Review: Fifteen Lanes by S.J. Laidlaw

Fifteen Lanes
by S.J. Laidlaw

Summary:
Noor has lived all of her fourteen years in the fifteen lanes of Mumbai’s red light district. Born into a brothel, she is destined for the same fate as her mother: a desperate life trapped in the city’s sex trade. She must act soon to have any chance of escaping this grim future.

Across the sprawling city, fifteen-year-old Grace enjoys a life of privilege. Her father, the CEO of one of India’s largest international banks, has brought his family to Mumbai where they live in unparalleled luxury. But Grace’s seemingly perfect life is shattered when she becomes a victim of a cruel online attack.

When their paths intersect, Noor and Grace will be changed forever. Can two girls living in vastly different worlds find a common path?

Award-winning author S.J. Laidlaw masterfully weaves together their stories in a way that resonates across class and culture.Fifteen Lanes boldly explores the ties that bind us to places and people, and shows us that the strongest of bonds can be forged when hope is all but lost.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)


Series: Standalone
Publisher: Tundra Books
Publication date:  April 5, 2016
Source/Format: eARC via Netgalley
Purchase links: Amazon | Chapters-Indigo | McNally Robinson 

My Thoughts:

Fifteen Lanes provides an in-depth depiction of the plight of young women trapped into sex slavery in India. Noor does not know anything about living beyond Mumbai’s fifteen lanes of red district. She is descended from a long line of devadasi, who are traditionally courtesans (more or less India’s version of a geisha) but are now sold to the highest bidders to be used as sex workers. Her mother sends her to school but that alone seems not enough to allow Noor to escape the grasps of prostitution. Grace is a troubled rich kid who stumbles along Noor’s path. Seeing Noor’s life made Grace put her own in perspective but she doubts it if she could be of any help to Noor.

The book is told in alternating points of view of Noor and Grace. I have to admit, Noor took the brighter spotlight between the two. The timeline of Noor’s narrative encompasses years while Grace’s storyline happens only in a matter of months leading up to meeting Noor. And of course, Noor’s conflict is way far heavier than that of Grace although the book did an okay job at not discounting Grace’s issues. Both characters made me feel for them but like I said, Grace is the lesser fleshed out character and I feel like any other troubled girl can replace her in the story.

The book’s most charming part is in the exhaustive description of the book’s setting. I can almost feel that I am transported in the bustling city of Mumbai while reading. Particularly affecting is when we follow Noor as she grows up in the suffocating living quarters of her mom and later in the streets when she decided that it’s not safe to stay in the brothel anymore. There is an always looming sense of injustice due to social stratification and at the same time giving us the other sides of Indian culture like their language, belief systems like reincarnation, Bollywood, their cuisine. I know that the author is an NGO volunteer worker herself in India and it showed in her work that she knows what she is talking about.

Another thing I really liked is how the parent-child dynamics worked really well for the plot. There are these rather uncanny circumstances that the parents are shown to be really loving but still can’t do anything to help their children. Noor’s mom enrolled her in school in hopes that it will be her escape from prostitution even though other sex workers do not send their kids to school. Grace’s parents tried many times to talk to her about the problems she’s been dealing with even though Grace often pushes them away. These parents have their children’s best interest at heart. They were highly involved with their children. I think it’s excellent writing to make the parents work and try so hard but still come up short to make way for our YA heroines to deal with their conflicts themselves.

Some dialogues tend to be didactic at times, from Noor or like that one instance from Gajra, Noor’s bestfriend in school, preaching about equality. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gajra, bless her pure soul, but for me it just doesn’t sound right for her to spew big ideals like that at such a young age. I can see through her speech that there is an author writing those words and making her say them. Also, the plot got a bit convoluted near the end, including a murder that I think was unnecessary. These are minor things really that can be easily brushed off in exchange for a wonderful adventure story of a girl getting her grit on and fighting against fate to explore the possibilities of living outside the fifteen lanes of hell.


My Rating:

Review: My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul

My Kind of Crazy
by Robin Reul

Summary:
Despite the best of intentions, seventeen-year old, wisecracking Hank Kirby can’t quite seem to catch a break. It’s not that he means to screw things up all the time, it just happens. A lot. Case in point: his attempt to ask out the girl he likes literally goes up in flames when he spells “Prom” in sparklers on her lawn…and nearly burns down her house.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Peyton Breedlove, a brooding loner and budding pyromaniac, witnesses the whole thing. Much to Hank’s dismay, Peyton takes an interest in him—and his “work.” The two are thrust into an unusual friendship, but their boundaries are tested when Hank learns that Peyton is hiding some dark secrets, secrets that may change everything he thought he knew about Peyton.


(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)


Series: Standalone
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date:  April 5, 2016
Source/Format: e-ARC via Netgalley
Purchase links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | IndieBound

My Thoughts:

Whether we admit it or not, we have this guilty pleasure of falling for brooding YA heroes. We tend to get lured in the mysteries and darkness of their backstories. We like to sink in the sadness of their thoughts and reflections. But conventional brooding YA heroes get a tad too heavy and tiring sometimes that a little twist in this character type is a welcome surprise. So, if you didn’t think that a brooding YA hero could also be hilariously funny, better get and read My Kind of Crazy.

We cannot help but feel sorry for seventeen-year old Hank. He is poor. He lost his mother and brother in an accident. And his alcoholic father never lets him forget that accident by making him feel irrelevant as compared with his dead golden boy brother. But we also cannot help but laugh at his other clumsy unfortunate circumstances like, accidentally setting fire on the garden of Amanda, a girl he is promposing to and getting entangled with Peyton, a girl who has an absurd affinity to all things burning.

