The Amateurs (Guest ARC Review)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Hey guys! I am super excited to invite my good friend Izzy to my blog today! I've been friends with Izzy for around 6 years now, and she's always been the one I turned to IRL to fangirl with about everything, especially books. I've been trying to convince her to join blogging, and although I've failed to do so thus far, she was kind enough to offer to write a review for an ARC she received when she participated in BiblioBattle Kinokuniya in NYC. Anyway, I am so happy that Izzy was willing to take time out of her busy schedule to join us on the blog for a bit to share her thoughts on The Amateurs by Sara Shepard!

The Amateurs by Sara Shepard
Series: The Amateurs #1
Genre: Young Adult/Mystery
Page Length: 320 pages
Source: ARC won at BiblioBattle Kinokuniya
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

About The Amateurs (via Goodreads):
As soon as Seneca Frazier sees the post on the Case Not Closed website about Helena Kelly, she’s hooked. Helena’s high-profile disappearance five years earlier is the one that originally got Seneca addicted to true crime. It’s the reason she’s a member of the site in the first place.

So when Maddy Wright, her best friend from the CNC site, invites Seneca to spend spring break in Connecticut looking into the cold case, she immediately packs her bag. But the moment she steps off the train in trendy, glamorous Dexby, things begin to go wrong. Maddy is nothing like she expected, and Helena’s sister, Aerin Kelly, seems completely hostile and totally uninterested in helping with their murder investigation.

But when Brett, another super user from the site, joins Seneca and Maddy in Dexby, Aerin starts to come around. The police must have missed something, and someone in Dexby definitely has information they’ve been keeping quiet.

As Seneca, Brett, Maddy, and Aerin begin to unravel dark secrets and shocking betrayals about the people closest to them, they seem to be on the murderer’s trail at last. But somewhere nearby the killer is watching . . . ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the truth stays buried.
Now, most of what I know of Sara Shepard revolves around three words: Pretty. Little. Liars.  Against my parents’ wishes I’d stealthily watch the TV show to admire Drew Van Acker’s face (Before I stopped watching PLL I was totally Team #Jaria). I had read the first two books, but I never cared to venture through the rest of the superficial, chick-litty, and seemingly neverending series.

When I won a copy of The Amateurs I was only expecting more of the same from Sara Shepard - a mindless and breezy read. What I did not expect was to end up writing this review saying that my new favorite book is written by the author of Pretty Little Liars.

The Amateurs transcends Shepard’s It clique-centric voice and writing style to evolve into an elegant, sleek thriller and an instant classic Sara Shepard novel. I could still feel her authentic writing self through all of the words, which brought back middle school nostalgia and felt like a snuggly blanket when the feels hurt. All the characters, even if they appeared for a glimmer of a moment, were fleshed out onto a relatable scale that only made the tension, secrets, suspense, and emotions escalate to nail-biting heights that had seemed forced before, colliding with her writing and story to make for a truly fantastic read.

For once, Sara Shepard is writing about outsiders in her novels - and she should do it more often, because everyone - even the villains - in the story were compelling. Her third-person writing conveyed that same aspect, which not only amped up the secrets but truly gave me the feeling of being in another person’s shoes. I was able to connect to characters that IRL would be the polar opposite of me, helping me to develop a deeper connection and bond to the story and plot.

Aerin, however, is the crowning jewel out of all of Sara Shepard’s characters. And not just in this book - I’m talking about all her characters. Ever. Aerin’s feelings are raw and honest, making her character arc impactful and her growth inspiring. Through the lens of others Aerin’s personality matures, which only made her feel more organic and real to me. Seneca is also as well-crafted as her personality in the novel, although (without spoilers) her character development did suffer from one too many of Shepard’s classic twists and turns to keep up with and sometimes seemed like overkill.

Also, Maddy is bae. I don’t need to say anything more about that.

