Book Review: A Million Junes by Emily Henry

Please welcome the newest member of Team Midsummer: Liz! Liz met Lyv way back at a To Write Love On Her Arms conference and they stayed in touch.  Then, as Jess and Lyv became friends, Jess and Liz “virtually” met via Tumblr, and finally met in person at YallFest 2016.  Give a big welcome to her and help us celebrate her first official review:

About Liz:

 

Liz is a History major with a double minor in archaeology and statistics, who is currently on a hiatus from going to school. Her first love is history but her second love is reading. She didn’t get into reading until she was 21 and she found comfort and courage in the characters. The series that really started her love of books was Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas. Romance novels are her guilty pleasure but her real love is YA books. Some of her favorite books are Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester and of course literally anything Sarah J Maas writes.

 

 

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.

 

I feel like it should be known i have never been a big fan of Romeo & Juliet. Their relationship is unrealistic.  I typically try to avoid books that have the Romeo & Juliet storyline, but I received an ARC so I decided to give it a try anyway.  I am so glad I gave it a try!

A Million Junes follows June(her real name is Jack but everyone calls her June) and Saul and their desire to be together but mainly needing to know why their families hate each other. Which leads them to learning why and how their families are cursed. Finding out what the curse is, is a whirlwind adventure.  Although it might not keep you on the edge of your seat, it does keep you interested.

When I first found out Saul was 21 I was worried this would be a book about a man much older than the main character because June is still in high school. For me, I automatically get worried when a book mentions age differences specifically if one of those people are in high school.  If the characters are not consenting adults or at least both in high school, I will put a book down and never pick it up again.  But it turns out June is 18. The fact that the main characters are two consenting adults is wonderful (compared to Juliet being 13 and Romeo being an age that is never disclosed, but we can assume is older than Juliet).  

When I first started this book I expected everyone to die (how could I not?! The description said it was like “Romeo & Juliet.”).

SPOILER ALERT:
I was happy when nobody ended up dying but enough does happen where for most of the end you expect one of the characters to end up dead.  The more information you get about the curse the more you assume someone is going to die. There is simply no avoiding it. A Million Junes didn’t fall into the YA cliche of “and they lived happily ever after.”  There is still room for these characters to grow but you don’t feel like you are being left with a cliffhanger.  If the author wants to write a sequel she could, but I think where it ended is a good place.

My favorite quote from A Million Junes was :

“‘June, Moments are like cherries.  They’re meant to be relished. Shared – not hoarded.  You can clutch one terrible moment or experience all the rest.  Your life is slipping past in brilliant little bits…’”

I am someone who spends a lot of time thinking more about the bad memories than the good. This quote made me realize I am missing out on so many good memories by holding on to the bad ones. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting the bad memories go and living in the now and enjoying your life as much as possible. I feel like part of the reason I enjoyed reading about June so much was because of the journey she went on and the growth she experienced.

This book was a happy surprise for me.  I am so pleased I picked it up and gave it a chance.

3.5 Bards!

You can pre-order A Million Junes now!

 

ARC Giveaway: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

 

 

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Author & Event Spotlight

The Event: Nemesis Book Launch

Where: Barnes and Noble at the Arboretum, Charlotte NC
When: Tuesday, March 21
Who: Brendan Reichs and Renée Ahdieh

This was by far one of the most original panel discussions I’ve ever attended for a book launch, and it might be one of my favorites!  Brendan came prepared with a list of random questions for him and Renée to start off the event.  Those in attendance were treated to a lively conversation where we learned that Brendan’s least favorite word is Pamphlet and Renée’s is one that rhymes with “oist,” although I think everyone dislikes that word (not just you, Brad!).  Both authors told about their Hogwarts houses, Brendan apparently tried to rig the quiz to get Gryffindor, but still ended up a Ravenclaw (Yaaaaas!) with an Eagle Owl patronus (#Same).  Renée is a proud Slytherin, who used to lie about being a Gryffindor, apparently a very Slytherin thing to do and the patronus of a rat, which she is fine with because Ratatouille.

My favorite part of this part was that after asking the audience to choose a number between 1 and 50, they took turns reading a small snippet from each other’s newest releases to the crowd. Someone hollered out 23, so I got this part on video for everyone! They then followed up with a brief summary of their inspiration for these books and what they are about. You can definitely tell these two are good friends and are hilarious together.

