Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

heroine

When I wake up, all my friends are dead.

Release date: March 12, 2019

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Price: $13.28 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Grade: A

Review:

I’ll admit it. I am a little biased when it comes to Mindy McGinnis. Ever since I read The Female of the Species, I’ve been hooked on her writing. I love that she’s willing to tackle difficult subjects like rape culture, mental illness, or in this case opioid addiction. McGinnis’ writing is raw, direct, and not for the faint of heart. Things get gritty in her novels, and Heroine is one of her grittiest yet.

What makes this novel stand out from her previous ones is that her protagonist Mickey could be any teenager in America right now. Mickey doesn’t fall into addiction because of befriending the wrong crowd, peer pressure, or any of the past reasons why teens often found themselves dabbling in drugs. No, Mickey becomes an addict due to a car accident that requires her to have a serious surgery and her doctor later prescribes OxyContin to her.

At first Mickey ups her dosage because she’s in too much pain but still wants to perform like she did because of her car accident in her Softball position. She feels like she not only owes to herself, but her teammates, coach, and parents to get well soon and return to being the unbeatable Mickey Catalan. Only thing is, she soon discovers that OxyContin not only does it make her not feel the pain but it also chases away all of her social anxiety. Soon, Mickey is relying on the drugs more for her emotional well being than a physical need.

As a reader, although from the very beginning we know that it’s going to end very tragically for Mickey and her friends, we’re lulled into a strange sense of security, almost like the writing itself works like a drug. We, like Mickey, believe that the drugs will only help her, but it’s a slippery slope from performing like she used to, to becoming a full-fledged addict who has violent withdrawals anytime she has to do without her dose. The withdrawals are as gritty as they could possibly get.

McGinnis is never preachy in her books, she merely lays out the story’s events in a way that chronicles what someone in that position would possibly go through. And that’s what makes it the most terrifying because anyone of us could be Mickey, and anyone of us could befall Mickey’s fate.

This is a raw book about a timely crisis (with overdoses being the nation’s leading cause of death in the United States right now), I think it’s a book that any teen or adult could benefit from reading. But let me warn you, this journey isn’t a pretty one at all. But a highly educational one.

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Book Review: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

souls

A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything.

Release Date: September 18, 2018

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Price: $18.49 (hard cover)

Plot Summary:

Every morning, Kris Pulaski wakes up in hell. In the 1990s she was lead guitarist of Dürt Würk, a heavy-metal band on the brink of breakout success until lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom, leaving his bandmates to rot in obscurity.

Now Kris works as night manager of a Best Western; she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. One day everything changes—a shocking act of violence turns her life upside down, and she begins to suspect that Terry sabotaged more than just the band. Kris hits the road, hoping to reunite Dürt Würk and confront the man who ruined her life. Her journey will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a celebrity rehab center to a satanic music festival. A furious power ballad about never giving up, We Sold Our Souls is one woman’s epic journey to reclaim her life—and save her soul.

Grade: A+

Review:

Ever wonder what happens to musicians that don’t make it? Kris Pulaski was the lead guitarist for the heavy metal band called Dürt Würk in the late 90’s. Now, nearly two decades later, she’s a night manager for a Best Western. In other words, it’s hell and her life sucks, while the band’s original lead singer, Terry Hunt reinvented himself with a new sound (nu-metal) and band (Koffin) and became a rock icon. When Kris see s a billboard advertising Terry’s farewell tour, something inside of her sparks Kris to leave her sad life behind and seek out the remaining members of Dürt Würk to get them to confront Terry with her and demand answers over what happened the night the band broke up.

This book was everything you’d want a horror and rock band novel to be. There’s action, gore, and passion for music all woven into a kickass tale of what it means to fight for your dreams and to never give up hope. There were many times where Kris could’ve just given up her mission, but she always prevailed no matter how difficult the task seemed or physically ailing she was. This book isn’t just about some Faustian deal gone awry, the heart of this book is to take a hard look at yourself and see if you’re living for what you believe in or lie Terry, you have sold your dreams in exchange of a cozy life.

I honestly love Kris so much in the novel that if it had been about anyone else, I don’t think the journey would’ve been as much fun or as meaningful. This book has seriously been one of the most fun to read this whole year, because even when there were moments of despair, there was always an underlining hope that maybe our heroine, Kris would save the day.

