Spotlight Friday (98)

Hey everyone!  It’s Friday!  And you should totally wait until you hear what news I’m going to deliver this weekend…!  It’s gonna be big!  But until then, here are three new books coming out soon!

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Release Date: February 25, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads)For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

What’s To Like: I love this for so many reasons.  First off, I have a soft spot for Elizabeth Eulberg.  I think she’s a great writer.  Secondly, I think that most people have had this kind of relationship in their life.  I know I certainly had a number of guys I was friends with in school that were totally platonic to start with…and then turned into maybe something more.  So I really relate to this, and I’m excited to see how their relationship pans out.

My review of Better Off Friends

Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick

Release Date: February 27, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads)Natalya knows a secret.
A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia’s Winter Palace.
It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it’s not in the right hands.

What’s To Like: I’m a sucker for stuff about the Romanov family.  I really am.  It’s such a fascinating time that they lived and died in.  Throw in a magical Faberge egg and this is going to be kind of awesome.  I initially ran across this book on a list of most anticipated releases this year.  So…I guess we’ll see if it lives up to the hype.

My review of Tsarina

Panic by Lauren Oliver

Release Date: March 4, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads)Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

What’s To Like:  Lauren Oliver is a magician with her books.  They suck you in immediately and then leave you wondering how exactly she did it.  I think I’ve read every book she’s published so far because she’s just that good.  (And yet I don’t own any of her books…)  Anyway, I’m very excited to see what this book brings.  Certainly life lessons of some sort.

My review of Panic

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Cursed Hearts (Crossroads, #1)

First Lines: Vardel Academy was teeming with life.  Two days ago, it had been as empty as a promise.

I received this book from the authors in return for a review.

Just for ease, I’m going to copy the synopsis from Goodreads: …Rarely when we’re down does the world offer us a hand up instead of a sharp kick to the ribs. But when Rome Navarro, a penniless kid with home issues, receives a scholarship to a prestigious school in his hometown, life is starting to look suspiciously hopeful. Little does he know, Vardel Academy houses an old, deeply guarded secret, and Redwood Bay is harboring mysteries of its own that are just as unsettling. Things become stranger still when he learns of a curse that his family is supposedly plagued by. A curse that involves the shy redhead he has his sights set on. Throw in a guy with an unhealthy fascination for him, and a love rival with cruel intentions, and you’re left with a recipe for both a devilish good time, and inevitably, disaster. 

Ok, friends, you’re about to see something about as rare as Bigfoot sightings: I’m about to give a negative review.  This is only the 2nd time since I started this blog three years ago that I’ve given a book only 1 rose.

Here are my two big problems with this book, in my opinion: plot holes/writing issues and moral inappropriateness.  I will explain each of them at length.

I’ll begin with the plot holes, as that was what initially made me want to put the book down.  (And I did put it down.  I only made it 52% through.  As far as I can recall, I haven’t put a book down since Great Expectations my freshman year of high school…and I’m about to graduate college.)  Anyway, the plot holes were pretty numerous.  The example I like to use is how Rome, our main character, doesn’t believe in magic.  Then, 50 pages or so later, we find out that he is actually a werewolf, has been for at least a year, and can spot a werewolf on sight.  Um…if you’re a werewolf, doesn’t believing in magic seem, I don’t know, not much of a stretch?  (I have been informed by the authors that my interpretation of this is not quite right, but as a review is essentially my reading experience, this is what I got out of it.)  I felt many times that there were places where information was missing like this.

Which leads me to my next writing issue.  I felt that there were places where the characters made amazing leaps of reasoning that were far-fetched.  At one point, two of the characters were trying to figure out how an orphan could pay to attend this prestigious private school.  Instead of the obvious answer of “a scholarship”, such as the one Rome has to go there, their first instinct is “blackmail.”  …I’m not even sure how that even fits.  Blackmailing a kid into going to private school??

And the perspective was liable to change mid-paragraph.  That was ridiculously confusing at times.  I couldn’t even tell you who exactly the main character is supposed to be because we see the story through at least 4 different sets of eyes.  In one chapter.

I could keep going on, but we are now going to look at the second category I mentioned: the moral inappropriateness.  I want to start by saying that this book is clearly aimed at a YA audience.  Everything from the cover, the plot, the characters is clearly YA.  Most of the characters are between the ages of 15 and 17.

I quickly became uncomfortable with the use of language and the things these teens were doing.  Yes, I did go to public high school and these curses were nothing I’d never heard before.  But there were a lot of them for seemingly no reason.  There were also scenes involving a 15 year old driving and a 15 year old being served wine in a fancy restaurant.  No.

