I (Ellice) am so honored that Corey Ann Haydu agreed to appear on the blog to promote Making Pretty, her new YA novel that is out today. I LOVED this book (I’ll be reviewing it later this week). Y’all go snatch up the nearest copy you can find! Some of my favorite things about Making Pretty? The NYC setting, the complex relationships between the characters, and, probably my favorite detail in the book, the way food plays such an important role in Montana’s life. As a lifelong Southerner, we celebrate or mourn every major life event with a meal, so I immediately identified Montana and how she associates diner food with bad news since her father takes her and her sister to the diner as a way to “soften the blow” of whatever bad news he’s about to deliver. When I expressed my interest in this topic to Corey Ann Haydu, she came back with this amazing guest post in which she shares her own “food bio,” and I LOVE IT. I can’t wait to share it with you guys, so without further adieu, I turn the post over to Corey Ann Haydu :)
Release Date: February 3, 2015
If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.
I’ll Meet You There was not-so-subtly pushed on me by Ellice, who read it earlier this year and absolutely loved it. I was a bit nervous going into it, because I don’t often hardcore love where romance is the central focus. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance in books, but I love when there’s more than that as well. Even though I’ll Meet You There was still mostly focused on the romance, I actually didn’t mind it in this case, because I ended up really liking this book. This story is about Skylar, who has a very tough life. Her mom lost her job and falls into depression, and Skylar is now the only one trying to pay the bills. Watching her struggle with her job, her mom and poverty was very hard to watch, but I think Demetrios wrote it really well. I really loved Skylar as a character, and I can’t even specifically tell why. Her voice just really spoke to me (no pun intended) and I loved the way she dealt with things.
Skylar grew up on Creek View, a tiny town where the houses are falling apart and most people live in a trailer park. What Skylar absolutely doesn’t want is to end up living here, with a baby and a terrible job at a fastfood chain. Still, there is a certain beauty to the way Demetrios wrote Creek View, and I love the way this novel deals with the importance of hometowns. I also love that, for some reason, Creek View was really vibrant for me while reading. I love it when settings get to me like that. Another important place for Skylar is the Paradise motel, where she spends most of her days working for Marge, a woman who is more like a mom to her than her own mother. Oh, Skylar’s own mother is absolutely terrible (after reading Something Real that seems to be kind of a theme in Demetrios’s books: she’s capable of writing the worst parents ever) but Marge was so kind and loving and warm and good to Skylar that it made my heart happy.
Furthermore, I thought the friendships were fantastic. Skylar’s best friends, Dylan and Chris couldn’t be more different. Dylan has a baby boy and works at the local diner – the life Skylar absolutely detests. But Dylan is happy, and I love how this book portrayed teen pregnancy where it doesn’t completely ruin someone’s life forever. Dylan is also just a fabulous person and best friend, and I loved her. Of course, these girls struggle and fight at times, but they also care about each other and will have each others’ backs unconditionally. I love reading about friendships like that. Chris is more like Skylar and can’t wait to get out of Creek View. As a person, I didn’t love him as much as Dylan, but I did like how his friendship meant Skylar having to deal with the way things change after high school. I think it’s so important to address to topic of change and growing up after high school, and this book did that really well.
Oh, and perhaps I should talk about the romance a bit as well. Skylar has known Josh for a long time, but it is only after he returns from being in Afghanistan that they form a connection. After high school, Josh joined the Marines, but in his time there, he lost both his leg and his best friend. I didn’t always like the decisions that Josh made, especially regarding Skylar, but I do think that his story was very realistic. Though the novel is written from Skylar’s point of view, there are little excerpts Josh’s diary (an assignment from his therapist) in between that I thought were really important to the story, and the way Josh’s story was told. I don’t think I would have liked him very much if it weren’t for this peak into his mind. But these diary entries show exactly how much he hurts. I don’t know much about the Marines, but to me, the way Demetrios wrote this was very realistic. Also, the acknowledgments in which she talks more about this made me sob.
