Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

By April Genevieve Tucholke
Published August 2013
Published by Dial
Source: Purchased
You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town… until River West comes along. River rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard.

Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more?

Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery... who makes you want to kiss back.

Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

So, more often than not, I while away my non-class time at school flopped on the green room couch with a book. And, without fail, someone will ask me whether or not the book I'm reading is any good. When it came to this one, I very distinctly remember being 70 pages in and going "Eh, I'll give it a bit longer to see if it finds its plot." The book did indeed find its plot, but there were only two reasons I kept going to the end on this one. The first was that at that point I'd already invested 100 pages of time into it (of a 360 page book,) and the second was that I'd failed to bring another physical book with me and forgotten my glasses so I couldn't do any actual reading on my ipad for any length of time. Eyesight's a weird thing sometimes. I'm still getting used to that whole needing glasses things.

There isn't a lot worth reading in this book. It had a lot of potential to be something decent and the writing itself was pretty strong but the story? Eh. Pass. I mean, I have a history of making fun of YA character names. There's a sarcastic dystopian trilogy I have half plotted out that involves the dramatic life of Velveeta and her love affair with the dashing and debonair Stapler. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea takes the odd YA naming conventions and runs with it to the point where it's hard to take anyone seriously. Especially when the MC spends a good chunk of her time demonizing her twin brother for being a misogynistic scumbag and then goes right on ahead shaming her bff for being totally okay with her own sexuality because of course what Sunshine does with her body is absolutely Violet's business and place to judge.

A plot that takes nearly 100 pages to get going isn't worth my time. Point blank. The first chunk of the book is Violet talking about wearing her grandmother's old clothes and how hard it is being a boho artist from old money that doesn't exist any more and boo hoo nobody likes her family because they're entitled recluses. The Love Interest shows up nearly immediately, and maybe it's a sign of my age, but I'm definitely kind of annoyed that some guy shows up to rent the guest house at Violet's sprawling estate, pays rent in a wad of cash he apparently still had enough of in his wallet that it wouldn't close properly and she doesn't even check his ID or do anything more than go 'cool, here's the living space.' Girl, this is how horror movies start. And yeah, this was supposed to be a horror movie in its way, but it wasn't a very successful horror movie. Horror book. Whatever.

Especially since the plot is all wrapped up nice and neatly by a good old Deus Ex Machina villain. Oh, and apparently it's part of a two book series which I didn't know when I read it (since the ending itself was satisfying enough for me to just be done with it when I finished,) for which I'll be breaking my Must Finish The Series rule not only because it took 100 pages for it to get going and then wrapped up super quickly, but also because the ending I got after book one was good enough for me. There weren't any cliffhangers so dire that I absolutely needed to see if there was another book so I could find out what happened to X, Y, or Z. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea falls firmly in the 'meh' range of book enjoyment for me. I wasted my time, but it was time I was going to be sitting around anyway so I'm not really upset about it. I don't feel the need to run out and consume everything else this author has written, but if something else comes across my desk, I won't throw it out immediately. It just won't be going to the top of any pile.

Life By Committee

By Corey Ann Haydu
Published May 2014
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Purchased
Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat.

Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.

Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe.

Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own.

But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?

Things this book seems to be about:
  • Stigmatizing anxiety disorders and other mental health problems
  • Demonizing marijuana use
  • Slut shaming and unacknowledged internalized sexism
  • Token Non-Judgemental Queer Sidekicks
  • Jocks are dicks.

After reading Corey Ann Haydu's OCD Love Story, I was under the impression that this was an author who could balance creating a safe space with telling a realistic story. This book threw that straight out the window. So, let's talk about Life by Committee. I have a lot of feelings about this book and none of them are good. Most of them amount to that kind of weird bile-mucus taste you get in your mouth when you're the worst kind of sick and no matter how many times you brush your teeth it just doesn't go away so you're just stuck feeling gross until the medicine kicks in and maybe does something. I'm going to be making a lot of mouth references here, and you're just gonna have to bear with me.

Life by Committee is problematic. Those of you who know me in the world outside this book blog know how much I hate the word 'problematic' for various reasons that I won't get into right now since it'll be another mouth metaphor and I'm saving that for later. Regardless, you're just going to have to trust that I don't use the word lightly or often.

