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Book Tour (Review), Excerpt, and Giveaway: Sticks & Stones

Sticks & Stones

Sticks & Stones

A feel-good middle grade debut with just a hint of magic about a girl who has a rare disorder that makes the words other people say about her appear on her body.

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.


Excerpt:

WORDS

Some people don’t think that one word can make a difference.

They’re wrong.

Sure, some words need to be around other words to make sense. They need to hang out together in a book or a song or a text message, or else you’re stuck wrinkling your nose like HUH? That doesn’t make any sense.

But some words don’t need others. They have big-time serious meaning all by themselves.

I knew that better than anyone.

Like when it came to talking about me going to middle school this year. Mom said it would be different. Dr. Patel said it would be challenging. Dad said it would be fine.

They just needed one word each to sum up what they thought a whole year would be like … and, so far, they were right.

One word nobody used, though? Mysterious.

And right now, that was the most important word of all.

I reached into my pocket and dug around until I found the folded blue paper again. Maybe it was a letter from a secret admirer or a gift certificate to Soup Palace, otherwise known as the Best Place on Earth.

Maybe it was nothing at all.

But it had to be something. It had my name on the front, after all, and was taped to my locker. I was dying to open it, but even if I found a way to read it sneakily, Ms. Sigafiss would probably see me and read it to everyone or rip it up or something. And that was if she was in a good mood.

I looked around the room, thinking about words.

Different.

Challenging.

Fine.

Mysterious.

They were just words, but they could change my whole life.

In fact, they already had.

 

Text copyright © 2016 by Abby Cooper

GIVEAWAY

Prize: Win (1) of (10) finished copies of STICKS & STONES by Abby Cooper (US Only)–Click the Image!

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5Penguins
Quick Reasons: oh. my. penguins!; topics covered in this book: chronic illness, different family dynamics, bullying, friendship, growth and changes, self-acceptance, self-love, depression (in a more subtle way); this is mid-grade, but something I feel EVERYONE should read; snarky, sassy, stubbornly awesome character; reading from Elyse’s POV was like finding my way into myself

Huge thanks, first off, to Abby Cooper; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Publishing; and The Fantastic Flying Book Club for granting me early access to this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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And let me just say, guys, in the words of Elyse herself–HOLY HIGH HEELS, this book is so freaking great! First off, our MC: Elyse is so snarky, and darkly-humorous, and just in general a fantastic character. I had a TON of fun reading from her point of view, mostly because it was a bit like stepping into myself–from the outside. I was granted a glimpse into who I imagine a lot of people see when looking at ME…and it was hilarious, endearing, and sort of enlightening all at the same time. I stepped outside of myself for almost 300 pages…and had several things I learned the hard way, years ago, reaffirmed.

 

This book is SO super important, especially in regards to chronic illness. There were SO many moments I stopped and thought, “Yes. YES, exactly that!” Elyse does not just find a way to manage her disease at the end of this book–she takes it by the stubborn horns and takes charge of it. There are just so many wonderful, powerful messages in this book that I feel a large audience can empathize with and relate to–and most especially those who, like me, have had to reconfigure and rediscover themselves in the face of a chronic illness. But also, people who perhaps are not as close to this as we are every day–they, too, will be reshaped from this read, and will (hopefully!) think of the world in a much different way. Elyse’s chronic illness is not, perhaps, as “life-threatening” as others out there…but it’s just as stressful, just as disheartening, just as much a factor in her day-to-day.

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Of course, a book is not a successful book without some pretty awesome side characters tagging along–and Abby Cooper wrote some EPIC personalities to match, keep up with, and challenge Elyse throughout her journey. Every character is written to come off one way…and then rediscovered in the flash of inspiration, rewritten in an instant (or, at least, poised in an entirely different way). This might be mid-grade, but there is so much more going on than whining and complaining (though that does happen, too).

 

I think, though, it’s the morals that really made this book for me. There are some pretty tough subjects brought up: bullying; self-acceptance; friendship; self-love. Depression, though not as strongly done, also makes an appearance. Readers are reminded, through a series of complex events, that in some way, we’re all wearing masks while in public. Readers are reminded that sometimes, the surface is ONLY that–the surface. Readers are asked to remember to always, ALWAYS look deeper–the truth isn’t always as easily revealed as the pulling up of a sleeve.