The strongest suit of this book for me is Hank’s characterization and development. He is complex in such a way that he has his dark and serious side as well as light and funny moments. There are instances where he strayed me with his sad thoughts about his bleak future, about how it’s a pain the the ass if you care too much, and about how he feels alone and unloved. And then there are those times when he had me in stitches with his funny side: like when he was filling up survey questions with comical answers and this running gag on his mind that his bestfriend Nick’s dad might be an actual mafia boss and he automatically stiffs and prepares himself to see a body bound and gagged whenever he comes over their house. Hank’s transformation into a true blue hero is all around brilliant. I loved how his change came around from someone who runs away from a promposal botched by fire to someone who will dive into fire just to save someone he cares for. While reading, I feel like this boy is real and I wanna hug him and cheer him on and be friends with him.

An added thing that endears me to My Kind of Crazy are characters described with plain looks. I am just a bit of fed up with characters who have insanely, out of this world good looks and this book provided me with a breather. Falling in love and seeing beauty feels more genuine to me when characters see past through each other’s physical attributes. Another thing worth mentioning is the little love quadrangle with the characters. I will not expound more so as not to reveal too much but let’s just say that it’s cute, slightly unexpected and not trying hard.

I also like how the conflict about problematic parents are not just mentioned to give character depth then casually swept under the rug after. Some books are sloppy with addressing problematic parents and mostly uses it as an excuse to let the teen main characters roam around freely and do whatever they want. Nothing about that in this book, which is great. The issues are addressed and the book made the main characters confront their issues with their parents.

There was a point when I felt apprehensive that the book will let some of the characters’ madly unwise actions slide without consequences but luckily, it was not the case here. It just took a long while to get there but the book did get there, eventually. All in all, My Kind of Crazy is worth reading because of it’s bold spin on the traditional brooding YA hero. It showed us that dark and serious people can have jokes and can be also entertaining. And ultimately, it showed us that truly caring for important people in our lives means trying to stick around with them despite their brand of crazy.


My Rating:



Event Recap: The Philippine Readers & Writers Festival 2016

Over the last weekend, National Book Store and Raffles Makati sponsored The Philippine Readers & Writers Festival 2016. It’s a simultaneous-events thing featuring different people from local publishing industry. There were also book signing events from international authors, Adam Johnson, Anna Todd and Paula McLain.

Photo: National Book Store FB page

The event that I was most interested to attend was Book Blogging 101: Growing Web and Social Media Presence to Promote Books. The power panel consisted of Eunice Moral of Nerdy Talks Book Blog, Kate Manalo of The Bookaholic Blurbs, Hazel Ureta of Stay Bookish, Lyra Gill of Defiantly Deviant and Kai Agito of Amaterasu Reads. I felt that meeting these top book bloggers and hearing about their success stories would motivate me in continuing this book blog and they did not disappoint. I had a great time and it was worth waking up early on a Sunday morning for! My sister who went with me enjoyed the panel as well even though she was not interested in book blogging before. The event was a gold mine of tips and I feel that I must share some of them here.


On finding the right platform
  • Hazel started out in Tumblr, then Wordpress, then moved on to self-hosted Wordpress. She said that Wordpress is convenient for her because of its plug-ins.
  •        Kai is on Blogger. She said that free Blogger is good for those starting out because it’s free and user-friendly.
  • Kate was also on Tumblr first, then she is on Blogger now. She has recently bought her own domain. She had an experience on working in Wordpress before but finds Blogger more suitable for her.
  • Lyra is a big proponent of Blogger. She said that she created a sports blog in Wordpress before but could not, for the life of her, figure it out.
  • Eunice has a book blog but found that her niche is in bookstagramming, which is posting bookish photos in Instagram.
  • Each panelists agreed that the right platform depends on the user. Try creating blogs in different platforms and choose which one is the most convenient for you.


On focusing on a book genre
  • Kate opts for high fantasy and dystopia, but not erotica.
  • Lyra said no more dystopia for her.
  • Eunice has no specific genre and reads a bit of everything.
  • There are pros and cons on choosing a specific genre to blog about, according to Hazel.

On blog aesthetics
  • Lyra advised to make a simple blog design. If not comfortable with doing it on your own, ask someone for help. Lyra asked Hazel to design Defiantly Deviant for her.
  • Hazel is an authority on all things pretty and designed some of the prettiest blogs out there, e.g. Pop! Goes the Reader and Twirling Pages, but she encouraged everyone that doing your own design is doable and fairly easy.
  • In summary, the panelists stressed that too much design and a bad layout hurt the eyes and will drive away followers of the blog. Use up to only three variety of fonts and stick to a color palette that suits the brand of the blog.


On book photography
  • Eunice has a huge following on her bookstagram account (an impressive 26.6k followers), because of her perfect bookish photos. She said that a professional camera is not necessary on taking beautiful photos as she uses her camera phone for her photos. She advised that good angling and lighting are the more important aspects. Taking good photos is also not about spending too much money but more on creativity and if you love what you do, creativity will come out naturally from you.
  • Kate also shared her bookstagramming experience from buying cartolina for background and buying flowers for props.
  • Hazel showed us the camera that she uses for taking her photos.
  • Lyra relayed that she tried bookstagramming for two days but decided that it was not for her. (I feel you, Lyra)
  • Kai asked her co-panelists about how long does it take for their photo sessions, what hashtags to use to generate likes, if they have joined any photo challenges in IG, etc.