So here we have yet another portrayal of a bunch of white folks with a lot of privilege and issues living in Vermont which the internet has told me is a land of syrup, petty he said/she said arguments, and (surprise, surprise) privilege. In this installment of Y'all Got Issues, the MC, Tabitha, is the teenage daughter of a couple who got teen pregnant and managed to not only stay together and have a relationship, but started their own business and are generally a big hippie success story. Good for you, parents. Well done. She's upset because over the summer she got boobs and a butt and apparently that was all it took for her bffs to be all 'later' and dump her for no reason. Here's the thing, Tabitha. Do you mind if I call you Tabitha? You're fictional. I really don't care. I'm calling you Tabitha. Now, Tabitha, nobody ditches their friends for no reason. I mean I went through that part of high school where suddenly my friend group changed completely, and I can promise you that like a lot of people that happens to there was some mutual screwed upness happening there. Tabitha's bffs didn't just ditch her because she "got hot." But for the whole of the book, Tabitha refuses to accept that she might've had something to do with her own sudden lack of friends. But hey, that's cool. She has Token Queer Character now. A character who she's consistently awful to and makes pretty clear that having one friend who will call you on your crap but still be friends with you isn't good enough. Gee, I wonder why everyone hates Tabitha?

Frankly, it can't be because she's "dressing slutty" since there's another girl in school who's being all free and open with her sexuality, who accepts herself and Tabitha spends way too much time fixating on and hating this chick based on what she sees as a double standard. Cue more boo-hoo everyone hates me. But, because this is a YA novel and it wouldn't be a YA novel without some serious Bad Decisions, because everything is didactic: Tabitha makes some bad decisions. Halfway through this series of Bad Decisions, I began to realize that this book is basically just another version of OCD Love Story except this time there's a bonus Queer. At it's root, Corey Ann Haydu has written the exact same book. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. It's not entirely. Authors write variations on the Exact Same Book all the time. Stephen King has basically made a career out of it. And hey, that seems to work for him and it could also work for Corey Ann Haydu. But when your books are Stigmatized Problem Stays Stigmatized > Obsessive Love Interest > Outside Force Controls Character's Life > Obsessive Love Interest Implodes > Actual Love Interest > Tidy Resolution then maybe you should take a step back for a second and evaluate things. People with mental health concerns see themselves stigmatized constantly. They don't need to have it happen in their fiction as well. That's their reality. They live with it every single moment of every single day. So here's my challenge to you, Ms. Haydu: Make this thing that is a constant part of their lives normal. Don't demonize it. OCD Love Story's MC was brought to an absolutely tragic point and yes, yes that was an important, painful book that I'm glad got written if only because the OCD community didn't need another representation of their lives as "lol, I like to keep things tidy. I'm so OCD."

Life by Committee isn't OCD Love Story, of course since the characters themselves have changed and the plot device is different, but here's the thing: Tabitha's internal and external treatment of Sasha Cotton (who suffers from panic attacks, severe depression, and at least one experience of suicidal ideation,) isn't acceptable and it's especially not acceptable from an author who clearly knows better and understands at least intellectually how damaging that kind of depiction can be. Yes, you can write absolutely horrible characters. That's cool. I mean look at Tumblr. There is clearly an audience for morally ambiguous MC love. Heck, I am definitely part of that audience. But YA books are intended for a certain audience, and I know that the books I read when I was in that demographic shaped me tremendously into the person I am today. I'm sure the author of this book is a wonderful human being. I'm sure she's kind and empathetic and cares about the kind of impact she's making on people. It's with that in mind that I'd like for her to take the base of Sasha Cotton, take this depressed girl who makes really, really bad decisions because she just wants people to like her, and use that flawed character for a book, and do that without trying to teach something. Maybe she'll get help and get on whatever the right medication for her is. Maybe she won't. Because, for me, this book was like dental work: profoundly uncomfortable, going on too long, and so nice and tidy at the end that I'd nearly forgotten what a chore it was in the first place.

All that said, my main beef with OCD Love Story was that the cover completely didn't work with the story. Life by Committee doesn't have that problem, and for all that it seems like I'm implying that it was the most awful thing I've ever read, it wasn't. Far from it. Corey Ann Haydu has the skill to tell a really good story. I want to see her push herself. When her next work comes out in May, I will absolutely be buying and reading that too. If I weren't invested in this author's success, I wouldn't waste my time on their books. There are way too many other things I could be doing with my life.