I highly suggest this book if you love horror, death metal, rock stars, and road trip stories.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé

monsters

They took my sister.
I’ll take her back.

Release Date: August 6, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. And moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over as someone different.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming Skye’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ve waited a week after reading this novel to decide to write a review because I wanted to wait and see if my feelings for this strange little book would remain the same or somehow change. Thing is, I walked into this book thinking that I was getting something like The Blair Witch Project (or at the very least some sort of witchcraft) since it was advertised that way, but instead what I got was a strange tale of childhood monsters and magical kingdoms that come to life in the woods and a missing girl case.

So I’m going to divide this review into two sections: Pros & Cons.

Pros:

I love the dark, atmospheric imagery woven throughout the whole story. It was mighty creepy and rocked in all its dark gothic glory.

The characters reacted to situations in realistic ways (meaning that the characters didn’t give the protagonist Skye a free pass when she shared a very dark secret about her past).

It kept me invested in the story and I really wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Cons:

It wasn’t until halfway through the book that we finally received confirmation that something supernatural was indeed happening.

All the characters were unlikeable, except for William. The protagonist Skye, not only was she unlikeable, but she was also manipulative and had a cruel streak that she justified endlessly and blamed a lot of her actions on her sister.

Dead pets and other animals.

The ending. While it was realistic, it seemed to just end leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

Overall, this was a unique story and I did enjoy it, but I don’t know if it’ll be something that a lot of people could get into unless you’re into dark tales and don’t mind the somewhat slow pacing.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

wilder

They told us to wait and stay alive.

Release Date: July 9, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $12.91 (hardcover)

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First, the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Grade: A

Review:

Sometime this past fall, I saw Rory Power tweeting the cover of her debut novel, Wilder Girls, and the moment I saw it and read the blurb, I knew that I had to read it. Luckily, NetGalley hooked me up with an ARC cause I don’t know if I could’ve lasted till July to read it. This book fits nicely into my two favourite book genres, body horror and boarding school stories. I don’t know why I love boarding school stories, probably cause as an only child, I always envisioned going to one and being surrounded by lots of girls my own age. Fun fact: I almost got sent to a Catholic boarding school once, when my exasperated mum was tired of my teenage rebellious way and thinking it’d be a punishment, she promptly called a school up (I was ecstatic, to say the least). Sadly, not even the nuns wanted to deal with a rebellious teen, since they pretty much told my mum that I was better off staying home in a “loving environment” than far from my family. Still, to this day I kinda miss not having had the boarding school experience. So now, I vicariously live that experience through books about them.

But Raxter isn’t just any ordinary boarding school. Nope. This boarding school is located on an island that pretty much has nothing else on it but the school. So total isolation. The perfect setting for a group of girls who are having to deal with being quarantined by the military after contracting a disease they call the Tox. Now, the fascinating and maybe disturbing thing about the Tox is that it’s a disease that manifests in different ways depending on the individual. So one girl has a scaled hand (which I wasn’t sure if we were to envision scales like a fish or more like a dragon), another has an eye closed shut with plants growing inside of it, and another is growing a second spine. The body horror in this novel isn’t for the faint of heart, so if you’re a little on the queasy side, just keep that in mind.

But what made this novel memorable to me wasn’t the unexplainable horror that had taken over the girls’ bodies, but rather, the resilience these girls had, and strong bonds of friendship. On several occasions, it would’ve been easier for the protagonist, Hetty to simply give up on her friends and herself and just be. But she doesn’t give up, even when things are looking rather bleak (and boy do things get bleak fast in this novel!).

I know some have made comparisons of this novel to be the feminist response to Lord of the Flies, however, the fact that both novels have an island setting is the only similarity I could find, since Wilder Girls isn’t really a novel about the students created their own sense of structure as there are still adults who supervise the girls. Wilder Girls is more a celebration of sisterhood in the face of adversity, and the lengths one would go to in the name of friendship.

It’s a wild and dangerous ride, but one that is worthwhile.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

rory

Follow Rory on Twitter! / Photo credit: Rory Power

Short Q & A with the Author:

Why did you select an island as the location for Raxter? Is it to play upon the sense of isolation?

