Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Blitz + Giveaway - I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch



I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch
Published by: Macmillan
Publication date: July 28th 2020
Genres: LGBTQ+, Romance, Young Adult

For fans of Leah on the Offbeat and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Anna Birch’s I Kissed Alice is a romantic comedy about enemies, lovers, and everything in between.

Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other.

Rhodes, a gifted artist, has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts (until she’s hit with a secret bout of creator’s block), while Iliana, a transfer student, tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.

They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a webcomic. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other… a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other’s future?



It was the end of our junior year when everything between Rhodes and me came to be as it is now.
It was May, and we were at a pop-up installation on the edge of campus. Clouds of heavy, weed-scented smoke hung up around the light fixtures of an old gas station with bars on the windows, and rain was falling in through a spot where the roof had caved, leaving puddles on the dirty tiled floor.
Behind each ancient cooler door was an installation: women with tape over their mouths. Women with their hands bound. Women dressed like schoolgirls, and dressed like moms, and dressed like frumpy old ladies with curlers in their hair. There was a gas station attendant behind the dilapidated old counter, a girl barely older than us with shiny red lip gloss and breasts begging to escape from a Play- boy Bunny costume. Word around campus was that participants had to be eighteen so they could sign the liability waiver provided by the lead artist.
Men wandered from one cooler to the next, shopping quietly, selecting someone to take with them along with six-packs of beer and packs of beef jerky.
Rhodes and I had become friends, sort of.
We weren’t talk-on-the-phone friends, or even text-on-occasion friends.
But Sarah had been my best friend since the third grade, and Sar- ah and Rhodes had become completely symbiotic during their first and second years as roommates at the Conservatory. It had taken weeks of begging for Sarah to even suggest to Rhodes that I come along—no matter what I did, Rhodes thought my work was “pedestrian.”
She didn’t think I’d understand the show—called Quickies at the Kwickee Mart, clever them—or that the art installation would speak to me the way it spoke to her and Sarah.
But by some force of nature, I had been the one to win a scholar- ship at the Savannah College of Art and Design only a week before. My art wasn’t an existential crisis played out with paint and canvas, and it didn’t make any grand political statements, but it was going to pay for my college—and apparently it meant I was allowed to play with the big girls now. Only two days later, Rhodes invited me along herself.
A week after that, we stood side by side, stoned out of our minds and attempting to make sense of the little theater that played out in front of us. Some of the girls in the cases were seniors at the Conservatory, and I knew about half of the people standing around us from campus as well. The rest were unimaginably sophisticated, worldly looking artist types—people with ink-stained hands and tattoos that crept up from under the collars of their shirts and onto their necks.
If my perception hadn’t been completely altered, I would have thought to be a little embarrassed by my own clothing choices. I felt so metal sneaking out in my tattered-on-purpose Slipknot T-shirt and my tattered-on-purpose acid-washed shorts and my tattered-on-pur- pose pink-and-white-striped tights.
“It’s, like, feminism—” Rhodes said.
Her brows were knit together; her cogs were turning.
She didn’t understand. I didn’t want to tell her otherwise, to ruin the night like I always do. It wasn’t enough to say it was about “like, feminism.” Anything can be about feminism, because in everything there’s an imbalance of power. There will always be one person in the room that has more privilege than the rest, and that person is almost always an Ingram.
It didn’t surprise me that Rhodes didn’t understand then, and it doesn’t now—she doesn’t really know what it means to be a little further down the food chain than everyone else. I’m not much further down than she is—I’m just as white, Christian-adjacent, abled, and straight-passing as she is—but I’m aware of it.
“Yeah, just, you know—” Sarah’s pupils were blown out. She held on to me for dear life, the way Rhodes’s barely-younger brother and then-dance-track student, Griffin, clung to Rhodes’s arm. Sarah liked Griffin then—she was infatuated, really. I think she thought he’d be an easy segue into being a fixture in Rhodes’s life forever.
She thought wrong.
“The motherfucking patriarchy,” said Griffin.
The motherfucking patriarchy. As if that phrase in and of itself wasn’t the purpose of the installation, the fact that women are continuously victims of sexual violence in Western culture, so much so that it has permeated our patterns of speaking and even the way we curse.
Rhodes sighed, and nodded appreciatively. Sarah sighed, and nodded appreciatively. Griffin sighed, and nodded appreciatively.
This is art, they communicated, with stoops in their shoulders and ennui-burdened frowns. This is life.
This is suffering.
Pot only ever makes me more philosophical. Everyone around me was melting into puddles, and I was practically writing ninety-nine theses on third-wave feminism on the back of a fifteen-year-old Kwickee Mart napkin that had been stuck to the bottom of my boot.