    On writing book reviews
    • Kai said that as much as possible, she writes reviews right after reading the book and does not care about the length of her reviews as long as she gets to let her book feelings out. 
    • Lyra on the other hand, waits for about two weeks before writing her review so as to let her book feelings simmer down. She said that she gauges the book’s effectiveness on how much she was able to remember about the book.
    • Before starting on a book, Kate checks the ratings but does not read reviews from other reviewers. This is to avoid being influenced by their opinions about the book. She stressed out the importance of building your own style and format in writing reviews.
    • Regarding books that they did not like and/or finish, the girls have opposing take on things. Kai does not write DNF reviews while Kate and Lyra write DNF/negative reviews. But all girls agree that the author should not be tagged on social media in negative reviews. Also, on writing negative reviews, the reviewer must be careful to delineate between a book review and an author review. The review must focus on the merit/demerits of the book and not sound as a personal attack on the author.
    • Hazel suggested other creative formats of reviewing a book: listicles, GIF reviews, letter format, etc. To add value to book reviews, bonus contents such as own book photo or book quotes could be added.
    • Regardless of the style and format, Lyra emphasized that being honest with book reviews is what’s most important.


    On establishing social media presence
    • Twitter is the most preferred social media platform for both Lyra and Kai. The girls consider Twitter the easiest way to link blog posts and interact with favorite authors and fellow book enthusiasts.
    • Kate encouraged joining in on twitter chats. She relayed that the book community on twitter is one of the best online communities there is.
    • For twitter chat hosting, Hazel suggested having a promotion graphic and a hashtag which the chat participants could use.
    On time management
    • Lyra admitted that there was a time when she got sad when she can’t keep up with her blog schedules but has now found that posting when she wants to post is what works for her.
    • Others bloggers, like Hazel, keep schedules. Hazel even designed her own blog planner to cater her needs.
    • Kate stresses that reading and blogging requires time and commitment but it does not have to reach the point of feeling forced to do these things because what matters is having fun.


    On connecting with publishers
    • The panelists shared tips and things to consider when sending review copy requests but also threw caution that getting a review copy comes with the responsibility to timely read and review the book.
    After the panel proper, a lot of questions were raised by the participants. I asked our panelists if they maintain separate social media accounts for their blog and for their other personal stuff. Hazel, Kai and Eunice have separate personal accounts. Hazel does not want her personal tweets/posts shared publicly. Kai has other interests such as anime that she want to tweet about/post on another account. And Eunice wants her IG feed and following to be purely bookish things. Kate and Lyra both have no separate personal accounts from their book blog social media accounts. Lyra said that when she tweets/post about other things, she sometimes meets and gets comments from bookish people with the same interests as her.
    The panelists looking serious here while taking questions from the participants

    After running out of time from answering lots of good questions raised by the participants, the panelists hang around some more to greet, shake hands and take photos with the participants. While waiting for my turn to approach the panelists, I approached and introduced myself to JM of Book Freak Revelations. I told him that I recognized him from one of the many twitter chats he has hosted. He was super friendly and took pictures with us in his camera.

    When it’s my turn to take a photo with Kate, she handed me a tote loaded with books and bookish swags. She must’ve seen a weird combo of joy and puzzlement in my face so she said that the tote was supposed to be raffled off during the panel but there was no more time so she decided to give it to any participant anyway. Of all the people in the room and I was that one lucky person standing beside her at the right moment to receive the giveaway! 

    With Filipino YA author, Mae Coyiuto

    After the book blogging panel, my sister and I took our lunch then went in on a panel for aspiring young adult fiction writers. One of the panelists was Filipino YA author, Mae Coyiuto whose book, The Year We Became Invincible, my sister read and enjoyed. My sister got her book signed and we went our merry way home. 

    How about you, fellow book wanderer, have you been to the Philippine Readers & Writers Festival 2016 as well? What panel/s did you go to?

    Book Spine Poem #1

    I know I haven't been posting on the blog lately but today I am struck with great inspiration to try book spine poetry for the very first time. I am not a first class poet and my photography skills are very amateur but I hope the message of the poem connects to you, my fellow book wanderers! Here it is, have a look.



    Basically, it's about how hard it is to deal with the ennui of daily life so it's very important to not lose our sense of wonder. Being in awe is one of the best feelings. It makes us feel flowing, moving and more alive. We have our different ways of getting over that slump: getting a cool tattoo, listening to music, shopping for new things, travelling to unfamiliar places and (this for me is the best way) discovering stories and ideas in books. So go on, do your own thing. As for me, you may find me going over the shelves and touching book spines on my favorite bookstore.

    Hey, share with me your thing! Or show me a link of your own book spine poem. Hit me in the comments.


    Book Blast + Giveaway: Girl Against The Universe by Paula Stokes


    If you fell in love with The Art of Lainey or got hooked to Liars Inc., then maybe you are also anxiously waiting for Paula Stokes' latest book, Girl Against the Universe. To ease all our pains while waiting, Paula is here to takeover this post to talk about all things GATU. Take it away, Paula!


    Girl Against the Universe will release on May 16, 2016. I am so excited to share this book with the world, and particularly with people who are struggling with PTSD, survivor’s guilt, anxiety, shyness, or people who just feel like the odds are stacked against them. Maguire’s story is full of struggles and triumphs, new friends and family bonds. Even if your life is totally peachy at the moment, there’s a good chance you’ll find Girl Against the Universe funny and inspiring. I hope you give it a try.

    Here’s what some amazing authors had to say about the book:


    “Filled with equal amounts of empathy, humor, and heart, Girl Against the Universe is an empowering story about finding the courage to piece your life back together, even when it feels irreparably broken.”
                            --Tamara Ireland Stone, NYT bestselling author of Every Last Word

    “I loved this sweet, slow-burn romance. Sports fiction at its best!”
                            --Miranda Kenneally, bestselling author of Catching Jordan

    “Romantic, honest, and deep, Girl Against the Universe is one of those books where I couldn’t believe that the characters were only a figment of the author’s imagination—they simply jumped off the pages with their beautiful flaws and hard-earned wisdom.”
                            --Sarvenaz Tash, author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love


    "Absolute perfection. Completely magical. Girl Against the Universe is a poignant, beautiful story."                    --Ann Aguirre, NYT bestselling author of The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things


    Here’s the official flap copy for the book: 


    Just for fun, here’s my idea of the book in a single word:


    And the book in a single GIF:


    And even the book in a single song:




    Want more info? Click here to read the first three chapters of Girl Against the Universe.