All these aspects combined made I’ll Meet You There one of the more memorable YA contemporary novels I have read. While I don’t think it was without flaws (though I guess most of my “issues” are personal preferences, like the way I prefer a little more focus on friendship and family and how running back and forth between love and hate in relationships really gets on my nerves), I flew through this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. With a main character I loved, romance that was really sweet, amazing best friends and a unique setting that, for some reason, really stayed with me, I am so happy I read this one. After Something Real and now I’ll Meet You There, I’m definitely convinced Heather Demetrios is good at writing contemporary stories and dealing with hard-hitting topics. Would definitely recommend!
“Dylan and Jesse joined Chris and me, and the four of us busted out our best moves, Dylan hanging on me like she does when she’s had a few. My heart was hurting from all this love for her and Chris, and I pressed my lips against her cheek and held tight to Chris’s hand, just to let some of it seep out so I didn’t drown in it.”
“I only knew how to live my life in negatives; it seemed like everything I was could only be seen in relation to what I wasn’t.”
“It’s not every day you get to watch the two people you care most about in the world fall in love.”
Hi hi hi!!! I’m absolutely ecstatic about today’s post because I got to interview one of my favorite authors of all time!!!!!!! I would try to be calm, but you probably already know how much I adore Sarah J. Maas, so when the lovely people at Bloomsbury offered me a chance to interview her, I basically jumped through the roof. I’m a very cool person, I know. But anyway, two days ago marked the release date of A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah’s second published high fantasy series, and I’m so incredibly honored to be a part of the blog tour.
Release Date: May 5, 2015
When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend— two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.
The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party — three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.
Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.
Hmm. Hmmmm. I’m sorry in advance because it’s going to look like I’m slamming a book I really liked for the most part, and you can blame it in part on me being in a mood yesterday, because I had FRUSTRATIONS. I hate that I ended up feeling so conflicted because at a certain point I was even considering rereading the entire thing immediately upon finishing, which partly had to do with the realisation that I was going to review this book after all and hadn’t marked any quotes because it was such a quick and easy read and I was stopping for nothing. Whatever, weird reasoning, but my point is that I wasn’t opposed to this instant reread at all. Well. WELL. Then the last 20% happened and I went to bed cranky (and woke up crankier because I still couldn’t figure out exactly how I felt except for annoyed and BETRAYED), when this book was supposed to give me a break from all that.
What The Fill-In Boyfriend does well is the fake relationship element. First of all, the set-up was halfway plausible, with Gia not wanting to lose face to her shitty friends moments after she’d been dumped in the parking lot. (Sidenote on this: what kind of loser drives three hours to go to prom with his girlfriend only to break up with her in the parking lot just when they’re about to go inside?? I hate you, Bradley. I really do. I hope you had the worst three hours on your drive back because you deserved every minute of that, you piece of shit.) Also, if I’d been in Fill-In Bradley’s shoes, I’d also prefer suddenly getting free tickets to prom to staying in the car, reading Jules Verne for hours in a dark parking lot while I wait for my sister, who is at said prom. Not that I really need good reasons to be into the fake dating bit, because it’s one of the things I’ll happily suspend my belief for, so that the story can get going and we can get to the good part, but I appreciated it.
It also helped that The Fill-In Boyfriend used my favourite version of the fake-dating trope, namely the one where the people involved genuinely like spending time with each other and don’t feel the need to only meet up when the exes/crushes/people they’re trying to make jealous are there. I still think To All the Boys I Loved Before did this casually hanging out and getting to know each other bit slightly better, but I really liked the ship for most of the book. They had this very easygoing banter that felt really natural. I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise with this being Kasie West book and all that but I sometimes get fed up with banter. I’ve encountered one too many forced HA HA LOOK AT US BANTERING WE ARE SO BANTERY WE ARE BANTERMASTERS PLS SHIP US dynamics not to be instantly wary whenever that word gets thrown around in reviews and the books themselves. It’s one of those fourth wall situations that just really gets to me. But these two were too cute not be into it, and trust me, I was plenty cynical with this hot nerd fantasy boy meets uncomfortably romanticised lonely popular girl set-up.
