Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review Sunday: Such a Good Girl by Amanda K. Morgan


Standalone to date

Goodreads Blurb:
"Riley Stone is just about perfect.
(Ask anyone.)

She has a crush on her French teacher, Alex Belrose.
(And she suspects he likes her, too.)

Riley has her entire life planned out.
(The plan is nonnegotiable.)

She's never had a secret she couldn't keep.
(Not ever.)

Riley is sure that her life is on the right track.
(And nothing will change that.)

She's nothing like a regular teenager.
(But she doesn't have any problem admitting that.)

Riley doesn't usually play games.
(But when she does, she always wins.)

She thinks a game is about to start....

But Riley always has a plan....

And she always wins."


Review:
Thank you to the author and Olivia (who manages the review chain) for providing me with a copy of this book.  All opinions expressed are my own.

“For about two seconds, I play with the normal teenage girl hope that rises up in my chest.  Maybe dating someone wouldn’t be so bad.  Then I pinch it out like a candle.  I am more than all of that.”

Where do I even begin with this book?  I have very mixed feelings about it.  Let me explain:

1.        The theme.  When you start out, there isn’t too much of a theme happening.  The story follows Riley, a perfect, high school senior, as she navigates the last year of high school and the pressures of romance.  That’s when things start to take an unpleasant turn.  I found Riley’s love interest to be rather creepy to be honest.  If I were her, I would have run in the other direction as soon as possible.  But in any case, it seems like there’s the whole ‘love will prevail’ theme happening which was fine and dandy.  And then the author brings in the whole ‘why do women even need to be dating someone to warrant attentions?’ debate which was slightly unexpected but not at all unwelcome.  But the ending! The ending just threw everything through a loop.  It usurps the themes and changes everything you thought you knew which was completely wonderful!  I just wish the author had done it in a slightly more obvious way.  I read this book through twice and I only got the subtle references to the change in message and ending the second time around.  It was completely worth the reread, though.

“Of course, I also heard she ahs an insane temper and almost got fired five years ago when she threw a hammer against the wall when someone questioned her knowledge of table saws, but maybe you get that way from years of systemic sexism.”
2.       The characters.  Like I said previously, I found Riley’s love interest to be creepy and I didn’t really enjoy Riley’s scenes with him.  Perhaps that was the point, however, which I’m willing to concede to.  Riley herself is wonderfully portrayed and painted.  I honestly connected with her quite a bit (especially with the bookstore scene!) and I loved being in her head.  Riley’s friends, Kolbie and Neta, however, are a different story.  While they are nice characters, I didn’t feel as though they were completely fleshed out and felt.  They were there and they were fine but they weren’t spectacularly built.  I felt much more from Riley’s parents, surprisingly enough.

“So of course my mom came downstairs to see what the hell her daughter was doing vacuuming so late at night (or at all), and saw Rob, who of course ma’am-ed his way into my mom’s heart immediately, and I’m relatively certain she had him mapped out as my prom date and possibly as my husband before he’d left.”
3.       The plot.  Like I mentioned in the theme portion, the ending takes a wonderful twist but until then, the plot is simply standard.  While I was completely sucked in (I finished it in one sitting both times through), it wasn’t anything remarkable.  After the second read I have come to admire the ending the author crafted, though, and the last chapter is truly stunning.  Think Agatha Christie type breadcrumbs left for you after you realize what has been happening all along.  It’s quite lovely and an honestly beautiful construction.

“The space heater starts to make an odd metallic noise.  I hope it’s not going to explode.  My mom is always going on about space heaters exploding and starting stuff on fire and everyone dying.”
4.       The romance.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I found Riley’s love interest very strange and off-putting.  You could practically spot the red flags from a mile away.  Sadly, Riley doesn’t seem to recognize that until it’s too late and she’s turned down a path she didn’t want.  I did enjoy the dynamic the author created by introducing other love interests into the mix.  Not as a love triangle (or square) formation but as a comparison of what a relationship should be like and what Riley perceives it to be.

“Weird that it took a guy for them to notice that their daughter was here, around, a sentient being instead of a picture to straighten on a wall.  Weird that I wasn’t enough on my own when I was being the perfect child and pinning awards and ribbons to my dream board and filling my bank account I can’t touch with grants and my future with scholarships.  It took a boy and bad grades to even get them to look at me.”

The Final Verdict:
Once I delved deeper with a second reading, the true merits of this book shone beautifully.  However, some might find the subtle twist in the ending too slight and could find the book lackluster (like I did the first time around).
3.5 stars

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review Thursday: Out of the Ashes by A.M. Heath


Ancient Words #3

Goodreads Blurb:
"Sometimes peace is won through battle.

