Friday, February 19, 2016

Love-a-Thon 2016 Introduction

Hosted by: Alexa (Alexa Loves Books), Cee (The Novel Hermit), Hazel (Stay Bookish) & Mel (The Daily Prophecy)

Welcome! I always manage to just miss the Love-a-Thon somehow, so I'm glad to finally be participating! Here's an introduction, which will be handy for...well, probably, most of you. If you're new to the blog, hello there! Nice to meet you! If you're an old follower, hello to you, too! It'll be nice to get reacquainted. But anyway, here we go!

What’s your name?


Where in the world are you blogging from?

Midwestern USA

How did you get into blogging in the first place?

I had a LiveJournal back in the day. I started reviewing books more and more often, and around the end of 2010, realized I wanted to start blogging about them, even though the only blog I followed at the time was Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (which remains awesome to this day). So I did some research, made a blog, and the rest is history! I made my own blog, then joined The Book Barbies with Racquel in 2012.

I accidentally took a very long hiatus due to fandom this past year, but I'm getting back into book blogging now, and I'm pretty excited about it.

What genre do you read and review the most on your blog?

Romance, probably. There's also quite a bit of YA. But my reading tastes have broadened recently, including more literary fiction, nonfiction, etc. so my reviews will reflect that. I even have posts on fanfiction and graphic novels in the works right now. You never know what might pop up!

Name the 5 books you’re most excited for in 2016!

• #1 is Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, hands down! I am so in love with Mafi's writing, it isn't even funny. As an aside, I love how colorful the cover is!
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. Rainbow + Star Wars? Count me IN.
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Even though it was for none of the reasons I expected, I loved the first book and can't wait for the next one! I NEED MORE.
Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas. I was intrigued by this couple in the first book and am quite desperate for their story!
• I am going to be a blind optimist and say Book #5 in the Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Because going by previous release dates, one should be due out this year. And I will cross every possible appendage for this to happen.

What’s an underrated book or series that you think everyone should read?

Since I've already mentioned it, I won't say Queen's Thief series. You know, officially.

My official answer is Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill. Seriously one of my favorite YA books that doesn't get nearly enough love.

Which book boy or girl would be your book boyfriend/girlfriend?

Oh, trust me, you don't want to get me started! LOL. We'll just go with the standard answer of Hardy Cates. Boom. You can't go wrong with Hardy Cates.

Apart from reading, what are your other hobbies or interests?

I love cooking and watching way too much television (currently making my way through Farscape and Frasier). I am also pursuing my dream of being able to flawlessly sing my way through the entire Hamilton soundtrack. I've had over three months to practice at this point, so I'm probably as skilled at it as I'm going to get.

At a party, the DJ suddenly changes the song – and it’s your song. What song would be playing?

Literally any song from Hamilton. Preferably "Satisfied" or "Non-Stop," though, if I had to choose.

Author you want to meet and sit down to tea with?

SO MANY. Tahereh Mafi. Lisa Kleypas. Jill Shalvis. Jen Hatmaker. Sarah J. Maas. Margaret Atwood. Megan Whalen Turner. Megan Mayhew Bergman. Eloisa James. Can I just have a giant author speed dating session? Except instead of five minutes I get like an hour with each one. Someone make this happen.

There's a bit about me. I can't wait to read all of your answers, as well!

(Review) Falling for Max by Shannon Stacey

Title: Falling for Max
Author: Shannon Stacey
Series: Kowalski Family, #9
Published: July 2014 (Carina Press)
Rating: Staying in Tonight
Format: Paperback, borrowed from the library
Summary: Max Crawford has reached the point in life where he's starting to think about settling down. Unfortunately, he's always been a little awkward when it comes to social interactions, and working from home doesn't help. He spends so much time alone, painting beautiful, historically accurate model trains that half of Whitford has begun to joke that he may be a serial killer. Not exactly prime husband material.

Tori Burns has found happiness in Maine, thanks in large part to her shifts at the Trailside Diner. She likes the work, and she loves the local gossip. When shy, geeky Max Crawford becomes a regular, she's intrigued. When she finds out he's in the market for a wife, she's fascinated…and determined to help.