This is the only accurate representation of Maddy Wright that I will accept.
I had some minor problems with some of the writing in certain scenes, which at times seemed confused and muddled between all the different points of view, and her style has always relied on the generic twists that just seemed superfluous towards the tail end of the novel. But the ending made my jaw drop. And overall I just loved this book. The Amateurs was an incredible surprise that no matter how many times I’ll expect it, I will never see it coming.
This was pretty much my reaction at the end of the book. Although I feel bad for using the GIF of this moment in PLL...

my rating: 4.5 stars

Waiting on Wednesday (59)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Genre: Young Adult/Magical Realism
Page Length: 288 pages
Publisher: A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: October 4, 2016

About When the Moon was Ours (via Goodreads):

When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Blind Date with a Book

Thursday, September 8, 2016

This post is way overdue. Oops. Anyway, last month, I was at Books of Wonder for a signing when I stumbled across this (okay, so maybe I knew it was there and scouted it out but whatever). I've seen these "blind date with a book" things mentioned online a few times, and have seen Etsy shops offering the services, but I'd never come face to face with one in real life until last month.

Anyway, I've always thought it was a unique and fun idea, so I wanted to try it! And now, I'm going to share my brief experience.

So for those of you who don't know what a blind date with a book is, basically books are covered in brown paper (or I guess it doesn't have to be brown paper but that's the typical way it's done) and there's a brief, more vague description than the actual synopsis of the book written on it (as you can sort of see in the photo). So you don't really know what you're getting and can't judge a book by its cover.

So anyway, I looked through the books and this one caught my eye:

Although the description sounded vaguely familiar (and my friend Izzy had her suspicions about what book it would be), I knew I hadn't read it and decided to buy it. I guess the biggest issue with these things is that if the description is too vague, you might end up with a book you already have.

Fortunately for me, I picked well and got Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen! It's been on my TBR for too long now, and I don't think I would have otherwise picked it up on my own, so I'm happy with my blind date. I would have preferred to share my thoughts about blind dating books after I read Scarlet, but my reading schedule is in need of repair right now, so I guess that will have to wait. Maybe I'll do a follow up review in the future to let you all know how the date officially went ;)

Anyway, I honestly think blind dating books is a fabulous idea! I understand there is some risk in doing it, since there could be mislabeling or repeats of books we already own, but I think it's a great way for people to step outside of their comfort zones and take chances with books we may not have decided to read otherwise!

Waiting on Wednesday (58)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Page Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Soho Teen
Publication Date: January 17, 2016

About History is All You Left Me (via Goodreads):

OCD-afflicted Griffin has just lost his first love, Theo, in a drowning accident. In an attempt to hold onto every piece of the past, he forges a friendship with Theo's last boyfriend, Jackson. When Jackson begins to exhibit signs of guilt, Griffin suspects he's hiding something, and will stop at nothing to get to the truth about Theo's death. But as the grieving pair grows closer, readers will question Griffin's own version of the truth—both in terms of what he's willing to hide and what true love means

August Wrap-Up + September TBR

Sunday, September 4, 2016
I can't believe summer is coming to a close... It went by so fast :/ Anyway, here's what happened in August.

Books Read:
- Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Currently Reading:
- Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
- Spells and Sorcery by S. Usher Evans

- BookItCon haul
- Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
- Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner (thanks for trading with me, Nori!)
- Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

- Kids of Appetite by David Arnold (4.5 stars)
- Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (3/3.5 stars)
- Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (4.5 stars)

Other Posts:
- Claudia reviewed The Geography of You & Me by Jennifer E. Smith (DNF)
- Hogwarts House Identity Crisis
- BookItCon Recap + Haul

- Since I wasn't able to do a lot of reading this month (if you couldn't tell), I'm definitely not going to be writing wrap-up posts for the ReadThemAllThon or ARC August... although I did manage to read Of Fire and Stars for ARC August (review probably not going to go up until October though). And I got my Cascade Badge for the ReadThemAllThon! Although I didn't end up crying (and it wasn't my original choice for the badge), I expected to cry while reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, so it still counts, right? RIGHT? (I'm desperate)

September TBR

It's going to be an extremely busy month for me, so I doubt I'll be able to read all of these, but if I can manage it, I'm hoping to read the following:

1. finish the books I'm currently reading (2)
3. The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
4. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
5. Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

How was your August? What are your reading plans this month?

Tiger's Watch (Cover Reveal)

Thursday, September 1, 2016
Hey guys! I am so so so excited that I get to share the cover for Tiger's Watch by Julia Ember with you all today! But first, here are some more details about the book!

