Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blog Tour: The Secret Side of Empty- Playlist and Giveaway

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria Andreu

We'd like to welcome author Maria Andreu on her pre-release blog tour of The Secret Side of Empty. Check out a synopsis below. We are especially interested in such a controversial topic. With Obama's 2012 immigration law reform permitting illegal citizens to stay in the country if they'd been brought here as children and shows like The Fosters producing story lines that bring to light the plight of undocumented aliens, this story cannot come out at a more perfect time.

ABOUT The Secret Side of Empty

It's the story of a teen girl that is American in every way except for in one very important way: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby without proper documentation, so she's "illegal." As the end of the safe haven of her high school days draw near, she faces an uncertain future. Full of humor and frustration and love, The Secret Side of Empty speaks to the part in all of us that has felt excluded or has had a secret too scary to share. What M.T., the main character, finally discovers is the strength of the human spirit and the power that's unleashed when you finally live the truth.
We asked Maria what music inspired the writing of this novel.

Music played a big part in the writing of The Secret Side of Empty, both from the way I envisioned certain scenes to songs that put me in the right mood for writing.  Since the story is inspired by my own story, there are a few “oldies” mixed in.  Here are my favorites:

The Smiths song “Here Comes Your Man” makes me think of a certain mood that the main character has when she’s around her boyfriend, like she wants to impress him and be more than she is.

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – M.T., the protagonist, goes to visit a friend in college (even though she’s in high school) and goes to see an a singing group.  They do a capella stuff.  It’s so deeply unhip that it’s cool:  I once saw an all-guys singing group do this in a college I visited and the moment always stuck with me.

One Republic’s “Stop and Stare.”  I love how this song builds.  I bet M.T. and Nate, the couple in the love story in The Secret Side of Empty, had this playing in the background while they were kissing one day:
M.T. likes to ride her bike a lot.  She listens to this song while doing it.  It’s moody and vibey:

There is a character named Josh who decides he’s going to take on M.T.’s “musical education” by sending her links to obscure songs.  (I think he has a bit of a crush on her, but he’s got a girlfriend and she’s got a boyfriend).  Here is one song he sends her:

This is another song Josh meant to send but which didn’t make it into the book.

M.T. goes through a lot of hard times through the book.  When she is really feeling down she listens to songs like this one.

M.T. doesn’t particularly celebrate her Latina heritage at the start of the book, but when she’s hanging out with her friends she does get into this song:

Giveaway Info

Maria is giving away two separate prizes on her tour, a $250 Amazon Gift Card AND a Kindle Fire.

1)      For a chance to win the$250 Amazon gift card, ORthe Kindle Fire leave a comment on her blog post for that day. Winners will be randomly selected on September 30th.

Maria Andreu’s Bio:

Maria’s writing has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post and the Star Ledger.  Her debut novel, The Secret Side of Empty, is the story of an “illegal” high school senior.  It was inspired by Maria’s own experiences as an undocumented teen.  Since becoming a citizen, Maria has run her own business and has become a soccer mom. She lives with her 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son in northern New Jersey.
Maria Andreu’s website-
Maria Andreu on Twitter:

Thanks, Maria, for joining us. We wish you the best for the upcoming release of this novel!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

ARC Review: Where the Stars Still Shine

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.-Goodreads
*Thanks to NetGalley for providing an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Page Count: 352
Would Appeal To: Fans of Hannah Harrington's Saving June
Buy Link:
Favorite Quotes:

"His gaze slithers down from my face and gets caught on the front of my shirt."

"My fists curl into themselves and I stop myself from rushing to his defense, because this is Alex's story--one he hasn't told me--and I've come uninvited into the middle of it."

"His smile lacks the deep creases that usually bracket his mouth like happy parentheses."

"'Didn't Einstein say something about driving and kissing?' I ask. The tires squeal as he turns into the parking lot of a mostly vacant strip mall, puts the truck in park, and shifts me onto his lap. 'To paraphrase, he said if you can do both at the same time...' His lips find a spot on my neck, below my ear, and send heat rushing...everywhere, making me wonder if it's possible to be addicted to a person, like drugs, or cigarettes, or sadness."

