Monday, May 14, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Where I Live by Brenda Rufener

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Title: Where I Live
Author: Brenda Rufener
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Pub Date: February 28, 2018
Publisher: HarperTeen
Book Source: publisher via edelweiss
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars



**POSSIBLE SPOILERS**

Synopsis:  LINDEN ROSE HAS RULES FOR SURVIVAL.

1. Prevent the in-class nap.
2. Never carry too many belongings.
3. Avoid looking the part.

Her rules guarantee no one discovers her secret–that she’s homeless and living in the halls of her small-town high school. Her best friends, Ham and Seung, have formed a makeshift family, and writing for her school’s blog prevents downtime. When you’re homeless, free time sucks. Despite everything Linden’s burdened with, she holds on to hope for a future and a maybe romance with Seung.

But when cool-girl Bea comes to school with a bloody lip, the damage hits too close to home. Linden begins looking at Bea’s life, and soon her investigation prompts people to pay attention. And attention is the last thing Linden needs.

To put a stop to the violence, Linden must tell the story. Even if it breaks her rules for survival and jeopardizes the secrets she’s worked so hard to keep.
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Yet another "on the fence" book for me. Sigh. This is the year for ON THE FENCERS with me.

Alright, let's start with a quick rundown of the story. Basically Linden is a homeless teen. She is in hiding, sort of, right in front of everyone's eyes. She sleeps in her high school or outside of it in the dugout on the baseball field. She gets food from friends or she doesn't really eat. She bathes in the school bathroom/locker room. She carries her life in her backpack. This book is not only about her struggle with homelessness and trying to stay in school and make something of herself, but also the everyday struggles of high school and life as a teen.

Let me start with the bad:

• The plot was everywhere! I think I got whiplash from this book. I honestly think the messiness is due to the fact that there are too many themes in this book. It's like the author had so many great ideas, but instead of doing a couple books, she goes and puts ALL THE THINGS in one book. So, we not only deal with Linden and her struggles with being homeless, but we also have a reporter (?) at the school asking random questions, a gay-best-friend with WAY too many issues, a crush on the other-best-friend, who happens to be Korean-American and struggles with Korean/Asian stereotypes, and abusive relationship, possible love triangle, family drama, bullying, and on and on and on. It is just TOO MUCH. I feel like having too many things mushed together just made the book messy and it felt like no single thing got enough attention, you know? If anything, I felt that this book was MORE about the abusive relationship sidestory than the actual main plot, which was supposed to be Linden dealing with her homeless situation and being an orphan.

• As I mentioned before, this book does cover a lot of bullying issues. Racism, sexism, homophobia. Linden's gay friend (I can't remember his name) was bullied for being gay. He also had this weird obsession with the female student that was IN the above mentioned abusive relationship. Between this and the bullying, he was an angry guy. He wanted revenge and decided to take a really negative approach and get "revenge"... well, this is never a good thing. It didn't turn out well, but mostly my issue is with the fact that he countered bullying WITH bullying—not average bullying either, it got physical and not in a fist-fight type of way. It was just wrong and made him a completely unlikable character. I dealt with bullying in school, big time, so don't take this the wrong way, but I had ZERO sympathy for him by the time the book was over.

*** SPOILERS BELOW! ***

• There was a part in the book where Linden thought one of her friends was dead. Without going into too much detail, I will explain why this event bothered me. Alright, so, there was a school event. One of her friends was "attacked" and injured and was unconscious, yeah? SHE THINKS HE IS DEAD! Well she decides to run away instead of doing something about it. You aren't the one who hurt him, but you witnessed what happened, yet you run off? I get it, she was scared because of the police possibly finding out she was homeless. Buuut, as far as I am concerned DEATH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOMELESSNESS! Hello?! I just didn't get it. On top of that, the fact that she even thought he was dead was VERY unrealistic. The situation was so unbelievable it was almost comical. Very very eyeroll worthy, to be honest.