After asking each other a few rounds of questions about their books, Brendan was equipped with a Polar Express Conductors hat full of random rapid fire questions for himself and Renée, and coincidentally, those of us in the front row. Some of these conductor questions included Magic Wand or Light Saber, Hogwarts Headmaster or Starfleet Captian, Ghost or Ghostbuster, Prehistoric Times or the year 3010, and on and on.  It was pretty fun and I think it allowed the audience to feel more engaged, although I’m a bit partial since I was able to do the participating.

Brendan and Renée then signed books for the crowd (and there was an impressive one!).  Check out more photos below sprinkled between my interview with the star of the evening, Brendan Reichs!

Midsummer Reads (MSNR): Thanks so much for sitting down with me, are you excited?

Brendan Reichs (BR): I’ve very excited, tonight is the first night I’ve ever done a book event for Nemesis, so it’s a big deal.

MSNR: Yes! And it’s in your hometown.

BR: It is, it’s fun to do it at home. It’s actually a little nerve wracking to do it at home just because you know a lot of people in the audience, so it’s not like having that distance you have with a normal crowd, but it’ll be great.

MSNR: Are a lot of people you know coming?

BR: Uh, they better.

MSNR: That’s how I would be; Uh, I’d better see you or someone’s going to get hurt.

BR: I’m taking names.

MSNR: So this book is super complex.

BR: It is.

MSNR: I was reading it and I was like, SO MANY THINGS HAPPENING. Could you describe it in one sentence to a reader?

BR: I actually try. That’s why it was so hard to actually sell the idea because trying to describe it was too crazy to get it into one sentence. Basically…

MSNR (interrupting because I’m rude): You can describe it in a run-on sentence

BR: I would describe Nemesis as Min is a girl at 16 years old and every two years on her birthday she is murdered by the same person except she doesnt die like a normal person, instead she wakes up about a half a mile away without a scratch on her every single time. So on her 16th birthday after she’s been murdered for the 5th time she’s finally had enough and decides she needs to figure this out.  No one is really paying attention to her because there’s this world wide calamity going on where there’s an asteroid heading towards the planet and no one knows when it’s going to hit. And there’s this bit national/international human existence story going on. So there’s very little attention being paid to the trials of a teenager in Idaho.

MSNR (Interrupting, again, because I’m the worst): Right, because no one pays attention to teenagers.

BR: Right, exactly. And there’s another character, and this book has been fun because it’s the first time I’ve written a male point of view in my career, so Noah is having the same things happen to him except that he’s a little bit less stable than Min.  He’s a – kind of one of those guys that on the outside he – he’s a rich kid and she’s a poor kid – he’s trying to keep everything together but really he is a mess. Because he’s been having the same thing happen to him but he doesn’t trust himself to know that it’s even real. So these two things are happening and they eventually decide and they start to investigate that everyone around them starts to be suddenly implicated and you can’t trust anyone. And they find out that they might be at the center of a vast government conspiracy that may implicate all life on Earth.

MSNR: That is a big run on sentence. I’m okay with it.

BR: Yes, it is.

MSNR: So when I was reading it, I found it to be kind of a commentary on human emotion and the way that human nature really plays into the certain aspects of the two characters, specifically, and how they react to this outside force that’s coming onto them.  Very much like Lord of the Flies, like, they are put in this situation, how are they going to react?

BR: That is an essential influence, and I think the publisher likes to use the tagline of “Orphan Black meets Lord of the Flies,” which is an interesting combination, but there’s no good parallel anyway. But that’s what you want and I appreciate that you say that, because you want the story to be about the characters. Ultimately there’s a lot of plot going on in this book and if you stick with it it will all unwind itself, but it winds up pretty heavily at the beginning where you’re not really supposed to know what the hell is going on for a large portion of the book, and then it’s really good that it’s supposed to be centered on the characters because ultimately that’s where every story either fails or survives is on how good the characters are, because the best plot in the world doesn’t survive if you don’t care what happens. So I spent a lot of time trying to put the characters together, I hate the term strong female protagonist because that implies that your female antagonist has to be masculine or different in a way, you know, I just like to think of her as a strong person, and it shouldn’t be noteworthy that she is female, and it was interesting to get to write a male character’s perspective, although I’ve not read the entire breadth of YA, but I’d never read a YA where the male lead was basically kind of a mess.