Haunted by the memories he can't escape, Ralph Williams wants to be left alone to lick his wounds. He doesn't understand why he's forced into the company of the one woman he least desires. Can God bring him healing through such uncomfortable circumstances?

Frank Harper thought he had left the war and its turmoil behind, but the home to which he has returned is anything but peaceful. When racial tensions arise in Maple Grove, Frank finds himself on a battlefield once more. He's desperate for peace, but at what cost?

When George Chandler heads off to wed his beloved bride, things don’t go as expected. Just as George starts to get comfortable with what he believes is God’s new plan for his life, history threatens to repeat itself. Will he fight for the woman he’s come to love, or will he let her go?

The War Between the States has destroyed more than just a nation. In four years, it has damaged bodies and wounded souls until the people think that nothing is left. Will they find the healing they so desperately need from the God that loves them?"


Review:
I received a copy from the author. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

1.  The setting.  I really wanted to address this first because it's one of my favorite parts of this series.  This is a historical fiction novel set during the Civil War and the settings are in both the North and South which makes the dynamic of the novel really interesting.  I loved how the author chose to jump between places and she does such a good job of creating the right kind of atmosphere for each place.  And, of course, I love all the descriptions of the pretty dresses.

2.  The theme.  This book is focused a lot on the differences that inspired the Civil War (if you're not super familiar with US history, it's the time when the northern continental US wanted slavery abolished (think Abraham Lincoln) and the south wanted it to remain in place because much of their local economy (and group thought) relied on it).  The differences, set in the different settings, made for such an interesting read.  Families are split in half ideologically and somehow have to overcome their differences.  The first two books are set during the war but this one takes place after the war has ended, leaving a lot of uncomfortable emotions in it's wake.  I never really explored the impacts of the 'end of slavery' so to speak and how uncomfortable and quite honestly, horrible, those first years were for all parties involved.  Obviously this sounds like a rather heavy topic (and it is) so the author mixed in quite a bit of romance as well which I thoroughly enjoyed.

3.  The romance.  As I said above, the romance provides a welcome reprieve from the heaviness of the more serious themes.  There are several going on at once and at first, I was having trouble keeping up with them all but it's also been a hot minute since I read the second book in the series.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed each of the romances.

4.  The characters.  I think the author did a rather lovely job with the characters as well.  In developing the theme, she had to also increase the complexity of the characters which really made them shine.  I was very disappointed in the last book because a certain favorite character of mine didn't make it but overall the book was enjoyable without them.

The Final Verdict:
An adorable novel with splashes of darkness; perfect for reading on a sunny porch.
4 stars

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Agatha Christie Review Round Up: Part Three


I've been reading more Agatha Christie!  If you don't follow me on Instagram, I posted a picture a while ago of my new Agatha Christie shelf.  As a birthday present, my parents gave me something like 35 Agatha Christie books; most from the Hercule Poirot series (which is my favorite).  Suffice to say there will be a lot more Agatha Christie around for the rest of the year!  I'll be posting round ups of my reviews (since I don't have too much to say about each one so far) with 3 books in each.



Hercule Poirot #2

Rating: 4 stars

Goodreads Blurb:
"On a French golf course, a millionaire is found stabbed in the back... An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course. But why is the dead man wearing his son's overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse..."


Review:
In general, I really enjoyed this mystery!  There were plenty of twists and turns and the ending is very unexpected!  I actually had to read it a second time to truly understand everything!  It isn't my favorite Agatha Christie, though, because there was a bit more of Hastings being... well, Hastings, and he started to get on my nerves by the end.  I love Hercule Poirot, though, so I quite enjoyed it overall!

The Final Verdict: A plethora of twists and turns with some slight Hastings annoyance.
4 stars





Hercule Poirot #3

Rating: 3 stars

Goodreads Blurb:
"The very first collection of superb short stories featuring Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings...First there was the mystery of the film star and the diamond! then came the 'suicide' that was murder! the mystery of the absurdly chaep flat! a suspicious death in a locked gun-room! a million dollar bond robbery! the curse of a pharoah's tomb! a jewel robbery by the sea! the abduction of a Prime Minister! the disappearance of a banker! a phone call from a dying man! and, finally, the mystery of the missing willl. What links these fascinating cases? Only the brilliant deductive powers of Hercule Poirot!"


