Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey

Release date: November 3rd 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
A suicide pact was supposed to keep them together, but a broken promise tore them apart.

Allie is devastated when her older sister commits suicide - and not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they'd always be together, in life, and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why. 

Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief. 

But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie's not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister's death or facing her new reality without her.

*Publisher approved request via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I like emotional stories that surround topics authors tend to shy away from, so I was really curious about The Sister Pact after reading the blurb. Initially, I had a tough time getting into the story, but once things started to move along it became more intriguing and more intense.

The book opens up with the aftermath of one sister's suicide. Allie is trying to cope with the fact that Leah has taken her life without telling her beforehand that she was going to do it. Her parents decide to have her see a psychiatrist because they're worried Allie will do the same. At first it seemed like Allie was okay, that she wasn't struggling with depression or even had the intention of committing suicide, but once we start to get inside her head and see how her life was, I realized she had a lot of issues like her older sister, and mostly it had to do with her relationship with Leah and the effects of her parents' failed marriage.

Like the reader, Allie had a lot of questions. She desperately needed to know why Leah took her life and why she broke their pact. Because of this, she even started seeing her older sister and we're given the chance to experience the kind of influence Leah had over Allie. It certainly wasn't healthy. I mean, some of the things Leah said and did had me wondering how Allie could idolize her so much. Leah even led Allie to believe that by doing something in particular, she would make her boyfriend pay more attention to her. That and the fact that she convinced Allie to start a suicide pact was enough to convince me something wasn't right with Leah. She seemed like a manipulator, along with having mental issues. And the only person oblivious to that was Allie, because she was too set on believing her older sister was perfect.

Throughout the story, Allie made some decisions that baffled me and the way she idolized Leah had me shaking my head. Allie clung to her older sister so much that it drove her further down a painful path, and it truly saddened me when her life continued to fall apart. I commend the author on delivering such realistic emotions and issues that others can relate to. Allie isn't a sweet and clean YA character, she dealt with a lot and aside from her dark art, used other methods to try and control her pain. Her character was raw and imperfect, the kind I like. 

There were other aspects of the story that were interesting, like their parents' personalities and how the mom was with the father. I felt that if she depicted more strength and had shown her daughters not to stand for certain things, then maybe that would have helped in some ways, especially with Allie. She didn't consider her mom to be a strong person because of how her mom allowed the father to have control over her even when they'd split. Maybe Allie could have been stronger in facing her problems, had that been demonstrated by a mom she could respect in that way. I liked how they were able to resolve some tension in their mother-daughter relationship toward the end, though, and I was happy when the mom finally made a stand for herself.

Nick was a sweet addition and I liked how he treated Allie throughout the story. She was going through a lot so the way she was with him was understandable, and the fact that she was strung up on another guy who wasn't deserving of her feelings made things even more complicated for her and Nick. Thankfully, by the end of the book Allie started to come into her own, learned to handle her pain in a healthier way, and was finally starting to let Leah go. 

Overall, a great story with an emotional subject. The writing was wonderful, very fluid. The storyline definitely made an impact on me and had me taking a deeper look at mental illness and how it's often overlooked. I implore you, please reach out to someone for help if you're going through what Allie and her sister were facing in this book. You are not alone. Suicide is never the answer.

About the Author
Stacie Ramey learned to read at a very early age to escape the endless tormenting from her older siblings. Where the Wild Things Are was her first favorite book and she swore she’d only marry a man who could prove he had rumpus in his heart!
She attended the University of Florida, where she majored in communication sciences, and Penn State where she received a Master of Science degree in Speech Pathology. She also met her future husband at Penn State, who surprised her one day with all of the stuffed Wild Things’ characters, proving his worth. Stacie currently works with high school aged Autistic kids, introducing them to the literary worlds she grew up loving. When she’s not working or writing, she engages in Netflix wars with her children or beats her husband in Scrabble, all while watching the Florida Gators and Penn State Nittany Lions play (Go Gators). She lives in Florida with her husband, children, and rescue dogs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

CAN'T WAIT TO READ: Seven Black Diamonds by Melissa Marr

Release date: March 1st 2016
Publisher: Harper Collins
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
This riveting fantasy marks Melissa Marr’s return to the world of faery courts that made her Wicked Lovely series an international phenomenon.