Moving on to the good:

• No one talks about homeless teens. It's rare in YA fiction. I think I've read only one other book in YA where this issue was highlighted ( Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala), but that is LITERALLY it. So, obviously I admire this author for even going there. Poverty is a real, never-ending issue, for adults and teens alike. Following Linden through her day-to-day struggles is humbling. Will she have enough to eat? Will she have to steal food? Will she have to sleep outside on the ground or can she break into the school that night to stay warm and dry? Will she be able to bathe before classes? Will she have time to clean her meager clothing in the bathroom sinks at school? Will she be able to dodge police and a possible-social-worker at school? Will someone find out? Literally, any moment someone can find out. 

“If I want my life to matter, these eyes can't see who I really am.
Who I'm striving hard not to be.
The homeless girl hiding in front of them.”
These are things the average teen NEVER has to worry over.

• I honestly really admired Linden as a character. I think her personality was great and, although she was going through something not ALL teens do, she was very relatable. I felt a lot of sympathy for her while reading through her story. Even though she had to do questionable things—like steal food from friends—she never forgot any of the things she did. She always kept a mental tally of what she "owed" people, whether it be a tangible thing or an intangible thing.

• The romance was important. I think a lot of people didn't like that a romance was present in a book with more serious themes, but I feel differently. I think that Linden deserved to have a romance! Seung was a wonderful love interest for her! He was sweet, caring, but also put his foot down when it mattered in the friendship as well as the romantic relationship. Their dynamic was great and I felt that the falling in love aspect was realistic and sweet. I was extremely happy with the way things were wrapped up.

Overall, I think this book is important and I did enjoy it for the most part. It definitely had A LOT going on, but while this is so, the issues covered are relevant and they were mostly well done. I recommend it if you enjoy a book with diversity and important themes PLUS a little fun and romance to boot.
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{Blog Tour} THE QUEEN'S RISING by Rebecca Ross—Excerpt + Giveaway

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The Queen's Rising
by Rebecca Ross


When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: HarperTeen
Add the book on Goodreads!
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / TBD / IndieBound

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    I watched him begin to gather his things, my heart stumbling over the desire to ask him how he had hurt himself, the desire to ask him to stay longer. But I swallowed those cravings, let them slide down my throat as pebbles.
            “I should go,” Cartier said, easing his satchel over his good shoulder. The blood continued to weep beneath his shirt, slowly spreading.
            “But your arm…” I almost reached for him again.
            “It’ll be fine. Come, walk me out.”
            I fell into step beside him, to the foyer, where he gathered his passion cloak. The river of blue concealed his arm, and he seemed to relax once it was hidden.
            “Now then,” he said, all stern and proper again, as if we had never stood on chairs and laughed together. “Remember to have your three approaches prepared for the patrons.”
            “Yes, Master Cartier.” I curtsied, the movement ingrained within me.
            I watched him open the front door; the sunshine and warm air swelled around us, laced with scents of meadows and distant mountains, stirring my hair and my longings.
            He paused on the threshold, half in the sun, half in the shadows. I thought he would turn back around—it seemed like there was more he wanted to say to me. But he was just as good at swallowing words as I was. He continued on his way, passion cloak fluttering, his satchel of books swinging as he moved to the stables to fetch his horse.
            I didn’t watch him ride away.
            But I felt it.
            I felt the distance that widened between us as I stood in the foyer shadows, as he rode recklessly beneath the oaks.


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Rebecca Ross was born and raised in Georgia, where she continues to reside with her husband, her lively Australian Shepherd, and her endless piles of books. She loves coffee, the night sky, chalk art, maps, the mountains, and growing wildflowers in her yard. And a good story, of course.







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Continue on for the giveaway! ~

Saturday, May 12, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret History of Us by Jessi Kirby

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Title: The Secret History of Us
Author: Jessi Kirby
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 288
Pub Date: August 01, 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Book Source: publisher via edelweiss
My Rating: 2 of 5 stars



**POSSIBLE SPOILERS**

Synopsis: A near drowning…a coma for days…and then…

Olivia wakes up to realize she doesn’t remember. Not just the accident—but anything from the last four years. Not high school. Not Matt, the guy who is apparently her boyfriend. Not the reason she and Jules are no longer friends. Nothing.

