Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Release Day Spotlight and GIVEAWAY: Ana of California by Andi Teran

I'm sure you all saw my review of Ana of California last week. I absolutely adored this modern retelling of Anne of Green Gables. I felt like it perfectly captured the spirit of the original story while bringing Anne Shirley into the 21st Century. But even if you aren't a fan of Anne of Green Gables you will appreciate this coming-of-age story full of heart with endearing characters and an interesting setting. If you missed my review you can check it out HERE.

Ana of California is out in the world today and to celebrate I have a special interview with the author Andi Teran. 

About the Author:
Andi Teran is a writer and performer originally from the deserts of West Texas. She has written about fashion, film, and culture for Vanity Fair, MTV, New York, and Monocle, as well as written and performed for various New York stages. She lives in Los Angeles. Ana of California is her first novel.

Follow Andi: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

You are obviously a fan of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. What made you want to reimagine that story in a modern way?

Keep reading to win this copy of Anne of Green Gables 
I loved Anne of Green Gables growing up. To use Anne’s words, it felt like I’d found a kindred spirit in L.M. Montgomery’s books. I think so many of us fans find something in Anne that we can relate to—from her dreamy imagination and unbridled chattiness to her staunch conviction and propensity for feeling different from others. It was the first time I remember recognizing strength of character coming from just being who you are. Also, for a talkative child such as myself, it was encouraging to read that this could be an asset rather than something worthy of punishment.

I wanted to reimagine the story in a modern way because a character similar to Anne felt like something we needed more of in our current culture. I’m a huge fan of outspoken heroines who aren’t born with the greatest of luck in life but choose to find a way to better their situations for themselves. I always want to root for the go-getters and self-starters; those who are told no but choose to live their lives as a gigantic yes.

When I sat down with what I envisioned to be today’s Anne—aka Ana—she immediately spoke to me on the page. She was older than the precocious, 11-year-old Anne, and she had languished within the foster system longer. I immediately related to her spirit, which was much different from the original Anne. She was more street savvy and subdued, as if her imagination and outspokenness had been progressively silenced and driven deeper into her over time.

The characters of Abbie and Emmett, the counterparts to Marilla and Matthew, came out much differently than I expected too. They were much more self-aware about their situation on the farm and truly struggling—like many small farmers today. It was important to me to highlight that while also creating a nontraditional family unit. The rest of the characters just appeared, quite naturally, and sometimes shared attributes with the originals, but were mostly born from my own imagination. To be honest, I couldn’t stop writing. It was so much fun to enter this whole new world that came from a place that felt so beloved and familiar even if it was often at the back of my mind.

Ana of California is your first novel, but you’ve had a robust career as a nonfiction writer and performer. Have you wanted to write fiction for a long time? Do you have plans to write more novels?

I’ve always wanted to write fiction. I’ve been writing it in secret for most of my life! I wrote short stories and plays growing up but wanted be an actor, so I concentrated on that. Any time I played a character, though, I’d write vast background histories about them or keep a journal. I eventually moved to New York City and sort of fell into magazine writing while also working as a hotel concierge and performing in plays at night. The office of a local culture magazine was next door to the hotel, and I got to know the publisher. He was the first person to ever give me an assignment, which led to more regular reporting. It was tough juggling it all, but I wanted to do and learn as much as possible.

As I got better at writing small pieces, I reached out to other publications. Even though I had no formal training as a writer, I learned so much from editors who were willing to take a chance on me. The feedback was often brutal, but my many failures wound up giving me some success too. I discovered my strengths, specifically interviewing people and writing first-person essays, both of which have to do with embodying real-life characters. I was able to quit my job and write full time, all in the hopes of one day writing a book.
Interestingly, I’ve found that fiction writing is a lot like theatre. You get to play all the characters while also writing and directing them, which is thrilling to me. Thus, to answer your question, yes I have plans to write more novels… many more hopefully!

The location of the novel is so important – Ana goes from inner-city Los Angeles to a community farm near the ocean, and you evoke the change in landscape so well. What inspired you to set the novel in California?

Check out this hand drawn map of Hadley that Andi did!
I’m a recent transplant to California. Much like Ana, I was familiar with parts of Los Angeles, but had never explored the beaches or remote forests in the most northern part of the state. I grew up in Texas, and spent over a decade in New York, but the West Coast always intrigued me. My mother’s side of the family is originally from the Bay Area, so I’ve traveled there and to the southern part of the state throughout my life. Coming here has always been a joy. I’m still enchanted by the diversity of people and terrain. It’s a wildly spectacular part of the country.

The city of Los Angeles called to me initially. It’s such a vibrant metropolis interwoven with nature. I find it crazy that I can encounter a coyote on a mountain hike, have coffee in a forest cafĂ© afterwards, and then go for ramen downtown in Little Tokyo or for tacos like my grandma used to make out in Boyle Heights. Both downtown and the communities in East L.A. appeal to me particularly. You can always find pockets of magic if you’re willing to look for them. I knew immediately that this is where Ana was from.

Within the first few months of living here, I was eager to explore other parts of the state. My husband, sister-in-law, and I decided to take a road trip from L.A. all the way up to the dense forests surrounding California’s Lost Coast, which is a remote stretch of coastline that borders the mountains and lush forests surrounding Humboldt County. We were blown away by what we found. Aside from the quaint towns dotted with Victorian houses, there was this uninhabited coast with jagged cliffs as far as you could see. It was lonely, beautiful, and felt like a forgotten part of the world. We got lost amongst the towering redwoods and ate meals made from fresh, local produce along the way. Interesting characters populated every place we visited. With Ana already in my mind, I knew this is where she needed to go.