Also, the female character, Ariahna, was frequently treated as an object in the love triangle.  And she clearly used the boys too.  She’s start the scene on a date with one boy and end it kissing the other.  But what bothered me the most was how the boys treated her.  There was a scene where Aria and one of the boys seemed to have a special moment.  Then, when she wasn’t present but the two boys were together, it turned into vulgarity and possessive speech.  Not cool.

Oh, but it gets worse.  How?  Scenes that I would classify as glorified rape scenes.  I’ve read another review that referred to it as “romanticized rape”, which fits just as well here.  Two different characters, one male and one female, clearly told another character to stop or wait, and the other characters continued with their advances.  One didn’t go as far as rape, but the other did.  And then that character “ended up liking it,” if you will.  Look, that last part doesn’t matter.  No means NO. And I don’t appreciate things aimed at teens that say otherwise.

So, as you can see, this book bothered me on many different levels, from structure to content.  I really don’t recommend this book.

1 Rose (this is so rare, I don’t have a graphic)

Interview with Justine Erler, Author of Starcrush

Hey everyone!  I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Justine Erler, who has written a series called Starcrush.  You should absolutely keep reading to see why aliens could be cooler than vampires and werewolves.

Starcrush CoverStarcrush, A Novel by Justine Erler

 

Book blurb:

Close encounters of the crush-worthy kind. In the first novel of the Starcrush series, author Justine Erler introduces Genna Savoy, a psychically-gifted high school senior who finds herself torn between rival aliens who look … spectacularly human.

Excerpt:

I drifted into silence as my eyes fell over him, the way he leaned over the desk, chilled to the extreme. Yet there was something overpowering about him. That “easy does it, rule-the-world” attitude felt good to be around but just now I couldn’t decide whether this made him the most incredible guy I ever met — or the most obnoxious. 

I was relatively sure that the answer was not somewhere in between.

About Justine

Justine

Justine Erler is a consultant with a background in health care management. She lives in central New Jersey with her husband and daughter. Starcrush is her first novel of the series, combining Books I and II, and was written while in search of the perfect vampire-alternative story.

The Interview

Belle: I think almost every girl at one time had an idea of what a perfect boyfriend should look like and act like.  Did your idea of a perfect boyfriend make its way into one of the characters?

Justine: Yes — absolutely!  The book alternates between two extreme versions of the perfect boyfriend.  In the first half of the book, Byron is described as rock-god cool with a moody-perfection that lends enough resistance to make him completely irresistible.  In the second half of the book, Elon is bold and flirty … and yet laid-back and sensual, as if the kiss is never far from his mind.

My personal idea of the perfect boyfriend is caught somewhere between the two main characters.  Part of me wants the dark, romantic and slightly gothic version … while another part wants the super-relaxed, openly seductive “unafraid to dive head-first into fun” version.  Differences aside, my personal ideal is seen in both characters … overwhelmingly handsome with stylish chin stubble and edgy, hip clothes.

B: So … aliens.  In the YA world of vampires, angels and werewolves, what made you want to write about aliens?

J: I refused to be bound by “the rules” that exist with the usual cast of characters: vampires, angels and werewolves. They’re incredibly fun and won’t disappear anytime soon, yet writing about “an unknown” gave me the flexibility and license to do almost anything.

From the start, it was challenging to escape the expected biases against the alien subject. Typically, they’re associated with a super-horror extreme that can easily turn ridiculous if mishandled. The secret to making the idea work was to ground the story in a YA reality … real characters and places with a dialogue-driven plot that’s plausible, and to some degree, based on science. That being said, I didn’t want to go “off world” in the book, or show any of the stereotypical sci-fi scenes. I wanted readers to recognize their own lives in the book.

It’s also important to remember that Starcrush is first and foremost a love story, so I intentionally played down the sci-fi elements and made it relatable to a young, hip audience — set at the amazingly awesome Jersey Shore.

B: What part (or parts) of the story was most fun to write?

J: Of course, the love scenes were incredibly fun to write.  I prefer building sensual tension by pulling back at strategic moments, under the notion that anticipation is almost more intense than action. The book moments where the characters tease each other relentlessly were my favorite scenes to write. I also enjoy teasing the reader by being both subtle and direct at the same time … so the shock value is there, but immediately tempered by something less than obvious.

B: How did you come up with your title?

J: I was looking for an astronomical term that was easily recognized. “Star” seemed like an obvious choice. Since the book is about crushing on ETs, I naturally merged the two ideas into “Starcrush.”

B: What advice would you want to give anyone who wants to be a writer?

J: Read good books and watch good movies. Then read every review you can get your hands on, so you can get outside of your own perspective and learn how others view things. Do this enough, and you’ll be able to anticipate scenes, identify both weak and strong points and apply an “exaggerated awareness” to your own work.

