Home    Challenges    Reviews    Features    Contests    Review Policy    Contact

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Title: To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: April 15, 2014
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+

Add to Goodreads

  In this new contemporary YA novel from Jenny Han - author of the wonderful novel The Summer I Turned Pretty - young, messy, exuberant, painful love and the complicated, unbreakable bond of sisterhood is explored.

When Lara Jean Song's love letters to five boys she once loved - private letters that were never intended to be seen by said boys - are all mailed, she must navigate her way through the fallout. Most worrisome is the letter sent to her older sister's recent ex, a boy she stopped loving the day he started dating her sister... or did she? As Lara Jean revisits and sorts her feelings, she begins a faux-relationship with a classmate which quickly spirals out of control.

Another driving force within the novel is Lara Jean's relationship with her sisters. Lara Jean is the middle sister, but when her older sister moves overseas for college, she becomes the eldest in the house, a position that changes Lara Jean's relationship with both siblings. I found this aspect of the novel very compelling and realistic. As the eldest of four siblings (two sisters, one brother) I identified with Lara Jean, but I could also identify closely with her older sister's motivations and feelings.

I was pleasantly surprised by the glimpses at Lara Jean's Korean heritage as well. These elements were mostly introduced through food and food memories, which I think is a really smart, accessible way to showcase cultural individuality in fiction.There's a misconception that characters of color or characters that are at all outside of the stereotypical white American teenager character-type are too difficult for the general YA reading public to relate to. TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE wholly demolishes that misconception - hurrah!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Summer I Wasn't Me by Jessica Verdi

Title: The Summer I Wasn't Me
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pub. Date: April 1, 2014
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+

Add to Goodreads

When Lexi’s mom finds out she’s gay, Lexi worries it will be the final straw, shattering what’s left of her family. Her mother has taken her father’s death hard, leaving Lexi to hold things together. Lexi’s mother’s revelation regarding her daughter’s sexual orientation wakes her from her grief-induced fog, giving her a purpose: to save her daughter. When she suggests Lexi attend a religious summer camp to convert her to heterosexuality, Lexi agrees to attend, hoping that it will salvage their relationship.

At first things at the camp seem tame – ridiculous and ineffective, but tame nonetheless. Lexi and her fellow campers settle into camp, but soon realize that those who don’t conform are punished, the conversion activities becoming violent and dangerous. The pressure is on and Lexi must decide who she wants to be, how she wants to live, and how far she’ll go for those she loves.

I was really surprised by how dark this novel got, but, at the same time, when we’re dealing with converting one’s sexuality, what else can you really expect? As a strong believer in the idea that individuals can love any way they please – same sex or otherwise – THE SUMMER I WASN’T ME was a difficult read. It makes me incredibly sad that anyone would feel that their sexuality is wrong and that they should change it, at any cost. For that reason, I think this sophomore novel from Jessica Verdi is extremely important. Readers should feel shocked and upset about the events in this novel. I’m just hoping that readers feel so much that they take a stand and support GLBT individuals.

My only complaint about this novel is that it seemed to end rather abruptly after some pretty intense events took place. Everything was wrapped up a bit too neatly, undermining the believability slightly. Still, in ways, it was nice to have that safe, happy ending after the heaviness earlier in the novel. I think most readers won’t be bothered by the ending.


Don't miss my interview with the author here!

Q&A Session with Jessica Verdi, author of The Summer I Wasn't Me


I'm happy to welcome author Jessica Verdi back to The Hiding Spot! Last year she was here answering questions about her debut novel, My Life After Now. Today, she's here talking about her newest book, The Summer I Wasn't Me. With this second book, Verdi reinforces that she's not afraid to tackle tough, complicated issues in her writing. Check out my first interview with Jessica here! And my review here!