Your main character, Ana, joins the ranks of Famous Literary Orphans. In her short life, Ana has faced gang violence, emotional abuse, and racism. Did you want to draw attention to these larger social issues with your novel, or were you thinking more of creating a realistic, complex character?

The answer is a bit of both. It was impossible not to write someone who was realistic and complex when I wanted her to be directly impacted by current social issues. We’re living in a changing time that I can’t believe is still rife with racism, sexism, and emotional abuse. We hear about it in the news or on the Internet daily, whether we’re the recipients or witnesses thereof. Gang violence is still very real in this country too, not to mention rampant south of the border. It’s part of Los Angeles’s history.

It was important that not only Ana, but also all of the characters be people readers can relate to in a realistic way. Ana was the emotional core, so everything sprang from her, including the shadows of her past and how she chose to deal with them. I worked with at-risk children and runaways when I lived in Texas, and I encountered a few who came from gang or drug connected families. Though I never knew their stories, I was deeply affected by the destruction it seemed to cause in such young, undeveloped hearts and minds. Their situations seemed hopeless, even more so when few adults seemed to truly care. I always wondered what became of them. Ana was a way for me to imagine their collective strength in a single soul, and that maybe with a strong spirit and bit of hope, there could eventually be a way out.

The modern farming movement, especially small, organic farms, is highlighted in Ana of California. What made you want to include this in your novel? How did you research the industry?

Moving to California drastically changed my diet. There’s such an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables grown mindfully and locally here. I started going to farmer’s markets on weekends and wanted to learn more about where my food came from. What struck me most was the friendliness of the farmers. They’d often talk to their customers, educate them, and keep them coming back whether they were local chefs buying in bulk or the average home cook. I liked that part of their job included engaging with their local community.

When thinking about Abbie and Emmett, it was clear to me that they were these types of farmers. I read everything I could about California organic farms and the increasing takeover of the little guy by corporate behemoths that favor genetically modified seeds and crops. I enjoyed learning about people who were going back to the land to make a difference for their families and communities in the healthiest way possible. I think we need so much more of this.

I also researched migrant farm workers and the difficulties they face. Manny was one of the first characters that jumped onto the page. He told me to dig deeper, so I did, and I was horrified by much of what I found. These are people doing tremendously difficult work for very little money, housing, or hope of escape. They are the backbone of our food industry and are often treated unfairly and inhumanely. It’s not always the case, of course, but a quick Google search will unearth endless articles about their plight. Honestly, I wish I could have written more about Manny and the other workers on Garber Farm. This is a subject worthy of more widespread attention.

I visited a few organic farms and even worked at one picking and harvesting a variety of crops. I was humbled by the hard work—always beginning at the crack of dawn—and by the people I met whose devotion to the earth was beyond inspiring. There’s nothing like putting your hands into the ground and pulling out something that has been carefully grown and looked after solely for the purpose of nourishing you. I met other volunteer farm hands who live simply but mindfully. We all ate lunch together made from the farm’s offerings and listened to stories told by the head farmer. Creating the world of Garber Farm was a way of extending this somewhat utopian experience and, hopefully, making others aware of how important it is that we support these types of farms and their workers.
Readers will recognize characters from Anne of Green Gables transposed into your story. Emmett and Abbie, for example, are Ana of California’s versions of Matthew and Marilla. Were you daunted in tackling these classic characters? Was it fun thinking about where they would be in a modern setting?

I was extremely daunted about tackling these characters. There’s no way I can come even close to the magic wrought by L.M. Montgomery, but I wanted this to be a standalone book separate from that legacy. I wanted to honor the original in the best ways that I could while also following my own instincts and imagination to create something wholly new. Ultimately, I want readers to enjoy the twists on the original but also see Ana of California as its own story.

Though I knew who Ana was from the start, it took me a while to bring her to life. I didn’t know her full story until I finished my first draft, and she ended up being much different from what I’d initially imagined. It was hard not to think about Anne while I was writing and whether or not I was doing her memory justice. I had to remind myself that Ana was a completely different person shaped by her own unique experience.

Abbie ended up being my momentum throughout that first draft. She was nothing like Marilla, and this felt so right. I realized quickly that Abbie was much more like Matthew, and Emmett was more of a Marilla, so flipping these personalities became a joy to write. I purposefully made Abbie and Emmett younger than their counterparts too. It humored me to think that Marilla Cuthbert might have had a scandalous streak during her teenage years, and that idea worked so well for Abbie. As for Emmett Garber and his relation to Matthew Cuthbert—easily one of my favorite characters in the original—I just couldn’t see them as being remotely the same. Emmett was curmudgeonly from the start and wary of Ana, but that also made him subject to great change simply through her presence on the farm.

Creating Cole Brannan was probably the closest I came to there being a direct correlation to an original character, namely Gilbert Blythe. It was important for Ana and Cole, like Anne and Gilbert, to spar with each other intellectually and be equals. I wanted them to challenge each other. I loved Gilbert’s self-confidence and daring, so I translated that physically for Cole through his love of motocross. Fans of the original will note that there is not a “breaking the slate” scene, but I do hope they find other less obvious similarities.