    And what would a book blast be without a GIVEAWAY? Check out the Rafflecopter for how you can win a finished copy of the book—INT. US winner will received signed book. INT winner will receive order from The Book Depository + signed bookplate. If you live in a non-TDB country, you can win an e-copy of the book. 

    Excerpt + Giveaway: The Darkest Lie by Pintip Dunn

    The Darkest Lie by Pintip Dunn - JenHalliganPR.com




    I'm thrilled to take part in the Excerpt Blitz for Pintip Dunn's upcoming YA thriller, The Darkest Lie! Check out the book below, along with the teaser excerpt, and be sure to enter the giveaway!

    About The Darkest Lie

    Summary:
    "The mother I knew would never do those things.

    But maybe I never knew her after all.”

    Clothes, jokes, coded messages…Cecilia Brooks and her mom shared everything. At least, CeCe thought they did. Six months ago, her mom killed herself after accusations of having sex with a student, and CeCe’s been the subject of whispers and taunts ever since. Now, at the start of her high school senior year, between dealing with her grieving, distracted father, and the social nightmare that has become her life, CeCe just wants to fly under the radar. Instead, she’s volunteering at the school’s crisis hotline—the same place her mother worked.

    goodreads-badge-add-plusAs she counsels troubled strangers, CeCe’s lingering suspicions about her mom’s death surface. With the help of Sam, a new student and newspaper intern, she starts to piece together fragmented clues that point to a twisted secret at the heart of her community. Soon, finding the truth isn’t just a matter of restoring her mother’s reputation, it’s about saving lives—including CeCe’s own…

    Series: Standalone
    Publisher: Kensington Publishing
    Expected Publication date: June 28, 2016
    Pre-order links: Amazon | Barnes &Noble


    About the Author

    >Pintip Dunn | JenHalliganPR.com
    Pintip Dunn graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B. in English Literature and Language. She received her J.D. at Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the YALE LAW JOURNAL. She also published an article in the YALE LAW JOURNAL, entitled, “How Judges Overrule: Speech Act Theory and the Doctrine of Stare Decisis,”

    Pintip is represented by literary agent Beth Miller of Writers House. She is a 2012 RWA Golden Heart® finalist and a 2014 double-finalist. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Washington Romance Writers, YARWA, and The Golden Network.

    She lives with her husband and children in Maryland. You can learn more about Pintip and her books at www.pintipdunn.com.

    Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads


    Extract:

    It’s time to view the body. Family first.

    Well, technically, me first. There was always only three of us in the nuclear unit, and Dad’s been locked in the den for the past seventy-two hours. I’ve only seen him once, when he shuffled upstairs like a pajama-clad zombie and asked me if I’d eaten.

    That was it: Did you eat?

    Not: I prefer the cherry wood casket. Or: Let me make your grandma’s travel arrangements. Or even: I know this was Mom’s favorite dress, but isn’t the neckline a little...low?

    Did I eat?

    Yes, Dad. I had soup from the can and microwaved pizza rolls and a bowl of cereal. The food sloshes in my stomach now as I walk down the runner to the casket I picked out because of its mauve tint.

    Calla lilies pile in urns around the viewing room, and the air-conditioning wars with the sweat along my hairline. My mom smiles at me from a portrait erected behind the casket. Her eyes are hesitant and a little wary, as if she knew, somehow, some way, she would wind up here. Lifeless. Pumped full of formaldehyde. About to be gawked at by a town full of gossips.

    This was only going to end one of two ways—with Tabitha Brooks dead or in jail. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d give anything to see my mother behind bars.

    I wade through the dense, chilly air and stop a few feet from the body. Behind me, my grandmother and aunt sit, a box of tissues between them, blowing their noses like it’s a sport.

    “Look at our Cecilia,” Gram sniffs. “So brave. Not a single tear shed.”

    If she only knew. I’m not brave. Fifteen minutes ago, I was retching into the toilet bowl. Five minutes from now, when the doors open for the visitation, I’ll be long gone, leaving Gram to shake people’s hands and deal with the bit lips, the knowing eyebrows, that inevitable speaking-in-a-funeral-parlor whisper. I can hear the titters: “Is it true? Tabitha’s heart stopped while she was boffing the high school quarterback? Why, she must’ve been twenty years his senior!”

    Twenty-three years, to be exact, and a high school English teacher to boot. But she didn’t actually die during sex. Instead, a few days after Tommy Farrow came forward with their affair, my mother took her own life.

    What could be a clearer admission of guilt? She might as well have been caught in the act. The investigation was shut down before it even began.

    I take a shuddering breath. Two more minutes. A hundred and twenty seconds and then I can leave. I steel my shoulders and walk the final steps to my mother’s body.

    Oh god. It’s even worse than I thought.

    The room whirls around me, and nausea sprints up my throat. My hands shoot out to grab the casket, stopping short of actually touching the corpse.

    This . . . this thing . . . can’t be my mother. She never smiled like that, all serene and peaceful-like. She never wore this much makeup; her red hair was never chopped so closely to her head. My mother was chaos and passion, devastation and joy. Dad used to say you could reach deep into her eyes and pull out a song.

    Well, her eyes are closed now, and I’m not sure there’ll be any music in my life, ever again.