(Literally this whole time I’m nodding my head and agreeing, because Brendan has taken over the interview **in a good way**) 

BR (continued): So i thought that would be fun because that’s normally assigned to a female character, so you get to overcome their internal difficulties, which can be boring, but what if this is a 15 to 16 year old boy who is putting the good face out there but doesn’t really have an idea of what he is doing with his life. I mean what is happening to him and stuff. So that was the motivation for that. If you like the characters then that’s exactly what I’m about.

MSNR: I actually assigned them songs: Um, I put Min as being very much like Titanium by David Guetta and Sia.

BR: That’s very good.

MSNR: And then I put Noah as more of the Bleachers, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, um, Jack Antonoff, and it’s called I Wanna Get Better. It’s about mental health and screaming at himself “I wanna get better,” I want to be better than this, and that’s kind of exactly how I see Noah.

BR: Somewhere in the blogosphere (*waves* hey everyone!) there’s a, and I believe it’s for YA Highway, I’d have to look it up, but I did make two playlists. On the Min Playlist, the first song is a Halsey song, because when I listened to her album that just clicked to me, I was like, this is that kind of angry but not a pushover type vibe that I was getting. Like she was pissed off and isolated, but she’s also not asking for favors.

MSNR: Which I really like. Because sometimes girls are perceived as being, you know, weak and asking for help a lot. At least in the South, which is what I grew up with.

BR: And there’s some great YA being written right now with female lead characters, so this is in no way sort of any genre defining effort, just that in the beginning the came fully formed to me, and that she would be isolated and damaged by what had happened to her, but NEVER broken by it. Just that she’s a fighter and she stays that way even though it does have it’s affects. YOu know she acts like she has no friends..

MSNR: Awe, but I like Tack though. Even though he never knows when to shut up.

BR: No, he doesn’t And Tack is sort of my character, and every one of my books that I write, there’s basically one character that’s sort of me talking through the book, you know what I would say in each situation, because I’m kind of a smart ass that doesn’t know when to be quiet either, and that’s sort of Tack in this book.  He’s basically saying the things that I would be saying when I shouldn’t be, you know, running my mouth.

MSNR: Honestly there’s a little bit of all of us in Tack, probably, especially when we were teenagers and never knowing quite when to be quiet.

THIS IS THE SPOT WHERE WE TALK ABOUT SPOILERY THINGS. 

PROMISED BRENDAN IT WOULD BE OFF THE RECORD *SINGS* LALALALALALA

BR: This was the last piece that fell into place for the book. I’m a big planner and when you write books like this that are so plot oriented they have to make sense and you have to keep track of what’s happening.

Matchy-matchy!

MSNR: So let’s just refer to it as “The Twist,” so where you plotting the book and then “the twist,” fell in or you were influenced by outside research?

BR: Most of the time the best ideas that come to me when I’m writing come to me about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft. This is when I’ve been living with the idea for about two months, and I’ll wake up one day, and typically in the shower, it will come to me and will have connected overnight. And this was one of the last pieces to come in and it was really three book ideas that all really came together in this crazy boo, which is why it’s so overbaked in terms of that there’s so much in it and because I had all this stuff and I managed to slot it all in together.

MSNR: I know, but I like that it has so much in it because it keeps you on your toes. I literally had to put it down to go to sleep, and I was so concerned about trying to figure out what was happening!

BR: And this is the stuff that I like to read…

Renée Ahdieh (RA)  shows up being adorable: Totally crashing!

MSNR: Hi, how are you!

RA: Good, how are you?

MSNR: Good!

RA (to BR): What’s up, how are you feeling?

BR: Good, good.

MSNR: This is weird, but you smell really good. (I still think this is weird but I had to keep this in haha)

BR: She always smells good, it’s a signature.

RA (wanders away, being fabulous): *laughing at us* I do like that.

MSNR: So, I’m not going to lie. The guy in the black suit? I totally pictured him as Agent Smith from the Matrix the whole time, and maybe that’s because I grew up with the Matrix, but yeah.