As for Rye Moon, all I can say is I love her. She, like Emmett, was such a surprise and, other than her loyalty, was the complete opposite of her original counterpart, Diana Barry. I wanted her to be more aloof at first, and someone eager to get out of her small town and see the wider world. Just as Ana and Cole were equals, I wanted the same for Ana and Rye too. In deference to the breaking the slate omission, I hope readers will enjoy a more subtle translation of “bosom friends.” I couldn’t leave out that reference.

Literature, particularly for young adults and children, has a dearth of non-white main characters. What are your thoughts on this issue? Is that something you consciously wanted to address with Ana Cortez?

Absolutely. I think we need more diversity across all artistic mediums, period. We are a diverse culture, after all, and it’s odd to me that more of us aren’t presented with subject matter than we can relate to. I also think it’s important to be interested in and exposed to cultures that are different from our own.

I grew up in a mixed race, Mexican American family. People rarely thought I was “traditionally Mexican,” whatever that means. I grew up in El Paso, Texas, on the border of Mexico, and I had friends and family from both sides of the bridge. This was normal to all of us. I spent a good portion of my childhood with my Mexican grandma who cooked traditional meals, told stories about our ancestors, and often took us grandchildren across the border. That heritage was ingrained in me from an early age. Thus, it was important to infuse that into Ana too, as she, like me, would understand the same tastes, smells, and heritage that I grew up with. I hope others can relate to or be interested in it too.

I think it’s imperative that we have more sexual, racial, and cultural diversity in art and literature. How else will we truthfully chronicle modern life?
And that's exactly what Ana of California has done. Seriously, I'm so excited for this book to be out in the world and for everyone to get a chance to read it. Whether you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables or not, this book is worth your time. I believe that so much that I have a special giveaway to share the love. The fantastic folks at Penguin will be giving away one copy of Ana of California and this beautiful edition of Anne of Green Gables. So whether you want to fall in love with Avonlea for the first time or fall in love with it all over again, now is your chance. All you have to do is enter the rafflecopter below. Sorry international friends, this is US only.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books of 2015 (so far)

A weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

10.) The Winner's Curse and The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkowski
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
I felt like the last person in the blogosphere to read this book and so many people had raved about it. So when The Winner's Crime came out I marathoned the series and totally loved it. The characters, the world, the mystery.

9.) Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
This was one of the debuts I was most excited about and it absolutely did not let me down. It's an action-packed adventure on the Oregon Trail with unforgettable characters. This is how all YA historical fiction should be,

8.) Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
So this book needs to be on the list because I read it in January when I was doing a mystery theme without realizing this a contemporary romance. But I loved it so much that it changed my stance on YA contemps.

7.) The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
Another fantastic debut. I seriously just loved this fantasy. I've seen some mixed reviews but for me it worked. A very cool and complex world with a great mythology and full of secrets. Plus I'm stilling thinking about the way it ended.

6.) The Book Theif by Marcus Zusak
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
I have been telling myself for years I won't like this book but I bit the bullet and read it and you were all right, it's fantastic. It ripped my heart out but I still seriously loved it.

5.) Uprooted by Naomi Novik 
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
This book is all over the blogosphere lately and there's a reason why. It's absolutely brilliant. It's one of the most creative fantasies I've read in a long time and it still feels so familiar. It's like reading your favorite fairy tale for the first time.

4.) The Martian by Andy Weir
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
Everything about this book was flawless. It's one of the best Science Fiction novels I have read in a long time and the audiobook is so good it earned a place in my top 5 favorites of all-time. It's funny, interesting, and full of feels.

3.) The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
I am not the kind of person who needs romance in their novels, especially fantasy but I am obsessed with the ships in this book. Plus it's a creative fantasy world and complex characters that I loved so much I didn't even care there were like 8,000 P.O.V.s

2.) Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
My absolute favorite debut of the year so far. I'm so glad I realized I don't hate contemporary romances because I seriously would have missed out this brilliant, sweet, and hilarious book. I mean I can't remember the last time a book made me giggle this much, it was kind of embarrassing.

1.) A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
(Amazon / Goodreads / My Review)
Without a doubt, ADSOM is my favorite book of the year. When you look the word perfect up in the dictionary you see this book. It's one of the most well-plotted books I have ever read and is full of thrilling action, adventure, and mystery. Plus a fascinating magical system that we have only begun learning about, brilliant worlds, and characters I'm absolutely obsessed with. This quickly became one of my all-time favorite reads.

There you have it, my top ten favorite books of 2015 so far. What books are on your list? Do we have any of the same books? Have you read any of these books? Leave me a commet with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

And if you want another great book recommendation, check out Ana of California by Andi Teran. It's a modern retelling of Anne of Green Gables and it's delightful. To celebrate it's book birthday (today) I'm giving away a copy of the book and a gorgeous copy of Anne of Green Gables. Visit this post to enter.

Monday, June 29, 2015

ARC Review: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: The Fixer
Series: The Fixer #1
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Published: July 7, 2015 by Bloombury Childrens
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: When sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick is sent to live with her older sister, Ivy, she has no idea that the infamous Ivy Kendrick is Washington D.C.'s #1 “fixer,” known for making politicians' scandals go away for a price. No sooner does Tess enroll at Hardwicke Academy than she unwittingly follows in her sister's footsteps and becomes D.C.'s premier high school fixer, solving problems for elite teens. 

Secrets pile up as each sister lives a double life. . . . until their worlds come crashing together and Tess finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy with one of her classmates and a client of Ivy's. Suddenly, there is much more on the line than good grades, money, or politics, and the price for this fix might be more than Tess is willing to pay. 

