Review: I WAS HERE by Gayle Forman

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Recently I was contacted by a publicist at Viking Penguin asking if I’d be willing to conduct an interview with one of their authors, who would be in my area soon. I’m not sure why they picked me, but I’m glad they did, because that author turned out to be Gayle Forman, author of international bestseller If I Stayamong other popular books. If I Stay was recently made into a movie, which means Gayle is now understandably busy, so I leapt at the opportunity to read her newest book, I Was Here, and then sit down to talk with her.

When you know you’re going to meet the author, there’s always a bit of nervousness that comes with reading their book. No author expects every reader to love their work, but so many of the authors I’ve met are such lovely people that I desperately want to be able to tell them I enjoy their stories.

With Gayle, I needn’t have worried. Not only was she kind and generous and wise in person, but I loved her book. Like most of her work, the subject matter is difficult, but it’s handled well, with care and honesty. It may actually be my favorite one of her books.

You can read my interview with Gayle on Young Adult Books Central, as well as enter to win a hardcover copy of I Was Here.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

My Thoughts:

After reading Forman’s debut novel, If I Stay, and its sequel, Where She Went, I knew Forman was not afraid of tackling difficult subjects and handling them with care, which is why I was interested to see her approach to one of the most upsetting and relevant topics in our society today, teen suicide. Though the subject matter is far from pleasant, it only takes a glance at the headlines to confirm that this is a very real problem facing teens. It is my hope that I Was Here and books like it will help kids experiencing thoughts of suicide realize they are not alone, and raise awareness in the people who love them.

I Was Here follows Meg’s best friend, Cody, as she learns to navigate life without her other half following Meg’s suicide. We never meet Meg except through Cody’s memories, and while there is an element of mystery and suspense as Cody tries to make sense of why Meg would kill herself, I Was Here is ultimately a book about grief, and how to move on after unspeakable loss.

It feels strange to say I enjoyed a book centered on such a grim topic, but I did. I Was Here constantly walked the line between hopeful and tragic, light and dark, guilt and healing. Cody could be a difficult narrator at times, partially because she was in such a painful emotional state and partially because Cody was naturally standoffish, but the other characters provided balance and occasional humor, which I appreciated.

As in all of Forman’s books, there is a romantic element to I Was Here, but it took a backseat to Cody and Meg’s story. I enjoyed watching Cody and her reluctant love interest come together, and fans of subtle, slow-burn romance will appreciate how their story is woven into the main narrative of trying to put together the pieces Meg left behind.

The mystery – why Meg killed herself when, to Cody’s eyes, she had shown no indication that she was suicidal – takes both Cody and the reader down a disturbing rabbit hole that is both illuminating and horrifying. I was concerned at first that the book may attempt to distance itself from its subject matter, taking the easy way out, but I shouldn’t have worried. I Was Here faces its demons head-on, even when Cody would prefer to stay steeped in denial.

Even though the book winds up where most people probably assume it must, the journey Cody takes to get there is in turns heartbreaking and hopeful, and at the end, I came away satisfied. I’d recommend this book to fans of Forman’s previous books, as well as anyone interested in a raw, thoughtful story of depression, loss, grief, and healing.

Review: Deception by C.J. Redwine (and SIGNED ARC GIVEAWAY!)

I absolutely loved C.J. Redwine’s debut post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure, Defiance. It was one of my favorite books of 2012, probably because it’s exactly the kind of story that appeals to me: strong, smart characters battling creepy villains, lots of action, sweet romance, and A DRAGON THAT LIVES UNDERGROUND. Seriously, the underground dragon would probably have been enough for me. Probably. But dragons aside (…did I really just say “dragons aside?” Who even am I anymore?), it’s an amazing story.

So when C.J. offered me an early opportunity to read the sequel, Deception, of course I jumped on it.

I mean…not literally. You shouldn’t jump on books.

And I am pleased to report it totally lived up to my expectations. And this is good for several reasons.

1) Because Defiance is awesome, so it’s good that the sequel is also awesome.

2) Because Deception hits bookstores today, so you can go get your copy right now.

3) Because I’m giving away my SIGNED ARC of Deception to one of you lucky readers!*

So without further ado, let’s talk about Deception, shall we?