I also really liked Bec. In fact, I wish the story had been told from her point of view, or that there would have been alternating Bec and Gia chapters. Their friendship was my favourite part about all this and the only thing that held strong and didn’t end in disappointment. They have great chemistry, and I don’t even mean that in a shippy way (which, I know, what is happening to me?) and I felt the scenes when they were screaming out their frustrations and pelting car wrecks with baseballs on a deep and spiritual level. This leads me to a part of the book I absolutely hated, but I’m pretty sure it was supposed to make me furious. Gia’s “””friends”””. I just can’t get over the fact that one of them, who is, admittedly, the one who fills the frenemy slot, spent two whole months of her time and effort trying to convince the other two that Gia made up her college-aged boyfriend. True, it doesn’t help that she walks in with a fake boyfriend the moment she’s going to prove her by then ex-boyfriend is not made up, but this is repeatedly called out throughout the book, and it added to the entire hilarious ridiculousness of the opening chapters.
This is eventually framed as Jules wanting to expose Gia as the queen bee who takes her friends for granted. The problem is that this was never really shown, at least not to the extent that Jules was claiming. There are a few details that hint at Gia apparently always having assumed she was in charge by birthright, but within the time frame, the actual rift between these four is a consequence of Gia lying about her fake relationship, Jules lying and scheming to discredit Gia, and the other two just condoning Jules’s behaviour and then being all hurt when everything comes out because how dare Gia not trust them. Gee, I wonder why. I just, I can’t get over the level of petty you have to sink to to be so obsessed with undermining and ousting someone, especially because none of what was in this book convinced me Gia actually was this monster bitch that needed to be taken down a peg or two. It made for a lot of petty high school drama I wasn’t feeling at all in the opening pages.
I did appreciate how this put the focus on Gia’s loneliness and explored it beyond the romanticised version I thought I was going to get in the beginning. She very much seems to have the perfect life and perfect family on the outside, but she discovers most of those are surface relationships. What I’m not happy about, and this is what ultimately ruined large parts of the book for me, is that apparently every guy in her life feels the need to tell her that this is her fault because she tries to hold up this image of perfection and it’s so refreshing to see her fail or being distracted, because it makes her human and supposedly gives her depth. I get that this is meant to come with an “it’s okay to be flawed and show vulnerability” message but wow, did it ever fuck me off to have a bunch of random guys feel entitled to lecture Gia on who she would be because it would make them feel better about themselves. It’s such a double standard because when Jules points it out, it’s because she’s jealous and trying to poison Gia’s relationships (she probably is) but when guys do it it’s suddenly the truth (nope) and leads to self-reflection and Gia wanting to be a better person (ffs).
Here’s a thought: maybe we should explore why teenage girls feel the need to create and hold up this image of perfection and are terrified of failing, ESPECIALLY in the vicinity of and in their relationships with boys, instead of nearly calling them robots or inhuman when they’re organised and very competent at what they’re doing hmmm. Then there was this gross commentary on how Gia just needs so much validation when wow, I can’t imagine why a girl who needs to cover up being dumped five seconds ago because her friends might think she made that person up in the first place, and has to suffer through serious dudes who *get* art and *know* what life is really about mocking a heavily edited version of her that’s sold as the truth and praise it as a brilliant testament to everything that’s wrong with today’s society (don’t think I didn’t notice you gendering this wrongness and getting very “these silly little teenage girls” with it, by the way), when she was only there to support her brother, would need validation, or, you know, just a general feeling that people actually like her for who she is and aren’t always looking for ways to discredit her or use her life and decisions in ways that could benefit them. SO WEIRD.