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for more in this exciting new series.

**** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher (thanks Bloomsbury!) via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ****

This book is total Cassi-bait. I mean come on, it combines so many of my favorite things. It's a YA political thriller that takes place in a Washington, D.C.  Boarding school. Okay, so it's a normal school but w'll forgive it for that, because seriously The Fixer is fantastic. It's an intricately plotted mystery with great characters who are full of secrets, and an engaging setting.

What first hooked me on The Fixer was the characters. When we first meet our main character of Tess, she is shipped off to Washington, D.C. after taking care of her grandfather who is suffering for Alzheimer's. She has had to grow up really quickly and taking the role of caregiver it's hard for her to trust other people and take help. I think I saw somewhere this book called Veronica Mars meets Scandal, and that's definitely an accurate comparison. Fans of Veronica Mars will love Tess Kendrick. She's sassy and tough but she's also vulnerable. And her greatest strength is also her biggest weakness. She's so dedicated she often acts without thinking, putting others before herself. She was easy to like, easy to root for, and the perfect addition to the cutthroat and secretive world of D.C. politics.

And that world that she entered was also full of an amazing cast of characters that was just as complex and interesting as Tess. Her sister Ivy is the Olivia Pope of this equation. She's a notorious political problem solver who has all kinds of clout and connections but the only problems she can't solve are, of course, her own. Her and Tess have a really interesting relationship and I liked watching it all play out as the book develops. Then there are all the kids at the school that Tess goes to. Their a who's who of Washington and while they were nice and all I did find them a little one-sided compared to a lot of the other characters. And maybe that's because the members of the Washinton elite that Tess encountered were all so complex and interesting. Every time I thought I had one of them figured out they surprised me with more secrets and intrigue.

But that was just the world of his book, full of secrets and intrigue. I have always loved a good political thriller and the world of secrets and back-scratching perfectly lent itself to the mystery of this book. The author took that concept and built on it to makes something larger than life that was compulsively readable. And while I did like the stuff that took place in the school, when Tess entered the larger world and took on the larger mystery, that's where things started to get really good.  The stakes here definitely felt really high and Jennifer Lynn Barnes created a place where secrets are so common they're almost currency. It had me totally hooked on finding out what would happen next.

But even better than the mysterious world was the thrilling plot. Jennifer Lynn Brnes created an intricately plotted story that was full of so many twists and turns. I saw a few of them coming but for the most part they caught me completely by surprise. And that isn't because there weren't any clues. No, I was just following the wrong lead (which rarely happens to me). The beginning was a little slow, and it took a bit to establish the world and introduce the characters but when it did finally pick up, the book was full of riveting action that had me flying through the pages. I read two amazing books this weekend and it's a testament to both of them that I really couldn't decide which one to prioritize. They were both that mysterious and that engaging.

Although my only criticism is that the ending seemed liked a resolved non-resolution. This is the first book in a series (I'm assuming duology) and while it did resolve the main mystery of the book, it didn't have that satisfying ending that I usually feel when that happens. I think it's because the larger mystery is still unresolved and it seemed like that realization didn't happen until the very end of he book. As if Tess was just like, "oh wait I forgot to solve the mystery." It just didn't feel as empowering. Although I do maintain hope that I wasn't wrong about the culprit in this one, it just hasn't been revealed that I'm right yet.

But when the book was all I over I was left with that "wow, this was really good" feeling and that's always a great way to end a book. And that's probably because this was an all-around great book with likeable characters, and engaging and action-packed plot, and a world full of mystery and intrigue.

I give The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes 9 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. If you like mysteries and/or thrillers, especially if you like political thrillers you should definitely check this book out. Fans of Veronica Mars, Scandal, and House of Cards will love Tess Kendrick and the mystery that unfolds during this book. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

ARC Review: Ana of California by Andi Teran

Title: Ana of California
Author: Amdi Teran
Published: June 30, 2015 by Penguin
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: A modern take on the classic coming-of-age novel, inspired by Anne of Green Gables 

In the grand tradition of Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Andi Teran’s captivating debut novel offers a contemporary twist on a beloved classic. Fifteen-year-old orphan Ana Cortez has just blown her last chance with a foster family. It’s a group home next—unless she agrees to leave East Los Angeles for a farm trainee program in Northern California. 

When she first arrives, Ana can’t tell a tomato plant from a blackberry bush, and Emmett Garber is skeptical that this slight city girl can be any help on his farm. His sister Abbie, however, thinks Ana might be just what they need. Ana comes to love Garber Farm, and even Emmett has to admit that her hard work is an asset. But when she inadvertently stirs up trouble in town, Ana is afraid she might have ruined her last chance at finding a place to belong.

**** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher (thanks Penguin) via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This fact hasn't changed my opinion. ****

That's right friends, a modern retelling of Anne of Green Gables with a person of color. If it sounds fabulous that's because it is. When I started reading Ana of California of a Friday I thought it would be like most of the e-ARCs I read. I would read a little bit each day, take a break over the weekend, and finish in a week. But I was almost instantly hooked and didn't want to put it down. I found myself thinking about it when I was reading my other book and I had to go back to it. I ended up cruising through it, finishing it in a few days. I absolutely adored this book. The concept, the plot, the characters, the pacing. It was amazing.

