Books

Blog Tour: Saving Phoebe Murrow by Herta Feely with an Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway!

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When I first heard about the novel Saving Phoebe Murrow a couple  months ago I was intrigued. I tried to obtain an ARC at that time, but wasn’t selected as part of the lottery so when I was contacted about participating in the Blog Tour for the novel I immediately jumped on board, because I suspected this would be a novel worth talking about. This will be my first time ever participating in a Blog Tour, and I’m really excited about it!

I know this will be a long post,  but it’s full of exciting things! First up, check out my thoughts on the novel, then continue reading for a post from the author herself, as well as an exclusive excerpt from the novel! And don’t miss your chance to enter to win my giveaway for your own copy of Saving Phoebe Murrow at the bottom of this post!

SPM High-Res CoverTitle: Saving Phoebe Murrow
Author: Herta Feely
Publication Date: September 2, 2016
Format: Paperback Review Copy
Rating: 4 stars

Official Synopsis: A timeless story of mothers and daughters with a razor-sharp 21st century twist, this heart-wrenching debut for fans of Kimberly McCreight (Reconstructing Amelia) and Liane Moriarity (Big Little Lies) will make you question how you and your family spend time online.

With Saving Phoebe Murrow, acclaimed writer and longtime children’s activist Herta Feely introduces readers to Isabel Murrow: a suburban mother precariously balancing her busy career as a D.C. lawyer and her family, who she would do anything to protect. In a world of bullies and temptations, all Isabel wants is to keep her thirteen-year-old daughter, Phoebe, safe. But with her hectic schedule, Isabel fails to recognize another mother’s mounting fury and the danger her daughter faces by flirting with a mysterious boy online. A cyber-bulling incident aimed at Phoebe, with horrific consequences, finally pushes Isabel to the edge.

Smartly paced and equal parts shocking and sadly familiar, Saving Phoebe Murrow is a riveting addition to the contemporary women’s fiction landscape that will resonate with parents, teens, and anyone compelled by timely and beautifully crafted stories

Saving Phoebe Murrow is a story of two very different women, with two very different parenting styles and how their choices impact their daughters and the rest of the their friends and family. It is a story about bullying, and the consequences of your actions, and it is a story that should be read and discussed all across the country. The effects of bullying are witnessed everyday, as the internet makes it too easy to be cruel without even considering the consequences or the impact your words and actions will have on other people. Saving Phoebe Murrow gives you an intense look into the minds of the victim and the bully as well as their friends and family and shows you all the factors that can lead to tragedy. I believe it’s also a cautionary tale for parents, and gives them something to think about when it comes to interacting with their children, their children’s friends, and watching for signs that their child is either being bullied or may be a bully.

Another thing this novel does well is show the reader that bullying is no longer just a bigger kid at school demanding your lunch money. It can come in many different forms, and from unexpected places. Cyber bullying in particular is becoming more and more of a problem especially as some people still fail to recognize online attacks as “bullying.” It is also easy for online bullying to get out of hand as more and more people jump onto the bandwagon and display a mob mentality despite being alone in front of a computer – something we see happen in the novel. Taking all these things into account, and portraying them honestly makes Saving Phoebe Murrow a haunting and heartbreaking read.

This book took me through a wide range of emotions – anger, sadness, concern, anger again – and definitely kept me turning the pages. If you’re interested in real-life drama that’s relevant to current topics then I definitely recommend picking up a copy of Saving Phoebe Murrow, and don’t be afraid to share it with all the mothers and teenagers you know.

Now, please continue reading for a special guest post from Herta Feely herself, as well as an exclusive excerpt of the novel and a chance to win your own copy of the book!

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CJ Reviews Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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truthwitchTitle: Truthwitch
Author: Susan Dennard
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3.5 stars

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well. Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires. Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch. (Goodreads)

I suspect this review is going to fall into the category of “unpopular opinion” as I have heard nothing but good things about this book and yet … I just could not get into it. I really wanted to, and there were a lot of great things about this book that I did like, but for some reason I just kept feeling like I was forcing myself to finish it instead of being unable to put it down.

In many ways, Truthwitch feels far more complex and detailed than what I tend to expect from Young Adult fantasy. As I was reading it I felt more like I was reading an adult novel, which is one of the positive aspects of this novel. I hate when YA authors write down to their audience or oversimplify the plot. Dennard does neither of those things. Her writing is thoughtful and intelligent and her world is well-organized and full of depth.