Choosing an island as the setting was mostly down to instinct and initial inspiration – a visit I made to an island in North Carolina was the first thing that made me want to write this book – but the more I worked on the story, the more it became clear to me that there was really no other place to set the book. I love books with closed communities, places where nobody leaves and nobody new ever arrives, so of course I wanted to write one of my own. I also think so much of Hetty’s story is about being on your own and having to fend for yourself. Setting the book on an island and physically cutting the girls off from the outside world was definitely a way to take that feeling and make it literal.

The reader only received tiny details about the girls’ lives before Raxter. It almost felt like they preferred staying at a boarding school rather than being home. Was Raxter more home to girls like Hetty and Byatt than their actual homes?

For Hetty and Byatt, I think Raxter is more home to them. They both find something at the school, and in their friendship with each other, that defines them, I think, and so compared to the lives they left behind, I think Raxter is what really matters. There are probably other girls at the school that don’t feel similarly, but as far as our main characters go, the idea of going back to their old lives isn’t all that relevant to them.

The fascinating thing about the Tox (the disease that has overtaken the island) is that it manifests in different ways in different people. Was the way the Tox affected the girls attributed to their character? For example, Mr. Harker we know he was a gardener for the school, and when we see him infected, he’s got plants growing inside of him. As for Byatt having a double spine, it seemed almost an indication of how she needed to grow a backbone in order to stand up to her mother. 

I love that interpretation! Some of what the Tox does is just based off aspects of my research that I thought were cool – Taylor, for instance, gets a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to her mutation, which is based off the lateral line you find in fish, a physical feature that helps them coordinate motion when they’re swimming in a school. But some of it also ties into character. Reese, for instance, is a really guarded person, so of course, I had to give her literal armor-like scales.

I’m someone who’s interested in books or movies that explore the theme of body horror whether it comes to shapeshifting like in Ginger Snaps or Blue My Mind, or a change that begins manifesting when you’re a teenager that you have no control over like in Teeth. Why do you think that YA is the best genre to explore body horror?

I think YA is so much about agency, about taking control of your own life for the first time, or about finding yourself unable to do that. For a lot of young people, this ties in a lot with body autonomy. So I think thematically YA lends itself to body horror, which explores physical transformation and a loss of that physical autonomy. They dovetail together really well and lend meaning to each other.

I know some may draw similarities between your novel and the novel Annihilation, but what inspired you exactly to tell this sort of tale?

My inspiration really came from the landscape, and from wanting to explore a specific setting and atmosphere. My very first draft had the same basic plot, but I was using it mostly as an excuse to write about trees and describe the ocean. I read Annihilation, which is an absolute favorite after I’d written that draft, and it really taught me how to narrow my focus and find the heart of the story that was hiding in the mess I’d made. (If you haven’t read Annihilation yet, you must!)

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Top Six Books To Read During Pride Month

pride

It’s Pride Month & what better way to celebrate Pride than to read some queer books? Here are six books that I enjoyed that I think are some of the best in celebrating LGBTQ.

cameron

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone, and Cam becomes an expert at both.
Then Coley Talor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship, one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self—even if she’s not quite sure who that is.

wasgirl

If I Was Your Girl

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

ashbook

Ash

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Their friendship, as delicate as a new bloom, reawakens Ash’s capacity for love–and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

noneoftheabove

None of the Above 

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”
Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

bemine

If You Could Be Mine 

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love–Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed. So they carry on in secret until Nasrin’s parents suddenly announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution: homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. Sahar will never be able to love Nasrin in the body she wants to be loved in without risking their lives, but is saving their love worth sacrificing her true self?

luna

Luna 

Regan’s brother Liam can’t stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female name, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister’s clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change: Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam’s family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives?

Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen’s struggle for self-identity and acceptance.

What queer books have you read that you enjoyed?

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Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

lock

The next heart-pounding thriller from New York Times bestselling author Riley Sager follows a young woman whose new job apartment sitting in one of New York’s oldest and most glamorous buildings may cost more than it pays.

