Blog Tour Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.

Release Date: April 25, 2017

When I started The Whole Thing Together, I immediately fell for Sasha and Ray.  I loved the way they spoke about each other.  Almost reverent tones reflected the lovely thoughts they each held for the other.  Ray reminisced about the summer they built a Lego city together and talked about the safety he found in their shared bed. Sasha mused about his stubble in the sink and their shared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I was hooked from the start on the beautiful things they thought about the other and the fact that while they didn’t know each other, they had feelings beyond fondness.

As we stepped into the lives of the rest of the family, however, I had less love.  I felt disinterested in Emma’s perfection, irritated by Quinn’s sage thoughtfulness and downright hated Mattie’s bratty behavior.  I pressed on through the drama and the hardship though.  It was worth it for the beauty and simplicity of Ray and Sasha and their sweetness.  I rolled my eyes at the arrogant Robert, the timid Jamie & Evie and the flighty Lila.  Adam and Jonathan were barely on my radar.  Overwhelmed by character names? I was too, at first.  I often wondered, why did she include all these other character’s stories, why not just focus on Ray and Sasha and their perspective.

However, as I read on I began to relate to Emma and it hit me, this family was a lot like my own.  My parents were divorced when I was young and growing up I often wondered if they would ever be able to be in the same room without a brawl breaking out.  I have five younger brothers and sisters in total and I don’t bother with explaining the halves of any siblings.  As Ann Brashares newest book came to its conclusion, the answer to my question became clear.  Brashares included the stories of each character and the perspective of each kid because that’s how a family works.  If something happens in a family that seems small to one person, it can ripple its way to another and they can get hit by wave.  I used to think about this a lot as a kid.  Worry about how my life choices could hurt my mom or drive away my dad.  Eventually, thankfully, I discovered that our lives can’t be lived that way.  Everything we do can affect those we love but that doesn’t mean we should make choices for everyone else. It is the opposite actually. Choose love, kindness and goodness and it will give you the strength to ride out the waves that can be created.  This book reminded me of the importance of family, the good, the bad and the ugly.

It is a beautiful picture of love in its purest form and its darkest (also known as hate).  Life is not as two dimensional as it can seem; sometimes we are an Emma- overachieving our hearts out, occasionally we are a Mattie- misbehaving for attention or to hide a truth unspoken and maybe a few of you are lucky enough to be a Quinn- wise and thoughtful.  I strive to be a Sasha- modest, brave and overcoming my anxieties with love and beautiful thoughts.

This is a great story for teens and adults and just to top it off, it’s set at the beach, bringing the concept of ripple to wave full circle.

4.5 bards

 

 

Special thanks to contributor Lesley for reading and reviewing this book for A Midsummer Night’s Read.

 

 

 

Guest Book Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

 

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Lesley (left) and Cassie (Right)

As you know, many of my best friends are helping out Team Midsummer with our LGBT History Month Celebration, and today’s Guest Book Review is by Lesley!  Lesley and Jess met at church a few years back, enjoyed many a trivia night together, and are now part of the fabulous five best friend group.  Lesley is now married to Cassie (another one of our Guest Reviewers!) and they are the most adorable of the adorable.

 

11595276When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship — one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to ‘fix’ her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self — even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

I grew up in a very small farming community in rural Michigan.  My parents were evangelical Christians and most of my friends and their families were, in some form, Christian too.  I was a “jock girl”, very tall, athletic, slightly arrogant and underneath it all, very gay.  Given this information, it would seem obvious to anyone reading the notes about The Miseducation of Cameron Post to see why I might have identified with Emily M. Danforth’s plucky main character.

However, Cam’s tomboy antics, Jesus-loving friends and family and pension for lady love aren’t the only things that make her relatable.  In fact, most of us can identify with Cam’s struggle for acceptance and identity regardless of our experiences or sexual orientation.  In The Miseducation of Cameron Post, we follow Cam on a journey from ages twelve to seventeen as she looks for her true self in her relationships, struggles and daily life.  She seeks acceptance from friends, lovers and the adults in her life the way any child would.  In the end Cameron finds the most satisfaction in accepting herself and in starting a life that reflects her beliefs and choices.