Author Bio
Anna Birch is the author of I Kissed Alice. She was born 'n' raised in a rural area on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. She traded thick forests and dirt roads for the heart of the city, where she lives now with her husband, three children, and dog. She loves knitting, brie, and hanging out with her family.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review - The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates, #1) by A.K. Larkwood

Title: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates, #1)
Author: A.K. Larkwood
Pages: 464
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: 11th February 2020

Blurb from Goodreads: 

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.
But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard's loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.
But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

My Review:
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Tor*

Csorwe knows that when she's fourteen she will have to make her way to the Shrine of the Unspoken where she will die as a sacrifice.

However, when the day comes, Csorwe finds herself with an offer from a mage to leave with him and make her own destiny.

Csorwe leaves with the mage and trains so that she can help the mage take back his title and the home he was thrown out of.

Is Csorwe truly free of the Unspoken? Or does the God have other plans for her?

The premise of The Unspoken Name really intrigued me, especially the fact that Csorwe was supposed to be sacrificed but instead chose to run away with a mage. However, I unfortunately ended up disappointed.

Csorwe was a likeable protagonist, but I don't feel that I fully connected with her. I did feel sorry for her and relate to her at times, but there were moments where I didn't really care what happened to her.

Tal was probably the only character that stood out for me. He was relatable and I also felt sorry for him at times. Tal's dialogue made me smile once or twice, and I liked his competitive relationship with Csorwe - they were almost like brother and sister with the way they bickered.

The setting was interesting and I liked the idea of the gates and the Maze as well as the different Gods.

The plot was OK, but it took a while to get into and I lost interest several times and did consider DNFing. Given the size of the book I felt that not much really happened. There was a twist that I didn't guess, but nothing that happened particularly surprised me.

The writing style took a while for me to get used to and I found it a bit jumpy at times. I would have liked a bit more description in some places as I found some things difficult to imagine.

My favourite thing about the book is probably the queer representation.

I'm disappointed that I didn't enjoy this more as it had a lot of potential.

Overall, this was a mixed read for me.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Guest Post - Sasha Laurens, Author of A Wicked Magic

Today I'm hosting a guest post by Sasha Laurens, the author of A Wicked Magic which releases today! Happy publication day to Sasha!
Scroll down for Sasha's Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer and information on A Wicked Magic.

5 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer

Read critically: Everyone knows that reading is the number one way you become a better writer, but it’s really more than just reading for enjoyment—it’s reading critically. That means thinking about how a book works from a technical perspective. If I fall in love with a certain character, get surprised by a twist ending, or feel like a romantic paring was insta-love, I think about the text again using my own knowledge of craft—including some things you learn in high school English class!—to analyse the choices the author made. I often find that things that seem effortless or surprising are painstakingly planned from page 1. That becomes a technical lesson that I can draw on when I sit down to write.