Release Date: July 2, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $17.10 (hardcover)

Publisher: Dutton

Plot Summary:

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Grade: A

Review:

Soon after reading The Last Time I Lied, I picked up Final Girls (I still need to read it) and of course requested a copy of Lock Every Door the second it was available on NetGalley. Luckily, I managed to snag a copy. There’s something about Riley Sager that I just LOVE. He always manages to incorporate some horror aspect into his thriller novels. For example, with Lock Every Door, Jules is a recently laid-off worker, and finds work as a housesitter in the exclusive Bartholomew Building (in which she and her sister used to obsess about since their favorite book was set there), and for some reason the book gave me some serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes. Maybe because of the uber-rich, yet creepy neighbors, or the fact that it’s alluded that the building is cursed and witches may be involved. However, this being a Sager novel means that although it may give you horror vibes, it never ventures off into supernatural.

I found Jules to be very relatable, as I think we can all identify with her. She was a hard worker in college, received a degree thinking she could better her social standing, instead, she ends up working a crummy office job in which she gets laid off from, and in her desperation to find a new living situation (her loser boyfriend cheated on her), she falls for an ad on Craigslist that is looking for a housesitter. Now, if Jules economic situation hadn’t been so fire, she would’ve bailed at the first inkling of something being amiss at the Bartholomew, but since beggars can’t be chooser’s, she sticks it out even when us readers are yelling, GET THE FUCK OUT!

Some aspects of the story seem kind of over the top, but I feel like it works, or at least Sager has enough thriller cred to make it work. This book is perfect any of you who love mysteries, thrillers, or horror (cause even though it’s not horror it DOES have a lot of horror vibes running throughout).

I really enjoyed this book a lot and have a feeling that Sager will become one of my fave new authors.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dutton for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

bright

Would you die for the Prize?

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $12.29 (hardcover)

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they would go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the Prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Bright Burning Stars is a stunning, propulsive story about girls at their physical and emotional extremes, the gutting power of first love, and what it means to fight for your dreams.

Grade: A

Review:

For some reason I find books or films about ballet to be utterly fascinating and alluring. Maybe because I took ballet classes for a year as a kid (before realizing that I should give up cause there was no way I’d ever be a ballerina with my lack of grace). I’m so obsessed with ballet that I even made my protagonist in CUT HERE, Lena one. This is to confirm that I was absolutely excited when I was finally given the ARC for Bright Burning Stars (I had requested it months ago and had only been given it a few weeks prior to publication date).

Things I loved about this novel:

Friendships: The two protagonists, Marine and Kate have a very strong friendship. It actually is the core of the novel and despite the fact that they’re both aiming for “The Prize” aka becoming the exclusive etoile at the Opera National de Paris. “Rats” as the studying ballerinas are referred to in the novel, are so focused on the prize that they’d do anything to obtain it, and Kate is even willing to die for it. Slowly, bestfriends Marine and Kate begin to grow apart as things get more competitive and each wanting to snag the prize title for their own.

Relationships: I love how the author explores various types of relationships, such as showing one romantic relationship as gradually growing into something much more passionate than it initially was, and another romantic relationship that becomes tragically toxic fast.

Setting: Ever since I was little (maybe because I was obsessed with Marie Antoinette & Versailles) I’ve been in love with Paris. So, I’ll automatically favor any novel that takes place in the City of Lights. I was just a bit sad that we, the readers never get a chance to experience the city because we’re always stuck in the dance studios with the two protagonists.

Minor gripe: I wasn’t a fan of how abortion was handled in this book. Not because one of the protagonists decides to go over and beyond to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but because of how simplistic it was written out to be. Sure, maybe drinking odd toxic herbal teas *can* induce an abortion, but I don’t like how easy it all was for the character. Since this is a YA and intended for teens, I don’t want teens thinking that if you’re pregnant that you can just forego a normal abortion AT A CLINIC and just drink herbal tea and wish everything will get taken care of, because in most cases that won’t work. Just putting that out there for the kids.

The Ending: There were only two ways the book could’ve ended and I assumed both possible endings. Ultimately, the author aimed for the safest one. Which is not to say that is was bad, but probably tragic loving me would’ve opted for the other much more unsettling ending. But seeing that it’s YA I can see why the novel would end on a much more hopeful note than not.

Overall, the novel had very lush and alluring elements to it and I was completely consumed by the story. If you love Paris, ballet, and strong friendships, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Short Q & A With The Author:

I read that you were a ballet dancer. Did you study ballet in Paris, as the characters in Bright Burning Stars did or did you study it elsewhere?