However, one of the problems I had with this book is that it seemed to take me forever to feel like I had a good grasp on the world itself, because it was that complex. Once I did start to feel comfortable with the world building, there was still a lot of things that I really didn’t know and left me feeling lost at times. It wasn’t until I was more than halfway through the book that I really started to feel like I understood this world. While that implies that her world is vast, I tend to get frustrated when I don’t feel comfortable within an author’s world much more quickly than that. I don’t have to know or understand everything about it, but I just need to feel like I’m comfortable and things are making sense. I didn’t get that feeling until well into this novel.

I think one of the best aspects of this novel, and one of the reasons I stuck with it, is the friendship between Safi and Iseult. I don’t think there are enough YA novels out there that give readers a strong friendship between two female characters. Too often the main female character becomes quickly enamored with the love interest and you lose the female relationships. I loved that both Safi and Iseult are the main characters (though you could argue that Safi is more the main character than Iseult – the book is, after all, titled Truthwitch) and they were willing to fight for each other in any circumstance. Young girls need more examples of strong female relationships, and I applaud Dennard for giving us this relationship in her novel.

I also really enjoyed the friendship between Kullen and Merick. Maybe it’s just because I’m a girl, but I think it’s always nice to see a male friendship where the guys aren’t afraid to let the other know how much they care. Like Safi and Iseult, I appreciated the fact that this relationship was cultivated more throughout the novel than the possible romance between Safi and Merick. I really liked the fact that the book wasn’t entirely built on (or dependent upon) a romance or love triangle.

I suspect my issues with Truthwitch had more to do with me than the novel itself. The story is full of action, adventure, and excitement. In looking at it through a lens for this review I’m seeing that it has a lot of good things going for it, but it just wasn’t grabbing my attention. By the time I got about halfway through it, I was finally enjoying it but then I would set it down to do something else and not feel the need to get back to it right away that usually comes with a book I’m enjoying. I’m also starting to get weary of “chosen one” storylines, so I probably could have done without that little thread throughout the book. However, I do think it was subtle enough that it could become more interesting to me in the second book. And the yin and yang aspect to it makes it a little more interesting than your average chosen one plot as well.

Overall I had really mixed feelings about this novel. I wanted to love it, and there were definitely parts that I really enjoyed, but it just didn’t work for me as well as it has for others. I am interested enough, however, that I will plan to check out the next book as I think the set up in this novel left some really interesting potential for the second book.

 

CJ Reviews Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Smoke and BoneTitle: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3 stars

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself? (Goodreads)

I really wanted to love this book. It’s been on my TBR list for a long time and I had heard so many great things about it. I even have a couple friends who are not into YA literature who really enjoyed this book, so I thought it was a sure thing. However, I just didn’t love it as much as I wanted to – and I really tried.

I was about halfway through the book before I finally started to connect with Karou and really became interested in what was going on. But then I felt like the romance aspect was way too rushed (though you later find out there’s a reason for that). When I finally started to feel like I was getting into the book and was interested in what was going on, it veered completely into left field and changed the story on me.

The structure of the story is unusual. As I said, it kind of takes a complete left turn halfway through and changes everything you thought you knew. I don’t think it would have worked to structure it any other way, but at the same time the way it’s done means that there is no actual plot progression for nearly half of the book, as it’s mostly flashback by then. I’m not sure there was a better way to include this element, but I wish there was as I started losing interest again at this point.

However, by the end of this novel I feel like the world has finally been set up and now I am curious to know what happens next. I’m hoping everything has been established with this first novel, so that the second and third novels will just be plot progression and therefore more interesting than this first novel. I think the concept is really interesting, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the other world and the magic system Taylor has created. I’m just hoping it lives up to the potential and doesn’t ultimately disappoint.

 

CJ’s Bookshelf: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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Little Paris BookshopEvery once in a while a book comes along that feels like it was written just for you. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nine George is that book, which is an appropriate coincidence given the profession of the bookseller in this book.

The Little Paris Bookshop is the story of Jean Perdu, a bookseller whose shop is titled Literary Apothecary. Perdu believes certain ailments (heartbreak, etc.) can be cured by reading the right books. Twenty years ago the love of Perdu’s life left him, and now all he has is his bookstore. Then one day a new revelation sends him off on a journey to find closure and along the way he makes several friends and rediscovers love.

Accompanying Perdu on this journey is young author Max Jordan, who gained success and notoriety when his first novel became a bestseller but is having trouble following up on that success. He has come to Paris in an attempt to avoid his editors and along the way develops a close bond with Perdu.