Read widely: For most of my life, I didn’t read genre fiction. YA wasn’t so much a thing when I was in high school, but if it was, I didn’t read it because I was interested in Important Books. In college, I studied Russian Literature, and I only read literary fiction. Everything I wrote had a lot of really fancy sounding language using words like “fenestral,” but nothing ever had a plot, because plot isn’t the focus in literary fiction. When I started reading YA, romance, crime thrillers, SFF and other more plot-driven works, it really opened a new world in my writing: characters could do things! Now that I read a lot more genre fiction, when I pick up a literary novel it helps me think about really nuanced characterization and complex themes. Reading widely helps you avoid getting so focused on the genre you write in that you lose perspective.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable: A universal experience among writers is how terrible it is to actually write. Terribleness arises at many points in the process: the anxiety of coming up with a whole new project, the fear of being unable to do it justice, the pain of writer’s block—but also the pain of actually writing!—and the horror of letting someone else read words you wrote (even though that was the point). If you get through all that, you’re rewarded with a ride on the publishing rejection merry-go-round. Writing, like all creative processes, requires that you make yourself uncomfortable. Sometimes the discomfort will be intense, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong—actually, you’re doing it right, because that’s just how the process is. It’s only by pushing through that discomfort, embarrassment and fear that that you get to enjoy cracking that scene, or having a reader connecting to your work. Plus, you’ve been embarrassed before and you were strong enough to survive it, so you really have nothing to worry about!

Your words are infinite: Do you ever stop to think about how during every conscious moment, your brain produces an unceasing, unstoppable stream of thoughts and it will do that until you die? Me neither, because it’s kind of freaky! Imagine if you tried to hold on to every single one of your thoughts because you were worried you had a limited supply. You’d be in a bad way pretty quickly. Writing and revising is like this. Sometimes we get so focused on making sure every word we add to a story, or even write in our journals, is perfect that we can’t write anything at all—a bad outcome. Then when we revise we want to be precious with our treasured sentences, because what if this was the best we could do? The reality is, you only need to find the words that work for the task at hand. If that’s writing “she smiled with her face” in your rough draft, so you can move on, great! If that’s cutting the world’s most perfect description of a sunset that’s slowing down the plot, sorry to this sunset! They’re just words, they cost you nothing, and you have an infinite supply of them.

Let your freak flag fly: I was going to call this point, “Write like yourself” but letting the freak flag captures the concept I’m after much better. You are a person with specific way of seeing the world. You express that in you the unique way you talk or text or laugh, in your clothes and music and the podcasts you listen to. It’s in where you’re from, where you live now, how you relate to your parents and your friends and your crushes and society in general. It’s your hard times and your victories. I am giving you permission right now to put as much of that into your writing as you want. You don’t need to sound like anything else you’ve read—or you can, if you want! But that’s a choice that you get to make. 

A WICKED MAGIC is a deeply personal book for me. I’ll probably never write another one like it. A lot of it’s based on the area where I grew up, my own teenage years, people I’ve known, and the weird things that fascinate me, like cults and caves and old ladies who run tattoo shops. Basically, it’s just one long inside joke to myself! But it’s not the first novel I’ve written. The novel I got my agent on was very commercial. I thought I could write something that was similar to other young adult novels I’d read and it would be good enough sell. But it wasn’t, and that project was always a struggle. When I started writing A WICKED MAGIC, my goal was different: I wanted to write a book that I loved, that was authentic to me, so it wouldn’t matter if it never got published. There is a story that only you can tell. Embrace it!

Title: A Wicked Magic
Author: Sasha Laurens
Pages: 368
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: 28th July 2020

Blurb from Goodreads:

Dan and Liss are witches. The Black Book granted them that power. Harnessing that power feels good, especially when everything in their lives makes them feel powerless.

During a spell gone wrong, Liss's boyfriend is snatched away by an evil entity and presumed dead. Dan and Liss's friendship dies that night, too. How can they practice magic after the darkness that they conjured?

Months later, Liss discovers that her boyfriend is alive, trapped underground in the grips of an ancient force. She must save him, and she needs Dan and the power of The Black Book to do so. Dan is quickly sucked back into Liss's orbit and pushes away her best friend, Alexa. But Alexa has some big secrets she's hiding and her own unique magical disaster to deal with.

When another teenager disappears, the girls know it's no coincidence. What greedy magic have they awakened? And what does it want with these teens it has stolen?

Set in the atmospheric wilds of California's northern coast, Sasha Laurens's thrilling debut novel is about the complications of friendship, how to take back power, and how to embrace the darkness that lives within us all.