It has been ages since I've read Anne of Green Gables... Ages. But when I started reading Ana of California all those fond memories came flooding back. And like all good retellings, the author, Andi Teran, perfectly captures the spirit of the classic novel while bringing the story into the 21st Century and making it something all it's own. There are moments of the plot that are taken directly from the original story like the brother and sister who are running a farm want a boy to help and end up with a girl and then there are other moments that are perfectly modernized, like the currant wine incident. I think whether you are a big Anne of Green Gables fan or haven't read the classic you will enjoy Ana of California. Indendently it's just a really good contemporary novel with a plot that captures your interest and will keep you reading from beginning to end. It's a really wonderful coming-of-age story about a young girl trying to find connection.

Speaking of that young girl, Ana Cortez is every bit the Anne Shirley you know and love. It's a good thing too because that's a lot to live up to and as the main character Ana has to carry much of the book which she does with the trademark spunk and precociousness. She is wise beyond her years and prone to speaking in purple prose as if were from a different time or place all together. She is also overly-dramatic and quick to temper which gets her into a lot of trouble but has a really great heart. She has been through a lot in her life but she is still an optimist and doesn't let the past ruin her future. It was easy to fall for Ana and want to see her succeed.

But the book is also full of fantastic secondary characters. Abbie and Emmett Garber are the perfect modern counterpart to the Cuthberts. They're not quite as hard on Ana as the Cuthberts are on Anne but they care just as much for her. I like the fact that the author flipped the roles so that the disciplinarian was Emmett and Abbie is the one that Ana has the connection with who understands her on a deeper level. It really worked for the story. And unlike Anne of Green Gables, this isn't just about our main character. The Garbers take some of the focus as well, with parts of the book told from their perspective. It did make things a little complicated at times but it also made for a well rounded story. But my personal favorite secondary character was Rye Moon. I also loved the author's modern spin on Diana Berry. Rye is the perfect "bosom friend" for Ana. She's a bit of a hipster and definitely a troublemaker but I found her fantastic and very entertaining. The only secondary character I didn't love was Cole Brannon. He's no Gilbert Blythe. I just didn't quite feel like Ana and Cole were equals like Anne and Gilbert. I missed the competition between the characters and I missed the slowburn romance. But on the whole, Ana of Caifornia is populated by a quirky cast of characters that are reminiscent of the classic characters.

And those quirky characters populate an equally quirky town. I loved the setting for Ana of California. The town of Hadley has all the charm of Prince Edward Island and Avonlea. Teran does a brilliant job of explaining what the small farming town of Northern California looks and acts like. I grew up in a small town and it captured that spirit, the fact that you know way too much about everyone else and while there is gossip you also come together when you need to. The town comes alive with it's bookstores and restaurants. She also perfectly captured life on a small and struggling farm. As Ana learns about farming and what is a weed and what is an herb. The town of Hadley is beautiful and interesting and the perfect modern setting for this version of Anne of Green Gables.

Ana of California was a fantastic and engaging story that takes a classic novel and brings it into the modern era. It's full of likeable  and complex characters, an interacting setting, and an engaging plot that will appeal to fans of the classic or those who are new to the story.

I give Ana of California by Andi Teran 9.5 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. You will fall in love with Ana Cortez and her story just like you did with Anne Shirley. But even if you aren't an Anne of Green Gables fan, this is just a really good contemporary novel with an engaging plot that you will want to read in one sitting.

Have you read Ana of California? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

P.S. I will be celebrating the release of Ana of California on Tuesday with an interview with the author and a special surprise so come back then to check that out.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mini Review: Some Comics I've Read Recently

I've very recently fallen in love with comic books and graphic novels. I almost feel like I have leveled up my nerd cred with this move. But being pretty new to comics and this world I haven't yet dived deep into the world. However I thought I would share a few I have read recently.

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Vol. 1: No Normal and Vol. 2: Generation Why
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: Marvel Comics presents the new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation!

Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she's suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she's comin' for you, Jersey!

It's history in the making from acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and beloved artist Adrian Alphona (RUNAWAYS)! Collecting MS. MARVEL (2014) #1-5 and material from ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW! POINT ONE #1

My Thoughts
How much do I love Kamala Khan? So much. She is an absolutely fantastic heroine. Not only is she a Muslim-American female, but she's also just your average nerdy teenager who is oobsessed with The Avengers and is just trying to figure out who she is when she ends up with superpowers. Dream come true, right? Except Kamala learns pretty quickly that getting powers isn't all it's cracked up to be. She makes all kinds of mistakes and you can't help but connect with her for that reason. And because of that her successes are all the more empowering.

What I also love about the new Ms. Marvel is that it's not a reboot. Kamala Khan is not Captain Marvel, she's something entirely her own. The comic takes inspiration from some of the things happening in the Marvel universe at the moment but it's a unique and interesting story. It of course takes inspiration from the classic story and has Easter Eggs and references that fans will appreciate but you don't have to be a big reader of comics to enjoy Ms. Marvel. It'd be a great introduction to the world.

Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery
(Amazon /Goodreads)
Synopsis: Who are the Rat Queens?

 A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they're in the business of killing all god's creatures for profit. It's also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief. This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!

Collecting Rat Queens #1-5!

My Thoughts:
I absolutely devoured the first volume of this comic. The Rat Queens are everything you could ask for in a female  adventuring group. The first volume is entitled "Sass and Sorcerey" and that is exactly how I would describe this book. The general plot is full of mystery and adventure that fans of traditional fantasy will love. I mean the amount of magic and action here rivals any "sword and sorcery" I have ever read.