Molding Max into every woman's dream turns out to be much easier than expected. But has Tori's plan worked a little too well? As she turns his comfortable life all sorts of upside down, she'll have to find a way to show just how she's fallen for him…the real him.
So, I was all set to use my spare time tonight to sit down and write my review for Level Up, which I read a few days ago and adored. But I plopped down with my Chick-fil-A in one hand and this book in the other, and once I started, I couldn't stop until I'd reached the end. So now I need to tell you about my feelings for THIS book. And be prepared, because I have a lot of them. (But be on the lookout for my other review, too, soon. Because Level Up was awesomesauce.)

Three things I love but can almost never find all together in one package: contemporary setting, a humorous tone, and slow burn.

And guess what?

Falling for Max has ALL THREE OF THEM. Plus awesome characters. And I'm not just talking about the main two, either.

(This review is just basically going to be me gushing. In case you hadn't gotten that vibe already.)

Honestly, though, I already knew I loved Shannon Stacey. But it had been quite a while since I'd read one of her books, and I'm a lot pickier about my romance nowadays. It takes more to hook me and keep me invested in the characters and the romance, much less actually impress me. But that is exactly what Stacey did.

I loved Max. I loved Tori. I loved Tori's best friend, Hailey, who was the town librarian and kept Tori supplied with books. You may think that this is extraneous information, but a) it actually wound up being important and b) she was just awesome. I really enjoyed reading about their friendship, from the book drops to the dialog to the supportive friend moments. Give me a solid lady friendship, and you're already one step further into my good graces. Also, Hailey said this, which has no relevance except for the fact that I love it and want to share it:
Bad things happen to people who write in library books, Tori. Very bad things.
BUT I WILL MOVE ALONG. To, you know, the romance. Or we might be here all night.

Falling for Max is basically a super amazing reverse Pygmalion / My Fair Lady / The Ugly Truth. The heroine offering to help "make over" the hero? HELLO, I'M THERE. I was very excited about this premise, and I love how it worked into the story. Tori didn't go overboard with the advice, never suggested that Max had anything to be ashamed of. She was more of a coach and a cheerleader, all wrapped up into one. Over the course of working together (which involved a fake date at one point, and let me tell you, if I have a single trope weakness, it's Fake Dating), Tori and Max bonded and quickly became friends. Of course, it didn't stop there, but they were friends for a very long time while the chemistry sizzled steadily in the background. But while my toes were curling in anticipation at every longing stare, it wouldn't have made sense for them to get together in the beginning. So they didn't. And I was a happy camper, just waiting for them to get around to figuring things out and then deciding whether or not to do anything about it. And in the mean time, I enjoyed the heck out of their friendship. They made me giggle and swoon, and I genuinely enjoyed every time they interacted.

As for the characters themselves, I was definitely fan.

Max was an introvert and socially awkward, but Stacey did an excellent job of writing him. A lot of times when authors attempt to write socially awkward or anxious characters, the characters wind up feeling like cartoonish stereotypes. But this wasn't the case with Max at all. He felt real. I understood his perspective. And he wasn't All Awkward, All the Time. He was just, in his own words, a bit of an odd duck, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. (And trust me, that's a lot of love.)
Max was very familiar with people saying logical in a tone that suggested the word had a negative connotation to it.

And Tori! Tori was a graphic designer slash waitress, and she was a delight, honestly. She was friendly and outgoing, and unlike Max, she was very engaged with the community. She had major hang-ups about love and marriage, due to her parents' nasty divorce (which weren't magically swept aside by The Power of Love, either), which she was honest and up-front about from the beginning of the story.

You know what else is great?


There was no Big Misunderstanding in this book, because the characters were honest with each other. They were up front about things. Was everything hunky dory? No. Did they fight? Yes. Did I believe they would make it in the long run? Without a doubt.