Gone Reading - Product Review

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from the founder of Gone Reading asking if I'd like to review some products from their site like Coranne did last summer. And like Coranne, I asked Brad to surprise me. Not only did he surprise me, but somehow he managed to time things out perfectly with shipping and putting together a box of random stuff so that it arrived on my birthday. I'm sure it was a coincidence, but I'm just going to pretend it was intentional because it wouldn't surprise me if Brad's the kind of guy who plans out mail for his friends and family like that. I don't know him beyond that, but surprise book stuff on my birthday is definitely one of the ways to my heart.

There was a definite theme to the things in the box and that was that they were all better enjoyed with people. So, I strapped on my social boots, called up some friends and we had a night of it. It didn't go entirely as expected.

Lit Wit is a game that seems fun on the outside, like a nuanced Trivial Pursuit for book lovers. My friends and I were super excited to start playing it, but once we got started we realized that this was to trivia games what Monopoly seems to be to the rest of the board game community. That is: Not Fun. Don't play this game if you still want to be friends at the end of it. For one, it heavily focuses on the generally accepted canon of literature and doesn't seem to want to go beyond that. I'm not sure why. The answer is probably The Patriarchy. Limiting the subject matter to less contemporary authors meant that a lot of my friends and I had a hard time answering most of these questions. The game ended pretty quickly due to frustration, tears, and a certain human who shall not be named shouting, "Why are half these 'genre' category cards the bible??? Since when is the bible a genre?! Since when is Shakespeare a genre? Have I been using genre wrong my whole life? What's happening here?" Once we gave up on playing the game, one participant began attempting to build a fortress with the cards. It seems like there's a target audience here that none of the half dozen of us there fell into. If you've considered or have your MFA in Literature, you might enjoy this game. If you devour The Classics, you might enjoy this game. It's basically the kind of thing that just gives you a chance to be a pretentious person about all the books you've read. I dunno, guys. I'm totally happy being an adult who devours YA fiction and don't feel like anyone should be punished for choosing to read what they like instead of things they might find dry, dated, and a chore to finish but that they might not be a real human being who enjoys books if they don't. Dickens, I'm looking at you.

After the disaster of Lit Wit we decided to break out the Great Writers Finger Puppets. That kind of escape was exactly what needed to happen. The box says it can become a finger puppet stage, but we opted to do without a staging space. I'm not going to go into too many details about what happened. I think it suffices to say that there was wine involved, and Virginia Woolf may or may not have staged a coup with her imaginary friend Willy Shakes and Dickens and Tolstoy had conversations about their beards and may or may not have survived The Revolution. I can neither confirm nor deny anything. No, sir. Well, alright, the puppets themselves survived, and are about as aerodynamically sound as you'd expect. Like I said, we were kind of punchy after the game failure. Things have been mostly reclaimed safely save for Tolstoy. The cat really, really likes Tolstoy. Either way, we had a great deal of fun with these. They look super cute on the fridge. Everyone was happy. A++ would enjoy again.

The final item in the package I received was the "Book Lover" Word Magnets set. I'm not completely sure what to say about this one. It's a magnetic poetry kit. By this point, I think a good number of us have screwed around with one of these and generally knows what's up. The word variety's good and relevant. It's definitely a set that's best paried with one or more other versions of magnetic poetry. It's also not something that really lends itself to playing with for hours on end. With that in mind, I decided to take the whole set and put them on the green room fridge. Knowing my peers, the results will probably not be all that family friendly. No, there aren't any explicitly dirty words in the set, but since when has that ever stopped anyone from crafting poems rife with innuendo? We'll have fun with it, but slow burn fun.

All in all, the joy of the puppets more than made up for the trivia failure, and the magnets should probably last a good long while in their space before someone gets frustrated with their existence. Everything was shipped quickly and packaged well. The next time I'm gift hunting for certain people in my life, I'm absolutely going to make Gone Reading my first stop. Not only was their founder a joy to communicate with, but they have a philanthropic mission I can absolutely get behind.

Cover Reveal: SIGNS OF LIFE

I'm so excited to take part in the cover reveal for SIGNS OF LIFE (Rough Romance #2, sequel to MELT)! Check out the cover below, enter the giveaway, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments.