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This book is, in my opinion, so super important–both for younger and older readers alike. The humor is sharp, poignant, and at times surprisingly dark. Elyse is a character both enlightening and entertaining, who brings a ton of morals and growth to herself AND her readers. I definitely recommend this read to lovers of mid-grade, contemporary, and self-discovery. This is a one-sitting read, guys–why don’t you pick it up and dive in? You’re bound to find something to love.

6

Under My Skin: 60% Awesome, 40% What the Heckles Happened!?

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Under My Skin

Goodreads Rating: 4.08 Stars
232 Pages
Swoon Romance Publishing
Published: April 12th, 2016
Get a copy here!

Bookish Brit Adam Gibson is one wonky heartbeat away from a fatal arrhythmia. But staying alive requires Adam to become keenly focused on both his pulse and the many different daily medications he must take in exactly the right dosages. Adam’s torn between wanting to live and knowing that someone else must die in order for him to do so. He needs a new heart.

The pressure is getting to him. Adam stops talking to his friends back home, refuses to meet kids at his new school, and shuts his parents out entirely. His days are spent wondering if can cope with having a dead man’s heart beating inside his chest, or if he should surrender to the thoughts of suicide swirling around in his head.

And then a donor is found…

Outspoken artist Darby Fox rarely lets anything stand in her way of achieving her goals . Whether it’s painting, ignoring her homework (dyslexia makes a mess out of words anyway), kissing a hot boy she doesn’t even know, or taking the head cheerleader down a peg , no one has ever accused Darby of being a shy. She also happens to be the twin sister to a perfect brother with good looks, good grades, manners, and the approval of their parents – something Darby has never had.

Darby’s always had bad timing . She picks the worst time to argue with her brother Daniel. In a car with bald tires, on an icy road in the freezing cold, the unthinkable happens. In a split-second, everything changes forever.

3Penguins
Quick Reasons: I had some issues with the story, the characters, and the plot; the focus on mental illness (depression, psychosis) was well-written and sensitively handled; the first and second halves of this read like two different books; some of the character interactions/reactions came off as weird or contrived to me

Huge thanks to Laura Diamond, Swoon Romance, and YA Bound Book Tours for sending me a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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When I first stumbled across this book, I got REALLY excited about it. The blurb sounded just exactly like the type of thought-provoking, challenging read I’ve been so into recently. The cover also helped to sway me toward this book—it’s absolutely gorgeous, and I fell in love with it immediately. So when I found out the author was seeking more reviewers, I jumped on board enthusiastically.

 

And the first half of this book? Absolutely awesome. I really enjoyed the different struggles and obstacles our main duo, Darby and Adam, face. Between the both of them, I think they could light the world on fire using only the snark that falls out of their mouths. Their reactions and interactions, particularly to each other, were endearing, adorable, and tugged me along like a freight train. I loved them both instantly, and even more when they finally met. Perhaps it has a bit to do with the “opposites attract” thing, but I feel it’s more to do with the sass they threw about like so much pillow fluff.

But then things shifted, and I’m not sure how I feel about the shift now, having finished the read. I’m not sure when the change occurred, exactly. The duo were discharged from the hospital at roughly the 60% mark, and from there…things got a bit weird for me. For one, while I know NOW that the book was written by a psychiatrist, I felt like certain things said or done by Doctor Shaw in this read were a bit… over the line? Nonsensical. And the reasons for it are explained, at the end, but reading through it at the time, I was both confused and thoroughly pissed off.

 

Mostly, though, I felt as if any connection I had to the characters—Darby and Adam both—flew out the window once they were discharged. They both immediately became, like…totally different characters. The spark I’d seen in each of them, the will to be strong and to fight, seemed to seep out of them. Somehow, I went from totally adoring them to being almost annoyed (or, in Adam’s case, exceptionally confused) within about ten pages. I couldn’t, and still don’t know that I can, understand what shifted so drastically. It’s almost like the second half of this read was written at an entirely different point in the author’s life. They just don’t quite match up for me as a whole, I suppose, and that was disappointing.

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Overall, this was a cute read. The focus on mental illness after trauma was well-written and sensitively handled, if perhaps a bit jumpy in some instances. While I understand what Laura Diamond was trying to do with Doctor Shaw— “this is why doctors shouldn’t get personally invested in their patients’ outside of their field” springs to mind –I’m not sure it was done as effectively or smoothly as it could have been. I do recommend this to those who like diverse reads, thought-provoking and challenging subjects, and contemporary “opposites attract” romances. This was cute, but I had some issues with the execution in the end. Oh well—on to the next one!