When I was five-years-old, I began dancing in Paris with a famous teacher named Max Bozzoni who taught and danced at the Paris Opera. Then I danced with L’Académie Chaptal where the teachers also danced and taught at the Paris Opera. And in my teens, I danced with the Richmond Ballet Student Company and did a summer at Pacific Northwest Ballet on full scholarship.

Why did you decide to set the story in Paris? Is it because it’s where ballet first began or because Paris is the perfect setting for a book about passion (both for ballet and love)?

I chose Paris because I began my dance adventure there and because I grew up obsessed and in love with the Parisian rats who became principal dancers. I knew I wanted to render homage to them specifically.

Do you think that female friendships are very important to girls in their teenage years and that’s why it’s particularly devastating when they end?

I think female friendships are always important, but when you are a teen you experience love with a particular type of intensity. I feel like those friendships are almost always tattooed in your heart somehow, which do make them hard to reckon with when they unravel.

The ballet world can be very cutthroat and dealing with physical pain is an every day occurrence for a ballerina. Do you think that’s why it’s hard for dancers to relate to others who don’t dance or don’t have a similar passion as their own?

To me, the dance world is like a monastery. You give yourself over to that vocation physically and mentally. Dancers are artists, but also athletes. Imagine a painter who wrestles, or a cellist who plays basketball, or a sculptor who sprints. The complexity of fusing art and sport. Very few people, I believe, know the rigor of ballet and, yes, that keeps the dancers separate from others for sure.

What actresses can you see in the role of Kate & Marine if anyone ever decides to bring Bright Burning Stars on the big or TV screen?

If I had it my way I’d want to see real dancers portray my girls, like Ava Arbuckle and Audrey Freeman whom I follow on IG!

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Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess

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None of us can understand what’s going on in another person’s life from the outside looking in. No one can really see the quiet you carry, unless you let them.

Release Date: March 5, 2019

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Price: $11.12 (paperback)

Publisher: North Star Editions

Plot Summary:

Victoria Parker knew her dad’s behavior toward her was a little unusual, but she convinced herself everything was fine—until she found herself locked out of the house at 3:00 a.m., surrounded by flashing police lights.

Now, dumped into a crowded, chaotic foster home, Victoria has to tiptoe around her domineering foster mother, get through senior year at a new school, and somehow salvage her college dreams . . . all while keeping her past hidden.

But some secrets won’t stay buried—especially when unwanted memories make Victoria freeze up at random moments and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Even worse, she can’t stop worrying about her stepsister Sarah, left behind with her father. All she wants is to move forward, but how do you focus on the future when the past won’t leave you alone?

Grade: A

Review:

From the acknowledgments, the reader soon learns that the author herself, much like her character Victoria, was put into Foster Care in Nevada (although unlike her character she was much younger, at 12 yrs. old). I think this is why she’s capable of giving one of the best and authentic novelizations about how the foster care system works and how the kids who end up in them are treated by their foster parents and social workers. Unlike other books that I’ve read about foster care, the protagonist Victoria doesn’t end up in it due to an unexpected death, but rather because her own father delivers a lie about her to cover up a very scary truth about himself and what he did to his daughter. Some of you may imagine what that ugly truth could possibly be, but I’d rather keep this review spoiler free, besides, Victoria doesn’t fully reveal all the details of that fateful night till almost halfway through the novel.

Victoria’s journey was very heartbreaking, but I loved how the friendships in this novel were top-notch. I’m kind of over novels or films always depicting female friendships as being petty and mean, and I love how Christina was so full of love for Victoria and stuck by her through thick and thin. Even her boyfriend, Kale, was a gem, who truly loved her despite the odds being against them. What I loved about this book is that all the characters were layered so even people you may have perceived as awful when you first encountered them, turned out to be better people, and those that seemed okay at first were revealed to not be so. Again, this book isn’t for the faint of heart because of the subject matter that is very trigger-worthy so tread lightly if you’re someone who’s easily triggered by the following topics: sexual assault, abuse, suicide, and self-harm, as those, are only a few things that are mentioned and played out throughout the novel.

But despite the dark winding tunnel that we find ourselves in with Victoria, there’s some light at the end. And that light, that hope, is what makes this novel absolutely stunning.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and North Star Editions for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Stillwater Girls by Minka Kent

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Two sisters raised in fear are about to find out why.