BR: No, that’s fair. And for our generation it would be an Agent Smith type- I mean- for me he looks a little different. Although for me, and this is probably not something I should admit to an audience, but I find the way the character looks, and in the book I’m consistent in the way the character looks but in my head that’s never how the character looks.  it’s just a weird dissonance that no one’s ever called out before because no one knows what things look like in my head.

MSNR: In my head he looked like Agent Smith.

BR: Right, for me he’s more of a Guy Pierce, but yeah you know it’s like a flat hair, flat face individual. And I just finished drafting the second draft of the sequel…

MSNR: So we are going to learn more about the project?

BR: It gets darker and deeper and a lot of the Lord of the Flies aspects are really going to come to the fore, because one of the questions I was dealing with was, the main premise, which was that I wanted to fight the finality of death, and what if death was not final; but not in like a zombie way or a ghost way or a resurrection way, but legitimately if it just didn’t work. Like, you died but you didn’t.

MSNR: As long as Tack isn’t Piggy the whole time.

BR: Right. Well, there’s a lot of, and you know I read Lord of the Flies, and you realize only two people die in that.

MSNR: Yes, but you get it.

BR: But they played it and it’s so beautifully written and you get their dissent. And with my book, I’m hoping to get that same thing, but also that a lot of people die. Because you know with Min’s experience in this book, death has not been permanent and that is such a central question. How would you deal with that? How do you deal with the idea that something that you know should be the end of something isnt? And you can’t really control it?

MSNR: I think the last question I have for you, because I don’t want to keep you too long, is that why you decided to do it on their birthdays, and you know not on…

BR: That is a question that will be revealed, and there’s a lot of little detail strings that are still out there and that’s because you don’t really know at the end of Nemesis, what is next. This book leads you to a point, but it doesn’t take you past that.  And a careful reader would ask themselves, “wait, why was this happening,” but I haven’t gotten to that yet.  That’s a great answer. You know if I didn’t answer it, “Oh, it’s in book 2!” And then I’m like, will you write that down and send it to me? Just in case I made a mistake.

MSNR: When can we expect book two?

BR: Uh, it should be a year. I mean I’m putting in the drafts now so I expect roughly the same time next year.  You know, we don’t have much say. I really like Spring releases, which you never know, but I assume it would be next spring.

MSNR: Well, thank you so much for talking with me!

BR: No, thank you so much.

MSNR: It was so good to meet you in person!

BR: Good to meet you too, and I’ll see you..

MSNR: Yep, you’ll see me in a few minutes!

 

A huge and special thanks to Brendan Reichs, Penguin Teen, and Renée Ahdieh for the event on March 21.

Nemesis is available NOW! Go pick up a copy.

 

 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically.

When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

Book Review & Giveway: The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

I swear, I went from reading about two contemporary bad ass women in Done Dirt Cheap to reading about bad ass women in at the height of the Roman Empire. Can we just keep these powerful female narratives flowing?  All of them have a reader in me!

In all honesty, I’ve never seen Gladiator.  I’ve never really paid a whole lot of attention this time period in history, so most of my knowledge of Julius Caesar comes from Shakespeare’s tragedy.  So to say that I had no idea of the wealth of information that can be expanded upon in this time is pretty much an understatement, but I learned so much just talking to Lesley and hearing how passionate she is on the subject.  If I didn’t have so many books to already read, I’d probably pick up a few on Ancient Rome.  Although, I feel like there’s probably a Wikipedia spiral on this topic in my future.

Anyway, let’s start with a bit about where Lesley got the inspiration to write about this topic (see the lovely video):

This book gave me life.

Everything about it spoke to me. I have a rough relationship with my sister, Fallon has a rough relationship with her sister.  Fallon is a bit reckless and is constantly wanting to prove herself, I have those same qualities.  I think there is a lot about this book that teenagers will take from this.  That there are always bad ass women in history that have been marginalized or forgotten due to the nature of HIStorical recording, and that women can chart their own paths. I sincerely wish this has been out when I was scheduling the books for my Feminist Book club this year, because I think it can bring a lot of great discussion about the status of women then and how this narrative can showcase the women’s movement today through its story.