5

This Old Heart of Mine: Is a Bumbling, Babbling Band of Baboons

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This Old Heart of Mine

Goodreads Rating: 4.90 Stars
340 Pages
Expected Publication Date:  May 24th, 2016
Get a copy here!

Ava Malone knows all about being broken-hearted.

Born with a severe heart defect, she’s spent her whole life in and out of hospital desperately needing a transplant.

Just days from death, her weak prayers are finally answered, and she receives a new heart; one that not only saves her life, but changes it forever.

Now fit and healthy, Ava is able to do things she only dreamed of, like get a job and some independence, fall in love, and finally live life to the fullest.

But her journey of self-discovery takes her to places she never expected. Along the way, Ava doesn’t just find the woman she was always meant to be, but she also finds out more about the woman who no longer is. The one who gave her this new life because she lost hers.

Faced with a devastating dilemma, Ava must decide whether the heart that’s pumping inside her body now belongs to her, or is still beating for someone else.

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: oh my goodness, my poor heart!; this..this book…I am a babbling, incoherent idiot right now; this book needs to be read; the emotions, the challenging subject matter; I want to be friends with these characters, they could teach me so much; I can’t even compute what I just read; this book is GORGEOUS, guys; I feel a book hangover coming on

First and foremost, huge thanks go out to A.J. Compton and Xpresso Book Tours for granting me access to this title in exchange for an honest review. This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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And oh, PENGUINS, guys—this book was nothing like what I expected going in. Yes, I caught on to the “plot twist” pretty early on in the book. Yes, some of the prose and dialogue is awkward and confusing. But the heart of this story? Devastating. The subject matter? Approached with sensitivity and maturity. The things this book TAUGHT me? Absolutely priceless.

You laugh because I sound like a Kodak camera commercial, but I’m not lying. This book is the definition of a life-ruiner, in my world. This book challenged me, pushed me out of my comfort zone…and made me stop to really think about things in a different way. The sheer number of pulse-stopping moments, the ones that make you step back and catch your breath? I can’t even try to guess how many there were in this read. More than that, though—I closed this read with a heart both heavy, and at the same time, light. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but…it’s the best way I can explain it.

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These characters are vibrant. They leech from the pages, they slip the claws of their personalities beneath your skin—they linger, even when the book is closed. I found myself longing to be friends with them, even just for a moment; I feel they could teach me, and the world, a lot about what it means to actually live. The romance is believable and steamy in all the right ways; the heart butterflies were strongly aflutter, just the way I like them.

And the story. THE. STORY. I just… I cannot, simply cannot, get over the vast amount of growth these characters go through. We get a short, and (in my opinion) much-needed, perspective shift around the 75% mark which just…really helped to tie the world, and these characters, together for me. The voices are strong, the prose is melodic and atmospheric… I just cannot stress how much I adored this read, start to finish.

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I am beyond honored to have been granted access to this title; it was, and IS, a life-changer. A life-ruiner. This is one book that will stick with me, rubber cement on the heart, for quite possibly the rest of my life. I recommend to lovers of hard-hitting contemporary, strong characters who overcome the hardest obstacles, and unexpectedly emotional journeys. The subject matter is SO heavy…but so, so needed. You guys NEED to read this—please, pick it up. Let it change you.

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Sunday Post (#5)

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The Sunday Post
Hosted by:  Caffeinated Book Reviewer
Description:  The Sunday Post is a chance to share News. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog. This is your news post, so personalize it! Include as much as you want or as little. Be creative, it can be a vlog or just a showcase of your goodies.

Find their latest post here!

Okay, guys.  Can I just…rant?  about something real quick?

Backstory:  I had a customer notice my medical alert bracelet at work today.  The following conversation is verbatim:

Man: I like your diabetic bracelet.

Me: Thank you!

Man: So how bad do you have it?

Me: 

Man: I mean, do you take insulin, or pills, or…?

Me: 
I mean…yeah, I’m on insulin, but that doesn’t mean it’s BAD?

Man: No, I know.  I just meant… I was put on pills, then lost weight and got taken off them, but now I’m going back to having it.

Me: 
That’s….not the kind I have.

So here’s my rant.

If you find out someone has diabetes (or asthma, or depression, or high blood pressure, or general “people really annoy me today” syndrome) do not EVER ask them, “well, how bad is it?”  I mean HONESTLY.

I just… I understand there are a lot of misconceptions, mostly perpetuated by (duhduhduuuuuuh) pharmaceutical companies and people who don’t know how to research things before opening their mouths…and a lot of people are under the mistaken impression that there’s only ONE sort of diabetes and that means you obviously aren’t taking care of yourself/are overweight/eat too much junk (WRONGWRONGWRONG!) but this is SO BEYOND WRONG.