Book Links:

If you've pre-ordered A Wicked Magic you can get a sticker through the pre-order campaign here.

About the Author

SASHA LAURENS was raised in San Francisco and Northern California, where she learned to drive on Highway 1’s switchback turns and got accustomed to the best weather in the world. She started taking writing classes at 826 Valencia in high school, and would have minored in Creative Writing at Columbia University, if the minor hadn't been eliminated. Instead, Sasha studied Russian Literature, and graduated summa cum laude.

Upon graduation she moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, and attempted to write a literary novel, unsurprisingly about Americans living in St. Petersburg, Russia. Returning to New York City, she earned an M.A. in Russian Regional Studies from Columbia University while working at the university. Since 2014, she been pursuing her PhD in political science at the University Michigan, and currently resides in Ann Arbor.

Writing and political science take up almost all of her time, but when she gets a break she loves boxing, watching bad reality tv, and traveling.

A Wicked Magic is her first novel (Razorbill, July 2020).

Author links:

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review - Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

Title: Shielded (Shielded, #1)
Author: KayLynn Flanders
Pages: 432
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: 21st July 2020

Blurb from Goodreads: 

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It's losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn's--her brother's--magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong--the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it's too late--for her and for her entire kingdom.

My Review:

*I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Random House Children's Books and NetGalley*

Princess Jennesara's kingdom of Hálendi is at war and is losing.

Jenna longs to use her skills for fighting on the battlefield, but her father, the king, instead announces that Jenna is betrothed to a neighbouring kingdom's heir in exchange for help in the war.

Jenna has long kept her magic - something that only the first born, Jenna's brother, should have - secret, and will have to continue to do so as she leaves her home and family behind to begin her new life in Turia where she will marry the prince.

But when Jenna's procession is attacked, she manages to escape.

Believed to be dead, Jenna must decide who she can trust as she searches for the truth and a way to save her kingdom.

Shielded is pretty much your average YA fantasy, and while it didn't particularly stand out for me, I did enjoy it.

Jenna was a likeable and relatable protagonist. I liked that she would rather wear trousers than a dress or skirt, and that she knew how to fight and was good at it. I thought Jenna was brave to leave her home to marry someone she'd never met. I liked the relationships she made throughout the book, especially the ones with other girls/young women.

The magic was interesting and I enjoyed reading about it.

The romance was quite sweet at times, but it felt a little rushed to me.

The setting was interesting and I would like to find out more about the different kingdoms.

The plot was intriguing and held my attention, but I wasn't on the edge of my seat. I did guess a few plot twists, but not all of them.

The writing style was easy to follow and I read this quite quickly.

I'm unsure if I will continue with this series or not.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend.



Friday, July 17, 2020

Blog Tour + Guest Post + Giveaway - The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings

 Find the tour schedule here.


The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings
(Swoon Reads)
Publication date: July 14th 2020
Genres: Historical Romance, Young Adult

Identical twin sisters take turns swapping places over the course of a summer in order to pursue their secret ambitions in Samantha Hastings’ Victorian YA romance.

1851. Bounced from one begrudging relative to another their whole lives, orphaned identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter have always relied on each other for love and support, even though the sisters couldn’t be more different.

Brash Sophie wants to be an inventor, and demure Mariah wants to be an artist. Both long to visit London for the summer—Sophie to see the Queen’s Great Exhibition and Mariah to study the world’s finest collection of paintings. But when their cantankerous aunt answers their letter pleading for a place to stay, she insists she only has time and room to spare for one of them.

So, Mariah and Sophie hatch a clever scheme: They will travel to London together and take turns playing the part of “Sophie”.

At first the plan runs like clockwork. But as the girls avoid getting caught by increasingly narrow margins and two handsome gentlemen—both of whom think they’re falling in love with the real Sophie Carter—enter the equation, the sisters find they don’t have the situation quite as under control as they thought.

With all sorts of delightful Parent Trap-style identical twin hijinks, The Invention of Sophie Carter is the perfect light-and-sweet palate cleanser.