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Baalboden has been ravaged. The brutal Commander’s whereabouts are unknown. And Rachel, grief stricken over her father’s death, needs Logan more than ever. With their ragged group of survivors struggling to forge a future, it’s up to Logan to become the leader they need—with Rachel by his side. Under constant threat from rival Carrington’s army, who is after the device that controls the Cursed One, the group decides to abandon the ruins of their home and take their chances in the Wasteland.

But soon their problems intensify tenfold: someone—possibly inside their ranks—is sabotaging the survivors, picking them off one by one. The chaos and uncertainty of each day puts unbearable strain on Rachel and Logan, and it isn’t long before they feel their love splintering. Even worse, as it becomes clear that the Commander will stop at nothing to destroy them, the band of survivors begins to question whether the price of freedom may be too great—and whether, hunted by their enemies and the murderous traitor in their midst, they can make it out of the Wasteland alive.

In this daring sequel to Defiance, with the world they once loved forever destroyed, Rachel and Logan must decide between a life on the run and standing their ground to fight.

My Thoughts: 

If you’re still reeling from the catastrophic ending of Defiance, fear not. Deception picks up very shortly after Defiance ends, with Logan and Rachel trying to figure out what to do with the hundred-plus survivors of Baalboden. It hits the ground running, and the first couple chapters introduce a lot of new characters. At first, I was a little concerned about all the names being flung at me. Defiance was mostly Rachel and Logan alone in the wilderness, so I didn’t have to worry about oodles of secondary characters. But never fear; C.J. Redwine handles her new, expanded cast deftly. Within a few chapters, the glut of new names were fleshed out into fully realized characters. I had no trouble remembering who was who, and I loved so many of the new players. Quinn and Willow, in particular, rocketed up to the top of my Favorites list. Their story was so layered and intriguing. If C.J. ever wants to do a spin-off series about the two of them, I’d read it.

There are two main conflicts in Deception: the problem of what to do with all the survivors, who are still being pursued by the nefarious Commander, and the alarming realization that there is a traitor in their midst. The resulting balance between action-driven tension as they flee the Commander’s army, and internal tension as Rachel and Logan try to suss out who has betrayed them, was masterfully handled, and kept me turning pages long after I should have turned out the lights and gone to bed.

Personally, my favorite part of the book was the murder mystery. C.J. gives the reader enough clues that it is possible to guess the murderer (I did), but you’re never 100% sure you’re right. I think that’s the mark of a well-handled mystery. I don’t like it when the answer comes out of nowhere, nor do I appreciate it being so obvious that it kills the tension. There’s a fine balance, and Deception does it well. The fact that it performs this feat while the characters are fleeing through the wilderness and fighting armies and blowing stuff up and cowering from dragons just makes it that much more amazing. And when you do find out who the murderer is, it comes with a few twists of its own that perhaps a more savvy reader could have guessed, but took me totally by surprise. In a good way.

I also really appreciated that Deception did not fall prey to the common practice to break up the two main characters who spent a good chunk of the first book coming together. A lot of times, it seems storytellers get bored with functional romantic relationships, so they throw in DRAMA and pull the characters (that they spent so much time convincing us were MFEO) apart. Not so in Deception. Rachel and Logan mature both as characters and as a couple, and like most couples who have weathered a few storms, are allowed to get upset with each other and disagree, without it having to mean they CAN NO LONGER BE TOGETHER EVER, OH THE ANGST.

Speaking of angst, Deception does not shy away from high stakes and raw emotion. Much like a certain wagon scene in Defiance, one chapter needs to have a warning label to have a box of tissues handy, or at least change your shirt into one that can double as a tissue. A lot of times in books, and perhaps in YA in particular, it seems that the Strong Female Characters can’t show their emotions. They can’t grieve their losses or feel broken from pain. In these books, I appreciate that Rachel is strong, but also feels so much. Emotions don’t make a character weak. Neither do tears. And I think it speaks so much to the character of Rachel that she can hurt and weep and break, but then she gets up and keeps going. She carries her losses with her, and they make her stronger. But because the reader is in Rachel’s head when horrible things happen to the people she loves, we get to feel all that strong emotion right along with her.