Links

Starcrush Series Website:  http://StarcrushStory.com

Facebook:  Starcrush Story                        Twitter:  @StarcrushStory

Amazon Purchase Link:

http://www.amazon.com/Starcrush-Justine-Erler-ebook/dp/B00HH13YDK

Thanks Justine!  Happy reading, everyone!

The Offering (The Pledge, #3)

First Lines: Unflinching, the executioner stood on the bloodstained floor facing the prison cells as he welded an axe with a razor-sharp blade.

With so many series out, it’s always nice when you can finish one off.  But it usually takes me a while to finally get the courage to do it.  Is the last book going to completely change the way I look at the series?  Or is it going to fizzle out with less action than some of the previous books?

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Being queen is not easy for Charlie…or Queen Charlaina of Ludania, as she is officially known.  She’s tried to make improvements to the Queendom, but not everyone wants change.  And the essence of the ex-queen Sabara that lives inside Charlie is not making things any easier.  When a peace negotiation with the Queen of Astonia fall through, Charlie receives a brutal message that threatens Ludania.  It seems Charlie’s only option is to sacrifice herself for her people.  But things may not be exactly what they seem…and Charlie may be walking into a trap.

If you’re wondering whether I thought this book/series ended with a bang or a fizzle, it’s somewhere in between.  But probably just a hair closer to a fizzle.  I think part of it is that it follows the layout so many other YA series do when they’re ending a series.  Yes, it’s a natural way to tie up loose ends, but it gets cliche so quickly.

I still really like Charlie.  I think she’s a great queen, even if she doesn’t always know what exactly she’s doing.  But I felt that most of the other characters (besides perhaps Xander and Brook) were fairly stagnant in this book.  Most of it is because there are few characters in the series who consistently play a big role in Charlie’s life.  I complained with the last book that my favorite characters were barely there, and that was true again this time.  Charlie is clearly the main character and all the others are supporting characters.  No one else gets nearly the same face time as Charlie, even though there are snippets throughout told from other perspectives.

There were some new characters that were very cool, and I learned some new things about Ludania.  Some of the action was pretty intense, and there were a few surprises that occurred.  Otherwise, I really thought this story was just ho-hum.  Nothing really grabbed me and made me want to keep reading it because it was exciting.  I really wish it had.

Wild Cards (Wild Cards, #1)

First Lines: Getting caught wasn’t part of the plan.  Pulling off a prank so epic that it’d  be talked about for decades was.

I first read Simone Elkeles when I was in high school and I just loved the stories.  There was something about them that felt so real.  I added this to my to-read list the moment I saw it.

Derek never planned on getting kicked out of his ritzy boarding school.  If he’d known that getting kicked out would mean moving to Chicago with his ditzy stepmother while his dad was away on military business, he wouldn’t have pulled that prank.  Now, he’s just counting the days until he can move out on his own.  Ashtyn is used to people leaving her without a backward glance.  She hopes that a football scholarship is her ticket away from those who don’t care about her.  She pours everything into the game…until her boyfriend and their star QB betrays them.  Ashtyn’s new game plan involves trusting Derek, someone she knows was born to break the rules.  Is Derek everything Ashtyn’s been looking for?

When I found out this was about football, and a girl playing football at that, I was all over this in a hot second.  I love football, but I’d never have the guts to play it myself.  I was living vicariously through Ashtyn, and I willingly admit it.  What else are books for?

So when I actually got to the romance part (and you know that this is a love story just looking at the cover), it didn’t feel quite right.  I don’t exactly want to say why, though.  Just suffice it to say that I felt from the get-go that the romance was a little weird, made weirder by the fact that no one acknowledged it was weird.  It was really all I could think about the whole time.

And the ending.  That was a cheeseball with an extra coating of cheese.  It felt like it was going for the happy ending rather than being true to the characters.  I wasn’t really a fan of that.  I read it three times to make sure I was reading it right, and I was.  It was kind of ridiculous.

But even through it all, I admit that I was sucked into the story.  There are some very interesting elements to it.  I loved all the football talk and practices.  I loved Derek’s pranks.  Ashtyn was a cool character, as was Derek.  Individually, they were great characters.  I just didn’t really feel like they should have been together.  Not a good thing to feel in a romance novel.

Spotlight Friday (97)

Due to inclement weather, I once again have a snow day.  This means blogging, reading, and a trip to the library.  (You can see that I really liven up my three day weekends.)  I’ve found a few new books recently, so here are three new books coming out soon!

Perfect Lies (Mind Games, #2) by Kiersten White

Release Date: February 18, 2014

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads)Annie and Fia are ready to fight back.