Release Date: April 9, 2019

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Price: $15.99 (hardcover)

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Plot Summary:

Ignorant of civilization and cautioned against its evils, nineteen-year-old Wren and her two sisters, Sage and Evie, were raised in off-the-grid isolation in a primitive cabin in upstate New York. When the youngest grows gravely ill, their mother leaves with the child to get help from a nearby town. And they never return.
As the months pass, hope vanishes. Supplies are low. Livestock are dying. A brutal winter is bearing down. Then comes the stranger. He claims to be looking for the girls’ mother, and he’s not leaving without them.

To escape, Wren and her sister must break the rule they’ve grown up with: never go beyond the forest.

Past the thicket of dread, they come upon a house on the other side of the pines. This is where Wren and Sage must confront something more chilling than the unknowable. They’ll discover what’s been hidden from them, what they’re running from, and the secrets that have left them in the dark their entire lives.

Grade: B-

Review:

I devoured half of the book in one day, that’s just how fast-paced and easy to read this novel is. The premise was truly alluring about sisters living off the grid with a mother who bailed on them in search of medicines for the younger sister. I never truly warmed up to the character of Nicolette, because in Kent’s previous novel, The Thinnest Air, she had another similar character (pretty rich girl with a husband acting suspiciously). I’m sure it’s fun to write about rich people, but I always feel a bit disconnected when books only focus on wealthy people who have closets that are the size of a living room.

My only gripe about the book was the twist in the middle. I think the book could’ve done without the twist or at least made a twist that was less far-fetched. I wish to keep this review spoiler-free, but the twist involved a serious mental health issue that seemed to be taken lightly.

The writing in the book is somewhat simplistic which means that it’s an easy read (not saying it’s a bad thing). But it only took me a couple of days to be done because it was a really quick read (lengthwise and ease of word choice). It wasn’t overly descriptive or flowery, but the excessive foreshadowing grew tiresome at times.

The book had too much of a happy ending for me, which seemed a bit unrealistic, but I guess that’s what readers expect so maybe many won’t mind. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that kept me interested and had me invested in the characters, so I will def check out other books by this author.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Jason Allen: Book Blog Tour Spotlight & Author Interview

I’m very excited to be hosting a spotlight and author interview on The Inkblotters with Jason Allen for his blog tour. This is the first time that I am hosting a blog tour stop so I’m incredibly thrilled to share this new amazing literary novel with all of you!

theeastend

A tragic accident threatens to unravel two families in this gripping novel of suspense and culture clash set in the Hamptons.

Purchase the novel on Amazon!

Plot Summary:

Corey Halpern, a local high schooler with a troubled home life, is desperate to leave the Hamptons and start anew somewhere else. His last summer before college, he settles for the escapism he finds in sneaking into neighboring mansions.

One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate, where he and his mother, Gina, work. Under the cover of darkness, Leo Sheffield—a billionaire CEO, patriarch and the owner of the vast lakeside manor—arrives unexpectedly with a companion. After a shocking poolside accident, everything depends on Leo burying the truth before his family and friends arrive for the holiday weekend. Unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened, as did other eyes in the shadows.

Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path in this spectacular debut. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina and Leo approach a common breaking point. With an ending as explosive as the Memorial Day fireworks on the island, The East End welcomes a bright new voice in fiction.

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How would you describe your writing process? (Do you write at night? During the day? Alone or out in public at a cafe?)

On the best of days, I’m a marathon writer. I’m always most productive when I can devote an entire day to novel pages, ideally starting the moment I wake up, or right after the coffee is in the cup anyway, and then working until at least dinner time. I used to write very late at night, sometimes all night until the sun had risen and the birds reminded me I should finally sleep, but in the past few years, I’m more a morning writer overall. I also teach at a university and have a heavy teaching load, so some days I can only spend an hour or so working on my writing before grading papers or heading to campus. I’ve found that I can’t work on a novel in public. I have to be in total solitude and quiet, at least when working on a novel. For shorter pieces, especially essays or poems, I sometimes like the energy in a coffee shop or a diner because it can spark a new thread of strange associative thoughts or odd metaphors, but as far as the novels go, I need to be a hermit for large blocks of time in order to stay immersed in the prolonged dream of the fictional world.

What physical settings do you find most conducive to writing?  Where did you write the bulk of this novel?

