have another theory floating about Karen, the mysterious missing mom of Hallie -- but that will have to wait until the next book.

The first in a series, Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend was exactly what its being advertised as -- a great summer read for the YA-loving crowd. It's light and fluffy (especially the slow burn romance between Gemma and Josh), but there are darker themes and often unpleasant characters. Finn makes the whole endeavor into subversive schadenfreude quite fun, and it's a great launching point for whatever follows in Revenge, Ice Cream, and Other Things Best Served Cold.

*credit to Gillian of Writer of Wrongs

Review Take Two: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Saturday, May 10, 2014
Title: Second Star
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Genre: young adult, retelling
Series: N/A
Pages: 248
Published: expected May 13 2013
Source: MacMillan for review
Rating: 2/5

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

If I gave points just for for trying, Second Star would rate up there with my favorites of the year so far. It's undoubtedly an impressive feat that Sheinmel attempts here -- update and adapt the Peter Pan fairy tale (now with drugs!) for a modern, young adult audience. Based on that description alone, how I wanted to love this book. How hard I tried for about 100 pages. Beyond the breaking point of my patience, I felt no emotional involvement beyond noticing how pretty was the writing and how little that ended up factoring into my overall impression with the story. And since I don't give points for just an awesome premise, and while I didn't hatehate the novel, I will probably, ultimately... forget it.

I can't deny that at some points, I mentally rated this book as high as a 3, and as low as a .5 at others. When Second Star is frustrating, it's really frustrating. An exercise in frustration, even. But when Sheinmel's prose is perfect, when her characters aren't continually acting in unbelievable ways, it can be a mindlessly enjoyable read. It's also obvious that Sheinmel has an able grip on conveying certain moods and tones in addition to her writing. It's easy to appreciate (and juxtapose) the author's facility with language while decrying her mishandling the interpretation of the plot. For every lovely phrase, there have to be at least two ridiculous character actions or statements. The ethereal mood of the story can only take it so far -- once the technical and prose aspects are down, the novel lacks sense or appeal.

The characters are where Second Star reaaallly fell apart for me as a reader. They are, as individuals and as a group, ridiculous and incapable of engendering empathy or sympathy. They act in unbelievable ways, say laughable things, do the opposite of what would be authentic for their situations. When the main character of Wendy puts her newly-met love interest(s) above her MISSING AND PRESUMED DEAD brothers... it's hard to care about anyone involved. If I am siding with the parents in a young adult novel, you're doing it all wrong. I know a lot of readers will have more issues with the prominent drug use and Jas's role, but the message that your new boyfriend should trump your personal quest was what primarily made me less than enthused. Way less than enthused.

It's a shame that the execution could not live up to the premise for Second Star. The bones of the story have promise and Sheinmel can certainly write. This is just not the novel it could have been, hampered by silly characters and lazy plot devices. Instalove is no substitute for substance and Wendy needed more agency and passion for herself. 

It was a misfire for me and my coblogger. See her excellent review here.

Review Take Two: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Friday, May 9, 2014
Title: The Truth About Alice
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 208
Published: expected June 3 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

Reviewed by Danielle

The Rashomon effect is a term that has been used by scholars, journalists and film critics to refer to contradictory interpretations of the same events by different persons, a problem that arises in the process of uncovering truth. The phrase derives from the movie Rashomon, where four witnesses' accounts of a rape and murder are all different. - Wikipedia

Because of the nature of The Truth About Alice, it’s hard to review with any specificity. I want you to learn the truth for yourself. It’s realistic fiction, yes, but there’s an element of mystery that unravels over the duration. Especially in the beginning, the book makes good use of the Rashomon effect as four students at Healy High tell us extremely unreliable and biased accounts of the party where Alice Franklin slept with two guys.

I will say, I described the book as “Rashomon with rape, drunk driving, and betrayal” at the halfway point, but like the characters, I too was jumping to conclusions. There’s some dubious consent, especially in a flashback involving statutory, that does not sit right at. all. (I got Dazed and Confused vibes from Tommy. You know, “I keep getting older, but they say the saaaame age.”) but it’s not what I feared. The book is much more about the power of rumors and lies than it is about coercion.

One of the things that stands out to me is how badly all the adults fail not only Alice, but all of the children. Why didn’t Brandon’s mother know he was drinking and driving? Why did Josh’s mom spread baseless rumors about a sixteen year old she barely knew? Why didn’t the teachers clean off the “Slut Stall”? Unlike a lot of YA stories where I’m left wondering, “where are the parents?”, because of poor plotting, here I know precisely where they are: engaging in the same toxic, abusive behavior as their children. We have to learn it somewhere, after all.

With a strong, emotionally devastating opening, the end is a bit saccharine for my tastes. I’m happy the character got to a better place, but it almost felt validating of the original lie. “It’ll all blow over in a week or two.” While it took closer to a year...yeah, it kind of did. Friendships were ruined, and at least two characters will probably carry guilt for a long time, but a really tragic end might have driven the point home harder. (Of course, then I might be complaining that we crossed into after school special territory. I only review for a reason.)