Review:
As much as I wanted to like this, I just couldn't get into the short story construction.  My favorite part of Agatha Christie books is the build up and the continued mystery as I try to figure out the killer alongside Poirot and Hastings.  These mysteries are the definition of short and sweet which makes them good for something to read before bed but for me, they were just too quick.  I love complex mysteries so these were just meh for me.  There is more of an opportunity to get to know Poirot and Hasting's personalities, though, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

The Final Verdict: Short and sweet = not my cup of tea.
3 stars



The Big Four by Agatha Christie
Hercule Poirot #5

Rating: 4.5 stars

Goodreads Blurb:
"Framed in the doorway of Poirot's bedroom stood an uninvited guest, coated from head to foot in dust. The man's gaunt face stared for a moment, then he swayed and fell.

Who was he? Was he suffering from shock or just exhaustion? Above all, what was the significance of the figure 4, scribbled over and over again on a sheet of paper? Poirot finds himself plunged into a world of international intrigue, risking his life to uncover the truth about 'Number Four'."



Review:
I really enjoyed this one!  It's set over a rather long period of time and it deals with a very expansive crime (basically a string of connected crimes and mysteries) which was so fun and cool to read about.  I think that nearing the end I was wearying a bit of the prolonged mystery, however.  The four characters (crime-lords/ladies if you will) were incredibly fascinating and I loved how Poirot made a point to understand the psychology of each.  It made for a much more interesting narrative and story!  I'll definitely be rereading this one!

The Final Verdict: Quite lovely and complex.
4.5 stars

Monday, July 31, 2017

Release Spotlight: Out of the Ashes by A.M. Heath


Out of the Ashes is the third book in A.M. Heath's Ancient Words series and today is release day!



Ancient Words #3

Goodreads Blurb:
"Sometimes peace is won through battle.

Haunted by the memories he can't escape, Ralph Williams wants to be left alone to lick his wounds. He doesn't understand why he's forced into the company of the one woman he least desires. Can God bring him healing through such uncomfortable circumstances?

Frank Harper thought he had left the war and its turmoil behind, but the home to which he has returned is anything but peaceful. When racial tensions arise in Maple Grove, Frank finds himself on a battlefield once more. He's desperate for peace, but at what cost?

When George Chandler heads off to wed his beloved bride, things don’t go as expected. Just as George starts to get comfortable with what he believes is God’s new plan for his life, history threatens to repeat itself. Will he fight for the woman he’s come to love, or will he let her go?

The War Between the States has destroyed more than just a nation. In four years, it has damaged bodies and wounded souls until the people think that nothing is left. Will they find the healing they so desperately need from the God that loves them?"



The Ancient Words series is all about the American Civil war and the lives of both soldiers and civilians in the South.  Half romance and half historical novel, I found the previous two books quite fascinating!



Ancient Words #1

Goodreads Blurb:
"War is on the horizon during the spring of 1861. It will be an event that will change the lives of everyone in its path. The Harper family included.

Frank Harper is a young man full of dreams and ambitions. Even when the country is split and war breaks out, Frank will do whatever is necessary to see his dreams come true, even when that means putting on a uniform and leaving home.

For the first time, Claire Harper is forced to consider the reasons behind such a conflict. Should slavery be abolished? Which side should she be on, and what does God have to say about this? Claire is torn between her own opinions and those of her family. The struggle within her only increases when she repeatedly runs into a kind and handsome Union soldier. She longs to see her brother turn to Christ before it is too late. Desperate to reach her brother with the gospel, Claire pens a series of inspiring letters. Will she be able to handle all the obstacles of war and continue to be a witness to those around her?

How long can Claire last when her heart is torn in half and she is burdened for her brother's soul? How long can Frank resist his sister's urgent pleas or the gentle tugging from within? Can a man outrun a holy God?"

See my review HERE.



https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26721247-in-the-shadow-of-thy-wings

Ancient Words #2

Goodreads Blurb:
"Devastation sweeps across the land, and the families of Maple Grove cannot escape when war arrives at their front doors. After her father entrusts her with a new and dangerous task, Sally Chandler must find the courage to obey despite her fear. Meanwhile, her best friend, Claire Harper, is determined to serve others, even if it means putting herself in danger. But with a certain handsome Union soldier stationed nearby, Claire finds her heart in danger of falling for the enemy. Their differing loyalties create complications that neither could expect; her twin brother fighting for the Confederacy is only one of them. Frank Harper left home with one goal in mind – to become a prosperous plantation owner. Two years later, not only is he further from his goal, but he's beginning to question his own desires--something that becomes more complicated when his heart becomes involved. The families of Maple Grove must learn how to survive the uncertainty of war and a country split in two. While the war in the nation rages on, the battle within grows stronger. Will they learn that the only safe place to hide is in the shadow of Thy Wings?"

See my review HERE.



I've been loving this series since the beginning and if you're a fan of historical, clean romances, then this series is for you!