Lilywhite Abernathy is a criminal—she’s half human, half fae, and since the time before she was born, a war has been raging between humans and faeries. The Queen of Blood and Rage, ruler of the fae courts, wants to avenge the tragic death of her heir due to the actions of reckless humans.

Lily’s father has always shielded her, but when she’s sent to the prestigious St. Columba’s school, she’s delivered straight into the arms of a fae sleeper cell—the Black Diamonds. The Diamonds are planted in the human world as the sons and daughters of the most influential families and tasked with destroying it from within. Against her will, Lilywhite’s been chosen to join them...and even the romantic attention of the fae rock singer Creed Morrison isn’t enough to keep Lily from wanting to run back to the familiar world she knows.

Melissa Marr returns to faery in a dramatic story of the precarious space between two worlds and the people who must thrive there. The combination of ethereal fae powers, tumultuous romance, and a bloodthirsty faery queen will have longtime fans and new readers at the edge of their seats.

About the Author
Melissa writes fiction for adults, teens, and children. Her books have been translated into 28 languages to date and been bestsellers in the US (NY Times, LA Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal) as well as various countries overseas. She is best known for the Wicked Lovely series for teens and Graveminder for adults. 
Melissa resides in Virginia with family and too many dogs.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: All the Major Constellations by Pratima Cranse

Release date: November 10th 2015
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:

Laura Lettel is the most beautiful girl in the world. . . and Andrew’s not-so-secret infatuation.

Now he’s leaving high school behind and looking ahead to a fresh start at college and distance from his obsessive crush. But when a terrible accident leaves him without the companionship of his two best friends, Andrew is cast adrift and alone—until Laura unexpectedly offers him comfort, friendship, and the support of a youth group of true believers, fundamentalist Christians with problems and secrets of their own. Andrew is curiously drawn to their consuming beliefs, but why? Is it only to get closer to Laura? And is Laura genuinely interested in Andrew, or is she just trying to convert him?

This provocative and compelling debut novel will resonate deeply with readers as it explores questions of identity, sexuality, and spirituality.

*Received a finished copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The story started out intriguing. I was curious about this Laura and why Andrew was so fascinated with her. I wanted to understand her religion as well and see what her faith was really like, especially since the blurb indicated they had issues of their own. 

First of all, there was a lot going on in this story. From Andrew's tumultuous family, to him figuring out what to do with his feelings for Laura and what to do with his life. But most of all, that terrible event that led to one of his best friends, Sara, being in a coma. It was quite sad what happened her, and I wish the author had allowed us more time in getting to know her. As for Marcia, she seemed so much more mature than Andrew, and I commend her for stepping up the way she did to lend a hand to Sara's mom. That's some friendship. 

Now in the case of Andrew, I didn't connect with his character and was often displeased with the way he was. I could understand his situation, in that he was mistreated at home and one of the two people in his life who had always been there for him was on the verge of leaving him forever. But often time it was as if he didn't consider what his friends were going through, he mostly just thought about his own issues and his crush on Laura. And things started to complicate for him even more after receiving an invite, so to speak, from Laura and he got involved in her group for the wrong reasons. I liked that he sort of developed a slightly different perspective about faith, and also about each person in Laura's circle, but he still came off a tad immature toward the end of the story and I wasn't a fan of his actions with Karen and John. There were certain things that weren't necessary and I felt confused about them, but no more confused than Andrew, it seemed, and John. Poor John. I wish we'd gotten more in regards to what he was going through and how his situation turned out in the end. 

In spite of a few issues here and there, including me not connecting so much with the characters, it still was an interesting story. I did like the writing style and the book was a quick read. Just that it didn't deliver a certain depth that I wanted, and it certainly had the potential to do that. Still, not a bad story. 