And the sass comes from these amazing ladies that make up the Rat Queens. Every last member is so interesting and complex. They have complicated backstories that the book has only begun to touch on but they are also some amazing ladies that you really love watching kicking ass and taking names. And the thing is , you guys probably know that I don't like the femme fatale trope and I also hate when female characters are seeing as being feminist by subscribing to traditionally make roles. The Rat Queens walk that fine line beautifully. Plus they're just really likeable. If you asked me who my favorite character is I wouldn't be able to answer because I think they're all equally amazing.

Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Babs Turner, and Brenden Fletcher
Vol. 1 The Batgirl of Burnside
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: Barbara Gordon is no stranger to dusting herself off when disaster strikes, so when a fire destroys everything she owns, she spots the opportunity for a new lease on life – and seizes it! Following the rest of Gotham City’s young adults to the hip border district of Burnside, Barbara sets about building an all-new Batgirl…and discovers new threats preying on her peers! As the new hero of Burnside, Batgirl gets started by facing twin sister assassins on motorcycles! Collects BATGIRL #35-40.

My Thoughts
As I said in the beginning, I recently became a comics fan. So looking at this new Batgirl from a purely objective perspective I can say that I liked it. This Baraba Gorden is a post-modern hipster who has recently moved to the Gotham equivalent of Brooklyn for school and quickly becomes it's very own caped crusader. But she also has to navigate the celebrity persona that comes with it using social media and other Very modern concepts. I did found the concept fun and lighthearted and incredibly engaging.

And while I think veteran fans of the comic may not enjoy this new twist it's not necessarily a comic for newbies either. It didn't feel like an entirely different story and I felt like I was jumping into something already in progress. It was a little hard to follow what was happening with the general plot of the story, especially where the villain was concerned because I didn't have the background so I had to look up the spoiler riddled Internet for that info. 

Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschel
Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy
Synopsis: Gotham City's most prestigious prep school is a very weird place. It's got a spooky campus, oddball teachers, and rich benefactors always dropping by...like that weirdo Bruce Wayne. But nothing is as strange as the students!

Like, what's up with Olive Silverlock? Is she crazy or what? Where did she go last summer? And what's the deal with her creepy mom? And how come that Freshman Maps is always following her around? And is she still going out with Kyle? P.S. Did you hear the rumor about the ghost in the North Hall?!

Collects Gotham Academy #1-6

My Thoughts
This is a comic I would recommend for someone who hasn't read a lot of comics. It has the same dark tone as Batman and while he does make a cameo, it's really it's own unique story. It feels like some of the YA mysteries that I enjoy with tons of suspense and intrigue with complex and like able characters with interesting backstories he comic has only touched on it's first volume.

But I think the best part of Gotham Academy is the art. It's one of the most intricately drawn comics I have seen in my limited experience. It's not just a bunch of panels put together, it's full pages with as much going on in the background as it is in the foregrounds. It draws the eye and captures the imagination in a truly fantastic way.

And those are all the comics I have read in the past few months. Have you read any of these comics? What did you think? Do you have any comics or graphic novels that you would recommend to me? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

A weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine

Title: Carry On
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Published: October 6, 2015 by St. Martins Griffin (Macmillan)

Synopsis: Rainbow Rowell continues to break boundaries with Carry On, an epic fantasy following the triumphs and heartaches of Simon and Baz from her beloved bestseller Fangirl. 

Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything. 

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters.

Why I'm Waiting 

Rainbow Rowell is an auto-buy author for me. I have loved everything she has ever written. Adult or YA, she is seriously one of my absolute favorites. This is her first non-contemporary novel that she is publishing and I am so excited to see her take on that genre which is an absolute favorite of mine. The things I love about Rainbow's writing I'm sure will translate to a great fantasy including being able to walk a fine line between serious and silly, characters that are complex and likeable in a realistic sort of way, and just amazing writting.

But I'm also really excited just because of the meta nature of this book. It's not really fanfiction but it's a story based on a story that was part of a story the author previously wrote! Is your head spinning? My head is spinning. I loved Fangirl and the Simon Snow parts of the book so I'm kind of excited to read the real Simon Snow. But is it the real Simon Snow? I'm confused again. Confused and excited. I seriously cannot wait!

Also on the topic of Carry On. I found out recently that Rainbow Rowell is coming to Pittsburgh in October, two days after Carry On comes out. I'm legitimately loosing my mind with the idea of meeting her and having her sign all my books. I'm probably going to be and absolute mess when I meet her!

What about you? What are you waiting for this Wednesday? Are you waiting for Carry On with me? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Looking Back on Five Years of TTT

A weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

HAPPY 5th BIRTHDAY TOP TEN TUESDAY! When I first decided to start blogging more seriously I was looking for some other book blogs and I of course came across The Broke and the Bookish. Top Ten Tuesday was my first ever meme and the first time I felt like part of this community.

1.) Top Ten Unusual Character Names 
This was my first ever TTT and I also think it was really fun. It was one of the first times I heard about the Throne of Glass series too. I'd kind of like to revisit it because I have some crazy new names that need to be on this list.

2.) Top Ten Fantasy Worlds I Wouldn't Want to Live In (and others about fantasy worlds)
I included maps in this one and that got me very excited. Plus I seriously would not want to visit many fantasy worlds and I really like seeing everyone's answers.

3.) Top Ten Characters Who Deserve Their Own Books
I love secondary characters and there are some that I would love nothing more than to see a book from their perspective. Aint nobody got time for a Christian Grey book but one about The Marauders, yes please.