"The tilt at the corner of his mouth absorbs my apology."

"Her hair tickles my nose, but her scent--the rose soap smell--reminds me of making oatmeal raisin cookies and singing a song about the moon."
Why You Must Check Out "Where The Stars Still Shine":
  • Greek anyone? Not only do I want to be adopted by a huge extended family who does as much feasting as bickering, but I want to go down to the dock and see a Greek hottie with a bandana tying up his boat. Sidenote-- I learned lots of Greek words!
  • The setting speaks. The first chapter is so well written. I was transported into a family with a parnoid transient who clearly doesn't put being a mother at the top of her priority list in just the first two pages. I ached for Callie, the more mature of the two. Just her chilly walk, sans hoodie, to the laundromat, was so revealing. I got to know her and understood her life without even trying.
  • Intrigue. Callie's been kidnapped by her mom AND she knows it! Other stories I've read involve kids making such revelations, but she knows and seems to be okay with it. She even feels like she needs to take care of her mother. 
  • Pacing. It's obvious from the summary that Callie goes back to be with her dad, but the quickness of this plot twist took me by surprise in the best way possible!
  • Callie. I love a girl who knows what she wants. The chemistry between her and Greek boy (no spoilers!) is palpable. They roll with the moment. Of course, she doesn't realize how connected this will make them.
  • Emotional. There's this fantastic scene at the end between Callie and her mother that just pops off the pages. It's gripping, it's I-can't-believe-you-said-it-like-that. It wouldn't tug so tightly on the heartstrings if Doller's wasn't impactful. 
  • Lovable secondary characters. Callie's half-brothers are super cute. I also love her friend/cousin Kat. She is SO forgiving. But I know people like that. I appreciated that the end places great focus on the relationship between mom and daughter rather than other relationships that might typically hog the spotlight.
  • Callie lives in an Airstream trailer out back of the house. How cool is that? Sneaking out when she wants. No direct supervision. Kind of sucks about the no hot water in the shower thing, but otherwise, it gives her the time and space she needs to think about her old life merging with her new one.
Things That Bugged Me:
  • I waited about two weeks to write this review and forgot quite a few details when thinking back. This could have been my own fault because my mind has been overcrowded lately, but I was bummed. I thought it might stand out in my mind more. I certainly enjoyed the combination of romance and water!
  • No one brings up the age difference between our main couple, not even her father. They only say he's not healthy for her and a bad influence. It was always there, a voice in the back of my mind, going, "cradle-robber" and "illegal." I wish someone had brought it up, especially since Greg was so protective over his long-lost daughter. 
  • "Spoiler!": There is a misunderstanding between Callie and her boy toy when he blames her for meddling with his relationship with his mom. I didn't understand why he was so mad. I thought he could have been less quick to jump to the conclusion that she was responsible for this set up. Especially for a guy who seems to have fallen hard for her.
Final verdict: Romantic waves, first love, Greek Adonis, past secrets--Where the Stars Still Shine will make you believe that The One is hiding just off the dock and around the corner.



Thursday, September 5, 2013

NetFlix On the Brain

Besides devouring books, my not-so-secret addiction is watching entire series of shows at a time on NetFlix. I'm currently hooked on Orange is the New Black.

I admit, three episodes in, I was like, "What the hell?!" but sticking with it paid off. It's definitely original and I love the main character. I want to know what to watch next. Here are the series I have really enjoyed on Netflix (in no particular order):

  • Borgia- For fans of Tudors and other medieval-esque shows. There's no holding back on the nudity though. Oh how corrupt is the history of the Catholic church.
  • Camelot- Another one cancelled after just one season but oh, so good! My mom and brother got me hooked on this one. I'm a sucker for noble causes and sword fights.
  • American Horror Story- I haven't even seen season 2 yet. Creepy and twisted and most times and often random plot twists that throw you for a loop. But ghosts living in the house that normal people can see? Brilliant! Not to mention, freakiest show opening ever.
  • Sherlock. One of those mini-series that has about 3 episodes in a series. He's just so smart! Love the texts they show to the viewer.
  • Friends with Benefits. My husband and I watched all of season 1 in one night. So funny.
  • Hemlock Grove. I couldn't figure out what was going on for half the season, but it still turned out to be weirdly addicting. Shelly is like a girl version of Frankenstein. 
  • The Secret Circle- A much calmer version of The Craft. Okay, so this didn't last past one season. Character development was weak a lot of the time. But I just couldn't stop watching.  
  • The Walking Dead. Had to watch after my students wouldn't shut up about it. They were totally right. Zombies are cool. You make weird choices in life-or-death situations.
What should I watch next? HELP!
I started House of Cards, and it was good, but I never got addicted.

