Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: Keeping Her Secret by Sarah Nicolas

Keeping Her Secret by Sarah Nicolas
Series: Endless Summer
Published: August 22nd, 2016
Publisher: Entangled Crush
220 pages (eARC)
Genre: Contemporary YA/LGBTQ
Acquired this book: Via NetGalley in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

The last person Riya Johnson expected to run into at her new summer camp is Courtney Chastain—her childhood best friend and the girl who broke her heart after a secret, mind-blowing, life-altering kiss. She definitely didn’t expect to be sharing a bunk bed with her for four long weeks.

Courtney has what every girl wants—she’s beautiful, rich, and the object of every boy’s desire at Camp Pine Ridge. Too bad none of them make her feel an iota of what Riya’s kiss did all those years ago. But Courtney needs to uphold appearances at all costs—even if it means instigating an all-out prank war with Riya as her main target.

Neither girl can stop thinking about the other…but that doesn’t mean they can give up past hurts and take a chance on a future together.

My first thought when I discovered Keeping Her Secret: a romance about two girls falling for each other at summer camp? Count me in! It’s no secret I’ll read just about anything f/f, so throw in the added bonus of a fun setting (I always wanted to go to sleep-away camp), and I’m in.

There was a lot to like about Keeping Her Secret. I enjoyed the dual POV and think it worked well for this story. It was important to get both girls’ perspectives to see how they were feeling and what they were thinking about certain situations. They were very different, so it was interesting to see how they perceived each other, especially when they didn’t vocalize certain things to each other.

One thing I really appreciated was the exploration of how - and why - coming-out experiences are different for everyone. Riya was open about and comfortable with her sexuality. I was so happy to see a bisexual main character - it’s still so rare to see on-page rep, especially in a main character. Courtney, on the other hand, didn’t even realize she was gay. She’d kissed a lot of boys and never felt anything, but it was like she had this mental block that prevented her from even considering she might like girls, even though she’d liked the kiss she and Riya shared years ago. It was Courtney’s growth I appreciated most. She had a lot to figure out - not just her sexuality, but her future as well. She was popular, rich, beautiful, and talented, but there was more to her than met the eye. She tried to seem tough and mean (and at times she really was just plain mean, rude, and entitled), but she was worried what people would think of her, and afraid of the control her parents had over her, especially when it came to her future. With her parents being rich and powerful lawyers living in the south, she was certain they wouldn’t accept a gay daughter. I enjoyed watching her work through things and gain some strength and independence.

I also really liked the side characters, especially Courtney’s twin brother, Colt (he was probably my favourite character - loyal, kind, caring, supportive, would do anything for his sister) and Riya’s new friend Dee.

So why only three stars? I couldn’t connect to the characters. And because I couldn’t connect to them, my emotions never went beyond the surface. I wanted the girls to end up together, but I wasn’t rooting for them the way I do for characters I truly love and connect to. I think part of it could be the fact there was so much angst and drama. It seemed never-ending at times. Things would get smoothed over, but then there’d be another incident or misunderstanding and the animosity between the girls would amp up yet again. I get that the characters were emotional, hormonal teenagers and they were trying to figure stuff out, and I also get that the setting of the story made for limited plot potential, but it did affect my overall enjoyment of the book. This could just be a ‘me thing’ though, and might not bother other people. This might be one of those instances where the fact I’m not a teenager and haven’t been for awhile comes into play!
If you’re looking for a quick, cute, character-driven summer read about self-discovery and acceptance, be sure to check out Keeping Her Secret.

Have you read Keeping Her Secret? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Did you ever go to summer camp?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Series: Standalone
Published: February 21st, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
359 pages (paperback)
Genre: Contemporary YA/LGBTQ
Acquired this book: Bought
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is one of those books that I think people will either ‘get’ and connect to or they won’t. It’s quiet and poetic and has a slow, meandering feel to it. For people looking for cute, quick romance, this is pretty much the opposite. It definitely has a cute factor, but in a different way than fluffy reads or sweet romcom type books. In place of a tradition plot, we get more of a series of events that make up Aristotle’s life. The overall effect is something beautiful and poignant that seeps into your heart and mind if you let it.

Mostly this is a book about friendship and family. I absolutely loved the boys’ families and the family dynamics we got to see. Not only were their parents present, they also play an important role in the story. There are so many books with absent parents or horrible parents, so it was refreshing to see parents who were involved in their kids’ lives, talked to them, guided them, and loved them unconditionally. The friendship between Ari and Dante was complicated; they were similar in many ways, but also different, and it made their relationship complicated at times. I thought they played really well off each other, and I enjoyed their interactions and the slow progression into something more than friendship.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book that makes you think - about life, friendship, love, family, acceptance, your purpose in the world. It’ll break your heart and heal it at the same time. It really captured the feeling of those confusing teenage years as you try to find your place in the world and discover what it all means.