While I wouldn’t describe this book as “chick lit” it is definitely geared towards a female audience and it’s written for booklovers. There are many references to classic and popular books that made me smile throughout this novel. There are also many passages that I found myself underlining as I read through the book. One of my favorite quotes near the beginning is when Perdu tells a customer, “With all due respect, what you read is more important in the long term than the man you marry.”

I was immediately drawn into the story and George’s writing style. I loved the characters and her way with words – like I said, there are several passages I marked because I loved them so much. There was a fluidity to her writing that made me want to keep reading. The story seemed to drag a little for me near the middle, but picked up again fairly quickly.

This book is perfect for hopeless romantics and booklovers. Perdu himself would probably recommend this book for someone overcoming heartbreak; the ultimate theme of the book is uplifting and hopeful. It’s a fairly quick and easy read, perfect for beach reading or when you just want something that’s not a dark, gritty drama.

CJ’s Bookshelf: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

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crown of thornsI usually don’t like writing reviews of consecutive books in a series, because I feel like I just end up saying the same thing over and over in each review (especially if I like the books) but I’m going to try for the Throne of Glass books, because I really like this series so far – for a lot of reasons. While I will avoid spoilers for Crown of Midnight in this review, it would be almost impossible to write a review without spoiling events of Throne of Glass, so if you haven’t read that yet you should probably stop now. Instead you can check out my review for that book, then go read it, and come back here when you’re done.

Crown of Midnight starts out a couple months after the events in Throne of Glass. Celaena is now the King’s Champion, following his order and assassinating anyone he deems a threat to his throne – or, that’s what she wants him to think she’s doing. When the King asks her to kill someone she knew in her old life as an assassin, Celaena buys time and comes up with a plan of her own.

I know I mentioned this in my review of Throne of Glass, but one of my favorite aspects of this series is how wonderfully Celaena is written. She’s a girl, and she loves girly things – candy, pretty dresses, etc. – but she’s also tough as nails and 100% capable of taking care of herself without any help from anyone else. There’s almost a gender reversal going on in Crown of Midnight in some of the ways she interacts with her friends, in how she protects them and how she plans Chaol’s birthday. The biggest reversal – and something I really appreciated – was in the character of Archer, the courtesan she was instructed to kill and an acquaintance from when she was younger. The female prostitute character is so common across so many genres of books, TV and movies that it was nice seeing a male character in that role for a change.

Another thing I love about this series is how Maas leaves breadcrumbs for her twists. I hate a predictable twist – when you can see something coming a mile away even without a single hint or clue. But I really appreciate when an author starts setting up a twist in the very first book though you don’t actual get said twist until later in the series. Yes, I saw it coming, but not in an annoyingly predictable way. There was enough evidence from very early in Throne of Glass that it wasn’t really  a surprise for anyone but Chaol, but it was written well enough that I didn’t roll my eyes when it was revealed. Well done.

There were a couple other surprises in this book that I did not see coming. One was utterly heartbreaking, and I really applaud Maas for that writing as well. What happens in the middle of the book is something that I never would have guessed or seen coming until it happened, and even then it was shocking and I was looking for a loophole until the very end. It’s a catalyst for the second half of this book and much of Heir of Fire as well (which I am a little more than halfway through at the moment). The other big development was an interesting twist for a character that will have further repercussions through the rest of the series, I’m sure.

I really love that this series feels completely original and does not follow the typical YA fantasy formula. I enjoy being surprised by little things that I never would have expected, or revelations about characters that I don’t see coming. Everything about it seems fresh, and I like that. I also love the way Maas is only slowly revealing the more magical elements of the series. She continues to build the world as the series progresses; she’s constantly revealing new information about not only the world the story takes place in, but about the characters themselves, which helps keep the story new and interesting instead of feeling like it’s stagnating. And her characters keep growing. By the end of this novel they’ve changed so much from the characters we were introduced to in the first novel and I’m sure they will continue to grow and change as the series progresses.

Crown of Midnight was a terrific follow-up to Throne of Glass and I’m really excited about what Maas has in store for the rest of the series.