Title: Tiger's Watch
Series: Ashes of Gold (Book 1 of 3)
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release: August 2017
GoodReads Link:
Cover Design: Meghan Moss 


Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as an inhabiter, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But when the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.

Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi sees a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander – a side that draws them to Xian.

When their spying reveals that everything the inhabiter's academy taught was a lie, Tashi faces a choice: save their country or the boy they've started to love? But while Tashi grapples with the decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn't question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabiter’s bond to their animal is for life – when Katala dies, so will Tashi.
Doesn't Tiger's Watch sound absolutely AMAZING?!? You can add the book to your Goodreads shelves here :)

Now for what you've all been waiting for... THE COVER!

Isn't it stunning? This cover is honestly one of my favorite covers ever, so I hope you love it too!

About the Author:
Originally from the Windy City, Julia Ember now resides in Sunny Scotland where she learned to enjoy both haggis and black pudding. She spends her days working as a professional Book Nerd for a large book distribution firm, and her nights writing YA Romantic Fantasy novels. 

A world traveller since childhood, Julia has now visited over 60 countries. Her travels inspire the fictional worlds she writes about and she populates those worlds with magic and monsters.

Holding Up the Universe (ARC Review) ~ Wanted, Necessary, and Loved

Monday, August 29, 2016
Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Page Length: 400 pages
Format: ARC (won as a B-Fest/First in Line prize)
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Although I received a free copy of this book, my opinion of it is completely my own.

About Holding Up the Universe (via Goodreads):

From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.
Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything. 

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone. 
Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.
Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.

Let me say it right now: I loved this book. And before all the haters who haven’t even read this book start having a fit, let me say something. So maybe Libby is a girl who once had to be lifted out of her house by a crane, and that's a big deal (I won't deny it). But she and this story are both so much more than that.
Holding Up the Universe is a story about finding yourself and your voice despite social stigmas. It's about learning to be comfortable and confident in your own skin. It's about learning to embrace your flaws and learning to love yourself, inside and out (and to learn to love others the same). It’s about learning to dance, even when everyone is staring, and to not care because you’re doing you and you’re happy.
Yes, maybe Libby was fat-shamed by her classmates constantly, and it was heartbreaking to watch them do these awful things to her. Really, truly heartbreaking. In no way am I saying it’s acceptable to bully people, no matter who they are. It’s just not okay, period. However, this story wasn’t about society peer pressuring her into becoming someone else. She lost weight from the accident for her health, but after that, it was up to her. And she, through it all, decided to be herself. And that is pretty damn inspiring. She chooses to be an individual who sticks up for herself and her friends, rather than conforming to others’ expectations of her.
Jack’s story is a bit more complicated. While I didn’t agree with all of his decisions in the beginning, I could understand in some ways why he did it. I can only imagine how hard it would be to be recognized by everyone, but not be able to recognize them in return, and how he felt he had to conform to what his classmates expected so he could lay low instead of standing out (or being cast out). Despite all his personality/attitude problems, I couldn’t hate Jack. He was a good person deep down, as Libby points out, even if he didn’t realize it.
The romance was definitely cute and I loved Libby and Jack’s relationship, but I appreciate that it didn’t overwhelm the plot. It started off as skepticism, then friendship, then something more (aka it wasn’t the dreaded instalove). They helped each other grow and become better people, but they didn’t magically change because of the other, which I’m so glad about. I feel like a lot of times, characters are expected to (and often do) change for the sake of others or their love interests, but that wasn’t the case in Holding Up the Universe. They were catalysts of each other's change in the scientific sense (speeding up the reaction/change) rather than causing one another to change for the sake of the other. In simpler terms, they already wanted to find themselves, but because they had such a good relationship, it was easier to recognize who they wanted to be. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy, but I think it’s true. It’s easier to find the best in yourself when you’re with people who care about you for you and want you to be the best you can be.
I was afraid Holding Up the Universe would pale in comparison to All the Bright Places, but Jennifer Niven once again swept me away with her newest novel. While Niven’s novels are quite different, both stories have a special place in my heart. All in all, Holding Up the Universe was a heart-wrenching, heartwarming, beautiful, and inspiring story that deserves a chance to be loved.

My Rating: 4.5 stars