Have you read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

ARC August 2016 Update #1

I can't believe we're already halfway through August! It's going by so fast. I'm pretty pleased with my progress for ARC August so far, especially considering I've hardly been home all month. I've read two books, DNF'd one, and I'm currently reading two others. Hoping to up my pace a bit during the last half of the month!

A Brit on the Side by Brenda St John Brown (from author)
Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton (from Edelweiss)
Crushed by Deborah Coonts (DNF at 15%) (from publicist)

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton (from Edelweiss)
Keeping Her Secret by Sarah Nicolas (from NetGalley)

Dreamology by Lucy Keating (from Edelweiss)
A Pocket Full of Murder by RJ Anderson (From Simon & Schuster Canada)
As I Descended by Robin Talley (from Edelweiss) 

Whether you're participating in ARC August or not, how's your reading progress for the month going?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: A Brit on the Side by Brenda St John Brown

A Brit on the Side by Brenda St John Brown
Series: Calder Castle #1
Published: August 15th, 2016
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary New Adult Romance
294 pages (eARC)
Acquired this book: From the author in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

Bea’s English escape plan:
• Work in a real British castle
• Quality time with bestie
• Figure out what spotted dick really is
Fall for bestie’s older brother. Hard.

Bea Gillespie would rather do anything than teach summer school math two classrooms down from her ex-fiancĂ©. So when her best friend, Scarlett, invites her to England for the summer to work in her family’s castle-turned-hotel, she jumps at the chance.

Now Bea’s an ocean away from her problems at home, but she’s got a bigger one. A British one. Scarlett’s older brother, Jasper, is at Castle Calder for the summer, too. And he’s as sexy and smart as Bea remembers. Two years ago Jasper came stateside, and he and Bea shared a hot weekend. But that’s all it was — a weekend. One she purposely didn’t tell Scarlett about.

It didn't feel like much of a secret until now. As Bea falls for Jasper, what started off as a fling begins feeling more and more like the kind of thing you’d gush about to your best friend. If you hadn’t been lying to her all along.

Brenda St John Brown knocked it out of the park with her 2014 New Adult debut, Swimming to Tokyo, and she’s done it again with A Brit on the Side. Being obsessed with all things British, I couldn’t wait for this book, and it didn’t disappoint. Right from the beginning, I wished I could be at Castle Calder with Bea and the gang, working for the summer and falling for a cute Brit.

What I love best about St John Brown’s books is the complex, believable characters. These characters - as well as their dialogue, actions, and situations they’re in - are so real. They’re flawed and realistic, which made me love them even when they did things that pissed me off. Bea was a fantastic character; she was strong to begin with, but over the course of her summer in England, she learned and grew so much. I appreciated the way the author tackled Bea’s body issues - as someone who’s always been overweight and self-conscious about it, I connected to that aspect of Bea’s character. It was fun and rewarding to watch her gain independence and confidence, learn important lessons that were often difficult and painful, and also watch her fall for Jasper.

Speaking of Jasper...Oh, Jasper. *sigh* I loved how he wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t full of smooth, romantic lines or grand gestures. He was just a regular guy, and he made mistakes, did and said some stupid things, and even made me doubt him at times, but ultimately I loved him, partly because of those things. I enjoyed his relationship with Bea and how it wasn’t easy. The will-they-won’t-they pull added nice tension, and there were some hella sexy and steamy moments between him and Bea that I sure enjoyed!

Besides Bea and Jasper, A Brit on the Side was full of wonderful side characters. Everyone had a purpose, which I appreciated. Going back to what I was saying about St John Brown’s ability to write complex characters, she’s also spot on with her portrayal of realistic friendships and relationships. There were ups and downs, bumps in the road, things that made you wonder if everything would turn out okay, and I loved that because it reflected real life. It was easy to immerse myself in the world of Castle Calder and imagine I was friends with these characters. In fact, I got so emotionally invested that I happy-cried like a baby through the last chapter of the book.

Full of layered, realistic characters and situations, plus as many giggles as swoons, A Brit on the Side is the perfect summer escape.

{Read my 5-star review of Swimming to Tokyo}

Have you read A Brit on the Side? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Have you been to England? Ever stayed in a castle? What's the best summer job you've ever had?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Review: The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
Series: Standalone
Published: June 7th, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
320 pages (ARC)
Genre: Adult Mystery
Acquired this book: From the publisher in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense. 