Until August 4th, there's even a sale going on where you can get the first book free and the second and third at discounted prices on Amazon!




And if you don't do Amazon, there's also a giveaway happening!  The author is giving away a paperback set of the entire series.  To enter, just pop on over to the rafflecopter giveaway HERE!


Meet the Author:

Besides being an Indie Author, I’m a wife, mother of four, children’s Sunday School teacher, sweet tea drinker, history fanatic, romantic, bubbly, lover of broccoli, and cake decorator who has a soft spot for Christmas trees, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
What I’m not is a laundress (or at least not one who keeps up very well), a duster, tall, or patient in a doctor’s office.

Connect:



And that's all for now!

Friday, July 28, 2017

50/50 Friday (43): Place You Buy the Most/Least Books


50/50 Friday is a meme hosted by Carrie @The Butterfly Reads and I and focuses on the opposite sides of books (best/worst, differing opinions, etc).  Every week will have a new topic and several advance topics will be listed in the tab labeled 50/50 Friday!

I AM GETTING BACK ON TRACK FINALLY!  (can you hear the conviction in the all caps?)

Today's Topic: Place You Buy the Most/Least Books

Most:


I actually don't buy a whole lot of books but the ones I do are hardcovers I order from Amazon.  I have Amazon Prime so everything is free 2 day shipping which makes my bookworm heart happy.  And, once in a blue moon, I'll preorder a book (looking at you, ACOWAR) and it'll come from Amazon.  I really wish I could support more independent bookstores but there's like one in the city I live in and it's pretty far away which doesn't help me out much.




Least:

Independent Bookstores

Like I mentioned above, I really don't have any independent bookstores near me so I almost never buy a book from one.  If I'm traveling and I come across one, I may buy a book but that's about it.  I just don't buy many books, as crazy as that sounds!  A close second for me is Netgalley as well, actually.  I'm pretty sure I have a profile but I never use it.  I keep meaning to but I keep accepting review requests from authors and publishers who contact me directly.  I should really get on that!




So there you have it!  Where do you buy/get the most/least books?  Do we share any?  Do you have many independent bookstores near you?  Make a post and link up down below!


Next Week's Topic: Best/Worst Book Read in July

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review Sunday: Post-High School Reality Quest by Meg Eden


Standalone to date

Goodreads Blurb:
"Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.

After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to life her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.

While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares."


Review:
I received a review copy of this book from the author.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

This is another book I have complicated feelings for.  It's so wonderfully original and unique but as a consequence, it took me a while to get used to the story and the ending left me confuzzled.  Let's get into it, shall we!

1.  The POV.  Normally, I start off with the characters but I think it's really important to begin with the POV because it kind of impacts everything else.  As it says in the blurb, this book is narrated by a game.  You know those games that just write out what's happening and then you select your reaction to events.  They're called text parser games (you can look it up if you still don't know what I'm talking about because honestly I don't know how else to describe it).  So the entire book is a mix of first and second person which I found to be pretty cool, honestly.  I've never read a book in second person before and now I understand why not many books are written that way.  It can be really tricky getting it right and there isn't a whole lot of depth to be found.  However, mixed in with the first person, it was slightly better and was a bit more readable.

2.  The concept.  This is another thing I think I have to address right away.  This review is getting all kinds of turned around!  From the blurb, you'd think this book is all about finding out what's going on in Buffy's head and her learning to live with her quirks and life in general.  While that's generally true throughout the book, there isn't much focus placed on it and the ending completely disregards that idea.  I think there was a bit of a disconnect between what the author wanted it to be about at the beginning and what ended up happening.  It isn't a bad thing at all but because of what happened, there are some inconsistencies and near the middle I was questioning what the point of the book was at all.  To that end, I really liked how the book ended but I wish the author would have more fully developed the whole idea.  In summary, there were two final takeaway's directly contrasting with each other and each didn't receive enough attention: life is a game, and the challenges of mental illness.

3.  The characters.  I really enjoyed this part of the book.  Being in Buffy's head is so fascinating and I loved seeing how she would react to different events.  She has such an interesting and creative mind and always reacted in unexpected ways.  I don't know if I would go so far as to say she's likeable or that I wasn't frustrated with her from time to time, but I was never bored and she kept me on my toes.  The supporting characters are also very well imagined.  Sephora (Buffy's 'friend') is especially interesting and I was intrigued by her attitude towards life.

4.  The romance.  Romance is a significant part of this book and it was very sweet to read.  There is a fair amount of teen drama, though, but there isn't much of a love triangle.  While the romance itself was sweet (and pretty entertaining), I think the author could have played up the tragedy a bit more.  In general, there are some aww moments but there aren't any really heart-wrenching scenes.  There were highs and lows but the lows were pretty downplayed for some reason (perhaps it was a product of the second person POV) and it was kind of weird to read a sad scene and not feel anything at all.