After a youthful crush and sugar-sweet first kiss, Cam experiences a devastating loss.  Forced to navigate her formative years with only her born-again aunt and elderly grandma to guide her, Cam gets into the usual trouble created by the boredom of teens in small town America.  Her trouble is often overlooked until her greatest secret is twisted from the truth and revealed as a dark path from which she must be saved.   Instead of finishing out high school, Cam is sent to a rehabilitation school for kids with similar “afflictions”.

This book is one that tells the story of each of us as we grow in a world that prefers the status quo.  While the subject matter is a bit dark, the depth of Danforth’s characters creates a light and lovely story.  It reminds us to celebrate our differences and that a diverse world is a beautiful one.

I absolutely recommend this book for anyone struggling with self-acceptance for any reason.

4 Bards, as I liked the book, but the ending left me hanging, which I didn’t really like.

fourbards

Guest Review & Author Interview: Daybreak Rising by Kiran Oliver

Team Midsummer has reached out to a few friends to participate in our celebration of LGBT History Month, and Jessica’s college friend, Leia, decided to step to the plate to hit this one out of the park! Check out her review of indie author Kiran Oliver’s Daybreak Rising, and the interview below!

 

Celosia Brennan was supposed to be a hero. After a spectacular failure that cost her people their freedom, she is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance at redemption. Together with a gifted team of rebels, she not only sets her sights on freedom, but defeating her personal demons along the way.

Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—except for Ianthe, a powerful Ice Elementalist who happens to believe in second chances.

With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not just their country, but the entire world. 

Sitting down to write this review wasn’t the easiest thing. I’ll be frank with you; I loved this book. ADORED it. However, in the spirit of being honest, I should also tell you that I adore the author. He and I have been friends for about six years – and he introduced me to my husband. I’ve spent the past few days trying to separate my love for the book from my love for Kiran, but I’m not totally sure that that’s possible. I’m going to do my best to write this review in a non-biased, non-spoilery way!

First, Daybreak Rising’s main character, Celosia Brennan, has dealt with life-crushing failure. This isn’t a spoiler – you learn about it within the first few pages of the book – and it sets the frame for who Celosia is as a person. Through the book, she has this intense weight bearing on her shoulder for what happened before Daybreak Rising begins. You will have to read it to see how she grows from this position, but trust me… the journey is definitely worth it!

Celosia’s journey includes many characters who are people of color and characters who fall many places along the sexuality and gender spectrums. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve read a more diverse book. These characters added a richness to the story that made me feel like I was making new friends that were real. Kiran’s character development made them real for me.

Another unique piece of the book is the way that magic and technology is woven together. At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable and nervous about the combination, but the two coexisted so seamlessly that it felt natural.

Overall, I don’t want to say too much about Daybreak Rising. It was such a unique, exhilarating experience that I won’t soon forget.

4 Bards

fourbards

 

 

 

 

Author Interview:

Leia on behalf of Team Midsummer (LKC): Thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview. I am really excited to be reviewing your book and everything!

Kiran Oliver (KO): No problem! Thank you for thinking of it!

 

LKC: What inspired you to write this novel?

KO: Honestly my wife. We were doing email-based role-play based off Harry Potter …judge me all you want… and she actually put a stop to it and said, “Look. Your writing is at the point where you need to just sit down and write a book.” so I did. She’s been telling me to write one for years, but she finally put her foot down.

 

LKC: Did you purposefully set out to write with such a diverse cast of characters?

KO: Yes. Absolutely. That’s always been something I was focused on. Particularly as my wife is a queer person of color and I’m a transgender guy on the autistic/ace/queer spectrum myself along with being Jewish. The cultural, religious, and gender/sexuality/romance diversity was important to me to have in there.

 

LKC: One of the things that I love so much about Celosia is that, at the start of the book, she has experienced some major, seemingly life crushing failure. What made you decide to write about a character who had experienced this?

KO: I honestly was just like, “OK. I’m really tired of the standard heroine that has the world at her feet just waiting to be ordered around by her/she can do no wrong. Let’s flip that on its head.” so with Celosia, I was basically like, “Here, have some crushing failure. Now let’s see how you bounce back from it.” having her have to earn the respect of not only her comrades but the entirety of Esonith is something that’s very important.

 

LKC: I happen to know that you are an avid role player. Were any of your characters influenced by characters that you RP?