So. As I said. Box of tissues. Change of shirt. You have been warned.

I could go on for ages about how much I love this series, these characters, this world, but I think you’ve got the gist of it. Adventure. Murder. Dragons. Villainy. Romance. Swordfights. Treachery. Anguish. Triumph. All stirred up together in a fantastic, masterfully executed whirlwind of action and tension and twists and emotion. I couldn’t put it down.

And now the giveaway! Enter below to win my signed ARC of DECEPTION! U.S. only, please. Giveaway will run for one week. (And I shouldn’t have to say this, but no cheating. I’ll be checking.)

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*You can put it in a place of honor on your shelf right next to the shiny hardcover that I know you’re totally going to buy, right? Because ARCs are cool (especially signed ARCs), but real books are better. And C.J.’s real books are so very pretty.

Cover Reveal + ARC Giveaway: FAKING NORMAL by Courtney C. Stevens

I am BEYOND thrilled today to be able to host Courtney Stevens’ cover reveal for her debut YA Contemporary, FAKING NORMAL. Courtney is a dear friend of mine, and while I have not read FAKING NORMAL (yet!), I have read a bit of her other writing, including some involving a few of the characters from FN, and mark my words, friends: She’s going to be A Someone in the book world. I can feel it in my bones.

FAKING NORMAL doesn’t hit shelves until next February (not April! It got moved up! *happy dance*), but until then you can all salivate over the gorgeous cover. I could probably write a sonnet about how much I love it (her eyes! her freckles! the trees!), but I won’t. Instead, I’ll let you form your own opinions, while introducing you to Courtney. She’s a person worth knowing, friends.

Without further ado, here’s Courtney Stevens!

Hello awesome people! Before we get into the cover stuff, I want to thank all the bloggers and authors who are helping today with this reveal. This is such a fantastic and talented community, and I’m fortunate to be a part of it.

And now on to the main event, the cover of Faking Normal:

Designed by Laura Lyn DiSiena

Reasons I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the cover:

1. It’s beautiful.

2. It tells a story without words.

3. Have you seen the awesome paper cut trees???

Here’s what the publisher (HarperTeen) has to say about Faking Normal:

Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.

At school, nobody sees the scratches or her pain. The only person she connects with is the mysterious Captain Lyric, who writes song lyrics on her fourth-period desk for her to complete. With pencil marks and music, Alexi carves out a comfortable space for herself as she and the Captain finish each other’s songs – words on a desk feel safer than words spoken aloud.

But when Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend who understands her better than anyone. He has secrets of his own and knows all about suffering in silence. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally speak up.

With her powerful, moving debut novel, author Courtney C. Stevens emerges as an extraordinary new talent to watch.

Faking Normal will be released from HarperTeen on February 25, 2014. Yes, this is earlier than the date listed on Amazon

About the author:

Courtney C. Stevens grew up in Kentucky and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is an adjunct professor and a former youth minister. Her other skills include playing hide-and-seek, climbing trees, and being an Olympic torch bearer. Faking Normal is her first novel.

The goods on the Cover Reveal Contest:

You don’t know me. Twitter doesn’t know me. Facebook doesn’t know me. Goodreads doesn’t know me. Amazon pre-sales doesn’t know me. (This is one of the great challenges of being a debut author.)

Please help change my anonymity by placing Faking Normal on the radar of readers, bloggers, reviewers, and you know … people who like to win stuff.

A few deets on the prize package-

The winner receives:

–          A signed ARC of Faking Normal

–          A hand-painted cover rock by Court

–          Signed postcard

–          Silicone “Channel Your Brave” bracelet

Since hand-painted cover rock isn’t usual book swag, I thought you might want a little background. In my little family, we paint rocks for significant events. I currently have three different book rocks that someone in my family made. One for when I got an agent, another for when I went out on submission, and finally one for when we sold Faking Normal.

I thought it would be cool if I shared the tradition with one lucky winner by making a cover-inspired rock.

(You might also be interested to know the bottom of the rock contains a spoiler: some of the first lyric quotes written by the main character and her Captain Lyric.)

Enter by filling out the Rafflecopter below.

(U.S. only. Giveaway ends July 8, 2013.)