I apologise for that horrifically structured and rather vague run-on sentence but I have frustrations. It’s going to make my next critique sound very ironic, but a lot of the writing in The Fill-In Boyfriend was awkwardly structured. It happened quite a bit that I had to reread a sentence because the word placement was so odd that I was confused about what was even being said. There are also some yours where there should have been you’res and vice versa. This whole book could have benefited from another round of copy edits, to be honest. I also want to add that the two “you need to work on your validation issues” examples I mentioned above are not exactly condoned, but the take home message is that she needs to grow up and care about real things, which is just fantastic coming from a bunch of pretentious posers.
And as if I wasn’t already sad enough about the turn this story took for me, I also started having problems with the ship. At a certain point, Gia is upset about THINGS, which, considering the awful way 90% of the population seems to treat her, shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the guy makes her laugh. (I’m not telling you his name because it comes with an anticipatory scene and I feel like I’m already putting enough of a damper on the general excitement and anticipation.) She thanks him for cheering her up and his reaction is to get all broody and say something like “I’m not going to take credit for making you laugh because you already do that enough and I don’t like it.” Okay, so what he’s trying to say is that Gia very often shrugs things off and acts as if nothing is wrong when she has every right to be mad but DUDE. NOT. THE. TIME. No need to kick her back down again just when she’s feeling better. There’s also some fuckery towards the end that I do understand from a rational point of view, but it left a bad taste in my mouth and had as a result that I didn’t even feel a thing when they made up and made out, even though I had been very into 85% of the build-up. Even the character arc felt more like Guys Telling Gia How To Get Depth than genuine personal growth. I didn’t even hardcore love Gia and I’m still upset.
“Gia, you are weird.”
“Thank you. So what are you getting?”
“I was thinking about vanilla but then I thought, ‘That is so boring. Gia will think I’m the most boring person ever.’”
“So then I thought, ‘I bet Blake here will tell me what to order,’ but he was no help whatsoever. Thanks a lot, Blake.”
“So now I’m thinking strawberry is my only option.” He nodded his head once to Blake. “This size.” He pointed to the middle cup then turned to me. “You’re still looking at the Rocky Road. Why are you still looking at the Rocky Road?”
“I don’t know. It looks so good and then I talk myself into thinking I’m going to like it this time and I never do.”
“I will save you from yourself, then. You cannot get the Rocky Road. Anything else . . . except vanilla because that’s so boring. Who would even think of getting that? I don’t even know why they stock it.”
“It’s actually the most popular ice cream flavor,” Blake said while adding a scoop of strawberry to a cup.
“Well, I feel validated now. I should’ve gotten the vanilla.”
The ship when it was still good.
“Am I being stupid? Do I have the right to be mad?”
“Gia, I’m mad and I’m not even you.”
“But you’re mad about everything.”
“Not entirely true, but I do enjoy my angry times.”
Bec and Gia times, which are always good.
Release Date: September 26, 2012
There's a babe in my belly that whispers the valley, Froi. I follow the whispers and come to the road...
Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi must travel through Charyn to search for Quintana, the mother of Charyn's unborn king, and protect her against those who will do anything to gain power. But what happens when loyalty to family and country conflict? When the forces marshalled in Charyn's war gather and threaten to involve the whole of the land, including Lumatere, only Froi can set things right, with the help of those he loves.
Warning: there will probably be spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.
I think of Quintana of Charyn and my heart is so full. I think of this series that has left me breathless and made me feel so at home and all I want to do is write love letters to the world and the writing and the characters, who I have come to care so much about. A coherent review is never going to happen, so this is “To All the Ways I’ve Loved This Book”:
I love Lumatere, with its gorgeous settings and its people so full of love and trust and warmth. I love Charyn, with its wretched people and cursed history and slow journey to forgiveness. I love the way these people worship women, and how Marchetta subtly wrote in so many powerful female characters, no matter their physical strength or position in their kingdoms, and I love that their stories are told through their own eyes as well as the eyes of the men who bow down to them. I love how the men never really have a say in what is happening. I love the history and the curses and the magic, and how incredible detailed they are. I love how important love is. I love the subtle moments of humor, like when everyone agrees Lucian is an idiot, or when Froi is fed up with Quintana until he sees her again and forgets what he was even thinking, or when Arjuro accidentally becomes a priestling slash gyneocologist.