There is no “good” or “bad” with this disease.  It’s life-threatening for all of us, it’s a life sentence for most of us, and it wasn’t caused by anything we did or anything we put into our mouths.  Even the old-school definitions of diabetes are constantly changing and being redefined as researchers discover more unknowns/figure more things out.  So just…try not to assume you know what sort of illness somebody who ISN’T YOU has, okay?  Because what you know is probably wrong, and all you’re doing is annoying the person you’re talking to.

SO–how’s Sunday treating everybody else?!

Recent Reviews:

My Life Without Me, by Jaclyn Aurore — 2.5/5 Penguins
Adaline, by Denise Kawaii — 3.5/5 Penguins
Symptoms of Being Human, by Jeff Garvin — 5/5 Penguins

Currently Reading:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Buddy Reading with: Eve Messenger and Jess’s Reading Nook

Starting Today:

The Princess Diaries (The Princess Diaries, #1)

And that’s a wrap!

Feel free to share any thoughts or comments below!

Until next time, happy book-ing!

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A Review of The Girl In Between, by Laekan Zea Kemp

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Bryn Reyes is a real life sleeping beauty. Afflicted with Klein-Levin Syndrome, she suffers episodes of prolonged sleep that steal weeks, and sometimes even months, from her life. But unlike most KLS patients, she doesn’t spend each episode in a catatonic state or wake up with no recollection of the time she’s missed. Instead, Bryn spends half her life in an alternate reality made up of her memories. For Bryn, the past is a place, until one day a boy she’s never met before washes up on the illusory beach of her dreams with no memory of who he is.

But the appearance of this strange boy isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Bryn’s symptoms are worsening, her body weakening as she’s plagued by hallucinations even while awake. Her only hope of finding a cure is to undergo experimental treatment created by a German specialist. But when Dr. Banz reveals that he knows more about her strange symptoms than he originally let on, Bryn learns that the boy in her head might actually be the key to understanding what’s happening to her, and worse, that if she doesn’t find out his identity before it’s too late, they both may not survive.

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Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: unique look into a mysterious chronic illness; intriguing story, complex characters; an inventive exploration of what MIGHT happen to a person’s brain when comatose; creative story-telling with an air of tension

So, not that it matters much, but how interesting is this cover?! It’s so unique, I’ve never seen anything like it! You know what makes it better? The fact that that statement covers the READ, too.

People don’t exist in just the light or the dark. They exist in the contrast. In the shadows where the two overlap.

First off: the main female character, Bryn? Suffers from Klein-Levin Syndrome. Also known as Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. I mean…the girl sleeps for like… WEEKS?! At a time?! And still, somehow, manages to hook a reader’s interest, keep them enthralled and engaged…and come off more realistic and human than other characters I can think of off the top of my head. The rest of the characters fall nowhere NEAR flat. They all hold their own, and make the story leap to life—which is saying something, considering Bryn spends a good portion of the book in comatose land.

The focus on such an intriguing and mysterious chronic illness/condition also made for an out-of-the-box, unique read. While I’d heard of Sleeping Beauty Syndrome before embarking on this journey, I hadn’t done much research or really looked into it beyond the surface. Having the illness described in such easy-to-follow, uncomplicated language really helped drive home the point—and the utter uncertainty that Bryn lives with day to day.

Who’d want a lifetime of waiting?”

I stared at the soft lines of her lips. “Someone who knows what it is they’re waiting for.”

There is a hint of romance…but it’s subtle, and the characters are so endearing you’ll be rooting for them anyway. The fact that things in Bryn’s world begin changing once Roman shows up… Well, it’s a bit of a cliched idea, I’ll grant you that. But it’s effectively done and helps to push the plot forward when things might otherwise have started to drag.

The exploration of what happens (or…MIGHT happen) to the brain while comatose or unconscious for long periods of time brought a new level of contemplation and mystery to the world being created here. Laekan Zea Kemp went to a lot of trouble to make this a cohesive, realistic journey—and she succeeded.

Dream with your heart and the universe will bend at your will.

Overall, this was an inventive and intriguing read, and I’ll be sure to snap up the rest of the books in this series as soon as I can! I need to know what happens next—that cliffhanger ending must be resolved! (it’s like my favorite television shows…except I don’t have to wait for a whole new season!) I’d definitely recommend to lovers of unique fantasy and inventive world-building.