That’s when it hits her—the accident may not have taken her life, but it took something just as vital: her memory. The harder she tires to remember things, the foggier everything gets, and figuring out who she is feels impossible when everyone keeps telling her who she was.

But then there’s Walker. The guy who saved her. The one who broke her ribs pumping life back into her lungs. The hardened boy who keeps his distance despite Olivia’s attempts to thank him.

With her feelings growing for Walker, tensions rising with Matt, and secrets she can’t help but feel are being kept from her, Olivia must find her place in a life she doesn’t even remember living.
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The Secret History of Us... oh man, what can I say? Not a fan.

I loved the premise of Olivia losing basically her whole memory of high school. I always love a book with memory loss because there is always some huge thing hiding within those lost memories.

BUT... in this book, it was too obvious WHAT that hidden thing was. I like a little actual mystery IN MY MYSTERY STORIES. Basically, Olivia wakes up with a chunk of her memory missing. She angsts over her boyfriend (who has no personality, BTW... kind of like Olivia herself), decides she likes another guy, finds out the thing, then lives HEA. THE END. All of the MIDDLE pieces were just boring fluff. I honestly expected more.

The characters had very little personality. The author spent too much time on the silly details of Olivia's memory loss and the fact that she was mentally stuck in middle-school than actually building up the characters a bit. They were just bland, thus making the story more bland. There wasn't any real emotion in this book, and I feel like better character development could've given us some of that. Perhaps the process of Olivia reconciling the person she was before the accident with the person she (according to her friends and family) should be now, would've been a little more impactful if we really understood who she was and how she felt. Not only was she hiding her feelings from her friends and family, but from the reader as well. There just wasn't ENOUGH.

Now, the only reason I gave this a two star instead of one was because, ultimately, the author did wrap things up nicely. I enjoyed the ending. It was a bit abrupt and maybe should've been built-up to better, but it was good. I liked that Olivia sort of stood up for herself and the person she was in that moment.

I have read a book similar to this. I have to mention it, because while I was reading this one, I found myself comparing the two. If you want something with a similar premise, but executed to perfection, check out One Moment by Kristina McBride. I read if a few years ago, and it blew me away. It has a VERY similar theme to this book, only 100x better.

Overall, this book was a fail for me. I can't really recommend it because it was just lackluster. Slow, boring, dull, etc. No real character development and no real storyline. It was kind of gimmicky and just not for me.
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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

{Blog Tour} OUT OF LEFT FIELD by Kris Hui Lee—Excerpt + Giveaway

TOUR PRESENTED BY SOURCEBOOKS
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Out of Left Field
by Kris Hui Lee


There’s no playing it safe in love or baseball in this sparkling debut, perfect for fans of Morgan Matson and Kasie West.

Marnie has never had a hard time fitting in with the guys. It would take a lot more than their goofy antics to keep her from joining them at the neighborhood sandlot to do what she loves best: play ball.

An added perk of hanging out at the sandlot? Spending time with Cody Kinski, their high school’s star pitcher and Marnie’s best friend. Sure, he can be stubborn and annoying. He also knows how to make her laugh and respects her skills on the mound. And when he gets nailed in the arm by a bone-fracturing pitch, Marnie becomes the team’s best chance at making it to the playoffs. Except no one told the guys they’re supposed to be on her side. With her own team against her, Marnie begins questioning her abilities.

And when fate throws her a curveball, can she play without losing the game, Cody, and her belief in herself?

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Add the book on Goodreads!
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / TBD / IndieBound