The sisters have been manipulated and controlled by the Keane Foundation for years, trapped in a never ending battle for survival. Now they have found allies who can help them truly escape. After faking her own death, Annie has joined a group that is plotting to destroy the Foundation. And Fia is working with James Keane to bring his father down from the inside.

But Annie’s visions of the future can’t show her who to trust in the present. And though James is Fia’s first love, Fia knows he’s hiding something. The sisters can rely only on each other – but that may not be enough to save them.

What’s To Like: I really just love Kiersten White’s writing style.  She can be funny or serious, action-packed or cute.  They’re all there and it makes for a well-rounded story.  For this particular story, I’m really looking forward to more Fia time.  She’s so strong and spunky.  It’ll be fun to see how she tries to get out of Keane.

My review of Perfect Lies.

Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

Release Date: February 18, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads)When Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, “miserable” doesn’t even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother’s first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real… until she breaks up with him. 

For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she’s really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She’s determined to change his mind, and when they’re stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance. 

Jonah hates her at 3p.m., but how will he feel at 3 a.m.? 

One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.

What’s To Like: I just found this book yesterday.  What drew me to it was how similar it seems to books like Perfect Chemistry in the opposites-attract kind of way and like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in how this seems to take just one night.  Really, what I want to know is why they’re both out at 3 AM.  Maybe I’m just getting old, but that is an ungodly hour of the night.

Uninvited (Uninvited, #1) by Sophie Jordan

Release Date: January 28, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads): The Scarlet Letter meets Minority Report in bestselling author Sophie Jordan’s chilling new novel about a teenage girl who is ostracized when her genetic test proves she’s destined to become a murderer.

When Davy Hamilton’s tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Juilliard. Davy doesn’t feel any different, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone.

Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life. Davy wants to trust him; maybe he’s not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly.

The first in a two-book series, Uninvited tackles intriguing questions about free will, identity, and human nature. Steeped in New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan’s trademark mix of gripping action and breathless romance, this suspenseful tale is perfect for fans of James Patterson, Michelle Hodkin, and Lisa McMann.

What’s To Like: I kind of like how this is compared to The Scarlet Letter.  I just watched Easy A recently, so I’m into these modernizations of older stories.  Anyway, I’m really interested in whether or not Davy becomes a killer or whether it is just a prejudice because someone happened to find a gene that supposedly makes her a killer.  I think this book is going to handle some very tough topics, but in a very smart and skilled way.  I’m excited.

My review of Uninvited

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)

First Lines: Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom.  The Scriptura Sancta lies discarded, pages crumpled, on my bed.  Bruises mark my knees from kneeling on the tiles, and the Godstone in my navel throbs.

This has been on my to-read list for a while because I thought it looked cool, but not cool enough to move to the top of the list.  I mean, I like fantasies, but I’m not usually too into the high fantasy kind of stuff.  That’s what this looked like.  But when I saw it in the library, I grabbed it anyway.

Elisa is the chosen one.  She has been since shortly after her birth.  But she doesn’t see how she can be destined to do anything right.  As the second princess in her country, she’s really not going to ever do much.  Royal duties fall on her sister’s shoulders.  On Elisa’s sixteenth birthday, she ends up secretly married to a handsome king of a neighboring kingdom who is in dire need of the chosen one.  And he’s not the only one looking for her.  Darker and far more dangerous foes want Elisa too.  A revolutionary thinks she could be the savior everyone is looking for.  Elisa could be everything the people want her to be.  She is the chosen one, after all.  She just has to fulfill the prophecy and try not to die young.

I knew this book had its claws in me by chapter 3.  It was that freaking good.  I couldn’t put it down.  And due to some very fortuitous snow days, I was able to spend the vast majority of my time reading.

The descriptions of everything in Elisa’s life helps make the story feel very real.  Everything from the people to the kingdoms to Elisa’s thought process is made abundantly clear.  That was so nice for understanding the world she’s in.  The only possible thing that could have made the reading easier was if there was a map in the beginning of the book.  I would have appreciated that, but I’m not complaining.

Elisa’s a different kind of heroine than most, and I liked that.  She starts out as a pudgy, self-depricating princess who really doesn’t think she’s ever going to amount to anything.  And we really get to see her grow over the 400+ pages of this book.  I really liked that.  (But I’m a sucker for character growth/development.)

This story was pretty daring at times, too.  Twists I didn’t anticipate, deaths I never saw coming, and some very interesting action sequences.  It kept itself from ever feeling cliche.  I just gave up on trying to put it in a box.  That’s not to say that there weren’t parts I couldn’t sorta figure out what would happen next.  I could.  And I like that.  But there were also parts that had me completely off guard.  It was a great balance of the two.

I am very, very curious to see what happens in the next book.  This one felt like it pulled out most of the stops, so I really can’t imagine where it’ll go from there.