Favorite tertiary character in The Valiant is by far Cleopatra.  That’s right, THE Cleopatra.  Now, she’s not in the book a whole lot, but she has one of my absolute favorite lines in the novel, one that, if I’m going to another women’s march, I might put on a sign: “A woman ought to be able to chart her own course in life.” YAS QUEEN. *bows to the queen* Also, according to Livingston, the timeline of The Valiant puts Cleopatra in her early twenties as a young mother since she and Caesar were “very close friends,” which means the narrative takes place around two years prior to the assassination of Caesar and the Ides of March (which, coincidentally, was yesterday).  Apparently this is something to remember because when I asked her about this in regards to the sequel, The Defiant, Livingston promptly started to mumble nonsense instead of answering (Seriously, I love this woman).

Livingston manages to explore the complexities of familial relationships and friendships, but the different aspects of first love and how moving on from heartbreak is hard but necessary. This entire novel is fast paced and is filled with action after action.  You will not be bored and you will fall in love with this book.

5 Bards.

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**US and Canada Only**

Penguin Teen On Tour

 

Where: Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC
When: Monday, March 13
Who: Renee Ahdieh, Natalie C. Anderson, Alwyn Hamilton, Lesley Livingston

Thanks so much to Penguin Teen for allowing me to feature the fabulous ladies on the Spring 2017 Penguin Teen tour, or #Slaydies as they like to be referred to!

This event was definitely a highlight for me on a rainy and dreary North Carolina Monday.  It’s been about two years since I last visited Quail Ridge Books, and the last time I was there it was a much smaller place, and their new (to me) location is absolutely gorgeous with it’s red walls and spacious floor plan.  Also, I totally loved walking around prior to the arrival of the #Slaydies and discovering the goodies they have on their shelves. I totally found an original vinyl of LET IT BLEED by the Rolling Stones!  Seriously, if you are going to visit Raleigh, you need to make the North Hills Shopping Center and Quail Ridge Books one of your first stops.

Apparently this was the first official panel at Quail Ridge, according to Nancy, who was hosting!  So that made this even more special.  The floor was packed with the members of the Quail Ridge Teen Board, the lovely and large family of Natalie C. Anderson (who is a fellow NC Lady!), some fellow long distance drivers (*waves to Zoey!*), and some local readers.

Nancy started the event off with forty-five minutes of panel discussion with Alwyn, Renee, Natalie, and Lesley.  I think my favorite question of these was definitely how the main characters from their novels would get along and how they’d pull off a heist Ocean’s Eleven style.  Amani and Shazi, per Alwyn and Renee, respectively, would rush in guns blazing, as it were without a proper plan, whereas Tina would be judging them for not creating a proper plan, and Fallon would just be wanting to figure out when the fighting would take place.  I’d seriously watch this movie…maybe a crossover would be a fabulous idea?! *wishes*

After this the crowd was able to ask some questions and they were excellent!  First we had the “what kind of plate would you be” question, which, I think everyone would want to be a giant plate for ALL of the food, although I have to agree with Alwyn and say that I’d want to have one of those plates that are shaped like a book.  (They are REAL!)

I think everyone agreed on which character of theirs would survive the Hunger Games, most definitely the Celtic Gladiatrix, Fallon.

My personal favorite question was my own (I mean, Duh), which was: Since all four novels feature such fierce female characters, what would each be doing in light of the women’s movement today? See Video for all four answers!

The next question was what kind of advice they would give to aspiring authors and what they learned from the process.
Things we learned here:

-Alwyn wrote 6 full novels before even querying Rebel of the Sands
-Renee has almost 200 rejections to her name
-Natalie was given an office that looked like Hogwarts (so fancy)
-Lesley insisted to “not let the bastards get you down.”
-Three of the Four #Slaydies were published off of cold querying, so don’t give up!

After this we were able to get all of our books signed by the Slaydies and chances to chat with them all individually. If you haven’t picked up a copy of any of these ladies’ books, go grab copies now!

Thank you so much to Alwyn, Renee, Natalie, and Lesley for such a fabulous evening and to Penguin Teen for having me cover the event! Keep an eye out for my interview with Lesley Livingston about The Valiant and my 5 Bard review of the book as well!

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: May 2, 2017

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

 

Midsummer Meets Maas

It’s no secret that the Midsummer Team are big fans of Maas’ Throne of Glass series and her A Court of Thorns and Roses books (although we both weren’t 100% on board until A Court of Mist and Fury).  So what was it like when we finally were able to meet the woman behind these outrageously popular books?

