Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll


Pages: 352
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: May 12, 2015
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE. As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancĂ©, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve. But Ani has a secret. There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything. With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that's bigger than it first appears.  The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?"
TifAni, or Ani as she goes by now, seems to have it all in her glamorous New York life. She has a wealthy fiancĂ©  an upcoming Nantucket wedding, a fabulous job at a famous New York magazine, and money to spend on all of the latest fashions.  But she has a secret past. She grew up outside Philadelphia and attended school at the prestigious Bradley School deep in the heart of the Main Line. Even though Ani's family lives in the outskirts of the Main Line, Ani's mother was hoping she would brush elbows with children from old money. Well, her plan worked, but a major tragedy occurred at The Bradley School, one that directly involved Ani.  All of her secrets will come to the surface again when a documentary is being made to commemorate the horrible events that occurred at The Bradley School.  She is hoping the documentary will help her find some closure; however, as her wedding nears, she is finding herself and her well-kept facade unraveling a bit.  Jessica Knoll's debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, is captivating.  For me, it was chick-lit meets something darker, which made for an addicting beach read.

Knoll does a good job creating a main character that I don't necessarily like, but I just had to know what was going to happen to Ani and what moves she was going to make in Luckiest Girl Alive. She really says and does some despicable things, but I cared about her.  When she started at The Bradley School, she just wanted to fit in and was a vulnerable teenager.  The mean girl behavior she had to deal with and the horrible guys in her school I thought would push her to transfer, but she kept with it. She befriended a fellow outcast, Arthur, who is a bit of a tortured soul. I sort of felt the dark cloud hanging over Ani's head and unfortunately some horrible things happen to her during her experiences at The Bradley School...experiences that will forever shape her future.

Luckiest Girl Alive is told through the use of flashback to Ani's high school days and then it jumps back to present day. Presently, Ani is working in a New York magazine, essentially living her dream. She has the life she has always dreamed of, but her past is a dark shadow following her around. She tries hard to mold herself into someone that can't be hurt, but we all know that is just for appearances. It was interesting to see how Ani behaves in the present versus the flashbacks to her high school self. I enjoyed how Knoll let the story gently unfold by interweaving the present and the past.

So, I live in the outskirts of the Main Line, where a great majority of this story is told, and I was completely blown away by Knoll's descriptions of the its people and the landmarks.  Knoll herself attended a private school about three miles from my house, so it was equal parts fascinating as well as terrifying to hear her describe my neighborhood.  She didn't change a thing. Everything down to the restaurants (Yang Ming!), the street names (Lancaster Ave!), and the local hangouts (Peace of Pizza!) It was all very, very accurate. So, for me that added an extra punch to Luckiest Girl Alive.

The writing in this book was what kept me interested. Ani's voice is extremely strong and almost stream of consciousness at times. I kept wondering if she was a reliable narrator or not, but either way, I was intrigued. I can see why there are many comparisons being made to Gone Girl in that Ani and Amy have many similarities and similar voices, but I'd say that's where the comparison ends. Luckiest Girl Alive had some plot twists and was dark; however, the pacing wasn't as break-neck as I would have liked or nearly as suspenseful. So, that's why I recommend it as a chick-lit meets mystery/thriller sort of summer read for fans who don't mind something a bit darker.

With that said, I have my eye on debut writer, Jessica Knoll. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. And I am dying to know if they will film this future movie in my neighborhood! 



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway


Pages: 352
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: June 23, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Emmy’s best friend, Oliver, reappears after being kidnapped by his father ten years ago. Emmy hopes to pick up their relationship right where it left off. Are they destined to be together? Or has fate irreparably driven them apart? Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life. She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared. Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling. Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together? Readers who love Sarah Dessen will tear through these pages with hearts in throats as Emmy and Oliver struggle to face the messy, confusing consequences of Oliver’s father’s crime. Full of romance, coming-of-age emotion, and heartache, these two equally compelling characters create an unforgettable story."
Emmy and Oliver have been best friends for as long as Emmy can remember. They were next door neighbors, playmates, and pals at school, that is until one day Oliver is kidnapped by his father at age seven and taken away from everything and everyone he knows.  Emmy is sort of left with this hole in her heart as well as a physical hole left by his absence. Things move on though, but Emmy does think about Oliver from time to time. Where is he? What does he look like? He shows up ten years later; the police found him in New York City with his father. He is returning home finally, but how will things be between Emmy and her former best friend? Robin Benway's snappy dialogue and beautiful setting of a beach town make Emmy & Oliver a delightful summertime read.