PictureAbout the Author
Pratima Cranse was born and raised in Vermont. She now lives in New Hampshire with her husband, daughter, and their two magnificent cats. When she’s not writing, Pratima enjoys jogging very slowly (some might call it shuffling) and spending time with her family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CAN'T WAIT TO READ: Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore

Release date: January 5th 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Cecelia Price killed her brother. At least, that’s what the police and the district attorney are saying. And although Cecelia is now locked up and forced into treatment, she knows the real story is much more complicated.

Cyrus wasn’t always the drug-addled monster he’d become. He was a successful athlete, but when an injury forced him off the soccer field and onto pain medication, his life became a blur of anger, addiction, and violence. All CeCe could do was stand by and watch, until she realized one effective way to take away her brother’s drugs while earning the money she needed for college: selling the pills.

Soon, CeCe becomes part drug dealer, part honor student. But even when all she wants is to make things right, she learns that sometimes the best intentions lead to the worst possible outcome.

Thicker than Water is an unforgettable dark, harrowing look into the disturbing truth of drug addiction and the desperate love of a sister watching her brother deteriorate before her eyes.

DSC_0097BAbout the Author
Kelly Fiore has a BA in English from Salisbury University and an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia University. She received an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in 2005 and 2009. Kelly’s poetry has appeared in Small Spiral Notebook, Samzidada, Mid Atlantic Review, Connotation Press, and the Grolier Annual Review. Her first young adult novel, Taste Test, was released in August 2013 from Bloomsbury USA, and her second, Just Like the Movies, again from Bloomsbury, was released in 2014.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

Release date: November 3rd 2015
Publisher: Atria
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Vada Bergen is broke, the black sheep of her family, and moving a thousand miles away from home for grad school, but she’s got the two things she loves most: her art and her best friend—and sometimes more—Ellis Carraway. Ellis and Vada have a friendship so consuming it’s hard to tell where one girl ends and the other begins. It’s intense. It’s a little codependent. And nothing can tear them apart.

Until an accident on an icy winter road changes everything.

Vada is left deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically. Her once-promising art career is cut short. And Ellis pulls away, unwilling to talk about that night. Everything Vada loved is gone.

She’s got nothing left to lose.

So when she meets some smooth-talking entrepreneurs who offer to set her up as a cam girl, she can’t say no. All Vada has to do is spend a couple hours each night stripping on webcam, and the “tips” come pouring in.

It’s just a kinky escape from reality until a client gets serious. “Blue” is mysterious, alluring, and more interested in Vada’s life than her body. Online, they chat intimately. Blue helps her heal. And he pays well, but he wants her all to himself. No more cam shows. It’s an easy decision: she’s starting to fall for him. But the steamier it gets, the more she craves the real man behind the keyboard. So Vada pops the question:

Can we meet IRL?

Blue agrees, on one condition. A condition that brings back a ghost from her past. Now Vada must confront the devastating secrets she's been running from—those of others, and those she's been keeping from herself...

*Publisher approved request via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cam Girl was a very interesting story. It took me some time to get into it but once I did I ended up liking it for the most part. I found it intriguing in the sense that there were various aspects to the story aside from the characters figuring out their lives. There was a mystery as to what really happened on the night of the accident, and later on there was this whole thing with "Blue" and his identity. And even though it was kind of weird and not many people would do that, but I liked how Vada and a particular character developed this bond over the accident. In a way, they held on to their individual suffering through the other and I was happy that in the end, it resolved and they started on the journey of moving on.

In regards to the characters though, I didn't connect with either Vada or Ellis. I didn't like the way Ellis was, I thought she could be stronger when it came to Vada and often times she just seemed too clingy. I wanted her to realize that she deserved so much more and would start to live for herself. I couldn't get over what she did to gain Vada's attention, even though it wasn't necessary, it was dishonest and she should have fought harder and been truthful about herself. As for Vada, she was a very complicated character. I understood her individual struggles, and the pain of not being able to do something she was so passionate about, but there were times I just couldn't take her complacent and self-pitying ways. And some of her decisions were just mind-baffling.  