Well, Lyv (who hates me and moved all the way to Texas) was able to meet Maas the day after the release of Empire of Storms at Book People in Austin, TX!

olyvia-and-maas

Lyv and Sarah J. Maas

What did Lyv learn?

Lyv was there when Maas made the announcement of Hulu officially moving the television adaptation of the Throne of Glass books into production! Side note: it will be called Queen of Shadows, but they will be starting with book 1.

The best part of meeting Maas is that she takes time to talk to everyone, because she is a sweet snowflake with an ergonomic pen, and Lyv was able to talk to her about the 100 (this is relevant because one of the writers from the 100 is going to be working on the pilot script of Queen of Shadows) and their shared disappointment in Bellamy Blake and also their shared love of Ricky Whittle and shirtless hunks.

Lyv was also able to sign Sarah’s first edition Throne of Glass book that she normally has with her for fans to sign (Alas, we didn’t get the chance to do this at the Festival of Books and Authors in Winston a few days later).

Now, the difference between Lyv’s experience and Mine is that Lyv was able to purchase a signing ticket prior to the event, whereas I had to get up at the ass crack of dawn to drive the hour to Winston-Salem, NC to stand in line to wait for a ticket for the signing.  This was fine, as it’s getting me back in the habit before Lyv and I take on the Texas Teen Book Festival in October and then head back to Book Expo America in May, but I definitely should have taken my back pack instead of my shoulder bag (ALWAYS TAKE A BACKPACK!).  maas-ticket

So I picked up Midsummer supporter, Marissa, and headed up to Winston. There were only about 50 people in line ahead of us when we arrived around 7:30 (they were going to hand out tickets around 8:30) so we stood in line and caught up and chatted to some lovely people around us.

The festival was pretty awesome, but in all honesty, we were mostly there to meet Sarah J. Maas, so we went and sat through two other authors’ talks just so we would have a guaranteed spot for the Renee Ahdieh (who is equally amazing, you can check out my interview with her and the reviews of her two novels here on Midsummer) led discussion with Maas.

empire-cover-snap

Marissa, Shauna, & Jess

We met up with Shauna of B00kstorebabe, who is a good friend of mine, and we listened to John Hart, a North Carolina native and a NYT Best selling author, speak…in which he kept talking to us about how he was a NYT Best Selling author.

Then the enigmatic and hilarious Terry McMillan took the stage.  She read us a chapter from her newest novel, I Almost Forgot About You, and it was so funny and sarcastic. I don’t normally get the chance to read a lot of adult fiction, but I might take time out of my young adult reading schedule just for that book.

So, finally, at 12:45 two queens of Young Adult Literature took the stage.  At this point myself, Shauna, and Marissa had found seats in the very front row (excellent) and had so much fun listening to these two women talk about anything and everything.

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Renee and Sarah

Sarah and Renee told us all about their experience in a fancy restaurant during Comic Con, where they were sitting directly behind Norman Reedus (Darryl from The Walking Dead) and then Renee told us about her time on set as a zombie extra.  Surprisingly, the zombie make up is pretty heat resistant in the Atlanta, Georgia heat.

Not only did they get to spy on Reedus, but the entire Vampire Diaries cast came into the restaurant.  Sarah was on door watch duty and they both freaked out a bit when Ian Somerhalder entered the restaurant.

They jumped around topics, just like true friends do, and discussed their individual experiences traveling in Egypt.  Sarah encouraged everyone in the audience to travel as much as possible, even if it’s just to a town over, to get as many experiences in different places as you can.

Once we got on the topic of Smut, however, it was a pretty awesome conversation.  Sarah says that sometimes she has to get up and walk around when the book is getting too emotional for her, and when she is writing smut, in order to feel less awkward, she drinks a glass of wine while doing it.

maas-talkApparently, Sarah’s grandmother is all about some smut, because she told the audience that when she finished ACOTAR 3, she warned her gran that there would be lots of smut, and her gran replied, “Sounds like my kind of book.”

Also, Sarah said that if she could be any of the characters from the Throne of Glass books, she would want to be Lysandra, because shape-shifting is pretty awesome. (I couldn’t agree more.)