Emmy is an interesting and multilayered character in Emmy & Oliver. She has tried to move on since Oliver's kidnapping, but sometimes it's hard when she still lives next door to his house and all of those memories.  Since Oliver's kidnapping, her parents have become extremely overprotective, to the point where she doesn't feel comfortable telling them about how she loves surfing or where she wants to apply to college. So, she lies to them instead of forcing the issue. Emmy's small group of friends are fantastic. I loved her relationship with Drew and Caro; Benway does a great job of portraying true friends dealing with the ups and downs of adolesnce while trying to navigate the messy waters of Oliver's returns.  

Bennett also does a good job developing Oliver, a truly conflicted character due to his circumstances. He should be happy to be reunited with his mom and former friends, but he hasn't really lived a normal life until this point and it's quite an adjustment. Plus, his mom has remarried and has two young children, which make the return home even more of an adjustment. He feels almost kidnapped all over again, but thankfully, Emmy reaches out to him and they forge a new friendship and perhaps something even more in Emmy & Oliver.

The setting of California makes Emmy & Oliver an entertaining beach read. Plus, there's a lot of surfing, which made my beach bum heart happy. I love that Emmy goes to the ocean to find solace, to get away from things, and she shares this love with Oliver. 

Emmy & Oliver is my first novel by Robin Benway and I have to say I enjoyed her clever dialogue and true portrayal of adolescents. I definitely want to check out her books in the future, particularly Audrey, Wait!

Fans of smart beach reads as well as fans of Sarah Dessen will enjoy Emmy & Oliver, which comes out this June. 




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye


Pages: 400
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 2, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Heron Key is already weighed down with secrets when a random act of violence and a rush to judgment viscerally tear the town apart. As the little island burns under the sun and the weight of past decisions, a devastating storm based on the third-strongest Atlantic Hurricane on record approaches, matching the anger of men with the full fury of the skies. Beautifully written and seductive, UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY is at once a glorious love story, a fascinating slice of social history, and a mesmerizing account of what it's like to be in the eye of a hurricane."

It's 1935 in the Florida Keys, a community impacted by the Depression and the remains of war. Many veterans have returned to Florida or are newly arrived to the Keys due to a government job to build a bridge. There's Missy, an African American nanny to the wealthy Kincaid family, who although wasn't formally educated, she read encyclopedias for fun and now possess a wealth of knowledge. She is a nanny for Nelson and Hilda Kincaid, a prominent, but very unhappy couple. Hilda struggles with her weight and has haunting memories of her former life (Miss Palmetto) before she had her son and married Nelson, who takes every opportunity to cheat on her.  Then there's Henry, an African American veteran, who has returned home to the Keys after the war as he is going to work on the bridge.  There's also Dwayne, the town sheriff, who has to deal with racial tension amongst the locals as well as the veterans who often drink too much and get out of line.  Each person in this novel has to deal with some major conflicts and all of this get magnified once a hurricane is heading right towards Heron Key's shores.  Vanessa Lafaye's debut, Under a Dark Summer Sky, highlights racial tension in the south as well as what life was like for people living in the Keys during the 1930s, especially when disaster strikes.

There are many characters in Under a Dark Summer Sky and Lafaye jumps from character to character very often, so there are many points of view in this novel.  I found myself connecting the most to Missy and I wanted so much for her. She has always harbored feelings for Henry and once he returns, she hopes they can start anew.  Things get way more complicated when there's a random act of violence in Heron Keys and now the police are looking at the veterans, specifically Henry. 

Henry is a complex character in Under a Dark Summer Sky. He has dealt with so much during the war and its aftermath. He finally returns home to help build the bridge, but things have changed in the Keys; plus, he hasn't seen his family and friends in many years. Can they start again?

What was so eye opening in Under a Dark Summer Sky was how the veterans were treated and their living conditions. I had heard about this real life event in Florida's history many times, but it still impacted me greatly. It's very upsetting to see how our veterans were treated as they deserved so much more.

The impending hurricane keeps things moving in Under a Dark Summer Sky. Readers even get the perspective from meteorologists following the storm as well as Heron Key's residents. I was familiar with this horrific hurricane (1935 Labor Day Hurricane) prior to reading the novel and Lafaye did a great job bringing the harsh realities to life. This aspect of the novel had me on the edge of my seat.

My only issue with the book was Lafaye's focus on so, so many characters. Sometimes its hard for me to connect with all of the characters. I find myself losing interest in a particular character's story and wanting to return to another character's perspective. 

If you are looking for a smart historical read this summer with a gorgeous tropical setting, then check out Under a Dark Summer Sky. It was a real page turner!


Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review: Summer Secrets by Jane Green


Pages: 320
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: June 23, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Tempting Fate
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that. June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn’t realize is that these women, her real father’s daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone’s need for revenge."
Cat is in her late twenties living the life in London during the late 90s. She has a good job, friends, and many parties to attend. She stays out too late, drinks too much, and often finds herself in compromising situations, but this is the time in her life when she is supposed to do this, right? Before she settles down? Cat refuses to think she has a problem until one time she blacks out and finds herself in a strange man's flat. The man, Jason, is a successful and very good looking TV director who is showing an interest in her both romantically and personally, as he is a recovering alcoholic himself. He convinces Cat to attend some AA meetings and get on the right path. Cat seems to be on the right path, until she gets some life-altering news from her mother. Her mother tells her that her father is not the man who raised her. Instead, it's a man her mother met in Nantucket when visiting her aunt. For Cat, this explains everything about her childhood and after talking with her new found father, she is excited to visit him in Nantucket and meet her two half sisters, Ellie and Julia.  Cat is hoping this will be the missing piece of her puzzle.  Things go really well in Nantucket, that is until they don't, thanks to Cat's alcohol abuse.  Many years later, Cat is faced with an opportunity to make amends in Nantucket with the family she blew it with, but can they forgive her? Jane Green's Summer Secrets is surprisingly dark for a summer read, but in true Jane Green fashion, I couldn't stop reading it. I had to know how it was going to end for Cat and I desperately wanted her to find happiness in her second chance at life.

Cat is a tough character to root for in the beginning of  Summer Secrets. She's blatantly an alcoholic and struggles to just have only one drink. The decisions she makes while under the influence of alcohol are tough to witness and I felt  due to her addiction, she was self-sabotaging all the good things in her life. Her behavior was destructive, so I was glad to see Jason enter her life and try to steer her the right way.  However, Cat has to do it for herself, not him, so this was always a dark cloud hanging over their relationship.

Then Cat heads to Nantucket and I think to myself that it's going to actually work out. Things are going swimmingly.  Her father seems like a nice guy (minus his own addiction) and her half sisters seem like decent people. She really connects with Julia, who isn't as cold as Ellie, and she finally feels like she is in a good place. That is until drama ensues due to bad decisions made under the influence.

Many years later, we find Cat, sober and in a totally different place in her life. I obviously preferred this Cat and loved this new version of her. I was rooting for her from the get-go and desperately hoping she'd get her happy ending. I wanted her to make amends in Nantucket, but I knew it was going to be complicated. Green reminds us that life isn't always that simple. Timing can be tough and Green throws us a plot twist as well.

At first, I really wasn't connecting with  Summer Secrets, but then before I knew it, I was half way through the novel, dying to know what was going to happen to Cat. Jane Green is a fantastic writer because she took a character, who I didn't really love, and made me extremely invested in her story. 

The setting of Nantucket only added to my enjoyment of the novel, which in turn, makes Summer Secrets a great addition to your beach bag.  If you are a fan of Jane Green, you'll be pleased with this darker beach read that left me feeling hopeful and with a smile on my face.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Stacking the Shelves and Giveaway Winners (77)







Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young - Thanks to Simon Pulse and Edelweiss
Persuasion by Martina Boone - Thanks to Simon Pulse and Edelweiss


Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone - Thanks to Hyperion Teen
The Blue by Lucy Clarke - Thanks to Touchstone and NetGalley


These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly - Thanks to Random House and NetGalley
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston - Thanks to Disney Hyperion and NetGalley






Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki





And the winner of The Isle of the Lost, Challenger Deep and Sorceress goes to:  Abbey B 

The winner of signed copies of Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters and Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin is:  Kayla

The winner of The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is....Carol

Congrats to all of the winners! I hope you enjoy your books!

So what do you guys think? Have you read any of these books or are they on your TBR list? Let me know! This meme is hosted by Tynga at Tynga's Reviews.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Five (18) and TWO GIVEAWAYS!


Happy Friday! Sometimes I like to talk about what I am currently into that is not necessarily book related. Here's what I have been up to/thinking about/enjoying lately. Let me know what you think! 

 Avalon, NJ - Source
1.  Memorial Day Weekend - It's the unofficial start of summer...my favorite time of the year! I'll be heading down the shore this weekend and I hope you guys enjoy some sunshine, some BBQ and good times this weekend. And more importantly, thank you to all the Veterans!



2.  Jenny Han Book Signing - My local independent bookstore, Chester County Book Company, is a stop on Jenny Han's tour for P.S. I Still Love You. How exciting is that? It's next Friday and I can't wait to go and meet Jenny Han, one of my favorite authors. The bookstore is also hosting a letter writing contest where you submit your own love letter, real or fictional, and Jenny Han as well as a panel of judges will select the best one. The winner will receive a free copy of her new book. How cute is that? Who else is excited for this book to come out?



