Thursday, June 30, 2016

TLC Blog Tour: The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro

A witty and winning new voice comes alive in this infectious road-trip adventure with a rock-and-roll twist. Shapiro’s debut blends the emotional nuance of Elena Ferrante with the potent nostalgia of High Fidelity, in a story of two women—one rich and alluring, the other just another planet in her dazzling orbit—and their fervid and troubled friendship.From the distance of a few yards, there might be nothing distinctive about Lee Parrish, nothing you could put your finger on, and yet, if she were to walk into a room, you would notice her. And if you were with her, I’d always thought, you could walk into any room.For quiet, cautious, and restless college freshman Vivian Feld, real life begins the day she moves in with the enigmatic Lee Parrish—daughter of died-too-young troubadour Jesse Parrish and model-turned-fashion designer Linda West—and her audiophile roommate Andy Elliott.When a one-night stand fractures Lee and Andy’s intimate rapport, Lee turns to Viv, inviting her into her glamorous fly-by-night world: an intoxicating mix of Hollywood directors, ambitious artists, and first-class everything. It is the beginning of a friendship that will inexorably shape both women as they embark on the rocky road to adulthood.More than a decade later, Viv is married to Andy and hasn’t heard from Lee in three years. Suddenly Lee reappears, begging for a favor: she wants Viv to help her find the lost album Jesse was recording before his death. Holding on to a life-altering secret and ambivalent about her path, Viv allows herself to be pulled into Lee’s world once again. But the chance to rekindle the magic and mystery of their youth might come with a painful lesson: while the sun dazzles us with its warmth and brilliance, it may also blind us from seeing what we really need.What begins as a familiar story of two girls falling under each other’s spell evolves into an evocative, and at times irrepressibly funny, study of female friendship in all its glorious intensity and heartbreaking complexity.
The Sun in Your Eyes is a brilliant mash-up of road-trip story, mystery and social commentary.

This book reminded me a lot of one of my all-time favorite novels, Summer Sisters by Judy Blume which also spanned decades of a female friendship in all its greatness and the sorrow when it falls apart.  I loved that this book also had this extra layer that gave you a lot to think about fame.  Lee's dad was a famous musician but since he died when she was so young, she barely got to know him yet millions fans believed they knew him and felt they even loved him.  Of course they didn't really know him but who hasn't felt a sense of love and kinship toward a celebrity?  I had my suspicions as to the mystery surrounding Jesse's car crash but it was a great ride exploring it with Lee and Viv.

Pick up The Sun in Your Eyes, at your favorite local bookstore or online book retailer.

Visit the rest of the stops on the blog tour for additional reviews and information about The Sun in Your Eyes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

10 Things I Loved About The Agency Series by Y. S. Lee

Mary Quinn was only twelve years old when she was sentenced to death. Turning to thievery after the death of her parents, she managed to scrape out an existence on the streets of Victorian London, but after being rescued from the gallows and given a home in a school for girls, her life took a turn for the better. Now she's seventeen and learns that the school is more than it seems. She's given the chance to train as a spy in an agency of women who take advantage of the way girls and women are overlooked and taken for granted. As she faces a variety of mysteries, villains, challenges, and a chance at romance, Mary has to deal not only with the dangers of her work but also with the weight of her past and her heritage. Can she come to grips with who she is or will she lose everything she's worked to gain?

I received the second book of the series - The Body at the Tower - at BookExpo America several years ago. I couldn't read them out of order, of course, so I tracked down the first book. After reading the first two I had to read the third and fourth as well!
This review contains some mild spoilers for the series, since I'm looking at it as a whole, but I'll try to keep it as spoiler free as possible.
So here we go - 10 things I loved about Y. S. Lee's Agency series