The Final Verdict:
An interesting spin on novel writing with the ever rare second person POV was attempted and is something I would consider a general success.  While the ending and themes of the book are a little obscure and muddy, the characters present a unique spark.
3 stars

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Guest Post: Publishizer's Novel Contest (bringing to light the route of non-traditional publishing)


About a month ago I got an email from a company called Publishizer asking me to post a guest post about a new contest.  Normally, I dismiss many of these emails as guest posts normally aren't my cup of tea (as you've probably noticed by the distinct lack of said posts in my corner of the blogosphere).  However, they're running a contest that I think is rather relevant to most aspiring (and already semi-established) authors.

Publishizer is running a contest until the 31st of July that's part crowdfunding campaign and part novel viability assessment.  Anyone can submit their proposal and during this process, readers can view your proposal and preorder your novel if they so choose.  Based on the number of preorders, a winner will be chosen and will receive $1,000 (US).  If you aren't chosen for the prize, you'll still be queried for major publishers.  I'll let Publishizer take it from here!


Putting the Readers Back in Charge of Publishing

Imagine a YA publishing process without gatekeepers.  One where editors and agents read the manuscripts that readers love, not vice versa.  One where anyone with a knack for writing, a passion to succeed, and a little flair for self-promotion, has a fair shot at being published.

All too frequently, this isn’t the case.  Books often get rejected for reasons beyond authors’ control.  One editor turned down an ultimately successful book by saying, “The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level.”  The book in question?  The Diary of Anne Frank.  Furthermore, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only about 10% of all YA books accepted for publication feature “multi-cultural content.”  Clearly, there are some blind spots that need addressing in the publishing industry.

It’s with this vision in mind that Publishizer is launching its YA book proposal contest called Plot Without a Cause.  Publishizer is a startup seeking to fill a hole in the publishing industry through crowdfunding.  It works like this:

You write the book proposal.  You know the book proposal I’m talking about.  The one you’ve been daydreaming about for years.  The one that just popped into your head last week and you haven’t stopped thinking about since.  The one for the manuscript that’s been dearly loved by you but maybe not so much yet by the publishing industry.  That one.  Then you register (for free!) on Publishizer’s website and post your proposal in the Plot Without a Cause section (again—for free!).

Now this is when you’ll have to start hustling.  Crowdfunding runs on pre-orders, so you had better start promoting that proposal.  Reach out over social media, post on your blog, email your old roommates—whatever it takes to start building buzz.  If you get the most preorders by the time the contest ends, you’ll win $1000 dollars.  And if you don’t have the highest number of preorders, don’t worry—you’ll still be queried to major publishers who fit your proposal.

Previous Publishizer contest participants have gotten interest and landed deals with a variety of traditional publishing companies, including Harvard Square Books, She Writes Press, and Weiser.  Publishizer takes a small commission on pre-orders when you choose a publisher at the end.

Every year, thousands of books are rejected by the publishing world for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book—they’re too mainstream or not mainstream enough, too similar to books already being published or too different from books already being published.  Or the literary agent just doesn’t stand to make much money on the deal so they pass on a perfectly good book!  Imagine how many brilliant YA manuscripts go unpublished every year thanks to frustrating rejections.  Imagine how many hugely talented authors quietly give up on their dreams, just because the gate to a traditional publishing path isn’t open to them.

With their new YA book proposal contest, Plot Without a Cause, Publishizer is seeking to level the playing field.  Publishing decisions shouldn’t be based solely on a literary agent’s judgement or how many friends you have in the industry. They should be based on quality of writing and how many readers the book attracts.

Great books get overlooked all the time, and this is an opportunity to show acquiring editors that yours is worth paying attention to. Not to mention the readership and funds you could gain in the process. Crowdfunding (or crowd-publishing, in this case) is growing in popularity and brings a personal touch back to book sales—for readers and publishers. Are you in?


So there you have it!  If you're a writer and have an unpublished novel you'd like to submit or you're a reader who'd like to check out the current submissions and perhaps preorder one and support indie authors, you can visit this website:

If you'd like to read more about the company in general, visit this website:


And that's all for today!  I already have a review scheduled for Sunday (look at all this productiveness exuding from my metaphysical nature) and I'll be hopefully publishing another review or a collection of mini reviews during the week next week as well as getting caught up on 50/50 Friday's and actually being a good meme host (I promise I'm a good productive clam!).  Until then, I bid you ado!
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