3.  Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll - Every since I read Tara at Running 'N' Reading's review for this book as well as Reese Witherspoon's endorsement, I was intrigued. Plus, I found out the author grew up near me and attended a private school literally three miles from my house. There's been some mixed reviews for this book, but what I am loving are all the local references. I mean if you weren't familiar with the Main Line, a lot of these references would go right over your head. It's pretty crazy to read so much social commentary on an area I deal with every day. Have you read this book?



4. Bachelor - One of my favorite guilty pleasures is watching Bachelor/Bachelorette. Chris Harrison wrote a book: The Perfect Letter. Did anyone read it? Was is horrible or bad in a good way that would make it perfect for the beach?



5.  Two Giveaways - In honor of Memorial Day Weekend, I am giving away an ARC of The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer, the queen of beach reads.  If you missed my review, check it out here.  Thanks to Ballatine Books for this giveaway.  This book is the perfect beach read!

If adult fiction isn't your thing, check out my YA giveaway for three awesome books. Thanks to HarperTeen, I'm giving away a hardcover copy of King by Ellen Oh, Solitaire by Alice Oseman, and Until the Beginning by Amy Plum. 



The deadline for both giveaways is June 1, 2015. This is open to US readers only and please refer to my giveaway rules. Good luck!

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Thanks for visiting and if you celebrate Memorial Day, have a great holiday weekend!

Book Review: Last Year's Mistake by Gina Ciocca


Pages: 256
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: June 9, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Before: Kelsey and David became best friends the summer before freshman year and were inseparable ever after. Until the night a misunderstanding turned Kelsey into the school joke, and everything around her crumbled—including her friendship with David. So when Kelsey's parents decided to move away, she couldn't wait to start over and leave the past behind. Except, David wasn't ready to let her go... After: Now it's senior year and Kelsey has a new group of friends, genuine popularity, and a hot boyfriend. Her life is perfect. That is, until David's family moves to town and he shakes up everything. Soon old feelings bubble to the surface and threaten to destroy Kelsey's second chance at happiness. The more time she spends with David, the more she realizes she never truly let him go. And maybe she never wants to. Told in alternating sections, LAST YEAR'S MISTAKE is a charming and romantic debut about loving, leaving, and letting go."
Every year Kelsey and her family spend their summer vacation in Newport, Rhode Island.  The summer before her freshman year of high school, she meets, in an unexpected way, her next door neighbor, David.  They hit it off instantly and their summer friendship becomes a full-time friendship when David and his dad move to Norwood, Connecticut, where Kelsey and her family live.  Everything was great between them until something happened to Kelsey, which resulted in her being bullied at school. To further complicate matters, both David and Kelsey start to have feelings for each other, but the timing wasn't right.  After a traumatic freshman year, Kelsey's father has a job opportunity in Newport, so they decide to move there.  Kelsey is actually happy about it, because this is a chance for her to move past things and sort of reinvent herself.  It's senior year now and Kelsey is a popular girl, with many friends, a good looking boyfriend, a new haircut and a new outlook on life; however, her world starts to crumble when she sees David walk through the doors of her high school.  Now Kelsey's past secrets collide with her new life in Rhode Island and obviously, Kelsey has some important decisions to make.  Gina Ciocca's debut, Last Year's Mistake, is filled with angst, teenage drama and romance, which make it a fun book for vacation this summer.

I can't say I really loved Kelsey in Last Year's Mistake. She is one of those girls who wants something, complains that she doesn't have it, and then when it's right there staring at her in the face, she doesn't know what to do.  So, at times, I was frustrated with her indecision and some of her choices.  However, I was really sympathetic towards her when she was dealing with some mean girls and a few health concerns that she had. 

I did love her connection with David in Last Year's Mistake. As I have said before, I love a good Dawson/Joey friendship that could possibly turn into something more. I like when people are friends before they are significant others, so this aspect of the novel was right up my alley. Even though their relationship was very tumultuous and the timing always seemed off, I still was rooting for them from the beginning.

The possible love triangle between David, Kelsey, and Kelsey's new boyfriend, Ryan, was a little cringe-worthy from time to time, but it did result in a ton of drama. 

The setting of Last Year's Mistake was pretty great, especially when it was summertime in Newport. I love the description of the beach town and the gorgeous homes.  Also, Ciocca did a great job capturing an exciting summer love and all that it entails.

Although this book didn't "wow" me like I was hoping, I did enjoy it overall, mostly because I liked juicy drama filled contemporary novels in the summertime that don't require too much thought; in that case, this one fits the bill. 


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