  1. Mary - I liked how resourceful and determined she was. Yet she really struggled with how to survive in a world where she was considered a second class citizen on several different levels. She has to learn how to be comfortable with who she is and with the choices she's made.
  2. James - The banter between Mary and James was probably my favorite part of the books (and there was far too little of it in the fourth one!). I liked how he developed as a character. It was nice that he had his own family and other things to deal with, even though the series was focused on Mary.
  3. Their relationship - minor spoilers - I really appreciated that Mary and James went their separate ways at the end of the first book. And I liked the way Lee brought them believably back together again. The development of their relationship happened at a good pace, I thought.
  4. Spies! - I really enjoyed the way Lee played with the cultural mores in Victorian England. And even if there wasn't a female agency like this, I know there had to be women who would have excelled at that kind of subterfuge. Because women were often overlooked and would have been able to gain information as servants, governesses, etc.
  5. The setting - Lee did a good job of evoking Victorian England through the little details - the clothes, the food, the descriptions of setting woven in through the mystery.
  6. The ethnic issues - minor spoiler - Mary is half Chinese and I really appreciated the way Lee dug into the prejudices and challenges of Asian people in London at the time. It's not something I've ever really heard about before and she wove it into the narrative in such an interesting way.
  7. The mysteries - I liked the way that each book had its own distinct mystery which was wrapped up by the book's end. There were larger threads that carried through the series and call backs to earlier events and people, but it was kind of nice having a sense of closure at the end of each book. Also, each mystery was different and had its own challenges and approaches to solving it.
  8. The layers - There was the larger mystery, but there were also plenty of other things going on to flesh out the stories and the characters - conflict in the Agency, Mary's conflicted feelings for James, trying to figure out who she is apart from the Agency, dealing with her past, James dealing with his brother and familial obligations - it just made for a much more interesting larger story. And I thought Lee did a good job of balancing all those different layers.
  9. A complete story - I'm kind of glad I didn't get around to reading this until now, because I was able to read all four books one right after the other and get the whole story. I thought Lee did a good job of keeping you reading and wanting to know what happens in the next book and then by wrapping it up well in the fourth book. There's a real sense of closure but also a recognition that there are still a lot of possibilities left for Mary (and James).
  10. The ending - Spoilers! - I liked the way the fourth book tied back to the first book and wrapped up the loose ends from the first mystery. I especially liked the way Lee wrapped up Mary's family story as well. It just completed the larger story pieces really nicely.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Everywhere and Every Way by Jennifer Probst

Ever the responsible eldest brother, Caleb Pierce started working for his father’s luxury contracting business at a young age, dreaming of one day sitting in the boss’s chair. But his father’s will throws a wrench in his plans by stipulating that Caleb share control of the family business with his two estranged brothers. 
Things only get more complicated when demanding high-end home designer Morgan hires Caleb to build her a customized dream house that matches her specifications to a T—or she’ll use her powerful connections to poison the Pierce brothers’ reputation. Not one to ignore a challenge, Caleb vows to get the job done—if only he can stop getting distracted by his new client’s perfect…amenities. 
But there’s more to icy Morgan than meets the eye. And Caleb’s not the only one who knows how to use a stud-finder. In fact, Morgan is pretty sure she’s found hers—and he looks quite enticing in a hard hat. As sparks fly between Morgan and Caleb despite his best intentions not to mix business and pleasure, will she finally warm up and help him lay the foundation for everlasting love?
I loved this book! I watch a lot of HGTV especially Property Brothers so this book was right up my alley.  However the Pierce brothers don't get along anywhere near as well as the Scott brothers seem to.  I thought the romance was great and it was definitely hot.  Probst does a stellar job at keeping the sexual tension between Caleb and Morgan pulsing.  In addition, I loved that Caleb and Morgan were both mature, independent, hard-working people. Morgan's secret also sheds awareness on an important issue.  I can't wait to see what's in store for Caleb's brothers in the planned sequels for this series.  Everywhere and Every Way is available at your favorite bookseller now, so rush out and pick it up, you won't be sorry.  

****/5 stars

For more on Jennifer Probst and her novels, please visit the author's website.

What I'm Reading Now: June Edition

May flew by and we're heading into summer! Here's a peek into the things I'm reading right now.

On my Nook: Still mainlining L.M. Montgomery's works - now reading through her collected short stories, which I've never read before. She certainly has a fascinatingly broad spread of fiction.

On my Phone: I thought I would try reading some classics on my phone and I started Don Quixote, but I haven't had any time to read it, yet - I think I'm still on page 1!

In Print - Fiction: Did I mention I'm reading a lot of L.M. Montgomery? Right now I'm in the middle of Magic for Marigold and I'm finding it not quite as enjoyable as the last time I read it. I thought maybe I was just getting Montgomery'd out, but I'm still really liking the short stories and I actually picked up and read A Tangled Web and had no trouble getting caught up in that one. I can't put my finger on why this one isn't captivating me as much as it has in the past.