But like I said, it was an interesting story and I enjoyed it. There were sexual moments that made me cringe a tad, mostly because it seemed to happen too much, but it was tolerable for a new adult novel. I also liked the whole concept of "Blue", and the conversations he and Vada would have. I had two people in mind that could possibly be Blue, and even leaned mostly toward one in particular when Vada met him. But when his true identity was unraveled, I realized how many times I had missed the clues and in a way, I wanted it to be someone else aside from who it really was. Regardless, it was a good idea to make Blue be that person in particular. It made sense because of what this person was struggling with.

As always, the writing was superb. The kind of creative writing that puts your mind to work. Leah is just awesome and I commend her for writing these kind of stories that are somewhat few in the world of books and are very much needed for people like Vada and Ellis. Their characters are relatable in that sense. Cam Girl is a great story. Give it a read.

Leah Raeder
About the Author
LEAH RAEDER is a writer and unabashed nerd. Aside from reading her brains out, she enjoys graphic design, video games, fine whiskey, and the art of self-deprecation. She lives with her very own manic pixie dream boy in Chicago.
(And she still writes pretentiously lyrical fiction.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Behind the Pages #21: Ginger Scott on Writing and the Harper Boys

It's such a pleasure to have recent Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Ginger Scott as the latest Behind the Pages featured author. Check out my interview and enter the international giveaway below to win the first two books in her Harper Boys series:

Where are you from and when did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was born and raised in Arizona, and graduated from Arizona State University. I love this state - it's hard to argue with our weather. Yeah, it's hot as hell in the summer, but it's dry and I can swim in the winter if I want to :-) 
I've wanted to write since I was a young girl who read nothing but Judy Blume YA novels. I read the book 'Forever' and knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to write novels like that, about real girls and real teens facing heartbreak, tragedies and the awkward years ahead while navigating delicate relationships, love, family and friendships. I took a detour, because becoming a fiction writer felt impossible. I went to ASU for my degree in journalism, and I learned to tell stories about real people and to gather facts and take note of the nuances and characteristics that made someone different or special. I'm so glad that's the path I took, because I think I'm a better writer because of it. I approach my fiction with the same methods - painting the details of my characters as best as I can.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

Besides Judy Blume, I grew up loving books like The Great Gatsby and The Outsiders. I also love Crime and Punishment, so much so that I worked a discussion of that book into one of my own. I also admire Curtis Sittenfeld, Katja Millay and Colleen Hoover. My favorite book, however, is Friday Night Lights. Yes, like the television show. But the book, which was written years before, is actually an amazing piece of sports journalism written by Buzz Bissinger. He spent a season in Odessa following the town and team - and the way he captures the hopes, dreams, failures, racial tensions, class divides and politics of Texas and football is spectacular. If you loved the show, you really should read the book.

I discovered that you've been writing for newspapers, magazines and websites for more than 15 years. How difficult is it to transition from journalism to writing novels? And how has the experience impacted your stories and characters?

For me, it wasn't difficult. But I think that's because my heart always really wanted to write fiction. I think journalism is an amazing training ground for writers. It taught me how to research, how to ask the right questions to fill in the color for a story. It also taught me how to find those small details that bring a person to life and make them relatable. I approach my character development that way. And whenever I come across a
subject that isn't necessarily my wheelhouse, I go right into interview and research mode.

Congratulations on your Goodreads Best YA Fiction nominee. Tell us about your latest series, Harper Boys. What inspired the books?