Signs of Life (Rough Romance #2) by Selene Castrovilla

SIGNS OF LIFE (Rough Romance #2) by Selene Castrovilla
Last Syllable Books
Release Date: November 10, 2015

No good deed goes unpunished…

The tables are turned with a vengeance in this tour de force sequel to MELT. Now it’s Dorothy who is fragmented and lost, while Joey keeps the promise he made her to better himself – even though she’s gone.

Joey tells his story “now ”—nearly a year after the shocking conclusion of MELT.

Dorothy tells what happened “then”— in the moments and hours after the Glock dropped.

This time the stakes are even higher, as Joey forces himself to move forward while Dorothy is frozen in place. But when he learns of a devastating decision, Joey races to find her before it’s too late. Truth, consequence, repercussion and modern medicine collide as pieces converge in this psychological, thrilling story, which begs the question: Can love really conquer all?

What do you think of the cover?

Haven't started this series, yet? 
Check out book one below and grab a copy today!

MELT by Selene Castrovilla

Based on true events, MELT is both a chilling tale of abuse, and a timeless romance. MELT will hit you like a punch in the face, and also seep through the cracks in your soul.

MELT is a brutal love story set against the metaphorical backdrop of The Wizard of Oz (not a retelling). When sixteen year old Dorothy moves to the small town of Highland Park, she meets, and falls for Joey – a “bad boy” who tells no one about the catastrophic domestic violence he witnesses at home. Can these two lovers survive peer pressure, Joey’s reputation, and his alcoholism?

Told in dual first person, Joey’s words are scattered on the page – reflecting his broken state. Dorothy is the voice of reason – until something so shattering happens that she, too, may lose her grip. Can their love endure, or will it melt away?

MELT: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Selene Castrovilla

About Selene Castrovilla

Selene Castrovilla is an award-winning teen and children’s author who believes that through all trends, humanity remains at the core of literature. She is the author of Saved By the Music and The Girl Next Door, teen novels originally published by WestSide Books and now available digitally through ASD Publishing. Her third children’s book with Calkins Creek Books, Revolutionary Friends, has received numerous accolades. She is also a contributing author to UncommonYA. Selene holds an MFA in creative writing from New School University and a BA in English from New York University. She lives on Long Island with her two sons. Visit her website for book excerpts and more information!


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By Ally Condie
Published October 2014
Published by Dutton
Source: Purchased
Can you hear Atlantia breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

I believe my first words describing this book to someone were "UNDERWATER DYSTOPIA OMFG!!!" Which basically sums up my feelings on this book quite nicely. The novelty of it alone was enough to have me interested in this book from start to finish. Unlike Ally Condie's other works that I've read (the Matched series, previously or soon to be reviewed here on Best Books Ever depending on the order that posts go up,) this is very much not a romance. It's a story of sisters, secrets, and stories told beautifully in a setting that I hadn't encountered before with just enough of a smattering of Greek Myth to propel that nerd in me forward

Rio is, in a word, driven. She has one goal and will achieve it at all costs. There is a potential love interest, yes, but he is definitely not her priority. She has a mystery to solve and a dream to achieve and gods help her but she is going to do it. Beyond the heroine Ally Condie crafts for us, she also builds an intricate underwater world that I had a good deal of fun imagining while I was with this story. She deals with the evolution of cultures and the complexities of living underwater quite nicely. For the first time in a very long time, I've actually been brought to care enough about a universe to want more set in it, to want a prequel far enough in the past to learn what it was like for these first people choosing to venture below. There are some hints throughout the book about another faction of people who went to space and the question of what happened to them. I don't really care about what's going on in Space Dystopia, but if Ally Condie ever decides to write about it, you can bet I'll be there reading it. For now, I plan on rereading Atlantia just for the worldbuilding. Hollywood, if you're gonna decide to pick one of Ms. Condie's works to make a big budget summer blockbuster out of, please, please do Atlantia. The Matched series is good and super popular right now, yes, but you could do so much awesome water stuff with this and it'd be amazing. Do it. But read the book first.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

By Carrie Ryan
Published July 2009
Published by Gollancz
Source: Purchased
In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

Alright, so I'm breaking from my 'must review whole series at once' rule for this book, but only because I have a pile of things I wanna write about and the second book in the series hasn't shown up in the mail yet and the third book is just sitting on my desk taunting me, daring me to read it out of order. Well, I'm going to write this review because I've convinced myself that if I write this review that the second book will show up faster. Postal service superstitions aside, there's one thing that you should know before I start this review:

I hate zombies.