I love Isaboe, who is one of my favorite characters ever. I worship her. I want to be her. My heart hurt for her so much in this novel because she struggles and there are so many things that I wish I could take away from her so she wouldn’t have to bear it but I know that she wouldn’t want me to do that, because no one ever tells kings that they look tired, do they? But she has been through so much in her life and honestly, I want to hurt everyone who hurts her. She has had to make so many sacrifices and it took everything in her to forgive the people who took it all away from her, but the decisions she made, hard as they may have been, have made her even more admirable. She is strong, this queen of my heart, and she is so loved and smart and honestly, such an incredible leader it takes my breath away. I love how she brought peace to Lumatere and how she is just perfect(ly flawed) in every way.
I love Froi, whose character arc is one of the best I have ever read. His story, mostly, is about breaking the cycle of abuse (thanks Ellis for this accurate description) and forgiveness. He went from an abandoned boy, one who was abused and raped so many times, to a boy who attempted to rape someone else, to a boy filled with hurt and regret, to one who was so loved, so wanted. He has done terrible things, things he will never be forgiven for (Isaboe is sure to remind him, even though she loves him deeply, and I love their relationship), nor will he ever forgive himself for them. But the way Marchetta wrote his story, not as a rape apologist story, but as a story of growth and learning and trying again, is beautiful and so important. Things are not black and white, and Marchetta shows that brilliantly. I love him for his kindness and his compassion and for the way he worships the women in this story as much as I do. I love him for his love for Quintana and Finnikin and Isaboe and Gargarin, Arjuro and Lirah, Trevanion and Perri. I love how he, a boy who had nothing, ended up having family in two countries, friends all over Lumatere and Charyn. And even though he has done terrible things, he craves love, this beautiful boy, and he has proven himself more than worthy of it.
I love Quintana more than words can express. I want to build a castle of pillows around her and keep her safe for the rest of her precious life. I can’t express how much I hurt for her, this gorgeous girl with her pointy heart and pointy teeth, who has been raped and abused and locked up and abandoned all her life, while at the same time, she fought for others. She has been so broken, my precious princess, but this story has shown her story as she learned to trust again, and as she slowly started to win over the people of her kingdom. Not the same way Isaboe has done, with love and trust and compassion, but with truth and honestly and rawness, an important way all the same. I love her for determining her own worth and for making friends and for loving Froi. I love her for her cold voice and her warm words and her brilliant mind. I love her savagery and her wickedness and the broken girl who turned into a queen.
I love Finnikin when he is loving to Isaboe and to Jasmine and sacrificing kingdoms for Froi. I don’t love Finnikin when he starts to question Isaboe and lets his pride take over – get the fuck over yourself, Finn. Like Froi says, you should feel lucky to be by her side. Hell, you should be happy to even be her servant. But other than that, I love him. I love Lucian and Phaedra. Lucian can be such an idiot and I love him for it. His mountain is filled with people who love to gossip, and it’s amazing and it warms my heart. I love Lucian for growing to love Phaedra. And I love Phaedra, whose character arcs was also one of the best. I can’t express how much I admire her strength and her kindness and the way she helped Quintana and grew to love the other women in the cave and grew to love Lucian. And I love them together. Their love story is one of the quietest in this series, but that will never mean they are less important. They are so important.
I love Gargarin and Lirah, who have lost so much, but who, during the second book in this series, gained so much as well. I love Gargarin’s brilliance and excitement over wells, and I love his love for Lirah. He needs to be kinder to Froi, but I have faith in him. I love Lirah, who has been hurt so many times that I just want to hug her forever. She is smart and calculating and brilliant and radiant and worthy and so loved. I love Arjuro, who will be the best gyneacologist the Citavita has ever seen. (Just kidding. I love your sass. “You little beasts.”) I love Perri and Tesadora, for loving Froi and Isaboe and each other. I love them for their care and their passion and the way they used to beat each other up and ended up loving each other anyway. My heart hurt for the moment they lost their baby, and the moment they thought Froi was their boy but it turned out he wasn’t. I love them for their love for others and for each other.