In Print - Non-Fiction: All Cracked Up by Patsy Clairmont. She is one of my favorite speakers and her voice carries over well in her book. The short little chapters make it easy to read a little whenever I have time.

On Audio in My Car: Nothing right now. I know, shocking. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last week and haven't figured out where I want to go next. Maybe a re-reading of The Chronicles of Narnia is in order.

On TV: I just started watching Leverage on Netflix. I've watched a lot of individual episodes before, but I always find it interesting to see how the story lines build when you watch something, even a serial type show, from the beginning. I just love the different characters and their tics and how they work together (and get on each other's nerves). It's just a fun show.

What's on your summer reading list? Anything good that you're reading now or are looking forward to getting to this month?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

Winner of the UK's Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition, this page-turning debut novel follows an orphan whose late, beloved best friend bequeaths her a treasure hunt that leads her all over Victorian England and finally to the one secret her friend never shared.  
It is 1831 when eight-year-old Aurelia Vennaway finds a naked baby girl abandoned in the snow on the grounds of her aristocratic family's magnificent mansion. Her parents are horrified that she has brought a bastard foundling into the house, but Aurelia convinces them to keep the baby, whom she names Amy Snow. Amy is brought up as a second-class citizen, despised by Vennaways, but she and Aurelia are as close as sisters. When Aurelia dies at the age of twenty-three, she leaves Amy ten pounds, and the Vennaways immediately banish Amy from their home.  
But Aurelia left her much more. Amy soon receives a packet that contains a rich inheritance and a letter from Aurelia revealing she had kept secrets from Amy, secrets that she wants Amy to know. From the grave she sends Amy on a treasure hunt from one end of England to the other: a treasure hunt that only Amy can follow. Ultimately, a life-changing discovery awaits...if only Amy can unlock the secret. In the end, Amy escapes the Vennaways, finds true love, and learns her dearest friend's secret, a secret that she will protect for the rest of her life.  
An abandoned baby, a treasure hunt, a secret. As Amy sets forth on her quest, readers will be swept away by this engrossing gem of a novel the wonderful debut by newcomer Tracy Rees.

It's easy to understand how Amy Snow by Tracy Rees won a contest to search for a bestseller. This was a great story that blended elements of romance, mystery and historical fiction.  I loved the upstairs/downstairs friendship between Amy and Aurelia.  It was a good patch for the hole the end of Downton Abbey left me with.  I loved the unraveling and guessing of Aurelia's secrets along with Amy. I suspected her secret before Amy did but the journey was fun nonetheless.  This was a great read, definitely check it out.  You can find Amy Snow at your favorite bookseller today!

If you visit the publisher's website, you'll find a book club guide and a Q&A with the author.


Special thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Blog Tour: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Three girls went into the woods; two came out.
It sounds like a joke, or a riddle. But it was only, would ever after be, the rest of our life.
Shortly after Halloween, 1991, the local high-school basketball star is found in the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of satanic worship in the region.
In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshipping bad influence. Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image—and unleashing a fierce defiance with unexpected and harrowing consequences. By turns a shocking story of love and violence and an addictive portrait of the intoxication of female friendship, Girls on Fire is an incendiary and unforgettable snapshot of girlhood: girls lost and found, girls weak and strong, girls who burn bright and brighter—and girls who flicker away.

Just like Dex and Lacey's friendship, this book is all consuming and not for the faint of heart.

Wasserman does a fantastic job of plopping the reader in the midst of the 90's grunge area. I was in middle school in 1991 but I remembered all of the pop culture and musical references.  In high school, I even wore the thick rubber heeled lace up boots like Lacey and Dex love.  Aside from a similar love of grunge footwear, I had little in common Lacey, Dex or anyone in this novel.

I'm struggling to describe this book.  It's not that I didn't like the book, the setting and characters were so vividly described that it all seemed real, it just seemed all too real.  It was dark and twisted, a tragic story full of emotionally lost people.  Not only do Lacey and Dex lose their sense of self in their obsession with each other but Dex's father is also a tragic figure who lost himself decades ago.  

***/5 stars

About Robin Wasserman

Robin Wasserman is a graduate of Harvard University and the author of several successful novels for young adults. A recent recipient of a MacDowell fellowship, she lives in Brooklyn, New York. Girls on Fire is her first novel for adults.

Find out more about Robin at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

For additional reviews of Girls on Fire, please visit the rest of the stops on the TLC Blog Tour.