KO: You can put in there: Yep. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for about 7 years. Kayvun has a lot of ties to my character Caoilainn. Particularly her accent. Though I’ve got to say Kayvun had a better upbringing than Cai did.

 

LKC: What was it like writing about your RP character(s)?

KO: It was so loosely done that in the end I could see glimpses of Caoilainn in Kayvun, but she became her own person entirely by the end of it. The only things still really ringing true for Caoilainn’s influence are Kayvun’s accent.

 

LKC: Can you tell us a little bit about the world building involved in Daybreak Rising?

KO: That was honestly the best part for me. I really enjoyed it. I think my favorite locations have to be Dakul and Basau. Though, in the next book I’m really looking forward to showing everyone what the Ardonians have been up to over the last 7 years. I worked incredibly hard to bring realism in terms of religion and culture into it. This is really seen in Basau and Dakul especially. I also enjoyed the breakdown of not only currency and culture, but magic between regions.

 

LKC: I really loved the way that you combined magic with technology. What made you decide to do that?

KO: I figured it was something that’s usually not done. Often, books are either hard to the left or the right. Either it’s your usual fantasy with oil lamps and furs, or there’s so much technology you feel like you need a PhD in Computer Science just to read the book. I thought it would be best to create a comfortable blend of the two.

 

LKC: What can we expect from you in the future?

KO: I’m going to be working on the next book in the Embers of Redemption series for later next year to be put out by a new publisher, as will all my future titles. More on that publisher later, folks. I’m working on a novel called Dragonsong at the moment, which is a lovely blend of similar futuristic magic and technology in a much more modern secondary world, with a university setting for a large chunk of the story.

 

LKC: That sounds right up my alley.

KO: It involves shapeshifting dragons, centaur baristas, badass knife-wielding princesses, and Knights wearing neon that are kind of your average jocks. It’s glorious.

 

LKC: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

KO: That even if you fuck up beyond belief, keep pushing forward. Keep improving, and don’t give up. Anything is within your reach.

 

LKC: What do you want to say to young LGBT readers, maybe something that you didn’t hear?

KO: Your gender identity is valid. Your orientation is valid. It might change as you get older, and that’s OK. Don’t let anyone put you in a box. If you think a community is becoming toxic, get away from it as fast as you can. Find friends that will support and respect you.

 

Daybreak Rising is on sale for $1.99 this week.  Check it out!

Guest Post: Words

Quick Introduction to my Guest Post:  This post was originally posted on one of my best friend’s meandeve
blogs, Queen’s English, and she has suggested we use it here as a guest post.  Many of my close friends are bibliophiles and have amazing insight into the written word.  So let me introduce you to one of my very dear friends, Eve.  She moved here from England a few years back, and once I insulted her eating beans for breakfast, we were practically inseparable.  She so willingly shared her TBT post with us here at A Midsummer Night’s Read. Please be sure to visit her blog as well!

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I am passionate about words. I read a decent amount of them. I’ve been inherently tuned in to lyrics and verse for my entire conscious life, and remember an inordinate amount of songs even when I’ve only heard them once, or not for years. As a child, I read prolifically, and started early. As an adult, I’m extremely picky when it comes to reading. I’ll decide within the first few pages whether or not I can finish a book. I have to be passionate about it. For a long time, I only read poetry, because I valued succinct beauty, not long-winded story telling. I even found a poem that explained that preference, that need. If I’m not totally absorbed, enthralled, engaged, then I won’t finish the book. I’ve given up feeling guilty about it: I’m not a patient reader. I’m a selfish, greedy, gobble-it-up reader, who doesn’t want to read novels that ‘might get better’ or have some kind of ‘classic literature value’. That said, I feel like having more free time this past year has improved my reading habits, and I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading a lot more, and a wider range, too.

 

Book reviews aren’t really my thing, and the last time I think I mentioned a book on this blog in any significant way was when I finished ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, and that was around this time last year. Since then I’ve read several novels and a couple of guide books, including ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy, ‘Dog Training for Dummies’, and (I’m mildly embarrassed to say) ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. That last one can be chalked up to liking to be informed about things I’m mocking and the fact that, sometimes, an easy book is something I like too. Still in my queue are ‘Me The People’ and ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’.