After the panel discussion, it was a mad rush to get in line for her signing.  At this point it was 1:30 in the afternoon in September in North Carolina.  IT WAS SO HOT.  So when we waited in the sun for an hour, and we finally made it up to meet Sarah “Sweet Snowflake” Maas, we were all a little bit sweaty.  Sarah agreed about how hot it was and told us she was glad she was sitting down because her shirt was drenched in sweat.  She’s so relatable and friendly to all fans.

Shauna gave her the book of nice things that she was collecting from Tumblr and from fans in line (Marissa and I were able to write short notes to Sarah) and then it was my turn.

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Sarah and Jess

It is absolutely amazing to see a woman who is just a year older than me being so successful and still so humble and friendly to everyone.  She was so sweet, she pointed out my Midsummer shirt, and said she loved it and asked where it was from.  So I told her about Midsummer and gave her one of our bookmarks.  If you ever visit our page, Sarah, we love you! Then we talked a little bit about my time lapse video that I did and she thought it was an awesome idea.  Overall, she was just so nice and kind.  The line was still outrageously long for her once we were finished, and I’m fairly sure Sarah spent 3 or 4 hours signing books and talking to every individual fan.  So wonderful.

It was a pretty long and exhausting day, but 100% worth the experience and getting to meet one of my favorite authors.  I know Lyv was exhausted after her day of work then the Maas signing, too, but we were both so amped to finally meet her and chat with her even for a few moments.

Did you get to see Sarah J. Maas on her book tour for Empire of Storms?

Share your experiences in the comments!

#TeamTerrasen and #TeamNightCourt

 

 

 

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

There are a lot of things that we study in US and World History about World War II, but the plight of German, Prussian, Polish, and Lithuanian refugees is not something that is touched on much, and the Wilhelm Gustloff even less so. In fact, I’m sad to say that prior to the publication of Sepetys’ novel I hadn’t even heard about the Gustloff or the nine thousand people that lost their lives in the icy sea that night in 1945.

Sepetys’ story actually doesn’t focus as much on the Wilhelm Gustloff’s sinking so much as it does the journey of each of these teenagers as their stories begin to intertwine and finally converge on the ill fated last trip of the Gustloff.

This being my first Ruta Sepetys novel, despite owning both of her other novels (I know, I really need to get on top of this and read the others!), I was impressed by the utter beauty of her character development.  For the most part, these characters are orphans of war, either not knowing where their parents are, their parents have passed, or they were cast out or forced to join the war efforts.  Sepetys does an amazing job of revealing these small truths about these characters over the course of the narrative, and despite my skepticism about multiple narrators (especially when such short chapters are involved), I found the voices to be distinct enough that it added to the story.

One character is a medically trained nurse, one a mysterious boy with a secret, one an overzealous Nazi, and one a Polish girl with no one.

By all means, this is an absolutely brutal story.

Readers will encounter stories of pillage and rape, war fatalities, hypothermia, frostbite, and a lot of death.  It is a story not for the faint of heart.

Half the narrators do not survive.

In a lot of ways this novel reminds me of Margaret Haddix’s Uprising, as the story builds around very different characters caught up in each other’s fates, and it plays so well while telling the story of those forgotten by history.

For those forgotten by time, the disaster has been given more attention following the publication of Salt to the Sea, but unfortunately the majority of these poor souls’ stories will never be told.  So we have to remember them and the disaster.

The refugee tale is not one that is unimportant by any means in today’s political climate, and it is vital to remember that their plights are not just a tale out of time.

5 Bards for this heartbreaking story that still manages to provide hope

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Read Proud Listen Proud

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Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series—I Am Jazz—making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn’t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence—particularly high school—complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy—especially when you began your life in a boy’s body.

In honor of her upcoming book release, Jazz Jennings has been named Penguin Random House’s Author Ambassador for Read Proud Listen Proud. Read Proud Listen Proud was introduced in June 2015 as an online resource for kids and teens, as well as their parents, teachers and librarians, to find LGBTQ literature that encourages understanding and acceptance, celebrating everyone for who they are through the power of storytelling. You can check out the newly revamped site here and check out Jazz herself in the video below.

Being Jazz doesn’t come out until June 7, 2016, until then here are some other great books to check out:
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephardt
Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki
She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan

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