I have only one complaint about the entire book, and that is the ending. It was rather abrupt, and I wish it would have been drawn out a bit longer. It just felt a little jarring. And then there's the fact that it ended, period, which let's face it, was pretty sad. But I do happen to have two other Shannon Stacey books checked out from the library right now, so there's a silver lining.

I wasn't super impressed by the cover or title of Falling for Max, but please don't be fooled by either! This is honestly one of the best contemporary romances I've read in a long time. I laughed out loud on multiple occasions. I saved tons of quotes. And I fell hard for the characters and the romance. (And did I mention that it was slow burn? Because it was slow burn. And this fact alone makes me want to get up and do a happydance.) This book reminded me why I automatically smile when I see Shannon Stacey's name on a book cover, and I definitely recommend it.
On the first day of each month, Max Crawford made it a habit to compile a list of everything he wanted or needed to accomplish that month. Without a list, he tended to immerse himself in work and then wonder why he was out of mouthwash and the car payment was overdue.

As the calendar ticked over to October, he catalogued which projects he was working on and their due dates. He noted there were two birthdays on his calendar, which meant shopping for and sending gifts to his mother and niece. The furnace needed its annual checkup. And he wanted to find a wife.

"I have feelings. I intend to kill them with ice cream."

“Did I tell you how nice you look tonight? Definitely the good nice.”
“You didn't have to.” He took her hand and started toward the door.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I see the way you look at me in this sweater.” He stopped walking. “Maybe I should leave it in the car. This is a family restaurant.”
She slapped his arm and nudged him forward. “I've created a monster.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

(Review) The Word for Yes by Claire Needell

Title: The Word for Yes
Author: Claire Needell
Published: February 16, 2016 (HarperTeen)
Rating: 2 stars
Format: Digital galley received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!)
Summary: 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.

{ Trigger warning for mentions of rape. }

This is a very difficult book to review. If it had been a library book, I would not have written it. In fact, if it had been a library book, I would not have made it past the first chapter.

The Word for Yes is the story of three sisters: Jan (The Oldest), Erika (The Brain), and Melanie (The Pretty One). It is also the story of some of their friends and acquaintances, because there are a few portions narrated by characters other than the sisters. But by and large, it is about these three girls going through the various stages of their lives along the course of several months, about the circumstances that draw them together and push them farther apart.

The main thing you need to know about this book is that it does tackle very heavy issues, the main one being rape. Needell did not shy away from the confusing, blurry circumstances that can surround it, and that is important. Rape isn't always about the random predator that leaps on unsuspecting girls from the bushes - in fact, scenarios along that line make up a scarily low percentage of sexual assaults. But I digress. Rape is an important topic, and I appreciate that Needell took on the challenge of writing a story about it.

One positive I can say about the book is that sometimes Needell captured very human aspects to some of her characters. There were moments where I felt like I was observing actual people, with their little details and idiosyncrasies that make them unique.

Unfortunately, however, the book overall was not a success for me.

My main complaint is, without a doubt, the writing. It was incredibly stilted and off-putting, especially in the first few chapters. The author relied very much on telling rather than showing, both in the narration and in the actual dialogue. The dialogue itself was often unrealistic, sometimes rambly to the point of being incoherent, in the case of Jan's roommate Eliza. The entire book was bogged down a slew of unnecessary details. The random backstories and side characters that were thrown around were distracting and did nothing to enhance the story. The author attempted to tackle too much in the limited number of pages and as a result, it just didn't all come together like it should have. I also wasn't a fan of the ending, which was very abrupt. I think a more thorough editing job would have helped this book immensely.

The other problem was the characters. I had trouble connecting with them. But I couldn't quite tell if it was because the characters themselves or because I couldn't connect to the book overall, due to the writing. They seemed to me to be at turns flat then larger-than-life, relatable then repulsive. There were moments when I would empathize with one sister or another, but then she would totally lose me. It was an odd experience that I can't quite describe, but it might have been a problem with me rather than with the book.

The Word for Yes had potential, and I appreciate the courageous effort by the author to tackle such an important subject. There was a great book here struggling to get out, but in my opinion, it ultimately failed.