There. Now you know my seemingly unpopular opinion and the biased angle from which I am approaching this book about zombies.

Now, you might be asking yourselves, "Reg, if you don't like zombies so much then why did you pick up a book knowing it was going to be about zombies or something similarly gruesome?" The answer, my friends (you're my friends now, you're just gonna have to deal with that, we'll build pillow forts and have burritos it'll be great,) is that someone recommended it to me. Not only did someone recommend it to me, but they spent several weeks redesigning their own cover for it and I gotta say that if you're dedicated enough to be making art for a work then it's gotta be worth something to you on a personal level and I will not snub your attempts to share that bit of yourself with me simply because zombies aren't my thing.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth isn't awful. It's interesting. It's got a decent premise. I like the novelty of the zombie apocalypse being 'over' and now humanity has to deal with the aftermath of being unable to rid itself of zombies completely and just trying to protect itself as much from further contamination as possible. I really do feel like there were too many things unanswered. Much of the early part of the book deals with the religious cult at the heart of the MC's society. The MC goes on a quest for answers and then gets a grand total of ehhhhh...a few before everything falls apart even more. Judging by the Next Book Preview and the back of the third book, I don't think I'm ever gonna get answers about this cult. I'm really disappointed about that.

But I digress. The book. So, often I praise characters who are driven, but there's a difference between 'driven' and 'fixated.' Mary is fixated on One Thing to the exclusion of all else or really noticing anything else around her from time to time. All that exists to Mary is that One Thing and then she takes on the role of Oblivious Protagonist and- Look, I don't like Mary. I spent a lot of time yelling at her. I spent a good deal of time yelling at the other characters who were so equally fixated on her too. I didn't see her as that great. The dog was my favourite character. There will not be a book that has chapters dealing with the dog's adventures after this book. You have no idea how sad this makes me.

The world building was decent. The writing was pretty good. If those things weren't present and I still was firmly 'meh' on these characters, I wouldn't be quite so determined to find the rest of the books. The zombies are a plot point, but they're not The Plot Point. There's a lot more going on in The Forest of Hands and Teeth beyond ahhhhh zombies. It's definitely worth a look regardless of your stance on zombies or the secret power of post-apocalyptic nuns. Tell me your secrets post-apocalyptic nuns. I need to know.

Jaime Reviews ~ The Bargaining by Carly Anne West

By Carly Anne West
Published on February 17, 2015
Published by Simon Pulse
Source: Edelweiss
The fact that neither of her parents wants to deal with her is nothing new to Penny. She’s used to being discussed like a problem, a problem her mother has finally passed on to her father. What she hasn’t gotten used to is her stepmother…especially when she finds out that she’ll have to spend the summer with April in the remote woods of Washington to restore a broken-down old house.

Set deep in a dense forest, the old Carver House is filled with abandoned antique furniture, rich architectural details, and its own chilling past. The only respite Penny can find away from April’s renovations is in Miller, the young guy who runs the local general store. He’s her only chance at a normal, and enjoyable, summer.

But Miller has his own connection to the Carver House, and it’s one that goes beyond the mysterious tapping Penny hears at her window, the handprints she finds smudging the glass panes, and the visions of children who beckon Penny to follow them into the dark woods. Miller’s past just might threaten to become the terror of Penny’s future….

My Thoughts

  I liked The Bargaining for the most part. The idea was a great one, but I don't feel like it was expounded on enough during the story, and when the final reveal came, it was a bit of a letdown. Not because it wasn't a great idea, but because it was never really explained in a way that made sense. However, despite these issues, I did like the story. 

  The characters were very well written. Not exactly loveable, with the exception of April and Rob, but very well done, characterization wise. Penny grew exponentially throughout the story, and it was a great thing to experience. And the house was a creepy one. 

  The horror factor, ah the major issue and what kept this from being 4 stars.... The house was creepy, and there were moments, like the swing and the shed especially that got me, but I wanted to be SCARED. I don't blame that on the author, for the most part, because it takes a lot!