 

I recently finished reading ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ by Cheryl Strayed, and I am absolutely and utterly compelled to write something about it. I’ve not felt this way about a book in a long time, and possibly never about a non-fiction book. One of her readers describes her words as ‘sacred’, and I actually don’t think it’s an exaggeration. You must, must, must read this book. It’s stunning.

 

What started as an advice column on the book club website ‘The Rumpus’ has resulted in – you guessed it – a book. It’s more than just a collection of columns (although essentially those are its main components), because it explains the background of how Cheryl Strayed became ‘Sugar’, and a little of who Chery Strayed is, too. But it’s not just a collection of columns in the figurative sense, either, because these aren’t just columns. They are beautiful, soul-clenching missives that you want to bundle up and somehow ingest, to remember their wisdom, their particular phrasing that rings that distant ‘oh, of course!’ bell. They speak to you as though you always knew their truth; they reassure you that it’s okay to fuck up; they remind you that you’re human in a way that gives you an innate tugging somewhere in your belly, connecting you to it all.

 

I’m a little concerned that I’ll come across as fanatical if I continue in this vein, plus I’m certain that my words aren’t enough to do justice to hers. I’m also reluctant to directly quote some of her letters because I don’t want to spoil the discovery of them for you. Finally, I don’t want to misrepresent what Sugar does. Her work isn’t about mollycoddling, whatever you write to her about. She is honest, sometimes brutally and shockingly so. She swears (I think rather effectively, but this may put some people off). She is soothing, she is open (sometimes using personal stories to illustrate her replies), she is hilarious, and she shows such empathy that sometimes it breaks your heart almost as much as the reason she’s been written to.

 

So, I’ll just tell you how I found ‘Dear Sugar’, and maybe drop in one quote and leave it at that. A friend posted Sugar’s Column #48on their Facebook page and tagged me and a few others in it, meaning to give some inspiration for being perseverant in the pursuit of one’s dreams. In all honesty, I thought that the letter to Sugar was the thing I was supposed to be reading to start with, as that was pretty damn good. But then Sugar came in, responding to that young female writer-who-couldn’t-write’s cry for help. I was… entranced? Breathless? All sounds a bit like a romantic novel, doesn’t it?! But I sat with goosebumps up and down my arms, a few happy tears trailing down my cheeks, and an immediate desire to read it again. And again. And again. The way Strayed could be kind, firm, funny, inspirational, sweet, tough, and caring all at once impressed me so much. The ability to unify these elements, to simultaneously open out and condense the writer’s issues, and then to find on reading the collection that she could do it with each and every diverse, painful, wonderfully human letter written to her – ah.

 

“The unifying theme is resilience and faith.”

 

Read this book.

 

–Eve

Guest Post: Angela Corbett

Eternal_Echoes

 

What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on the Emblem of Enternity trilogy? 

When I was young, my parents gave me a set of read-along books. My favorite was a book with hairy little guys who were trying to help destroy a ring. I loved following along with The Hobbit and hearing about Orcs, Elves, and Frodo and Sam. I fell in love with reading at that moment, and realized all of the things that I could experience through the mind of an author.

I loved reading so much that I spent far more time in the library than anywhere else. Story time was my favorite part of the school day, and I couldn’t get enough of books. I wanted more hobbits, more fairies, more places to escape to. I was seven when my elementary school librarian gave me a copy of The Fairy Rebel, by Lynne Reid Banks. I devoured it, and read it over and over again. I was obsessed with the rebellious little fairy and the thought that maybe, just maybe, fairies could be real.

Reading led me to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. After consulting with my parents, I realized I was too tall to be a hobbit, and dragonslayers and fairies were tricky jobs to get, so I decided to create worlds of my own. I started writing when I was eight. At first, I wrote poetry, and then I started writing short stories. By the time I was a teenager, I had a file full of book ideas I escaped to every night with a pen and a notebook.

Whether the books are paranormal, contemporary, historical, or fantasy, I just love a good story. I love great characters, a plot that keeps me guessing, humor, and kissing…lots of kissing! They’re elements I look for in books I read, and elements I try to incorporate into all of the books I write. I love sitting at my desk in the quiet of the night, listening to my characters tell me what’s going to happen next. Just like when I was a teenager, it’s still an escape for me, only now I do it with a laptop instead of notebook and pen.

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