4.) Top Ten Cover Trends I Love
I know you're not supposed to judge a book by it's cover but sometimes a girl can't help herself. I loved being able to talk about all the pretties and look at all the pretties and admire all the pretties.

5.) Top Ten Fantasy Books I'm Suprised I Haven't Read
I was really nervous about this one. There is so many great and classic fantasy that I haven't read but want to read. I did however love this topic because I found out I'm not alone in the fact that I haven't read a lot of these books.

6.) Top Ten Bookish Confessions
This spurred a discussion video, back when I was still trying the BookTube thing where I mentioned why I like spoilers. It was a fun post to write and a fun video to make

7.) Top Ten Things About Romance I Like/Don't Like aka Thoughts On Romance
I'm the kind of person who doesn't need romance in their books. In fact I've even had some books ruined for me because I didn't like the romance that much. This prompt gave me he opportunity to vent a little bit.

Any time there is a freebie I basically use it to talk about one of my favorite things, the Heroes Journey. I really enjoy talking about reluctant heroes and characters with redemptive arcs so I love freebies.

This was fun because it made me think about all the characters that I would relate to and all the characters I would want to be friends with in real life. Another one I wish I could revisit too.

Speaking of revisiting. I seriously loved this category and thinking about all my favorite books as a kid that I want to reread. And after reading an amazing retelling of Anne of Green Gables I have to add that to the list.

Honorable Mention
Top Ten Fantasy Reads for Fans of Crossovers

What are your favorite Top Ten Tuesdays? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Monday, June 22, 2015

ARC Review: The Rise and Fall of A Theater Geek by Seth Rudetsky

Title: The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek
Author: Seth Rudetsky
Published: June 23, 2015 by Random House Childrens
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: The shows, the neon lights . . . the cute chorus boys! It's where Justin has always wanted to be--and now, with a winter internship for a famous actor, he finally has his chance to shine. If only he could ditch his kind, virtuous, upright, and--dare he say it?—uptight boyfriend, Spencer. But once the internship begins, Justin has more to worry about than a cramped single-guy-in-the-city style. Instead of having his moment in the spotlight, he's a not-so-glorified errand boy. Plus, Spencer is hanging out with a celebra-hottie, Justin's best friend Becky isn't speaking to him, and his famous actor boss seems headed for flopdom. Justin's tap-dancing as fast as he can, but all his wit and sass might not be enough to switch his time in New York from nightmare-terrible to dream-come-true terrific. 

Seth Rudetsky's second YA novel is endearingly human, laugh-out-loud funny, and for any kid who's ever aspired to Broadway but can only sneak in through the stage door.

**** I received an advance copy of this book from  the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ****

The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek had all the trappings of a book o should enjoy. The character sounded like someone I would connect with and the plot sounded interesting and engaging. Unfortunately a lot of this book didn't work for me.

One of the major things that didn't work for me was the characters. You guys know I like unlikable characters. I'm typically a fan of realistic type MCs that do and say things that are sometimes whiny or mean. But in the case of our main character here, , I just found him to be selfish and conceited. He wanted everything to go his way and he thought he knew what was best for everyone. He was like a modern day Emma Woodhouse, meddling in other people's lives and thinking that he would get what he deserved. I found it so hard to connect with that. Even when bad things happened to him, for me it didn't serve to humanize him in a way that made him relatable or empathetic. 

But I would have been okay with the unlikable nature of the main character of the plot of the book had been more of a coming-of-age story. Usually with these kinds of contemporary novels, especially if they have unlikable protagonists, that's what happens. The MC will have some sort of character arc and development that humbles them a little bit. They will learn something about themselves and their behavior. And I know that was kind of the attempt here but it didn't really work for me. I felt like by the end of the book Justin was more validated by his behavior than anything else. I just wish that there was more of a coming-of-age plot line to this book.

In fact the plot really was more of a mystery than anything else. Or at least I think it wanted to be a mystery. There was definitely a mysterious element to the book. And while I love a good mystery, this too fell a bit short for me. The main character did attempt to find clues and figure out the truth, but in the end the answer just seemed to fall into his lap. I thought I had it all figured out and while I was sort of right about the person who I thought was sketchy and up to know good, the actual "Phantom" that they were looking for was a total surprise. But a surprise in that I didn't feel like there was sufficient information to figure out they were responsible. For me I think this book was a case of too much going on. The mystery was just a little too much. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had stuck to the coming-of-age angle and given that a little more attention.

One thing that I did like however was the setting. I'm definitely Broadway-obsessed just like our main character and I loved that New York City and Broadway was such a big part of this book. I loved all the references to Broadway shows and the conversations about Broadway the characters had. I also really loved that it made living and working in New York City seem realistic. I have so many friends and family who moved to New York after college because it is so glamorized in film and television only to find that it's expensive and difficult. I felt like this book portrayed the good things and the bad about the City. I also liked that it showed the difficulties of the internship the character had. It wasn't at all what he expected. It was all grunt work. It felt very honest and I liked that.

The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek was a quick contemporary read but unfortunately for me it fell more than it rose. It had all the trappings of a book I would enjoy but I was ultimately unable to connect with the characters and found the plot to have a little too much going on.