I admit that, as I read THE SUMMER I WASN’T ME, I became very upset about the entire idea of a conversion camp. I can’t help but wonder, is your portrayal of religious conversion camps true to life? Was there much research involved in the writing of this novel in regards to this or any other elements? 
I’m glad the idea of the conversion camp disturbed you—I hope it disturbs every single person who reads the book. Not that I want to upset my readers or anything, but these programs are incredibly vile and abusive and yet that world is still so hush hush and largely unchallenged. The more people know about these places, the closer we’ll get to outlawing them in all 50 states (practicing reparative therapy on youths has already been made illegal in California and New Jersey).
I took some liberties with the setting, and created the mountain atmosphere with the multi-cabin set up. The characters, of course, are also all fictional. However, I did a ton of research for this book, and every single one of the methods/exercises/techniques/whatever you want to call them portrayed in the book came from research. The Father Wound sessions, the role playing, the gender stuff, and yes, even the physical abuse, happens every day in these sorts of programs.
I loved that you tied THE GREAT GATSBY into Lexi’s story! GATSBY is one of my favorites and I’ve long been curious about underlying themes of homosexuality in the novel. Still there are other books and items of symbolic weight that you could have tied in – what made GATSBY special? 
The Great Gatsby is one of my all time favorite books too! I love incorporating classic texts into my books (there was a Romeo and Juliet thread in My Life After Now) and Gatsby just made perfect sense to me for this book. I’ve always read that book as a queer text (ever since I first read it in 10th grade I couldn’t believe I was the only one who saw that Nick was in love with Jay, haha) and as I started thinking more about it, I realized there were several other parallels between Lexi’s story and Gatsby as well. They’re both about trying to change who you are to please the person you love, they both have themes of forbidden love, they’re both about being in a new place, they both take place in the summer. And so I thought it was a good way to illustrate that there is always more than one way to look at something.
Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 
Chapter 29 was really difficult to write (if you’ve read the book you know which chapter this is), especially because it involved watching YouTube videos of this exact kind of thing for research. Matthew was probably the easiest character for me to write, because he’s pretty much the book’s voice of reason. Whenever I wanted to scream at the characters and knock some sense into them, I had Matthew to do that. :) Writing his character was very cathartic for me, and let me get all my frustrations out. Haha.
Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 
Initially the book was called The Summer I Wasn’t. I liked the open-endedness of that title, because it could mean so many things. But my editor thought people would just be frustrated and feel like it was unfinished, so we tacked the “me” at the end. 
I think THE SUMMER I WASN’T ME is an important book due to the difficult themes and the honesty with which you tackle them. Are there readalikes – books with similar themes, characters, etc – that you recommend to readers looking for more like this? 
The only other book I know of that tackles conversion camps is The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. I haven’t read it, because I didn’t want to be influenced in any way while writing or editing The Summer I Wasn’t Me, but I’ve heard it’s great. Another good one is The God Box by Alex Sanchez, which looks at the issue of LGBTQ teens struggling to reconcile their sexuality and their faith.

Learn more about Jessica and her books here
Check out my review of The Summer I Wasn't Me here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Title: What I Thought Was True
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Dial/Penguin
Pub. Date: April 15, 2014
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+

Add to Goodreads

Gwen's summer begins like any other: pulling any and all shifts at her father's restaurant, playing third wheel to her best friends, a couple with no qualms about PDA, and taking care of her little brother. She never expects it to be the summer where everything changes... the summer where everything she's always believed to be true becomes muddled and the future that once seemed both inevitable and comforting suddenly shifts. Gwen takes on a caregiver position with an lively older woman, finding herself in difficult and often uncomfortable situations that test her beliefs about right and wrong and her place in the world. And, no matter how hard she tries to avoid him, Gwen finds her path constantly crossing with that of Cassidy Somers, a boy she finds herself trusting against her better judgement.

Huntley Fitzpatrick earned much deserved praise with her debut, My Life Next Door, a novel that became one of my favorite contemporary YA novels before I'd even finished reading it. So, unsurprisingly, What I Thought Was True has landed squarely on my list of favorites as well. 

I quickly fell in love with the characters and struggles within What I Thought Was True. There are many important themes touched on in this novel, but the lessons about finding who you are and what you believe in, even, and especially, in the face of lies, gossip, and misinterpretation, are what carry this novel and make it a must read for teens and adults alike. 

Aaaand the swoonworthy romance doesn't hurt this book's must-read status one bit!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley


Title: Ask Me
Author: Kimberly Pauley
Publisher: Soho Teen
Pub. Date: April 8, 2014
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+
Add on Goodreads

Aria Morse is an Oracle, which sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. Aria must answer every questions she hears, whether it's directed at her or not, and she has no control over her response. Here odd mumblings and awkward responses make her a social pariah, bullied and ostracized. While it's not fun, she almost prefers that no one talks to her because it saves her from having to deal with her "gift." She'd rather just lie low until her powers disappear, like have with every Oracle before her, including her grandmother. When Jade, the only classmate who ever showed Aria kindness, disappears under mysterious circumstances, Aria may be the only person with the ability to uncover the details surrounding her demise. The two prime suspects are Will and Alex, two boys Jade was involved with, who now seem to show up everywhere Aria turns. When she starts to develop feelings for one of the boys and more girls show up murdered, Aria knows she'll have to stop running from her gift and embrace it.

While I really liked the premise of ASK ME - a teenaged Oracle who has to catch a killer is a pretty solid idea - I wasn't a fan of the characters or plot development.

I couldn't connect with Aria and, unfortunately, found all of the characters and their motivations pretty juvenile and stereotypical. I was especially annoyed by Aria grandmother and grandfather, who she lives with. Her grandmother is constantly trying to encourage her to use her gifts, despite the bullying and ill treatment Aria experiences because of her lack of control over them. I really couldn't understand how Aria's grandmother could just ignore the negative consequences of being Oracle, especially when she'd been one herself. Aria's grandfather was slightly better, but he was always forgetting that Aria had no choice but to respond to every question she hears and never fails to ask tons of questions around her. You'd think that the man who raised Aria would eventually develop a habit of avoiding pointless questions at the expense of his beloved granddaughter.