I finished The Girls in the Garden several weeks ago and had no idea where to start my review. It’s one of those books I felt I needed to sit with and think about. And I did think about it - often. I was originally going to give it three stars, but over time I realized the fact I continued to think about it even weeks later meant the author had done something important and meaningful: she’d written a story and characters that aren’t easily forgotten.

I wasn’t sure what to think of The Girls in the Garden at first. I was a little confused in the beginning because of the alternating points of view between children and adults. There was such a large cast of characters, it was hard to keep track of everyone. I also felt like we were thrown into the story and expected to know what was happening and who people were. When I sorted out who was who it was easier to keep track of everyone but it was quite jarring at first.

Once I got used to the way the story was told, I enjoyed getting to see things from both the adults’ perspective and the children’s. It was an interesting, unique look at the pains of not only growing up, but also watching your children grow up. For the kids, there was so much to figure out - pushing boundaries, making discoveries, trying to grow up too fast, wanting to find their place in the world but often finding resistance from one direction or another. For the adults, there was wanting to be there for their kids without smothering them, giving them independence while trying to protect them and keep them safe, realizing they might not know their own children as well as you’d thought. Because there were so many characters and so much going on, plus getting such a close look at the lives of the people living in the garden, it was hard to know who to trust, which added a nice underlying tension throughout the story that kept me flipping pages.

Because many of the people in the garden have known each other for years and have lived there all or most of their lives, there’s this sense of intimacy in the community. Sometimes it’s an uncomfortable, almost incestuous intimacy, which makes things interesting because it adds to that feeling of wondering who to trust and if there’s more going on than meets the eye. It makes you think about the people in your own life, in your own community. It was fascinating in a sick sort of way. I often felt almost like a voyeur - on the outside peering into this garden, getting a peek at the lives of these people and the secrets they keep.

In a lot of ways, The Girls in the Garden felt like it was all over the place. There was often too much time spent dwelling on small matters while other aspects of the plot seemed rushed or left open. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way things ended up, but I wouldn’t say I was disappointed either. This book made me feel a lot of contradictory things, but the fact this story has stuck with me even weeks after reading clearly means the author created a world and characters that make you think and stick with you. If you’re looking for a multi-faceted mystery with a dynamic group of characters, give The Girls in the Garden a try.

Have you read The Girls in the Garden? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ARC August 2016 Goals

The 4th annual ARC August is hosted by Octavia and Shelly at Read. Sleep. Repeat.

Here are some of the books I'm hoping to read this month:

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (Edelweiss)
A Brit on the Side by Brenda St John Brown (From author)
Crushed by Deborah Coonts (From author)
Dreamology by Lucy Keating (Edelweiss)
Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton (Edelweiss)
A Pocket Full of Murder by RJ Anderson (From Simon & Schuster Canada)

I have several dozen ARCs (I suuuuck), so I might veer from this list, but I hope to get at least some of these ones read!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: The Architect of Song by AG Howard

The Architect of Song Blog Tour is brought to you by Rock Star Book Tours

The Architect of Song by AG Howard
Series: Haunted Hearts Legacy #1
Published: August 15th, 2016
Publisher: Golden Orb Press
425 pages (eARC)
Genre: New Adult Historic/Paranormal Romance
Acquired this book: From the author in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon US* || Amazon CAN}

A lady imprisoned by deafness, an architect imprisoned by his past, and a ghost imprisoned within the petals of a flower intertwine in this love story that transcends life and death.

For most of her life, nineteen-year-old Juliet Emerline has subsisted – isolated by deafness – making hats in the solitude of her home. Now, she’s at risk to lose her sanctuary to Lord Nicolas Thornton, a twenty-seven-year-old mysterious and eccentric architect with designs on her humble estate. When she secretly witnesses him raging beside a grave, Juliet investigates, finding the name “Hawk” on the headstone and an unusual flower at the base. The moment Juliet touches the petals, a young English nobleman appears in ghostly form, singing a song only her deaf ears can hear. The ghost remembers nothing of his identity or death, other than the one name that haunts his afterlife: Thornton.