  All in all, The Bargaining was a good read, with a great cover, that I am happy I got to experience. I would absolutely recommend this to people who like creepy without being scared, or those just getting into the horror genre! 

Thanks to Edelweiss for allowing me access to this review copy!

3 1/2 stars!

Material Girls

By Elaine Dimopoulos
Published 05 May 2015
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Source: Netgalley
In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves. Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Will their new “eco-chic” trend subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives?

Smart, provocative, and entertaining, this thrilling page-turner for teens questions the cult like mentality of fame and fashion. Are you in or are you out?

In a time where it seems like most of the dystopias published are trilogies, it's strangely refreshing to have one self-contained book. Don't get me wrong, I like a good trilogy, but it's been so very long since I've finished a trilogy because I was invested in the story and not simply because I felt like I had to power through to the end. Admittedly, I'd probably enjoy most of my reading experiences more if I could get out of that stubborn mindset.

Material Girls was something that drew me in and refused to let go. For the first time in a very long time, I found myself nearing the end of the book and aching for another one. It seemed impossible to me that the story could resolve itself with only a couple chapters left and I was actively angry at the idea that I might have to wait for another installment. I can't remember the last time a book made me feel like that. Heck, I can't remember the last time anything media made me feel like that. Fortunately, the author worked her magic and everything was satisfyingly resolved, and this book that I truly couldn't put down left me feeling like I'd just spent a sunny day lying in a hammock with an old literary friend.

So, with all that said, let's actually talk about this book, shall we?

The blurb describes it as Project Runway meets Divergent. While I can see why both those names were used, I don't think that's entirely accurate. Is it a dystopia? Yes, absolutely. Is it your typical kind of dystopia? No, definitely not. Children are sorted and then segregated from each other, yes, but the point of the book isn't to bring down the whole system like nearly every other dystopia on the market seems to encourage. There is a revolution, yes, but there's no Top Secret Underground Rebellion lurking in the Appropriately Named Wilderness in this book.

Material Girls is a cutting critique of capitalism, treatment of workers, and true freedom to be oneself. It's a book that artfully deals with a number of complex issues. Nobody is forced into rebellion. So many of the things that happen are the result of people choosing for themselves. The only real bullying and oppression comes from above, not within.

Now, here's the part where I admit my bias. I come from a long line of people involved in Unions. I'm not ashamed of that. I believe in the necessity of unions to protect workers' rights and contribute to better quality of life for everyone involved in the process. Without unions, after all, we'd still have child labor. Heck, the creative industries in the book are built on child labor. There comes a point in the book where one of the MCs, Marla, gets involved with the initial organizing of a union. Having admitted my bias here, I'm also going to freely admit that I've been involved in an organizing effort. The way things went down in the book were in some ways exaggerated for fiction, but most of that had to do with needing to move the plot forward and not the actual effort itself. Now, my involvement in the real world ended when I could no longer live with the conditions we were working under and made the choice to leave the company. The book? Generally accurate. Elaine Dimopoulos has clearly done her research and applied it in such a way that it still felt like a story and not just a retelling of typical practices and results when organizing. It's done so well that I want to hand this book to other authors and say, "Here, this is how you use all that research you've done." Maybe the author herself has been involved in an organizing effort and this is a well executed version of that common Write What You Know lesson. Maybe she hasn't. I don't know. Frankly, it's none of my business.

What I do know is that I absolutely adored this book. It wasn't what I expected it to be. It's a story about growing up, about growing apart, about finding yourself and your passion no matter how long that takes. Regardless of your personal political opinion of unions, don't let that plot device stop you from reading it. It's not propaganda. It's a story about people, the accepted value of creativity, and it is absolutely 100% worth your time.

The only regret I have is that I read this as an ARC and have to wait until release day to buy copies and hand them to people. Don't get me wrong, though, I absolutely will be purchasing this book when it comes out, and I am so, so thrilled to be able to say that about something. So, if you don't mind me I'm going to go see if Elaine Dimopoulos has anything else published so that I can devour that in the meantime.