I wrote a lot of the early draft of The East End while living in Upstate New York, mostly while on my old couch, looking out the window throughout a few full cycles of the seasons and many days while the snow was falling. I revised it while living in Atlanta and renting a first-floor apartment in an old decrepit house that had a porch. I usually brought my laptop outside to the couch that was on the porch. During the hottest, most humid, most mosquito-thick parts of the year in Atlanta, I worked way more at night when it was cooler and less buggy and quieter.

How did writing a novel compare to your previous experience writing poetry?

Writing poems is much more spontaneous for me than the novel writing process. The scale is also so dramatically different. A poem is a distillation of image and emotion, sort of like carving and polishing a figurine of a baby elephant from a palm-size piece of limestone, while writing a novel takes years of chiseling marble slabs, and then rearranging and questioning how all the animals in an acre of the African savannah should be positioned to tell their larger interconnected story. Most of the poems in my collection A Meditation on Fire connect to personal experience, the initial drafts written with a sense of urgency. The East End was a constant process of exploration until the characters felt so real to me that I truly cared about each of them.

What I love about writing poetry is that I can spend one day on a first draft and feel I have something that is at least close to finished. What I love about novel writing is that I can only plan so much, and at a certain point during the years it takes to reach the end, there is sure to be at least a hundred ah-ha moments, so many surprises, and overall it’s so satisfying to complete a work that took hundreds of days, sometimes thousands of hours, and to discover something about the characters’ journeys that makes me think more deeply about my own experience in this world. Whether it’s through the short form with poems or essays or short stories, or the long form with novels, I can’t consider a piece finished in any form until I feel the same sense of emptiness—and I mean that in a good way. Each medium allows me to empty my consciousness to a certain extent, to empty out the static of daily life that we all cope with in our own ways.

What inspired you to write THE EAST END?

Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.

What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?

The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.

What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?

Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.

What was the hardest part about writing your debut book?

Maintaining relationships, maybe? It’s understandable that it might not be easy for most people to be in a relationship with someone who wants to spend days off from work in their pajama pants, shut away in a room for hours at a time. The work itself, I honestly love it—even when it feels like hard work. It’s incredible that after many years of writing, now I get to work on my next novels as others are reading The East End. I guess the hardest part is what happens after the writing is finished. I want everyone to like it… haha.

Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners.  How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?

I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.

What is your favorite genre to read?  Have any authors you’ve read influenced your work?

Literary fiction is definitely my favorite, but all of the best genre fiction always transcends its genre, so I love discovering an especially strange novel with magical realism elements, or one that introduces a dystopian world in a new and fascinating way (think the original Twilight Zone episodes, Rod Serling’s brilliant social commentary through sci-fi). Whatever the genre, the characters will always matter most to me, but also I find that I’m most grateful when an author obviously took the time to pull me through the story with relatively constant plot complications and tension—all the books I love, all the ones I just couldn’t down, have so much character complexity and tension throughout. I’m sure that every author I’ve read has influenced my work to varying degrees, and I’m always looking for that next book that will trick me into forgetting that I’m reading—the best novels always achieve this seemingly impossible magic trick.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently reading an advanced reader copy of a debut novel called The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring, which is a brilliant, funny, twisted gothic story that takes place in a haunted girls’ prep school in Argentina, and at the same time I’m in the midst of another advanced copy of a wonderful literary debut novel Goodnight Stranger, by Miciah Bay Gault. I’ve also just finished Winter Loon, by Susan Bernhard, and loved it for its rich characters and the author’s bravery to show the true struggles of working-class characters. Some other recent favorites include: The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy (if you haven’t read that yet, buy it immediately—it’s amazing); Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (so unique, both dark and funny in all the most interesting ways); and I just reread All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which I can only describe as a masterpiece, a novel in my top two or three of all-time.

Do you have plans to write more novels in the future?

Yes, absolutely. I plan to finish my second novel this summer. It’s a story set mostly in Portland, Oregon, where I also lived for ten years. It takes place during the winter of 2008, during the start of the Great Recession and the Housing Crisis, also during an especially cold winter. The characters are all down-and-outers, with addiction and family and desperation as the central themes. I’m also looking forward to revising my first memoir manuscript, as well as my first feature-length screenplay, and in the next year or so I will begin fleshing out my third novel. I have the novel-writing bug and realize now that I always have. I’m not hoping for a cure, either.

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