    Giveaways:
    The Darkest Lie Blitz | Prize Pack | JenHalliganPR.com

    One winner will receive a prize pack including the following 5 books: Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn;  Six Months Later by Natalie Richards;  Find Meby Romily Bernard; and From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan;  Lies I Told by Michelle Zink.


    Goodreads Book Giveaway

    The Darkest Lie by Pintip Dunn

    The Darkest Lie

    by Pintip Dunn

    Giveaway ends March 28, 2016.

    See the giveaway details
    at Goodreads.

    Enter Giveaway



    "Waiting On" Wednesday: Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes (WoW #2)




    "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week I am featuring:


    Title: Girl Against the Universe
    Author: Paula Stokes
    Series: Standalone
    Publisher: Harper Teen
    Expected publication date: May 17, 2016
    Pre-order links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Book Depository | Indiebound

    Summary:
    No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

    It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

    From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.

    (image and summary lifted from Goodreads)


    Why I’m waiting:
    • That pretty cover. *drools* 
    • Because reasons.
    • Seven "secret" messages hidden in the book. To see what I mean by "secret" messages, check out the guest post Paula Stokes did in Fiction Fare. All gems, TBH.
    •   
    So what book are YOU waiting for today? Post your WoW link at the comments section! I’d love to stop by. :)

    Review: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

    The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
    by Melissa Keil

    Summary:
    Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.

    The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

    Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
    And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.

    And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

    Also, the world might be ending – which is proving to be awkward.

    As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

    (cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

    Series: Standalone
    Publisher: Peachtree Publishers.
    Publication date:  April 1, 2016 ( First published September 2014 by Hardie Grant Egmont)
    Source/Format: eARC via Edelweiss
    Pre-order links: AmazonFishpond | Booktopia | Dymocks | Bookworld | Angus and Robertson 

    My Thoughts:

    The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (TIAoCG) takes place in the bucolic Eden Valley, Australia. Alba is spending her senior year holiday vacation, developing her drawing skills or hanging out with her five close friends. They are a really crazy bunch of teens together but their world got a little bit crazier when a Youtube video that went viral says that Armageddon is coming on New Year’s Eve and humanity’s last place of salvation is in Eden Valley.

    The book’s title, cover image and synopsis (hello, doomsday backdrop) seems to scream fast-paced action scenes and explosions but really, to me, this is a fairly quiet book. In the midst of the chaos brought by the viral video, Alba contemplates the helplessness of not knowing what she really wants to be in the future and her slow acceptance that her friends have different dreams of their own to pursue. She may never see them as often as before and the prospect of not doing everything with her friends forever is so shattering that it might as well be the end of the world.

    I instantly liked Alba right from the very first page. She is a no-nonsense girl, loyal to her friends and talented in drawing. At a young age, her father influenced her on reading comic books and her passion for comic-reading prompted her to create her own character she calls Cinnamon Girl. Over the course of the holiday vacation, she tries to work on Cinnamon Girls’s storyline and I love how the author transported the readers on Alba’s young creative process. I will not pretend that I understand every comic-book or art-related references that Alba threw because I am neither a comic book fanatic nor an artist. I googled a lot while reading but hey, it’s fun learning new things from books, right?


    The best thing that I love and feel proud about Alba is her exuding confidence about being a curvy girl. She does not feel a single drop of bashfulness with how she looks and is unashamed to bring out her beauty with heavy eyeliners, ruby-red lippies and cute dresses. There is this shining part in the book where she is given a stack of books that includes a diet book as a Christmas present. Even when one of her close friends got all worked up about it, Alba just brushes it off her shoulders because not one bit would she doubt her own body and beauty. I know that there are other YA books out there with “plus-size” main characters  but in my opinion, what set TIAoCG apart from them is that this book is not about Alba being heavy. She just happened to be a big-breasted curvy girl going through transitions of teenage life. Real life curvy girls do not always worry about their body images. I know tons of real-life people who are on the curvy side but their everyday main concerns are not how to be skinny but more on how to balance life and career, or how to be a a great church youth leader. Society may still sometimes be mean and throw shades at their body build or call them names but these real-life Alba girls that I know does not let non-sense weigh them down. What I’m trying to say is that not all fat girls feel bad about their bodies and I’m glad they are represented well in this book. For me, Alba is a revolutionary champion of body positivism in YA.


    There is a love story in the book, if you romantic lot wanna know. For the animal lovers, there is a pet dog that did not die. There is a case of a gone gnome girl with her fate bearing some similarity to the gnome in that French movie called Amelie. And as if Alba is not amazing enough in words, the book has some wicked illustrations at the start of every chapter. The copy that I read from is the U.S. version to be released by Peachtree so I am not sure if the first edition copies have the same drawings, too. Let me share some frames that I like and see for yourself how amazing these drawings are.


    TIAoCG is not too emotionally complex but it touched me on the right places of my heart. I wish I could’ve read something like this when I didn’t get in to the uni that my three high school best friends and I planned to go together. Maybe I would not have felt so lost back then.


    My Rating:


    Guest Post + Excerpt : Parent Quest The Search For The Twin Mystery by Gabriel Ammah


    Hello, fellow book wanderers! Currently searching for a book to dig in? Today, you might want to consider checking out an exclusive guest post by Gabriel Ammah and an extract from his debut YA book, Parent Quest: The Search For The Twin Mystery.

    Guest post

    My Inspiration for Writing My Debut Novel
    by Gabriel Ammah

    I hated reading as a child. For some strange reason I couldn’t get to grips with it. It felt like a laborious task. But I will never forget my primary school teacher, Miss Taylor. She was very instrumental in changing my attitude towards books and storytelling.

    As a young adult, I found myself reading a lot more news bulletins and magazines until I stumbled on novels from Jeffrey Archer, Richard Laymon and Dan Brown. I was initially frightened by the thickness of their novels, but once I started reading, I was hooked!These three authors seemed to have a similar style of writing.They dove straight into the meat of the story without over explaining the landscape and the feel of environment the characters were in.

    I chose to write for young adults mainly because my children were growing up and so were their appetite for stronger and wider content. They were not babies anymore, so the Three Little Pigs style of storytelling was becoming obsolete. I wanted to create something that was believable and relatable to children their age, which meant more research- listening to how they spoke to each other as well as their friends. My children love Harry Potter, so it came as no surprise that I was going to write a fantasy adventure book that allowed the readers to create their own imagery of what the characters should look like.I always see things from the approach that every human being has an imagination and should be allowed to explore and create a fictitious world in the safe confinements of their mind.

    In this first installment of my debut book Parent Quest, I drew from my experiences as a young adult and the interactions that I had with friends, teachers and family members. I then thought of the likelihood of my children not knowing where I was and what resources they would use to try and find me. That coupled with mysterious powers, suspense and teen horseplay made writing this book fun.

    Children go through so many new experiences growing up. So within this book, I touch on some of the complicated issues and dilemmas they could potentially find themselves in. Themes like bullying, arguing, loneliness and problem solving all make up what is an interesting read and I hope it reaches out to a multitude of young people.

    A friend asked me recently why I chose Ipswich as the main location of the book. My answer to that was simply, “I love the place.” It has so much history and some of the old architecture around the town reminded me of places I used to visit as a child.

    One of my hobbies is traveling, so you will find in my future books elements of weird and interesting traveling experiences that make life adventurous. J

    About Parent Quest: The Search For The Twin Mystery

    Synopsis: 
    A tragic accident and lightning strike changes the lives of two best friends in a magical way. After both of their parents go missing under mysterious circumstances, Neil and Cherron enlist two of their schoolmates on a journey to uncover the mystery - using social media, clue hunting and spying techniques - they uncover hidden secrets and conspiracy in the small English town of Ipswich.
    (Add to your Goodreads TBR here)

    Genre: Young Adult, Action/Adventure
    Release date: December 26, 2015
    Published by: Chontama Publishing
    Purchase link: Amazon


    About the Author

    Gabriel Ammah was born in London in 1975, the youngest of three brothers.  When Gabriel was five years old, his parents separated. His mother along with his siblings moved to South London where he would spend the best of his teenage and early adult life.

    His love for reading was encouraged by his primary school teacher, Miss Taylor, who used to sit the children down on the mat, reading stories to them - sometimes with the occasional singsong with her guitar.

    Gabriel’s love of music eventually saw him progress into the music industry as a producer and songwriter. He worked in this field for over ten years, with some of the largest record labels at that time.

    In 2005, Gabriel welcomed his son into the world by cutting his umbilical core. Two years later, saw the birth of his daughter. It was during these years of raising his children that he learnt the art of storytelling, creating numerous short stories to put the children to sleep.

    While raising a young family, working, and studying at the University of East London, Gabriel learnt the structure and importance of narrative and it’s place in storytelling. With that he decided to embark on writing his first book. Some of the experiences the characters go through in the book were drawn from his own experiences growing up without his father. This, he says, was a learning curve and a realisation that life can continue even after a tragedy.

    Find Gabriel on:  Goodreads | Facebook


    Excerpt


    There was a knock at the door that distracted Neil from his gaming console. He turned his head round and craned his neck, peering through the side window to catch a glimpse of who was interrupting his afternoon. Unsuccessful, he quickly walked over to the front door, hearing a familiar laugh outside that reminded him of his neighbour and friend Cherron.

    Cherron was a down-to-earth, full of life, twelve-year-old born in Ipswich. She was smart, sporty and very popular in school; sharing her many talents to help others become just as good as she was.

    As Neil opened the door, Cherron pounced on him with hugs and kisses, much to his disgust. “What are you doing here?” Neil asked rudely. “I thought you were going out with your girlfriends after school?”

    “Well, I was going for a bike ride down to the canal but mum said I couldn’t go because it reminded her too much of what she used to do with Dad. You know she’s still finding it difficult to function without him around, right?”

    A few years before, Cherron’s father, John, had mysteriously gone missing from work. At that time he was working as a senior accounts manager for a mobile phone company. His wife, Cherron’s mum Linda, a professional brand marketing manager for the same firm, suspected that his disappearance was somehow work related or at the very least work influenced.

    “Yeah I know, but you also know I like to relax after school, so this better be important…” Neil sighed. “Come in then.”

    As they made their way over to the living room overflowing with all the gadgets known to man, Cherron put her hand on Neil’s shoulder excitedly. “I’ve found a clue that could help find my dad!”

    “A clue?” replied Neil. “Your dad’s been gone for a long time now. Why do you want to dig that all up again?” he continued without any regard for her feelings.

    “Well, as I was sitting in my room last night doing research for my school history project, I thought, why not turn searching for my dad into a personal project as well? I spend so much time studying and investigating other things, why shouldn’t I do something that’s meaningful to me? It’s not like you don’t understand what it feels like, not to have your mum around,” Cherron said sarcastically.

    Around about the same time, if not the same time as the disappearance of Cherron’s dad, Neil’s mother Evelyn also went missing without a trace. The missing persons report filed at Woodbridge police station hadn’t turned up any clues as to where she could have gone. Long after the police stopped searching, Neil’s dad Nathan continued desperately to try and locate her, but to no avail. Nathan was aware that as a freelance journalist, Evelyn’s job was often very risky, sometimes investigating or covering stories of corruption within corporations and governments. But Nathan, wasn’t aware of any active investigations she’d been working on at the time she’d gone missing, which made her disappearance that much harder to handle. Nathan had been increasingly struggling with all that was going on and buried himself in his work; spending less and less time with his son as a result. To compensate for the lack of attention he was giving Neil, Nathan spoilt him with all the gadgets he could possibly want.

    “I try my best not to think about her anymore,” Neil muttered. “She knows where we live. She could have at least written a letter or something by now.”

    Cherron looked puzzled at his response. “Don’t you care?” She said in disbelief.

    “Aren’t you interested to find out what could have happened to her, or at least find out if she’s still alive?!”

    Walking over to the desktop computer squashed in next to Neil’s impressive, state-of-the-art home theatre system, Cherron sat down and proceeded to log onto a website dedicated to missing persons. After going through a long list of profiles, she landed on an image of a young girl. In the background was a figure of a man that resembled her father. In the photo he was holding a candy bar in one hand and, in the other what appeared to be a woman’s hand; although she was slightly out of frame.

    “You see, this could possibly be the first clue in ages… I know it’s a long shot but it’s my only hope right now,” Cherron said sadly. “I’d really like you to help me Neil. We could do this together; our own secret investigative bureau.”

    Neil sighed, “I guess it could be a good idea, but try not to get your hopes up, it could turn out to be nothing after all…”

    “So you’ll help me then?!” Cherron burst out excitedly.

    “Only if I can find my mum too,” he replied.

    They shook hands like they’d just signed a multimillion-pound business deal, and with that they got to work sifting through the profiles of other missing persons.



    So what do you think? I think this will be an exciting read. I am drawn to read debut novels because it's like digging up an undiscovered treasure. Do you like discovering debut novels as much as I do? What are the latest debut novels you've read recently? Hit me up in the comments.


    Review: Beyond the Red by Ava Jae


    Beyond the Red
    by Ava Jae

    Summary:
    Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

    Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

    When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.


    (cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

    Series: Standalone
    Publisher: Sky Pony Press
    Expected publication date:  March 1, 2016
    Source/Format: Edelweiss / e-ARC
    Pre-order links: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM!

    My Thoughts:

    Beyond the Red (BtR) takes place in an alien planet called Safara. Safara has eight territories and each territory is ruled by royalty, one of whom is Queen Kora (or “el Avra” as what her subordinates call her). When confronted with discontented citizens who prefer her twin brother as a ruler, she launched a campaign against the human rebels to assert her strength and power. Living among the human rebels is Eros, a half-blood. In one swift raid from the Sepharon soldiers, everything was ripped off from him and he was taken to be enslaved. The discovery of his secret identity lead to him and Kora become unexpected allies.

    This debut novel has a unique premise and setting where generations ago, humans from Earth attempted to invade Safara but they failed and thus became slaves to the native race, the Sepharons. Safara is a planet with two suns, four moons and red desert sands. It has its own rich culture, langauge, religion and technology.

    The book is told in first person dual points of view of Kora and Eros. Each has a distinct voice and they are both quite relatable main characters. Kora is understandably an insecure ruler as she is young, inexperienced and the first female ruler in generations thrown befuddled in the dirty world of politics. Eros is a half-Sepharon, half-human in a planet where half-bloods are treated worse than dirt by both humans and natives alike. He is a bit brooding spewing words such as, “People will always find fault where they want to.” and “I’m not one of them. I’m not one of anyone.”, but I like him that way. Both characters are just trying to to find their true place under the two suns of Safara and what they found instead is each other.

    Romance-wise, the book has elements of forbidden love, love triangle and a display of Sepharon courtship which involves some sexy fire dancing. Worth mentioning is a well-written scorching hot kissing scene under the night desert sky that really made my cheeks burn. Um, I might have felt my ovaries squirm, too.

    On the cute side, Queen Kora has this alien pet who I imagined to be a cross between The Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro and Lion from Steven Universe! With just a swish of tail, this thing practically steals any scene it’s in. I just want to reach out through the pages and pat its red fur.

    BtR accomplished an astonishing feat in setting up a book with a unique place and premise. It's an entertaining book but the problem for me lies in the rushed ending. In my opinion, the book merits several more pages to give depth to some supporting characters and for it to fully wrap up what it has set up. Also, the supposed powerful villain never quite brings the menace that it should. Maybe, because this particular villain only got bits and pieces on the first 80% of the book and gets to be really horrible and menacing only on the last few pages. For me, the villain and the entire book ended up feeling like a set-up for a larger storyline. There should be a sequel, perhaps? The last time I checked, this one is a standalone so, yeah, the ending was rushed for me. There are lots to like in BtR but I did not fall head over heels in love with this book.

    My Rating:

    Guest Post + Excerpt + Giveaway: The Hometown Hazard by Dawn Lanuza


    If you're searching for a romance title to feel snug with this love month, check out The Hometown Hazard by Dawn Lanuza. In this post, Dawn will grace this humble blog to share five books that inspired and helped her in writing The Hometown Hazard. There's also an extract and a chance for you to win one of the 3 e-books of this title, open INT. It's raining bookish goodies over here, fellow book wanderers! Thanks to Bookish Diaries for organizing this event.

    Five Books That Made My 2015 Awesome

    by Dawn Lanuza

    I started writing The Hometown Hazard in 2015 and during that year, I was also majorly bingeing on books. I’ve read a total of 65 titles that year, and in my acknowledgments, I thanked the authors of the books I’ve read that year for making me step outside of my comfort zone. That for me has always been writing in a very rom-com-ish way, with a witty protagonist and a series of unfortunate events that would lead her to her resolution.

    When I was writing The Hometown Hazard, I felt like I’ve changed my gears (although not entirely!) by experimenting with mystery and suspense. Honestly, I felt like that tone was set because I was reading all of these awesome books! Not only did they keep me entertained last year but they also helped me write my own book:
    1. Dwellers by Eliza Victoria
      Dwellers is the first book I’ve read from Filipino author Eliza Victoria but it definitely won’t be my last. It is mysterious and at times creepy enough that it made me want to close the book the way I wanted to mute the TV every time the scary part of a scary movie is showing, but it is too engrossing to do that so I basically had to grow a spine and sucked it up. The scare was worth it.
    2. Never Never by Colleen Hoover and Taryn Fisher
      Not exactly my first CoHo book (but the first one I really liked) and my first Taryn Fisher, Never Never is one of those thrilling books that is cut into three parts. Despite the recent reviews that the sequels are disappointing (the second book was a bit of a letdown and I’m just about to read the third one), the first book is fast-paced that it’d only leave you: a) frustrated; b) excited; c) majorly confused or; d) all of the above.
    3. The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
      Another series in this list is Maggie Hall’s The Conspiracy of Us. The book has secret societies and private jets and motorcycle chases and multiple destinations (Paris! Sofia!) and a love triangle. Most people might consider that as a red flag but love triangles are awesome if it has two promising suitors. And while the first book is leaning towards #TeamJack, I’m pretty sure Book 2 would pack up on #TeamStellan moments. The second book of its series, Map of Fates will be out this year.
    4. The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
      This is probably the only book in this list without any mystery (well, lie, there’s a teeny bit but it’s not the scary kind) or high speed chase scenes or attempted murder, but man, does this book sneak up on you or what. First of all, if you haven’t read My Life Next Door (like me) then you might be overwhelmed with the amount of people introduced to you in this book. For a time, I felt like I was an outsider as these people knew each other long before I showed up but there was something about the protagonist Tim Mason that would make you want to keep flipping the pages. And I’m glad I did because Tim is one of my favorite fictional characters ever.
    5. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
      Another YA-mystery read, The Naturals is about a group of talented kids who have some special skills: main character Cass is a natural at reading people, Michael is very good at reading emotions Dean is the best at profiling, Lia is an expert at lying, and Sloane is the person to go to when it comes to numbers and patterns. Together, they are under the care of the FBI and they sometimes help out with solving cold cases. I just found this one refreshing for a YA read and I usually recommend it to my friends who like shows like CSI and Criminal Minds.
    So that’s it! The five books I’ve read last year that helped me with writing The Hometown Hazard and made my 2015 awesome. I consider these books as part of my ‘research’ too as they helped me with the tone of the book. J

    About The Hometown Hazard

    Synopsis: 
    Jules Coronado has been away from her hometown for almost a decade but when an intruder breaks in to her childhood home, she finds herself coming back. Changes evidently took place in her small town, including her childhood best friend’s younger brother, Kip – now tall, slightly scruffed, all grown up and caught climbing into their garden wall.

    Kip Villamor has a mission and despite Jules’ doubts, they team up: going on fieldtrips, tackling unsuspecting men, and trespassing offices to dig up dirt. But Jules has secrets of her own, one that might be exposed – unless she keeps her walls up. But climbing walls are Kip’s forte, remember?

    Will her secrets keep her on his side, or will it force her to disappear again? (Add The Hometown Hazard to your Goodreads TBR here)
    Genre: New Adult, Romance
    Release date: January 29, 2016
    Purchase links: Amazon | Buqo


    About the Author

    Dawn Lanuza started writing stories when she was just a kid (they weren’t good or even finished). She works for the music industry by day and writes meet cutes and snappy comebacks by night. ‘The Boyfriend Backtrack’ is her first book. She currently lives with her family and an adopted dog.

    Find Dawn on: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

    Excerpt


    I sat next to him but kept a good distance between us. He studied me for a minute then sighed, “We’re on the same team, you know.”
    I gave him a confused look.
    “We’re after the same thing. So stop treating me like the enemy.”
    A grimace formed on my face, “We are so not after the same thing.”
    As if interrupting my thoughts, Kip interjected, “I’m rooting for your dad too. You’re protecting him. That’s why you found yourself looking for Elise Cabrera.” He paused for a minute before saying, “I’ve got a head start so you’re going to keep bumping next to me if you push through.”
    I blinked, taking in what he said. He was right. He’s got a good head start. Whatever I find, he probably already knew.
    “You know what they say, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’?” Kip gave me a side glance.
    Still not sure of what direction to take, I cupped my face and leaned my elbow on my lap. A part of me wants to say no right away because what he’s doing is bound to get him in trouble. But I was also getting curious. I wanted to know what this was about. Maybe my dad didn’t know about the whole thing. Maybe he ought to know.
    I wrinkled my nose, “Fine.”
    He paused for a minute then let out a laugh, “Wow. Did I just win my first argument?” I didn’t say anything back and just kept my face straight. “Do you know what this means?”
    “It means less rash actions from you, more sensible ones from me,” I bit back. “And if we’re gonna do something wrong, we might as well do it right.”
    Kip let out a snicker, eyes flicking back to me. “That’s…” He shook his head, smiling to himself.
    “Less running too, I’m hoping,” I added.
    He cleared his throat, “Just…one rule.”
    “There are rules?” My voice hitched an octave higher.
    “One,” He emphasized, like I haven’t been listening to him all along. “And you’re the one who’s all about the rules and the law and the plan. I thought you’d be psyched about this.”
    Exasperated, I nodded, waving my hand as if saying, fine.
    Kip shifted and caught my eye, lips tight, jaw clenching. “Don’t do anything behind my back. I’m going to have to trust you, okay? Maybe you should do the same for me too.”


    Giveaway

    Win one of 3 ebooks of The Hometown Hazard, open internationally. Enter below:

    ***Good luck!***

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