10 Cool Things About the Great Exhibition of 1851 That You Didn’t Know

1. The Exhibition had the first public toilets. They were called “Monkey Closets” and cost one penny to use. 

2. The largest diamond in the world, the Koh-i-noor diamond, was on display. But it wasn’t cut well so it didn’t sparkle and was a bit of disappointment to most viewers.

3. The Exhibition was housed in a building called the Crystal Palace, which was made up of glass and iron. It was built to encase two already existing trees without harming them.

4. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and Henry Cole were the creators of the Exhibition. 

5. There were over 100,000 objects on display and an official catalogue by Messrs. Spicer and Clowes.

6. The largest exhibit was a hydraulic press. Each tube weighed 1,144 tons; but it was operated by only one man.

7. Messrs. Schweppes sold refreshments: 60,698 cottage loaves, 68,428 pound cakes, 934,691 bath buns, 1,046 gallons of pickles, and 33 tons of hams.

8. No alcohol was allowed, so they sold 33,432 quarts of milk; and 1,092,337 bottles of Schweppes’ soda water, lemonade, and ginger.

9. 6 million people visited the Great Exhibition (6,039,195 to be precise).

10. Queen Victoria opened the Exhibition and wrote in her diary that it had, ‘every conceivable invention’.

Author Bio
Samantha Hastings has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Reading (Berkshire, England), and the University of North Texas. She met her husband in a turkey sandwich line. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spends most of her time reading, eating popcorn, and chasing her kids. She is the author of THE LAST WORD, THE INVENTION OF SOPHIE CARTER, and A ROYAL CHRISTMAS QUANDARY.

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Review - The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin, #1) by Melissa Caruso

Title: The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin, #1)

Author: Melissa Caruso

Publisher: Orbit

Pages: 496

Release Date: 2nd June 2020

Blurb from Goodreads: 
The Obsidian Tower begins a bold new epic fantasy trilogy in which the broken magic of one woman will either save an entire continent-or completely destroy it.

As the granddaughter of a Witch Lord of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige. But a childhood illness left her with broken magic that drains the life from anything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. So Ryx has resigned herself to an isolated life as the warden of Gloamingard, her grandmother's castle.

At Gloamingard's heart lies a black tower. Sealed by magic, it guards a dangerous secret that has been contained for thousands of years. Until one impetuous decision Ryx makes leaves her with blood on her hands-and unleashes a threat that could doom everything she loves to fall to darkness.

 Goodreads | Amazon UK | Amazon US

My Review:

*I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK and NetGalley*

Ryx is the black sheep in her family because of her magic which sucks the life from everything she touches. She has been living at her grandmother's castle of Gloamingard for several years as the Warden, but is unable to use her magic to help her homeland, unlike the rest of her family. Instead, Ryx uses her knowledge and talent for politics to try and placate neighbouring countries as she attempts to avoid war.

For as long as anyone can remember, Ryx's family has guarded a tower at Gloamingard. No one knows what is in the tower, only that the Door must never be opened.

But one day, the worst happens and Ryx finds herself with the Door open and a visitor dead.

Ryx will have to deal with the fallout of the events at Gloamingard, but what was behind the Door? Is it still contained or has it been released?

Going into The Obsidian Tower I was very intrigued to read it as it sounded like an interesting book, which it did end up being.

Ryx was a good protagonist - she was relatable and likeable, and I found her interactions with the other characters interesting and enjoyable to read. It was also good to see how she reacted in different situations.

Other than Ryx, my favourite characters were Severin and Ashe, whose personalities I liked.

The setting of Gloamingard was interesting and a bit creepy at times. I would like to find out more about the different lands that were in the book.

The magic was interesting and I liked finding out more about the different types.

The plot was enjoyable, but did take a little while to get going, and there were a couple of lulls for me. The book went in a different direction to what I thought it would, so that was unexpected but good. I have an inkling of what a big plot twist in one of the sequels could be, but I'll have to read them to see if I'm right.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend.