Hiatus Update

Hey Midsummer readers!

Just an update for you all. Some of you may be wondering where all the new posts, reviews, author interviews, event coverage, etc has been.

Well–due to managing this site on my own for 6 years while also working full-time and trying to finish my own personal novel, I decided to take a step back for 2018 so I can really focus on writing, querying, and all of that fun aspiring author stuff.

Please be sure to keep an eye out on the @Midsummerreads instagram, as I’ve decided I will keep updating that with fun book photos during this hiatus.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.

As always, keep reading!

Book Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the chilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe from New York Times bestseller Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe—it does not like what it sees.

A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.

As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.

Will the Thunderhead intervene?

Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?

 

It’s no secret that I was a huge fan of Shusterman’s Scythe, which I reviewed back in June. I struggled with the choice of giving Scythe 4.5 or 5 stars. I backed away from my original five-star review, but have often looked back and second-guessed my decision.

 

This series is one of my favorites, after only two books!

 

Citra and Rowan’s story continues to unfold in bold and unpredictable ways. My favorite aspect of the book, however, is the fact that we get to see so much more of the world outside of the Scythedom. We get a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to how much time has passed since the “mortal age.”

 

I’m left with questions, but I feel that the number of questions that I have is appropriate for a continuing series. Thunderhead is the second series in the “Arc of Scythe,” so I have no idea how many books will be in this series.

 

This book moved at a perfect, even speed, leading you to different characters, but providing a beautiful, cohesive story that fit together perfectly. While I tend to prefer first-person narratives, the use of third-person storytelling made it easier to differentiate multiple characters’ perspectives.

 

A statement in my Scythe interview still rings out to me:

 

“I am notorious for predicting story arcs and twists, but never saw the majority of this book coming. Because of this, I am hesitant to say more about the book, lest I spoil something for future readers. The experience was one that I will not soon forget.”

 

This book – especially the final 10% – had me absolutely reeling. I was reading this book and listening to it simultaneously (as I get ready in the morning, when I’m driving, etc., and can’t read… I listen! Who needs break?), and literally had to sit down at one point because I couldn’t focus on getting ready for work one morning. I needed to listen, I needed to read, I needed to consume this information as quickly as possible.

 

I can’t explain in words how much I loved this book.

 

I was left breathless.

 

5/5 Bards

Book Review: Archie Volume 2 by Mark Waid

America’s Favorite Teenager, Archie Andrews, is reborn in the pages of this must-have graphic novel collecting the second six issues of the comic book series that everyone is talking about. Riverdale High teen Archie, his oddball, food-loving best friend Jughead, girl-next-door Betty and well-to-do snob Veronica Lodge as they embark on a modern reimagining of the beloved Archie world. It’s all here: the love triangle, friendship, humor, charm and lots of fun – but with a decidedly modern twist.

Volume 2 of the Archie series definitely picks up the drama, but for me I was mostly interested in the Betty and Veronica development in this issue.

Betty and Veronica are the classic best friends who are in a war for their sweetheart’s love.  Although, if you ask me they could both do a bit better than Archie in some ways. But, what are the Archie comics without that love triangle?

We finally get the two interacting, since in this version of Riverdale, Veronica is the new girl and immediately takes up with Archie, rather than connecting specifically with either Betty or Jughead (to be fair, V and Juggie never get along according to the original canon and still don’t in this.).

But FINALLY we get more canon Betty as an outstanding athlete, especially her talent at softball. This was something that made me identify with her from the very beginning back in the 90s (God, I’m old). Seeing her step up for her ex boyfriend/best friend and trying her hardest to help him get to the airport for Ronnie is stereotypical, amazing Betty. She is the outstanding character in this one, for me.

4 Bards.

Book Review: Archie Volume 1 by Mark Waid

America’s Favorite Teenager, Archie Andrews, is reborn in the pages of this must-have graphic novel collecting the first six issues of the comic book series that everyone is talking about. Meet Riverdale High teen Archie, his oddball, food-loving best friend Jughead, girl-next-door Betty and well-to-do snob Veronica Lodge as they embark on a modern reimagining of the beloved Archie world. It’s all here: the love triangle, friendship, humor, charm and lots of fun – but with a decidedly modern twist.

As an Archie Comic purist, it was a big hard for me to accept that they were rebooting the entire series back in 2015 with “The New Riverdale.” I honestly admit that it took me reading and absolutely loving the Afterlife with Archie series and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina before I decided to finally give the new Archie a chance.

The art is definitely not the same that you’d expect if you have read the comics for over two decades, but honestly I really like the update that Veronica Fish and Annie Wu gave.  It makes the core four look more like real people from the 21st century rather than holding on to the old style that evolved over the 20th.  I never thought I’d say that!

The story starts with the break up of Betty Cooper and Archie Andrews. For some inexplicable reason Archie is breaking the fourth wall and narrating directly TO the reader rather than us simply stepping inside of his world as an outside viewer like we used to. I wasn’t a HUGE fan of this shift, because it felt very much like it slowed down the overall narrative for me and for fans who already know all of these characters. I do think it would be beneficial for new readers, but after the success of Riverdale I do think that most fans will just breeze past that.

In this first volume we learn about Jughead’s past as a former rich child, Betty’s love for mechanics and activism, Veronica’s limited musical ability, and Archie’s incredible ability to be as fickle as ever (he’s my least favorite character, if you didn’t know).  Also, Reggie is still Reggie.

I have to give the writers credit for really amping up the drama in this volume, and I’m sure it will just continue.

4 Bards.

Book Review and Playlist: Bad Call by Stephen Wallenfels

It was supposed to be epic.

During a late-night poker game, tennis teammates Colin, Ceo, Grahame, and Rhody make a pact to go on a camping trip in Yosemite National Park. And poker vows can’t be broken.

So the first sign that they should ditch the plan is when Rhody backs out. The next is when Ceo replaces him with Ellie, a girl Grahame and Colin have never even heard of. And then there’s the forest fire at their intended campsite.
But instead of bailing, they decide to take the treacherous Snow Creek Falls Trail to the top of Yosemite Valley. From there, the bad decisions really pile up.

A freak storm is threatening snow, their Craigslist tent is a piece of junk, and Grahame is pretty sure there’s a bear on the prowl. On top of that, the guys have some serious baggage (and that’s not including the ridiculously heavy ax that Grahame insisted on packing) and Ellie can’t figure out what their deal is.

And then one of them doesn’t make it back to the tent.
Desperate to survive while piecing together what happened, the remaining hikers must decide who to trust in this riveting, witty, and truly unforgettable psychological thriller that reveals how one small mistake can have chilling consequences. 

Well, you can definitely count me out on any possible hiking trip in Yosemite National Park after reading this. Okay, that’s definitely an exaggeration because I do love a good hike…hmm…Oh! You can count me out of ever camping in Yosemite National Park after reading this book.  In fact, camping in general.

This book was everything that has always made me terrified of camping and completely disconnecting from society: unexpected weather, wild animals, inappropriate camping gear, lack of sustenance, and of course, drama between all of the people camping together.

Yep, you guessed it, this killer thriller novel about teens hiking in the woods contains drama. To be fair, I will say that the relationship-y drama takes very much a back seat to the survival drama for the most part–at least for me. It was a welcome change, in all honesty.

Now, I’m not always a fan of switching point of views.  Especially if they are changing between sexes, if only because I find that some authors are not very good at switching between the two.  However, I have to give Wallenfels for using two very distinctive narrators that are different enough personality wise that it was easy to make the distinction (the titles of the chapters indicating who was narrating, not-with-standing).

I read Bad Call in one day, and it was definitely one of those reads that enthralls you and then leaves you wanting more at the very end.  If anything, my only negative comment is going to be how quickly the end was resolved.  After so much narrative build-up, it felt like we needed a bit more composition to get us from A to B, as it were.

Overall, I recommend this for fans of the outdoors and thrillers.

4 Bards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review & Playlist: Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Someday I want to live in a place where I never hear “You’re Dusty’s sister?” ever again.

Life is real enough for Dylan—especially as the ordinary younger sister of Dusty, former Miss Mississippi and the most perfect, popular girl in Tupelo. But when Dusty wins the hand of the handsome Scottish laird-to-be Ronan on the TRC television network’s crown jewel, Prince in Disguise, Dylan has to face a different kind of reality: reality TV.

As the camera crew whisks them off to Scotland to film the lead-up to the wedding, camera-shy Dylan is front and center as Dusty’s maid of honor. The producers are full of surprises—including old family secrets, long-lost relatives, and a hostile future mother-in-law who thinks Dusty and Dylan’s family isn’t good enough for her only son. At least there’s Jamie, an adorably bookish groomsman who might just be the perfect antidote to all Dylan’s stress . . . if she just can keep TRC from turning her into the next reality show sensation. 

Release Date: December 19, 2017

Around the holidays I tend to be more susceptible to a love story than I am on a normal average day, so when Hyperion sent me a copy of this book, I couldn’t resist.

This book is equal parts E! network and Jane Austen, via Bridget Jones’s Diary and I enjoyed every single page. It was a relaxing, albeit freezing, Southern December Sunday when I picked this book up…and finished it in that same exact spot. Strohm’s storytelling was lighthearted and fun, full of literary references that pleased this English Major, but not too many to make the Darcy character unlikeable or cold.  In fact, I think Strohm made Jamie the character I wish Darcy had been all along.  Although, that would have made Pride and Prejudice an entirely different narrative.

As someone with a sister, and a sister whom I love but don’t always agree, I really enjoyed the dynamic between Dusty and Dylan. It’s hard to capture that kind of sisterly relationship in words, and I think Strohm did an amazing job. I also adored the musical inspiration behind their names, because I am a sucker for classic music and obviously so was their mother.

I also came out of this novel knowing a lot more about Scottish culture than I ever thought I’d know, and so I’m officially skeptical of Haggis and all it is made of. Although, I do appreciate the Robert Burns celebration, as I am a sucker for his “A Red, Red Rose” poem.

Overall this book was delightfully written and I could have read two more books of Jamie and Dylan’s banter.

Instead I leave you with my 4 Bard rating and the playlist I created especially to celebrate this novel. Be sure to give it a listen, I chose my personal favorite Dylan song to represent Dylan. Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Release Day Blitz: Rosemarked by Livia Blackburn

Hi Everyone!

This is Livia Blackburne, and I’m thrilled to share ROSEMARKED with you at long last. There are a lot of elements to this book, including a love story, a spy story, reflections on trauma and mortality, medical ethics, and political intrigue.  Perhaps because of this, my research for the book was equally eclectic, from archery and stick fighting lessons, to chats with memory researchers and soldiers, and lots and lots of reading, including books about leper colonies, hospice care, and PTSD. Hopefully, I wove it all into an entertaining and thought-provoking story!

This story centers on Zivah, a talented healer with an incurable illness, and Dineas, a traumatized soldier. The two couldn’t be more different, and I had a lot of fun writing their unlikely love story.  In order to work together, they both have to let go of their own prejudices and preconceptions. It’s a painful process, with fights and misunderstandings, anger, laughter and tears, but in the end, they both come out as stronger people.

To celebrate the ROSEMARKED release, I’m offering 3 lucky winners a ROSEMARKED swag pack, which includes a copy of ROSEMARKED and a signed bookplate! Due to sweepstakes laws, entrants must be 18 years or older to participate. Best of luck, and happy reading!

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/275761fc8/

The first in a duology, ROSEMARKED (Hyperion | On Sale November 7, 2017) by New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne follows a healer and a solider on a high-stakes mission to spy on the Empire to uncover a deadly secret. With sizzling chemistry and a heartrending ethical dilemma, this thrilling fantasy with nuanced characters will capture fans of An Ember in the Ashes and The Lumatere Chronicles.

A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

New York Times best-selling author LIVIA BLACKBURNE has a PhD in neuroscience from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she conducted research on the neural correlates of reading. She still blogs on the intersection of writing and brain science, and she now lives in Los Angeles with her family. Livia is also the author of Midnight Thief, an Indies Introduce New Voices selection, and its sequel, Daughter of Dusk.

ROSEMARKED by Livia Blackburne 

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Wattpad | Add it on Goodreads

Hardcover: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | Book Depository
Ebook: Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo

Also by this author…

MIDNIGHT THIEF

New York Times Bestseller 2014
Indies Introduce New Voices Pick
2015 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee

Hardcover: Indiebound | Amazon Barnes and Noble | Book Depository
Ebook:  Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

DAUGHTER OF DUSK

Hardcover: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository
Ebook: Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Google Kobo

 

 

 

Book Review: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

New York City. 
1927.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.

And the dead are coming…

 
After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.
With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.
I…
I just…
I don’t even know where to start with this book. It is amazing. I consider myself to be one of Libba Bray’s top fans. I picked up A Great and Terrible Beauty back in 2003 when it was on the new arrivals shelf, and I’ve religiously followed her work since then. I have read The Gemma Doyle trilogy more times than I can count.
But this… this book is her best yet. It’s amazing – one of the best I’ve ever read. It has everything; gasp-inducing horror, tremendous character growth, an overall sense of dread that left me unable to put it down, and plot points that broke my heart. The cast of characters have grown so much over the first three books in Libba’s four-book series, and I feel as though they have become truly real and fleshed out by this entry.
My favorite thing about this book is that we continue to see more and more diversity throughout the cast. The cast is racially and ethnically diverse, but also includes many characters who identify as various sexualities. I would love to also see some gender diversity present, but I can not complain whatsoever because Libba is doing what I wish more YA authors were… characters who identify as a sexual minority are main characters, and their sexual orientation is not their defining characteristic.
That bears repeating. There are lesbian, gay, and questioning characters whose defining personality traits are NOT their sexualities. 
As I mentioned in my Lair of Dreams review, Libba does not shy away from discussing the harsh realities of being different in the 1920s. Unfortunately, some of these harsh realities described in Before the Devil Breaks You are still reflected in American culture today. Libba doesn’t pull punches.
This book is so intricate, and there are so many things going on, that I can’t say much without spoiling it. Trust me, this is a journey that you should take for yourself – totally spoiler free.
Also, if you have the chance, the Audible version of the book is incredible. January LaVoy is probably the best reader that I have ever listened to. I plan to look up more of her audiobooks just to hear her again!
Here’s to my first 5-Bard review! Before the Devil Breaks You certainly deserves it!

Book Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has left Justyce contemplative and on edge. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up (way up), much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Dear Martin has quickly been labeled a must read book for 2017 and overall I agree with that conclusion. Let’s get something out of the way though: the biggest disadvantage this book faces is that it was published in the same year as The Hate U Give (THUG). The authors are friends and the books deal with similar subject matter, so comparisons are inevitable. Readers of THUG will notice several points of overlap: Black protagonists who attend private schools, are in interracial relationships, live/grew up in a high crime area, witness a police involved shooting, have a prejudiced parent, have a “friend” who doesn’t understand the complexities of White privilege, etc.

To be clear, addressing issues of racism and police brutality in fiction is incredibly important and the more novels which deal with the subject, the better.

Dear Martin is designed to meet a need for modern readers, giving an insightful and in depth look at what it’s like to be a Black man in America in 2017, and it doesn’t hold back. The book packs a powerful emotional impact. My heart raced, I cried, and, above all, I got angry. Invoking such emotions in a reader is no small feat.

For me, the parts of the book which provoked the most intense reactions were the depictions of Justyce in the media after he is shot by the off-duty cop. It’s heartbreaking to see the ways in which he has to navigate life after news reports insinuate he is a criminal rather than a victim. Stone’s commentary on how media narratives contribute to racism and influence our perceptions of victims resonates in part because it is easy to recognize the real world stories which inspired her writing. It’s timely, relevant material for young readers who may be struggling to understand why stories about police shootings and media depictions matter.

While the book portrays the struggles of Black Americans, it does so by contrasting their lives with the White Americans with whom they interact. For readers who have never considered how racism continues to impact the Black community this can serve as an introduction to those realities. However, I felt some characters were there to check boxes; Blake, the unrepentant and clueless racist; Jared, the White dude whose racial views drastically evolve throughout the book; Melo, the on-again/off-again girlfriend whose actions lead to Justyce’s first police encounter. Nevertheless, they serve the purposes of the narrative well and I never felt like they were out of place (except Melo, who basically disappears from the book at some point, and I did not miss her).

The book also touches on the ways that limited exposure and negative interactions between people can create stereotypes and prejudices as many of the characters have no experience with the Black community beyond their encounters with Justyce, Manny, and the few other Black students at Braselton Prep. They deal in stereotypes or use their classmates as “evidence” that systemic racism does not exist. Stone’s work extends this discussion of discrimination as she touches on anti-Semitism through the character of Sarah Jane. At multiple times in the book when she is referred to as White it’s followed by a reminder that she is Jewish. While this does not mean she experiences the same disadvantages as Justyce, it is a friendly reminder to readers that prejudice takes many forms. Unfortunately, this is actually a way in which the book fails for me. Obviously Justyce’s story and life extend beyond his mistreatment by the police, but a significant portion of the book focuses on the fact that Justyce’s mother doesn’t want him dating White girls. Unfamiliar readers can project onto this, and it could feed into a narrative of “reverse racism” (which doesn’t exist, by the way).

Additionally, Stone’s premise of having Justyce engage with the work of Martin Luther King Jr. was intriguing to me. Quite often in narratives surrounding modern protest, dissenting voices like to argue that “this is not what Dr. King would do,” and Stone’s work is directly engaging with that flawed argument (flawed because those critiques ignore the true experience of MLK in the 1960s and turn him into a convenience). Justyce’s attempts reflect this complexity as well as the problem of applying philosophical frameworks in an effective way. His struggle, and at times abandonment, of being “like Martin” helps demonstrate that communities and movements cannot be distilled into one voice. I was a bit confused though because from the promotional materials, summaries, and title, I assumed that much of the book would center around Justyce’s journal addressed to King, but the book is not epistolary and the letters are so few and brief that they are largely extraneous to the plot, which is a shame because they are beautiful. We see Justyce develop and grapple with societal questions clearly in those moments because they are written in first, rather than third, person.

As a side note to that, I had two main critiques of the work itself. I wasn’t always happy with Stone’s use of point of view which was predominantly third person limited. At times it read as stage directions or a script, which worked well for the conversations but made larger scenes and time jumps seem stilted. I also did not like the opening of the book. It’s a move I’ve seen more and more (including in THUG) but opening with an incredibly dramatic scene (Jus’s unlawful detention) does not work for me. I objectively understand: my empathy for victims of injustice should not require an emotional connection to the person, but I find it jarring. It took me until around Chapter 5-6 to finally connect with the characters and engage with them as rounded figures. Those early chapters felt like reading a play built out of stock characters and part of that was down to the recoil I felt from the opening.

There are other things I could discuss in this review. The depictions of successful Black men (Manny’s father (a businessman) and Doc (a teacher)), the humanization of gang members and the incarcerated, and on and on. For a short book, it manages to contain a multitude. However, I think the main thing to take away from this book is that it adds to the conversation by giving readers an opportunity to learn, reflect, and engage with a narrative that many have seen played out on TV but haven’t really thought about or considered from the perspective of those living these experiences. While it isn’t perfect, for me this was a four bard tale, without question.

Midsummer Meets Marie Lu

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