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SEVENTEEN YEARS OF EXISTENCE HAVE TAUGHT me many lessons—some relevant to survival, others not so much—but one that I have come to fully understand is that there are three kinds of idiocy.
The first is what I call Mundane Idiocy. This is the type of idiocy that happens when you, say, walk into a dark room thinking you can manage without the lights, and then you stub your toe on a table. It happens to the best of us.
The second kind is Voluntary Idiocy. Sticking your tongue to a frozen pole or prodding a beehive with a stick or eating fourteen brownies in one sitting would fall under this category. Discretion is advised.
And finally, the last level of idiocy has been achieved by only one person, and his name is Cody Kinski.
Here I am, in the bleachers of my high school baseball field on a brisk May night—crickets chirping in the darkness beyond the bright stadium lights, the scent of french fries hitching a ride on the gentle breeze. I’m on the tips of my toes, waiting in anticipation like all my fellow game goers. Usually the excitement at high school baseball games never gets higher than the occasional collective gasp after a great hit followed by an anticlimactic defensive play, but our team is far from what you’d call usual. And this particular game is miles from being typical.
It’s the bottom of the seventh. The last inning. There are two outs and two strikes. Kyle’s on first. Cody’s at bat. We’re down five to four, and even though, to me, it feels like our chances of turning it around are borderline zero, everyone else seems to have an ounce of belief left in them.
The pitcher’s given name is Santino Acardi, but in our neck of the woods, he is commonly known as Douche Face.
There are only two things you need to know about this olive-skinned, curly-haired, smarmy bastard: (1) no one on this planet knows how to wear a condescending, selfrighteous smirk like he does, and (2) every time he and Cody get within two hundred feet of each other, the apocalypse seems imminent. I mean, they’re two of the best pitchers in our entire region. They have both been playing on varsity since freshman year, on teams with a notorious rivalry. It’s the kind of clash that’s going to put an end to the world as we know it.
Basically every time Cody has been up at bat during this game, Santino has thrown at least one brushback pitch past Cody’s face. It is only thanks to Cody’s lightning-fast reflexes that he hasn’t been knocked unconscious. Santino has been pulling this stunt since freshman year. He suffers from an oversize ego. Jock stuff—you know the deal.
Standing behind home plate, bat raised over his shoulder, eyes focused on Santino, Cody looks beyond prepared. He’s ready for anything. And he should be, considering Santino’s brushbacks are consistent. Parents, classmates, and residents from around the neighborhood cheer for Cody all across the home-team bleachers. Iron-Arm Kinski, they call him. He was first dubbed that when he was eight by his Little League coach. His killer fastball got him that name, but Cody is one hell of a hitter too. He’s not a god, but sometimes he doesn’t seem to be entirely human.
On the mound, Santino winds up his pitch. Every part of his body, from his long legs to his muscular arms, displays his power.
Then it comes. The ball launches out of Santino’s hand at Major League speed. 
Right toward Cody’s head.
But he must not be as prepared as he seemed.
Does he move out of the way?
No.
He stands there like a moron, like there’s not some sadist on the mound. It’s only at the very last second that his left arm flies up to shield his head.
The ball smashes into Cody’s left forearm. His bat clatters to the ground, and it’s like everyone from here to the moon and beyond gasps. Cody clutches his arm to his chest as his face twists in pain. It’s a look I recognize to mean I’ve broken a bone, and I’m in some real fucking pain.
Fire from the pits of hell radiate from the glare Cody shoots Santino, and if I were Santino, I’d want to jump on the next flight out of the country. All of Cody’s fury and hatred—three years in the making—engulfs his face, his whole body. Cody has never been the kind of guy to be provoked by cheap shots, which I’ve learned in the eleven years I’ve known him, but right now, not even I can predict his next move.
But even though he might want to react, Cody doesn’t get the opportunity. Jack Chizz, our coach, runs out to home plate as the ump calls, “Time!”
Joey, our guy on deck and Cody’s best friend, follows Chizz. The three of them—Chizz, the ump, and Joey—gather around Cody, blocking my view of what’s happening.
Santino’s cronies in the outfield crowd together too, but unlike those huddled around home plate, they seem unconcerned about what their overlord Santino has done. And Santino, for all the emotion he’s showing, might as well be standing in line at a grocery store. I’m surprised he isn’t shooting off fireworks and confetti of triumph over his good aim.