I like the writing a lot. One of the stand out scenes is a flashback between Brandon and Kurt which gave a lot of nuance to a standard jock character, without resorting to “oh poor me, everyone loves me and it’s hard,” cliches. There’s also a good deconstruction of the “dream girl” trope as Kurt gets to know Alice and realizes there’s a difference between “Fantasy Alice” and “Real Alice”, (and finds he prefers the one with a crooked tooth and messy pizza eating.)

The four voices are distinct and felt like real teenagers. I never needed to refer back to whose chapter I was reading, even when I put the book down for a stretch. I like that while everyone got some background on what made them into the kind of people who would lie, slander, and abuse, their behavior is never excused. Elaine could have blamed her bitchy personality on her diet-obsessed mother, but instead her last chapter showed growth and understanding that some things are unforgivable. Josh could have been played off as closeted and jealous, but the subtlety of his feelings kept me thinking and made for a richer reading experience.

In all, The Truth About Alice is a powerful, moving debut that I’m very happy to have read. While I feel the first half is stronger than the last, well written, fleshed-out characters and a fascinating study on mob mentality make this impossible not to recommend.

Book Tour Review: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Title: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
Author: Francine Prose
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Published: April 22 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, set in Paris from the late 1920s into the dark years of World War II, that explores the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself

Emerging from the austerity and deprivation of the Great War, Paris in the 1920s shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club's loyal patrons, including rising Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol; and caustic American writer Lionel Maine.

As the years pass, their fortunes-and the world itself-evolve. Lou falls desperately in love and finds success as a racecar driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant 20s give way to the Depression of the 30s, Lou experiences another metamorphosis-sparked by tumultuous events-that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more sinister: collaboration with the Nazis.

Using the real life of Violette Morris as an inspiration, Francine Prose's latest novel is the story of an unlikely and awkward French athlete turned Nazi collaborator named Lou Villars. Though she is the center of the novel and referenced in the title, the novel is told through several different voices, none of them belonging to Villars herself. Based in fact and expanded through fiction, this is a highly unusual story; one that provides a new lens on pre-war Paris. 

Through the framing devices (be they letters, memoirs, research papers, etc.) the various narrators of the story each explore various aspects of Paris in the 1930s and different sides of the story's main character and eventual antagonist, Lou. The athlete-turned-racecar-driver-turned-interrogator never expresses herself on the page but remains an unknowable and mysterious character right up to the end --- much like the real-life Violette. You don't really get to know Lou per se (despite detail and description), but Prose does a more than admirable job of evenly exploring her life and providing possible reasons for why Lou's personal evolution followed the path it did.

Paris is always a popular and romantic destination for war stories and love stories, but by choosing pre-World War II Paris, and using a lesbian character, Prose story further stands out. Not only does the gaiety and happiness expressed feel bittersweet, tempered by the knowledge of what is to come for the Gallic people in years to come, but Prose's eponymous Chameleon Club, home of misfits and wayward outcasts, feels doomed from the first appearance. From the moment the picture that gives the book its title is taken (based on Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle), everything begins to spiral out o control.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 is an unusual story, told with care. Prose 's subject wasn't the most sympathetic of women, but her story was presented fairly and with obvious research and care.

TTT: Top Ten Book Covers I'd Frame as Art

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

List by Danielle

Book covers! I love covers. Cloth bound, leather bound, hardback, cute little paperbacks. Minimalist, typographic, illustrated MG. I keep my main bookcase organized by color, with stacks of beautiful spines laying on each end table. So with that in mind, this is the perfect TTT for me. Here are some of my favorite covers that I'd like to hang in my future library.

If you'd like to learn more, or add these to your own library, click the pictures to go to the Goodreads pages. (Please note, that these are only judged on prettiness. I've only read four, and I only like two of those, but LOOK AT THE SHINIES.) 


And, a one bonus!

Unfortunately, this cover is no longer on Goodreads and I'm not sure what happening with the book's release, which is a crying shame because I was obsessed with the cover when it was revealed. I love the old school sci-fi vibe and the muted tones and the girl's outfit. Even if the book never comes out, could someone send me a full size poster for my reading nook?

So tell us in the comments, folks, what's your favorite book cover?

May's TBR

Thursday, May 1, 2014
May! It's May! I have some really cool posts going up in May, guys. They're mostly just reviews but the BOOKS, holy shit are there some excellent books I need to yell my feelings about. 

Heiress. Debutant. Murderer. A new generation of heroines has arrived.
Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?

The Falconer by Elizabeth May
I'm putting this as my #1 TBR because as soon as I finished it? I wanted to read it again. My review for it is scheduled to go up tomorrow and this is a book you do not want to miss. Aileana is a great character and the writing is strong, the worldbuilding interesting and solid. Plus the rooooomance!!