Crystalee reviews Call Me Tree

Call Me Tree
By Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published on November 1, 2014
Published by Children's Book Press
Source: Library
In this spare, lyrically written story, we join a child on a journey of self-discovery. Finding a way to grow from the inside out, just like a tree, the child develops as an individual comfortable in the natural world and in relationships with others. The child begins "Within/ The deep dark earth," like a seed, ready to grow and then dream and reach out to the world. Soon the child discovers birds and the sky and other children: Trees and trees/ Just like me! Each is different too. The child embraces them all because All trees have roots/ All trees belong. Maya Christina Gonzalez once again combines her talents as an artist and a storyteller to craft a gentle, empowering story about belonging, connecting with nature, and becoming your fullest self. Young readers will be inspired to dream and reach, reach and dream . . . and to be as free and unique as trees."

When I first heard about this book last month, it was through a post on Facebook that linked to an article called "Why Create a Gender Neutral Picture Book?" Intrigued, I clicked. In the article, author Maya Christina Gonzales explained why she chose to write a picture book about a child whose gender is not revealed. The book uses no he or she pronouns. Gonzales explains that she knows many people who don't identify as one gender or the other. She wants all children to feel as if they belong, and therefore insisted that her picture book be written and marketed in a gender-neutral way.

I rushed out and picked up a copy from the library. It's a beautiful picture book with bright illustrations and sparse language in both English and Spanish. However, if I had never read the article, I probably wouldn't have realized the gender-neutral tones. This isn't a book that hits you over the head with an agenda, but it DOES do a great job of conveying the message that everyone is unique and everyone should go after their dreams.

If you'd like to hear more about what Gonzales has to say about why she wrote Call Me Tree, check out the article at Lee and Low's website

Fire in Frost by Alicia Rades ~ Blog Tour Review (by Jaime!) ~ Giveaway

Check out the rest of the hosts HERE

By Alicia Rades
Published 2015
Published by PaperPlane Publishing

Crystal Frost has spent her whole life believing she's ordinary, and her mother has long held the secret of her heritage. When Crystal begins seeing the ghost of a dead classmate, her life spirals out of control. She’s faced with the threat that everyone will find out she’s a freak, as if the struggle to figure out her new-found abilities wasn’t enough pressure. Crystal has to find some way to save the people who have come to her for help all while trying to keep her abilities a secret. Will she be able to fulfill these overwhelming demands while solving the mystery that is the ghost of Olivia Owen?

My Thoughts 

  Alright, right off the bat I am going to be honest about something. I had a hard time at the beginning of Fire in Frost. I honestly considered DNF'ing the book, but there was enough of something there that I decided to give it a fair chance. In the end, I am happy that I didn't give up on it. It wasn't perfect, but giving it a shot was absolutely worth it. 

  Fire in Frost centers around Crystal Frost, our MC. Her and one of her best friend's, Emma, walk in to school one morning, and there is a fundraiser being held for the one year anniversary of the death of a classmate. Without warning, Crystal starts feeling really strange. She starts looking around, and that is when she sees the ghost of Olivia, the very one the fundraiser is being held for. After that, she has one of her worst days. Once home from school, a series of events leads her to her mothers shop, and there she starts to learn the truth about Olivia, and the truth about who she really is. With the help of her BFF's, Emma and Derrick, she learns to control and channel her psychic powers, to help a girl who is in an abusive relationship, and play a few fun rounds of hide-and seek.
  My main issue with the story was the writing itself. It seemed a bit juvenile, and it just didn't flow well. It started to even out around the middle, and became a much better read because of it. Once the book hit it's stride, the plot became a lot more involving, the characters more like-able, and the story caught and held my interest. I finally began rooting for each of the characters. Crystal was a good MC, and I really liked Emma and Derrick. They stuck by her, even when they might have thought and called her crazy. The secondary characters were good additions to the story. The ending was good, with a good resolution, and the promise of more adventures to come. 

  All in all, Fire in Frost was a good story. The ideas were sound, and intriguing. I think there is serious potential for a great second book in the series, because with the ending I have to think there will be one coming! 

About the Author

Alicia Rades has always had a passion for writing and wrote her first poem when she was 8. Although most of her writing continued as poetry and eventually as song writing, she wrote a few short stories along the way. In 2010, Alicia began freelance writing, creating blog posts and other online content. Today, she is a freelance writer, blogger, and editor who lives in Wisconsin with her husband. When inspiration strikes, she's also an author. Visit her author website at 


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