ARC Review: Wild Cards (Wild Cards #1) by Simone Elkeles

Wild Cards

by Simone Elkeles

After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.

Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain--people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?- Goodreads
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Page Count: 288
Buy Link: Amazon
Would Appeal To: Girls who like football, fans of Miranda Kenneally (Stealing Parker, Catching Jordan)
Favorite Quotes: *I don't record quotes for ARC's since there is a note in the beginning of the book that says not to, but thank you to NetGalley for a copy of Wild Cards in exchange for an honest review. 

Simone Elkeles. Here is my experience with the Perfect Chemistry series. I read all three in less than three days. 
I clutch the book tightly. Nothing and no one will stand in the way of me and this story. Breaks are limited to bathroom and snack, not even a complete meal.

There's a majorly action packed scene right near the end where everything seems to go impossibly crazy. Usually it involves drugs and/or guns, and I freak out because I have no idea what the characters can do to rid themselves of impending doom.

I cry at some gushy love scene that's really well written and because her dialogue is spot on and the stuff of poetry. Following the end of the novel is a catatonic state where I want to cling to the memory but move on to the next book at the same time. This shocked awe doubles in intensity when the series comes to an end. Repeat crying. What, you mean these characters aren't real? I can't be a part of their world any longer? BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? I think somewhere in this process I've developed some unhealthy habits...
When I snap out of my disappointment that there is no more to the story, I rejoice because I have read something so addicting, so entertaining, so purely phenomenal that I must immediately run out and recommend it to everyone I know, including the mailman, even if he looks at me strange when I say "young adult."

So onto my thoughts on Wild Cards:
  • Jake. Hottie with an athletic body. He's got the bad boy thing going on, which means he has no lack of female attention. I've seen this character done many a time, but I've never known one who is a military brat that's lived in so many places but held a Southern accent. Sometimes I questioned his clothing choices, but they also made him unique. However, I recall several of the characters saying "What're you..?" as in "What are you doing?" "What are you thinking." I've never heard anyone use that combination, and I've lived in TX and OK. After twice, it was a little overused. So...the cowboy voice for me wasn't working. A "ya'll" here or there would have worked and been enough. To his credit though, he's a great step-brother to cute little Julian.
  • Yay for the comedy that ensues upon the meeting of Ashtyn and Jake! 
  • A couple of the romantic scenes repeated the description of someone's something or other being on fire (usually skin). This bothered me a little. I usually go gaga over this author's romance scenes.
  • Ashtyn, or Parker as she's called since she's the football team's kicker, is awesome! I love a girl who can defy sexual stereotypes. Her role model is a female kicker in college, which is nice because Ashtyn's dad has zero interest in coming to her games or supporting her athletic endeavors. I appreciate that even though she's on the football team, she has several girly attributes. She can hang with the guys, but she's also dating a guy on the team, Landon, (who consequently is a humongous jerk!). He doesn't handle her popularity well, which makes for some awkward situations.
  • Loved the secondary characters, especially the guys on the team like Victor, because they had Parker's back throughout the story. They were pretty dimensional. I wouldn't want to get on Vic's dad's bad side, and we hardly find out anything about him.
  • Brandi, Jake's stepmom, who's super close to him in age. Bless the poor girl, she tries to think, but alas, not everyone was made with a brain that works. I could never guess what she would say next. Kudos to Jake for not writing her off as "that young bimbo my dad married." At least not the whole time. 
  • Camping trip with Ashtyn and Jake. 'Nuff said.
  • Ohmigosh the ending! AMAZING! Everything comes together absolutely perfectly. I had this giant smile on my face. This for me, secured the book's rating.
  • If I'm looking at this compared to Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry novels (I know, it's not fair to compare books by the one author, BUT...), I would say it wasn't in the same category as far as the overall story being astonishing. I like that she switches from male to female POV in both series. I also appreciate that she wrote about girls and sports here, which is definitely not the same as boys in gangs. On one hand, there were parts I where I was waiting for this book to get better. On the other, Elkeles threw in some twists.
  • Excited about the second book in this series. I hope, hope, hope that we get to see more of Victor's story!


Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Be More Chill

Jeremy Heere is your average high school dork. Day after day, he stares at beautiful Christine, the girl he can never have, and dryly notes the small humiliations that come his way. Until the day he learns about the "squip." A pill-sized supercomputer that you swallow, the squip is guaranteed to bring you whatever you most desire in life. By instructing him on everything from what to wear, to how to talk and walk, the squip transforms Jeremy from Supergeek to superchic. -Goodreads ff
Publisher: Miramax
Release Date: September 1, 2005
Page Count: 304
Would Appeal To: Fans of Beauty Queens or anyone who likes making fun of pop culture

Favorite Quotes:
"Cool People are like termites; for every one you see, there are thousands back at the hive with the same basic nervous system and worldview."

"That's one thing I hate about, uh, the world. I hate touchy-feely friend relationships between guys and girls. I hate them when I'm in them, of course, but I'm not in them too often so mostly I just hate them from outside."


"'Hello, Rich,' I nod, squip-prompted. I almost wave but the squip tells me that waving is one of the worst things you can do in any social situation; it makes people question your non-retardedness."

"She wears a black Goth semidress that's less like human clothing and more like one of those choker vines that destroys its host tree and leaves its dead shell clinging to thin air."

We always want what we can't have. For Jeremy Heere (who even has an annoying last name, especially when it comes to roll call), he's one of the invisibles, the social outcasts who observes but never participates. His Dad tries to be cool but fails miserably, his best friend is on the outs too but does his own thing. But Jeremy wants to lessen the amount of computer porn time and get with Christine, the girl of his dreams. 
When he finds he can swallow a pill to find all of his problems, he will do anything to get the money. But the squip isn't yet approved for the public. Still, he's willing to risk anything to get the girl and find happiness.
Reasons You Must Check This Out:
  • Comedic. I don't just mean in parts, but the whole thing is ridiculous and funny. Jeremy wants to enter the world of girls, but he's so awkward. He writes Humiliation Sheets when people embarrass him or make fun of him in some way, and when his classmates find out, they kind of freak. I would too. They're kind of like a tally of who has been mean, which could be used in several unhealthy and violent ways. Jeremy's not like that, though. He's just odd and often misunderstood.
  • Creative. Everything about the story is creative. The way Jeremy gets enough money to buy a squip. The descriptions of his life. The consequences of the drug/sex/dance party. The idea of the squip itself. Is it really that far off that we could have technology in our brains telling us what to do? And the squip has a pretty decent sense of humor. I liked the parts where it was explaining to Jeremy how it worked, the "technical" details of it downloading memories from his brain.
  • Cultural references. This has everything from Eminem (and his demise) to beanie babies to the lingo of the times that Jeremy has to use. He isn't comfortable with cussing like the squip tells him, so he thinks of cuss words with blanks. It was actually interesting to fill in the blanks. I want my mind to work a little while I'm reading.  
  • Characters. Aunt Linda is the craziest woman ever, from using a pole to prod Jeremy to her picture taking obnoxiousness. Jeremy's dad walks around naked and tries to be cool but is mostly embarrassing, especially with his giant Bowflex in the living room. And Jeremy's best friend has an afro with lots of dandruff. No two characters are alike. 
Things That Bugged Me:
  • The end was kind of abrupt, but it still had a great message. 
 Final verdict:
A quick, realistic narration flooded in humor, Be More Chill attempts to decode the mysteries of the female gender from the perspective of a high school boy who missed the Cool People memo.