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You can find Courtney here:

Email –




And she would love if you would add Faking Normal to your Goodreads shelf and pre-order Faking Normal on Amazon.


Special thanks to the other bloggers and authors participating in the Faking Normal cover reveal:

S.R. Johannes (to be posted 6/27)

Myra McEntire

Kristin Tubb

Josie at All Booked Up

Kai at Amaterasu Reads

Taherah at Books As You Know It

Jessica at Lovin’ Los Libros

Alli at Magnet 4 Books

Petra at Safari Poet

Jonathan at Scott Reads It

Throwback Thursday (February 7) + GIVEAWAY!

It’s finally here! The giveaway Mandi and I have been teasing for a month! Are you EXCITED?

You should be.

Go to the bottom of my Throwback Thursday post to view the AWESOME prize packs, along with ways you can win — even if you’ve never participated in Throwback Thursday before!

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books.

Here’s how it works:
  • Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  • Write up a short summary (include the title, author, and cover art, if applicable) and an explanation of why you love it. Make sure to link back to The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books in your post.
  • Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  • Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list – or some other classic!

Feel free to grab the Throwback Thursday button code from the sidebar to use in your posts.

Thanks for participating, and we look forward to seeing which books you choose to remember!

My Throwback this week is…

10 Things I Hate About You (1999) starring Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Larisa Oleynik, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Based on The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

It doesn’t get much better than Shakespeare — unless it’s an updated ’90s teen movie retelling of Shakespeare. Cameron (Gordon-Levitt) is smitten with Bianca (Oleynik), but the only problem is that she’s not allowed to date until her older sister – surly and anti-social Kat (Stiles) – decides she will also date. What’s a love-sick teen to do? Obviously, convince Bianca’s other, wealthier suitor to pay Aussie bad-boy Patrick (Ledger) to woo Kat. Once Kat is romantically entangled, Cameron will be free to swoop in and sweep Bianca off her feet. Except nothing ever goes according to plan.

10 Things is one of my absolute favorite modern literary adaptations. It’s witty, it’s fun, it’s cute and romantic, and it includes Heath Ledger performing Frankie Valli while accompanied by a marching band. If that alone isn’t enough to sell you on this movie…I don’t know what to tell you. You may need help.

And now the giveaway!

While we love all the great finds Throwback Thursday has brought to light, participation isn’t where we wish it was. This is probably mostly our fault – Mandi took a blogging break for a couple months, and then I took one immediately after she got back. No hosts = no meme. And also, for a while when it was just books, it was hard coming up with new ideas each week! After all, we can’t exactly go back in time and read more/better books, can we? But now we’re back, and it’s easier than ever to participate, so we figured it’s time to get the word out!

In keeping with the new multi-media approach to Throwback Thursday, we have a selection of 10 Book & Movie Throwback Prize Packs to pick from! All you have to do to enter to win is participate in Throwback Thursday or help us spread the word! If you win, you can select your choice of Prize Pack.

The fine print:

  • You must be 13 or older to enter.
  • This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY! However, depending on where you live, we may have to do some finagling on the Prize Pack of your choice, depending on which one you choose and how much it costs to ship to your country. Don’t worry – we’re sure we can settle on something you’ll love!
  • Winner will be notified by email and will have up to 48 hours to respond. After that, your prize will be forfeit and another winner will be chosen.
  • If you win, you can let us know your preference for your movie, Blu-Ray or DVD. We will do either up to $15, subject to availability.
  • This giveaway will run TWO WEEKS (not one like we said before), giving you MULTIPLE chances to participate in Throwback Thursday, even if you never have before! The winner will be announced on our blogs February 21, 2013.
  • Enter via the Rafflecopter form below, and make sure to FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. We will be checking to make sure you actually participated.
  • Good luck!

The Prize Packs:

These are all Throwbacks (more than five years old) and we tried to pick from a variety of genres so that we’d have something for everyone! And of course, since we wanted BOTH prizes to be fun, we feel that all of these books and movies are worth a re-visit! Also, all of these movies are rated PG-13 or under.

Prize Pack #1


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) OR Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)

We couldn’t pick which movie we liked more (okay, that’s a lie, we both like the ’71 version more…but on the other hand, Johnny Depp) to go with this book, so you get to pick.

Prize Pack #2


Stardust (2007)/Stardust (Neil Gaiman)

Prize Pack #3


Clueless (1995)/Emma (Jane Austen)

Prize Pack #4

The Prestige (2006)/The Prestige (Christopher Priest)

Prize Pack #5

The Princess Bride (1987)/The Princess Bride (William Goldman)

Prize Pack #6


About a Boy (2002)/About a Boy (Nick Hornby)

Prize Pack #7


Jurassic Park (1993)/Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)

Prize Pack #8


The Princess Diaries (2001)/The Princess Diaries (Meg Cabot)

Prize Pack #9


Little Women (1994)/Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

Prize Pack #10


The Bourne Identity (2002)/The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)

Hard choice isn’t it? Glad I don’t have to make it.

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This is a blog hop! Link up your Throwback Thursday post below!

Review + GIVEAWAY: The 13th Sign by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb (@ktubb @MacKidsBooks)

Received a complimentary copy from the author as part of her blog tour.

I met Kristin at a blogger/author dinner a couple months back, as she is yet another Nashville author (I know that one day I will probably tire of saying “WHO KNEW SO MANY AWESOME AUTHORS LIVED IN NASHVILLE?” but today is not that day). I hadn’t read any of her books yet, as I don’t read a lot of middle grade, but Kristin was so much fun that I decided to make an exception for her first fantasy, The 13th Sign. I went to her launch party on Friday, and judging by the fabulous turnout, I’m not alone in thinking this book was a lot of fun.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

What if there was a 13th zodiac sign?

You’re no longer Sagittarius, but Ophiuchus, the healer, the 13th sign.

Your personality has changed. So has your mom’s and your best friend’s.

What about the rest of the world?

What if you were the one who accidentally unlocked the 13th sign, causing this world-altering change—and infuriating the other 12 signs?

Jalen did it, and now she must use every ounce of her strength and cunning to send the signs back where they belong. Lives, including her own, depend on it.

My Thoughts

Okay, I feel like this book needs a few things going into it. You either need to really believe in astrology — like, a whole lot — or, if you don’t believe in it, you have to be completely willing to thoroughly suspend your disbelief. I fall into the latter category. But how many fantasy worlds do we really believe are actually real? Um, if you’re like me, none of them. So I was totally willing to jump into the fantasy world of this book, where personalities really are determined by your Zodiac sign, even though I personally don’t buy into it in the real world.

You also need to remember it’s a middle grade, not YA. And as such, it reads like a book for 13-year-olds, not 18-year olds. And that’s what it’s supposed to do. I’ve read some reviews that seemed to want it to skew older, and that’s just not its purpose. It’s the whole “don’t judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree” thing.

Disclaimers aside, I thought this book was a lot of fun. I honestly have never paid much attention to the Zodiac — I couldn’t even tell you any of the defining personality traits of my sign (Virgo) — but as each of the signs manifested and challenged Jalen, I found their different personalities really interesting. I also loved the New Orleans setting (because who doesn’t love a New Orleans setting?) and the non-stop action.

I did think some of the challenges Jalen faced were a bit too easy, and the solutions a tad bit contrived, but again, had to remind myself that given the intended audience, they were fitting. And I liked the “altered” version of some of the characters’ personalities better than the original versions. Which…that could be a pro or a con, depending on your perspective. I enjoyed the creativity, the little puzzles Jalen had to solve, and just the overall charm of the book. There was just something fun and refreshing about it.

By far, my favorite thing about this book was the break-neck pace. It honestly had no good stopping point, which is why I read the whole thing in a day. When Kristin saw I had finished it the day after receiving it in the mail, she said, “Wow, you’re a fast reader!” My response: “Well, you didn’t give me a good place to take a break!” The characters literally spend the entire book running and fighting. It’s crazy.

If you want a fun and original fast-paced middle grade fantasy, this could be the book for you.

And now for the giveaway! As I have a shiny finished copy, I no longer need my *SIGNED* ARC. So I’m giving it away to a lucky reader! Enjoy it yourself, or give it to the young reader in your life. Giveaway ends 1/28/13. U.S. only. Must be 13 or older to enter.

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