I love Trevanion and Beatriss and Vestie, for finding their way back to each other. I love Jasmina, for simply being born. Please stay away from the letters, precious girl. I love Grijio and Tippideaux of Paladozza, who have been such wonderful friends to Froi and Quintana. I love Jorja and Florenza of Nebia, who have learned to accept Quintana and love her. I love the Turlans, who embraced Froi with open arms. I love Celie of the Flatlands, the best spy in all the lands. I love Lord August and Lady Abian, for loving Froi as one of their own. I love all three books in the Lumatere Chronicles equally, even though I rated Quintana the highest. But I love how these are the stories of these characters I love so much, and honestly, they feel like coming home. These books are so, so precious to me, and I could never have predicted the impact they would have on me. I will forever want more books in this world. (Jasmina x Tariq, y/y?)
I love Melina Marchetta, for making this story possible. I love her for writing these people and their histories and for getting exactly what it means to be human. I love the way she deals with abuse and hurt and abandonment. I love how she deals with revenge and anger and rage. I love how she writes these characters who are so truly flawed and human and realistic, and how she shows the power in the ordinary. I love how she deals with finding your way home again. I love how she writes power structures and family relationships and friendships that are out of this worlds. I love how she writes communities. I love how she writes love stories, where the characters are truly each other’s favorite person and how, without each other, they can barely breathe. I love how she writes humorous moments. I love how she writes truth. For me, Marchetta’s writing feels like coming home again, because she just gets it. She gets it every time.
I would apologize for mentioning the word “love” 77 (now 78) times in this review, except that I’m really not sorry. This is what this series does to me. It is as important to me as Harry Potter and Throne of Glass. So there you go.
“What an indulgent luxury pride is,” he raged. “I would give my life to be the consort to the woman I love. I’d give my life to be her footman! Her servant. Any chance to stand close enough to protect her. Yet your queen asks you to sit on the throne by her side and it’s all too degrading for you. You fool,” Froi said bitterly.
“Do you know who tells me my worth, Phaedra of Alonso?”
The princess pointed a hard finger to her own chest.
“Me. I determine my own worth. If I had to rely on others, I’d have lain down and died waiting.”
“There’s nothing more frightening to those in charge than learned people; it’s why the palace always strikes at brilliant young minds and those who teach them.”
“And Phaedra saw her smile, with a hint of mischief in it, and she couldn’t help smiling herself and then she was laughing. They both were, and the savage teeth were the most joyous sight Phaedra had seen for a long time. It was as if they were dancing. There it was. Suddenly the strangeness of Quintana of Charyn’s face made sense. Because it was a face meant for laughing, but it had never been given a chance. It robbed Phaedra of her breath.”
“Why didn’t you put a stop to it, Lucian?”
Lucian couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“There were daggers, Finn. Women with daggers. Not just any women. Your wife. Tesadora.”
“This is not our time.”
“But that will never mean I love you less.”
“It’s a Lumateran thing,” Phaedra said absently, the memory of Lucian’s hands on her body. “They travel in packs and trust one another with all their hearts. It doesn’t mean that they have the capacity to love more than us, but they do know how to trust. It’s because of their queen and her father before her and his father before him. The trust of a people comes from the goodness of their leaders.”
“He’s god’s blessed,” Gargarin said. “He can do more than one thing at once. Be an idiot and be responsible. He has these multiple skills.”
“Much like women, but they’re not called god’s blessed,” Lirah called out without looking up from her work. “They’re just called women.”
“An arm was instantly around his neck. A dagger to his throat. A savage noise in his ear. Sagra. How he missed her.”
“I’m not worth the valley.”
“You’re worth a kingdom.”
“Because today, I think I’m leaning on the side of wonder.”