Thank you so very much! I am beyond thrilled to see Wild Reckless (the first Harper Boy book) be recognized this way. That book is my personal favorite - I felt it when I wrote it, and I still do every time I pick it up. 
To keep it short, the Harper Boys books (Wild Reckless and Wicked Restless) are about two brothers who grow up in a household that has been affected by the stigma that comes along with mental illness and a family member's suicide. The first book begins with a young Owen Harper witnessing his father struggle and ultimately suicide. And both stories
follow these two boys through how they navigate their young lives - what kind of people they are, who they become and the struggles and tragedies that hit them along the way. The stories also really focus on how important finding a person you can believe in, share your pain with and trust is. Their love stories aren't easy, but they are powerful. Both Owen, and his brother Andrew in the second book, find that other half that understands them more than most. The simple theme really is to not judge others by rumors and stigmas - to see beyond, to the heart of a person and who they really are. 
I was inspired to write this story by family members and friends I have known who have suffered through the effects of mental illness. The way we view it as a society varies, and sometimes, it isn't nice. Sometimes, people lack compassion - and that doesn't come without consequences. I wanted to explore that other side of things - what happens when the dominoes all start to fall down from one person's struggle and ultimate actions.

How does the second book, Wicked Restless, differ from the first, in regards to the subject matter, and what separates Andrew and Emma from Kensington and Owen?

Wicked is more about the effects of being sheltered, and to some extent isolated. In the first book, Owen was always trying to protect his brother from seeing too much and feeling the pain of ridicule. Andrew was gifted, and Owen wanted to provide for his brother - to step in to that father role and make sure his baby brother had it all. But ultimately it made for a very lonely boy. In Wicked, I wanted to explore how that might affect Andrew, and how he probably really did know everything that happened, and was probably impacted by it all despite Owen's best efforts. And then I wanted to throw one more layer on Andrew - I wanted to see what would happen if the stars aligned against him. The story is about how far he falls into darkness, and the struggle he has climbing back out.

How many books will there be in the Harper Boys series?

I may explore another character or two, but not until next year. I'm really happy with the Harper brothers as they are. But there is something so inviting about that world, and I have a feeling I may go back to it.

What do you hope readers will take from your stories?

To look beyond someone's exterior - to look inside and give the benefit of the doubt.

Where can readers meet you next?

I will be signing at Love & Fifty in Sacramento in February 2016. I will also be at RT in Vegas in May, and am incredibly honored and excited to be one of the hosting authors for the Keith Milano Memorial Fund for Suicide Prevention fundraiser event: Martinis, Desserts and Authors. You'll also find me at the Giant Book Fair during the convention.

Thanks for taking the time, Ginger. Please any tips for aspiring writers.

My biggest tip is to shed the fear - there's no place for fear in writing. Believe in what you have to say and start working on it. No time like the present!

Ginger Scott is an Amazon-bestselling author of nine young and new adult romances, including Waiting on the Sidelines, Going Long, Blindness, How We Deal With Gravity, This Is Falling, You and Everything After, The Girl I Was Before, Wild Reckless and Wicked Restless.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

CAN'T WAIT TO READ: The Word For Yes by Claire Needell

Release date: February 16th 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
After their parents’ divorce, Jan, Erika, and Melanie have to get used to the new world order: a father who’s moved to another continent and a mother who throws herself into moving on. Jan, off at her first semester of college, has plenty to worry about, including an outspoken roommate who’s kind of “out there” and an increasingly depressed and troubled long-distance boyfriend. Her younger sisters, left at home in New York City, and dealing with all the pressures of life in high school, aren’t exactly close. Erika is serious and feels awkward and uncomfortable in crowds, though her beauty tends to attract attention. Melanie is socially savvy and just wants to go out—to concerts, to parties, wherever—with her friends. The gap between all three girls widens as each day passes.

Then, at a party full of blurred lines and blurred memories, everything changes. Starting that night, where there should be words, there is only angry, scared silence.

And in the aftermath, Jan, Erika, and Melanie will have to work hard to reconnect and help one another heal.

At once touching and raw, Claire Needell’s first novel is an honest look at the love and conflicts among sisters and friends, and how these relationships can hold us together—and tear us apart.

About the Author
Claire Needell is a young adult author and journalist. She's a graduate of Brown’s MFA Program, a middle school teacher, and the author of two books of poetry. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Sunday Review.

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