All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon,
A blog tour read about Chernobyl! I can't say I've read anything else that takes on that particular incident in history. It seems a little adult lit try hard from what I have seen bit it might surprise me. The review should be up on the 20th!

I am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith
Historical fiction set during the reign of Augustus but about his wife and not him??? A woman who is historically vilified but still remains famous and known?  I hope Smith gives Livia the Stephanie Thornton treatment and characterizes her in a more believable way.

I also get to be part of a book blast for Curses and Smoke -- a YA historical about Pompeii!

Review: The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead

Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: supernatural, dystopian
Series: Age of X #2
Pages: 432
Published: Expected May 29, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Vampire Academy and Bloodline series returns with the second installment in her acclaimed Age of X series.

Gameboard of the Gods introduced religious investigator Justin March and Mae Koskinen, the beautiful supersoldier assigned to protect him. Together they have been charged with investigating reports of the supernatural and the return of the gods, both inside the Republic of United North America and out. With this highly classified knowledge comes a shocking revelation: Not only are the gods vying for human control, but the elect—special humans marked by the divine—are turning against one another in bloody fashion.

Their mission takes a new twist when they are assigned to a diplomatic delegation headed by Lucian Darling, Justin’s old friend and rival, going into Arcadia, the RUNA’s dangerous neighboring country. Here, in a society where women are commodities and religion is intertwined with government, Justin discovers powerful forces at work, even as he struggles to come to terms with his own reluctantly acquired deity.

Meanwhile, Mae—grudgingly posing as Justin’s concubine—has a secret mission of her own: finding the illegitimate niece her family smuggled away years ago. But with Justin and Mae resisting the resurgence of the gods in Arcadia, a reporter’s connection with someone close to Justin back home threatens to expose their mission—and with it the divine forces the government is determined to keep secret.

Reviewed by Danielle

The Immortal Crown is everything I wanted from Gameboard of the Gods, and more. More supernatural powers, tighter mystery, more romantic tension, a reason for the third POV to exist. It’s one of the rare sequels that truly enhances and exceeds its predecessor.

This time around, Justin and his supersoldier bodyguard, Mae, are warned that they’re about to become embroiled in a “war of the elect”. While neither is sure what that means, it’s pretty obviously something not. good. So when Lucian Darling has the brilliant idea of taking them to Arcadia, a fundamentalist theocracy, as part of a goodwill delegation, Justin’s adamantly not interested. Unfortunately, Mae, and their respective deities, have other plans for our heroes.

Arcadia is terrifying. Nehitimar, (interestingly, the only god so far not from traditional mythology,) takes the worst of all the Abrahamic religions’ ideals and wraps them in even more misogyny and violence. Add in a crazy and dangerous Pope Grand Disciple with a highly magnetic religious artifact and you have a powder keg. Reading the physical and sexual abuse women suffer in this land is hard, and you should know you’re signing up for a sub-plot about sex trafficking. Yet, I appreciated that there is some shades of grey in the two countries. Arcadia may be backwards and violent, but RUNA’s hardly innocent, as we’re reminded that the initial secession was due to their forced breeding programs after Mephistopheles.

Meanwhile, Tessa’s plot is separate from Justin and Mae’s, but far more successful than in book one. She’s still obsessed with Gemman media and takes an internship with a reporter to learn more about the subject. This internship leads her to a conspiracy that might implicate important RUNA politicians in secretly engaging in religious worship. While investigating this lead, we finally get to see Tessa as Justin’s protege, and see more of Gemman daily life without the “wide eyed foreigner” thing that bothered me in the first book. Though the plots converge at the end, it makes a lot more sense for her to be doing something completely different and I felt like we actually got to know the character.

There’s a lot more magic this time around, which was mostly good. I’m going to need some parameters in the next book, because, especially at the end, people pull out some full on swords and sorcery shit, in what had previously been sci-fi with magic aspects. It works while the characters don’t understand the magic system either, but pretty soon we’re both going to need to learn its limits. Some of the “just have faith” messages got a little hokey, but for the most part I liked the way the gods interacted with their subjects. And that brings us to the climax. Fairly major plot spoilers below.

Credit to expostninja on Tumblr

If you can’t think of a better way to make your female lead vulnerable than rape, you need to stop and do re-writes. If you can’t think of a better way to drive the romantic leads apart than rape, you need to just stop.

Especially considering Mae was raped prior to book one already, had a very emotional scene, (complete with flashbacks,) dealing with the possibility of being raped again when she first met the Grand Disciple, there is no excusable reason to have her raped a second time to end this book. It’s never a good plot point. I understand the plot called for her to have a crisis of faith that would allow a chaotic entity to step in, and I’m interested in seeing where that goes, but there has to be another way to do it. And frankly, the reveal of who it was felt convenient and muddied both the plot and the magic system.

I really love this book and I’m disappointed that it and my review end on such a sour note. I hope the next book can recapture the excitement and intrigue of the first 400 pages, but I don’t think we’re in the right place going forward.
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