To avenge her ghostly companion and save her estate, Juliet pushes aside her fear of society and travels to Lord Thornton’s secluded holiday resort, posing as a hat maker in one of his boutiques. There, she finds herself questioning who to trust: the architect of flesh and bones who can relate to her through romantic gestures, heartfelt notes, and sensual touches…or the specter who serenades her with beautiful songs and ardent words, touching her mind and soul like no other man ever can. As sinister truths behind Lord Thornton’s interest in her estate and his tie to Hawk come to light, Juliet is lured into a web of secrets. But it’s too late for escape, and the tragic love taking seed in her heart will alter her silent world forever.
I try really hard not to set my expectations too high with books anymore because I feel like I’m often disappointed when I built a book up in my mind. That being said, after reading Splintered and Unhinged by AG Howard, I couldn’t help but get excited and set high hopes when I read the synopsis and saw the gorgeous cover for The Architect of Song. Once I started reading, I knew within a few chapters that I was right to get excited about this book; Howard has a magical way with words and an ability to weave a beautiful story that’s dark, haunting, twisted, unique, and ultimately hopeful.

Part of my initial curiosity about The Architect of Song was the fact the main character, Juliet, was deaf. My brother is deaf, and having grown up surrounded by deaf people, I was interested to see how Howard would tackle the disability, especially in a Victorian setting. As sad as it was, it made sense that in that era, Juliet had to hide her deafness rather than be pitied or seen as ‘less than’ by society. Her feelings of isolation and her aversion to people other than her uncle and her maid, paired with her grief over the death of her mother, came across well and made me sympathize with her immediately.

There were so many elements of this story that kept me enthralled. It was a wonderful combination of mystery, romance, paranormal, and historical fiction. I liked the sense of not quite knowing who to trust, and how even as you pieced together parts of the mystery there was still so much to unravel. The night I started the book I had trouble falling asleep because the ghost element of the book - while probably not scary to most people - freaked me out! Then once I was over the fear, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters whenever I had to set the book aside. I wanted to know what was going to happen and how things would work out. I also really enjoyed the gypsy lore in the story. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything with Romani characters, and I found the bits of history and customs fascinating. It was just one of the many things that set this book apart and made it sparkle.

The Architect of Song is a story that will stick with me for a long time. I finished reading it a couple weeks ago and still think about it daily. I became so emotionally invested in the characters that they were like real people by the end (so much so that I was a sobbing mess in the last couple chapters). This story has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for something with a paranormal twist, historical fiction, romance, or mystery. 

Captivating, atmospheric, romantic, and beautifully written, The Architect of Song is a must read.

A.G. Howard was inspired to write SPLINTERED while working at a school library. She always wondered what would've happened had the subtle creepiness of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland taken center stage, and she hopes her darker and funkier tribute to Carroll will inspire readers to seek out the stories that won her heart as a child. When she's not writing, A.G.'s pastimes are reading, rollerblading, gardening, and family vacations which often include impromptu side trips to 18th century graveyards or condemned schoolhouses to appease her overactive muse. 

All tour prizes (INTL): 
 2 - signed The Architect of Song paperbacks 
3 - The Architect of Song e-books 
1 - heart locket necklace 
1 - Architect of Song poster 
1 - faux leather journal 
1 - 5X7 musical print 
3 - The Architect of Song swag packs 
1 - LitCube surprise box
13 separate winners

a Rafflecopter giveaway  

Whether you’ve read The Architect of Song or plan to read it, be sure to check out Anita’s Architect of Song Pinterest board. I want to live inside these gorgeous, haunting pictures!

Be sure to check out all the stops on the tour for other reviews, guest posts, and more chances to win cool prizes!

7/25/2016- Dark Faerie Tales- Guest Post-Hybrid Author 
7/25/2016- a GREAT read- Review 
7/26/2016- Lisa Loves Literature- Review 
7/26/2016- Bookfever- Review 
7/27/2016- Fiktshun- Character Interview 
7/28/2016- The Reading CafĂ©- Review 
7/28/2016- Adventures of a Book Junkie- Review 
7/29/2016- Please Feed the bookworm- Review 
7/29/2016- 21st Century Once Upon A Times- Review 

8/1/2016- Once Upon a Twilight - Exclusive Excerpt 
8/1/2016- Ramblings of a Daydreamer- Review 
8/2/2016- My Friends Are Fiction- Guest Post- Fashion 
8/2/2016- Sarcasm & Lemons- Review 
8/3/2016- Cornerfolds- Review 
8/3/2016- BookHounds YA- Review 
8/4/2016- Bookiemoji- Exclusive Excerpt 
8/4/2016- Owl Always Be Reading- Review 
8/5/2016- Mundie Moms- Review 
8/5/2016- Two Chicks on Books- Guest Post- Playlist 
8/5/2016- The Cover Contessa- Review

Have you read The Architect of Song? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Have you read AG's other books?
*Please note that the Amazon link is an affiliate link; I make a small commission from every sale using that link, which goes into book giveaways
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