CJ’s Bookshelf: The Martian by Andy Weir

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The Martian

“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that its found in every culture without exception.” – The Martian

The Martian caught my attention a while back, and I was curious enough about the book to add it to my “to-read” list, but didn’t make any effort to obtain a copy immediately. I had a vague idea what the book was about, and it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure if it was my type of book. The truth is, as much as I love science fiction, I’m not into really sciencey science fiction. Science was always my worst subject in school and when I read books that deal with a lot of science I tend to either tune it out or most of it just goes way over my head. I tend to lean more towards the fantasy or urban fantasy subgenre when it comes to the broader scifi category. However, the trailer for the film adaptation looked good, and then my elementary school librarian (who now volunteers where my mother works) insisted that I had to read it. So, I decided to take her advice. And she was right (of course).

The Martian is one of those books that anyone could love, whether you’re a fan of science fiction or not. Mark Watney is an astronaut stranded on Mars after he and his crew are forced to abandon their mission and Watney is believed to be killed in the evacuation. Through a miraculous series of circumstances however, Watney survives being impaled during the sandstorm that forced the evacuation but has no way to contact his crew or earth, and no hope of rescue until the next Mars mission arrives in four years – and he only has provisions and life support for a month.

The novel may take place on Mars, but it’s a very naturalistic story; it’s very much the story of one man trying to survive against all odds. Watney has to use every bit of ingenuity and cleverness he has in order to figure out how to stay alive long enough for rescue. Meanwhile, on Earth once NASA discovers he is alive they must overcome every obstacle they face (funding, time constraints, politics, etc.) in order to give Watney his best chance at survival.

What I loved most about this book was definitely the character of Mark Watney. A large portion of this novel is told from Watney’s point of view as he keeps a detailed log of his time on Mars, just in case NASA can recover it. His narrative is full of humor – I laughed out loud more than once – and he breaks down the more ‘sciencey’ stuff in a way that’s easy for any reader to understand. While I have a very limited understanding of physics or chemistry, not once did I feel like anything he was explaining was too far over my head.

According to the author’s bio in the book, this is Weir’s first novel and he has really set a high bar for himself. Not only is the book humorous and easy to read, it also takes the reader on the adventure with Watney. The book is like a roller coaster ride, where you go up for every success Watney has, then crash down with him every time something goes wrong. Weir’s writing style allows the reader to feel all the highs and lows just as Watney experiences them; when a writer can make you feel a part of the story in that way he has truly accomplished something special.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone, scifi fan or not. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year and once I started reading it I could not put it down. The story is gripping and compelling and everything you want a good novel to be.

CJ’s Bookshelf: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

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Luckiest Girl AliveI’m not going to lie, I was hesitant to give this book a chance because the last book I read because it was hailed as the “next Gone GirlI didn’t like at all. Just like The Girl on the Train was way over-hyped, I had a feeling this book would be too. Let’s face it, even Gone Girl was over-hyped. I liked the book, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Gillian Flynn’s first two novels.

I read the first 50 pages of Luckiest Girl Alive and was convinced my initial assumptions about the book had been correct. I hated the narrator, Ani. She seemed like a wanna-be Amy – manipulative, fake and just plain mean – though unlike Amy the audience was made aware of this right from the start. None of Flynn’s female characters are particularly likable (in my opinion) but they’re at least interesting. I prepared myself to be disappointed yet again, and even considered giving up. But I pressed on. And I’m really glad I did.

Luckiest Girl Alive is structured so that the there are two timelines running through the chapters – Ani’s present, and her recollections of her freshman year at a prep academy. While at first it’s easy to make assumptions about Ani in the presence, the flashback chapters really help to add another layer to the character and help the reader to understand her motivations and what made her the person she is in the future. She’s not just a sociopath in the way that Amy is in Gone Girl. Ani may not ever have been a particularly likable person, but that is her biggest weakness – her desire to be liked and fit in. Not just to fit in, but fit in with the rich and successful kids. The flashbacks don’t necessarily make Ani more likable, but they do make her more sympathetic and show that she is a much more complicated character than I originally believed her to be.

The only thing I found slightly disappointing in this book was that it promised a lot of twists and turns, but there wasn’t really any twist that I didn’t see coming at least a chapter or two away. Sure, there were a few surprises, but not many. And I kept waiting for an even bigger twist near the end that never came. On the one hand, I’m disappointed we didn’t get that twist I was expecting – but on the other, I really like the way the book ended. It was very satisfying, and made Ani’s character feel even more complete.

This is definitely a great beach read – a little dark and heavy at times, but a quick read. If you haven’t yet read The Girl on the Train, don’t bother. Pick this one up instead. The writing is better, the characters more developed and the ending a lot more satisfying. I still don’t think it’s the next Gone Girl, but the ending is definitely much less depressing.