I give The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek by Seth Rudetsky 6 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Bypass. While I did like a few aspects of this book and don't regret reading it, I'm not sure I would recommend it. If you a big fan of Broadway then check it out. If you like books with unlikable protagonists then check it out. I'd probably call this Emma meets The Devil Wears Prada on Broadway. If that applies to you then check it out.

Have you read The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek? What did you think about it? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review: Nil Unlocked by Lynne Matson

Title: Nil Unlocked
Series: Nil #2
Author: Lynne Matson
Published: May 12, 2015 by Henry Holt (Macmillan)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: On the island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die. Rives is now the undisputed Leader of Nil City, but keeping the City united is tougher than ever. 

Raiders have grown bolder, supplies are dwindling, and non-human inhabitants have taken a turn toward the deadly. New arrivals cause rifts within the City, putting the Search system at risk, and calling everything Rives knows into question. Desperate for answers, he teams up with the only other person searching for them: Skye, a new arrival with a mysterious past of her own. Soon the duo find themselves locked in a desperate race to save all the residents of Nil—and possibly destroy the island forever. But at what cost? And who will pay the price? 

It's always amazing when a standalone book you loved gets a sequel you didn't know it would have. That was Nil Unlocked for me, an unexpected and absolutely appreciated sequel to a book that I loved. But the thing with sequels is they can be tricky, especially unexpected ones. Do they capture the magic of the first book? Do they continue the story in an intentional and interesting way? I'm happy to say that Nil Unlocked was just as good, if not better than Nil with amazing characters and fantastic plot development.

One of the things that I have always loved about this book is the setting. The island of Nil is a picturesque tropical island and Lynne is able to create a visually stunning place full of beaches, volcanic lava fields, and lush jungles that you can perfectly visualize. It seems like the kind of place that you want to visit on vacation but this island is more than meets the eye. The book walks a fine line between the beauty and terror of the island. It's a place where you have to expect the unexpected. A place where nothing is what you thought and nothing and no one is safe. This makes for a really atmospheric and action-packed kind of read. It had me on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what was going to happen next and where the book would lead us.

And where it led us was attempting to understand the mystery surrounding the island. In the first book I loved how mysterious the island of Nil was and how it was a character unto itself. The island was basically the antagonist of the story. The main characters were trying to figure it out and outsmart it so that could escape and get home. In Nil Unlocked the island stayed a character but my feelings toward it shifted a little bit. This time the island wasn't so antagonistic but it wasn't benevolent either. The island of Nil became much more of an odious type character which I always love. The more we learned about Nil, the more complex she became. Of course as the title informs us, this was all about unlocking the secrets to Nil and we definitely did that in this book. And Nil's secrets are just as complex as she is. It's part science and part faith. The first book always felt like a YA version of the TV show Lost and this really solidified it. I loved learned all the Nil truths and it's history and mythology. It made for such a compelling story.

But Nil wasn't the only complex and interesting character in this book. Nil Unlocked is sort of a companion novel to the first book. In Nil we met Charley and Thad and followed them on their journey to escape Nil but this book we get two new main characters. That's often a hard thing but I have to say that Lynne did a great job making the characters interesting and empathetic. In Nil Unlocked our main characters are Skye and Rives. We met Rives in book one, as Thad's second and future leader of Nil City. I loved seeing Rives lead. H puts others before himself. Even though his days on Nil are numbered (everyone's are though, amiright) he would rather see everyone else get off the island before him. He has this quite confidence and inner strength that make him a great leader. But he's not perfect and makes a lot stupid mistakes because he's not really thinking about how they will affect him. His selflessness is his fatal flaw. Skye however is completely new and completely fantastic. She had this amazing sense of curiosity and sense of adventure that we as the reader have about the island. Whereas Rives is selfless, Skye's fatal flaw is that she's selfish. She doesn't always think about others and isn't really a team player but she still has other people's best interest in mind. She's ready for Nil in a way that no other new arrival has been and her desire to take it all on is empowering and fun to watch. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with Skye and Rives and by the end I may have liked them more than Thad and Charley. They're just all such fantastic characters.

Part of what I loved so much about this book is the plot development. For one thing this has always been a really action-packed kind of series. It's about survival and that is a concept that I always love. Here Lynne really brought the suspense and had me on the edge of my seat. As the book drew closer to the end I was so nervous about what was going to happen I had to take a break to collect my thoughts. Plus you guys probably know I'm much more of a fan of second books in a series than I think a lot of people are and Nil Unlocked was a good example as why. The first book in a trilogy always introduces you to the world, the characters, and the conflict. Nil did a fantastic job of doing that. Then the second book we get the mystery and questions are answered. When Nil ended I was satisfied but I wanted to know more. In Nil Unlocked we start to get some answers. Things from the first book come back into play and they started leading us to a new and different conclusion. And yes, it did reach an actual conclusion. No cliffhanger, no unresolved ending, a clear and compelling climax that was interesting and left you wanting more. I really love when second books don't end with a big question mark. But that doesn't mean that I don't desperately want the final book, because I do. I want it, I need it.

Nil Unlocked was a fantastic read full of adventure and mystery. I was on the edge of my seat nervous to see where things were going to lead. The characters were complex and interesting , especially the island itself whose dubiousness makes for an interesting setting, and main characters who are flawed but likeable.

I give Nil Unlocked by Lynne Matson 9.5 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. If you are a fan of Lost you must read this book. Even if you are not check this book out. It has something for everyone: action and adventure, mystery and intrigue, characters who are complex and likeable, and an interesting setting. Read it and report back!

Have you read Nil Unlocked? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!