The buzzing energy is gone, and it's replaced by silent anticipation. And then: “WOOOO! WAY TO GO, CODY!” This is Sara, who’s standing next to me. To everyone else, it probably sounds like a cheer of encouragement. But Sara is no overzealous cheerleader.
She’s teasing him.
“You’re an asshole,” I tell her, trying to keep a straight face. Under the florescent lights, her normally tawny skin seems lighter. Her grin widens as she claps loudly. “Bringin’ ’em to state!”
“Oh my gosh,” I mutter, but I can’t help but laugh a little. Sara, like me, has more than a decade of history with Cody, which entitles her to be a complete asshole to him in this very serious and stressful moment.
Cody, who has gotten some breathing room, takes off his batting helmet to reveal his disheveled dark brown hair. He then takes a moment out of the time-out to nonchalantly scratch his forehead with his middle finger in our direction. Those eleven years of friendship work in Cody’s favor too—he gets a pass on being nice.
Cody drops his hand and listens intently to what Chizz is saying. At first, they both seem rather calm, given what’s happened, but then Chizz says something else, and Cody goes ballistic. His eyes bulge in rage, and his uninjured arm flies in all directions. Cody points to first base. Chizz points a commanding finger toward the dugout. 
“Don’t be an idiot, Cody,” I mutter. “Go to the hospital.”
As if he can hear me, Cody kicks his bat to the side and stalks toward first. Chizz objects, but Cody shrugs him off. The interaction looks dramatic from here, which is so unlike Cody. He has always been a quiet, modest guy, but being on the field changes him. Out there, he’s the confident jock everyone expects him to be.
Everyone cheers as Cody takes his base. I wonder if they can see him wince in pain with every step. Proud, stubborn bastard.
As the game resumes, so does the crowd’s excitement. They’re exhilarated by Cody’s perseverance (or, as I would call it, idiocy).
The count: two outs, zero strikes, with Kyle on second, Cody on first, and Joey at bat.
Tufts of Joey’s blond hair stick out from under his batting helmet as he steps up to the plate and takes a few practice swings. This is a guy who walks into closed glass doors and trips on perfectly tied shoelaces, but I swear he has magic powers when he’s on the field. He will move mountains to catch a foul ball and has been known to belt homers at the exact moment they’re needed. You’d never know it though, because he can be a real baby sometimes. A few months ago, he was reduced to an inconsolable teary mess after he found out his ex-girlfriend is a lesbian. No one would have guessed at the time that the crying weenie he was then is our best hope for bringing in a miraculous run to tie up the game now.
On the mound, Santino winds up again. One of his trademarks is his sidearm pitching style. That’s why he’s one of the best; he’s unique. I feel like a traitor, but I must admit that I admire his skill.
He throws the first pitch against Joey: foul tip. Strike one.
Second pitch: the ball and bat connect, and the crowd gasps. It’s a foul over the first baseline. There’s a collective sigh. Strike two.
The count: two outs, two strikes, five to four. The hopelessness settles in deeper.
On the third pitch, Joey smacks the ball with an echoing clink! and he runs. Screams of excitement follow him.
The ball soars toward the fence. It looks like it will be a home run between left and center field. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of luck you can only dream about.
The ball hits the back fence and bounces onto the grass where two fielders race to snatch it up.
Kyle’s past third, on his way to home, and Cody’s passing second.
The ball is traveling from the outfield to shortstop.
Kyle’s foot lands on home plate. It’s now five to five.
Cody’s foot hits third.
From the dugout, Chizz shouts at Cody to stop where he is.
The ball is at the shortstop. And Cody’s going home.
“Idiot!” Sara and I both shout.
But it’s no use. The ball and Cody race toward home.
The throw to the catcher is off by a foot. He steps away.
Cody dives, headfirst, arms outstretched.
He collides with home plate and becomes buried under a plume of sand and the catcher.
“Safe!” the ump shouts. “Safe!”
The shouting and cheering intensify as our team hops over the dugout wall and dog piles Joey, who brought in the runs. Santino and his team look like they’re about to commit fifteen different types of manslaughter.
And there, still on the ground in the fetal position clutching his arm, ladies and gentlemen, is the third and final category of idiocy: Cody Kinski.


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Kris Hui Lee is a contemporary YA author who also doubles as a graphic designer. In 2015, she was a finalist in the Pitch Wars writing contest hosted by Brenda Drake. When not writing or designing, she can be found cuddling with a dog on the floor. Learn more at krishuilee.tumblr.com


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Continue on for the giveaway! ~