Another issue was the unbelievability of some of the plot developments. I could get on board with Aria being an Oracle, but I couldn't suspend my belief when Aria, who has been ostracized for years, suddenly has two boys after her. I mean, really? All of a sudden she's desirable and her weirdness can be overlooked, though nothing at all has changed? A lot of the plot depends on Will and Alex's interest in Aria, so when their interest seems forced, the entire plot seems forced.

It seems like some readers are enjoying this one, so don't take my word for it! Check out these positive reviews:



Giveaway: Rose and the Lost Princess by Holly Webb [Blog Tour]

One winner at The Hiding Spot will win a finished copy of Holly Webb's Rose and the Lost Princess! See below for more information about this book, the author, and the giveaway!

With Rose and the Lost Princess, readers return to the world first visited in Holly Webb's Rose.
Now an apprentice magician, Rose is asked to help find a very special missing person

Turning the worn pages of her spell book, Rose can't believe how much her life has changed. Once a poor orphan, she is now an apprentice to the king's chief magician. But when the country's beloved princess vanishes, everything changes. As rumors of dark magic fly through the city, the king asks Rose for help. She must find the missing princess, before all is lost. Goodreads.

About the author

Holly Webb is the author of Dog Magic, Cat Magic, and Lost in the Snow. She has always loved animals and owns two very spoiled cats. They haven't said a word to her yet, but she's always listening, just in case! She lives in England. Learn more about Holly here.

Win It!

Giveaway will end May 5, 2014. Open to US mailing addresses only per publisher's request.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't miss the next stops on the Rose and the Lost Princess Blog Tour...

4/15 Debz Bookshelf
4/16 Miss Tiff Reads
4/17 Snarky Mamma

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Weekly Wrap Up (12)

Weekly Wrap Up is a summary of the current week's blog posts, a look at what you'll find on the blog next week, and a overview of books I read this week!
This Week at The Hiding Spot
Review: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan (Review)
Q&A Session with Adi Rule/Strange Sweet Song (Interview)
Review: The Lonesome Young by Lucy Connors (Review)
Review: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder (Review)
Story Time: New and Notable Picture Books (Feature) 
Next Week
Blog Tour: Rose and the Lost Princess/Holly Webb (Post)
Blog Tour: Ask Me/Kimberly Pauley (Post)
Review: What I Thought Was True/Huntley Fitzpatrick (Review)
Q&A Session with Jessica Verdi/The Summer I Wasn't Me (Interview)
Q&A Session with R.R. Russell/Wonderlight (Interview)
Review: The Summer I Wasn't Me/Jessica Verdi (Review)
Read This Week

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
I know that there are many out there who are very excited about this book and, let me tell you, it is so worth the wait. I've been a Jenny Han fan for a few years now and she does not disappoint with this one. One of my favorite elements was Lara Jean's Korean heritage. I just read Stealing Buddha's Dinner - a memoir about a Vietnamese girl growing up in Grand Rapids, MI - and To All the Boys I've Loved Before actually paired really well with the themes in Nguyen's memoir.  (Goodreads)

Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley
This one is from Soho Teen, a newer imprint that is seriously amazing; you should definitely take a look at their titles. They may publish less books per year than the bigger, more established imprints, but everything they do is really impressive. This one was, unfortunately, my least favorite from Soho so far, but it was still a pretty good book. My biggest issue was the characters and their motivations. I'll discuss this more in my review later this month. (Goodreads)

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Morgan Matson's books never fail to pull me from reading slumps. I've been reading so much for class lately that I was getting a bit overwhelmed and burned out. Until I picked up Since You've Been Gone, which I proceeded to read in one sitting with a smile on my face through most of the novel. Now, though I should be doing homework, I just want to read and read and read. Reading Matson's books! I've read and loved them all! (Goodreads)

Tell me what you've been reading in the comments! Have we read any books in common lately? I'm on a romance kick - tell me which books with epic, unforgettable romances I need to put on my reading list for the end of this semester!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Story Time: New & Notable Picture Books (3)

Story Time is a new feature at The Hiding Spot in which I share some of my favorite new, old, & overlooked picture books.
Not a parent, teacher, or librarian? Picture books make fantastic gifts, from baby showers to birthdays and holidays. As bookworms, we all know how important books are – be the one who hands that special kid in your life the book that will make them fall in love with the magic of reading!

New & Notable

Duck and Goose Go to the Beach
Written & Illustrated by Tad Hills

Readers will fall in love with Duck and Goose all over again in this newest offering from Tad Hill. DUCK & GOOSE GO TO THE BEACH follows best buds Duck and Goose as they set out on an adventure that takes them far from their familiar meadow. Goose is reluctant to leave the meadow, but Duck has his heart set on a hike and new sights. At the top a hill, Duck and Goose spot the beach, where they meet the locals, play in the waves, and lay in the sand. While Duck and Goose enjoy their new experiences, as evening approaches, they're ready to head home to the meadow they know and love.  Add on Goodreads.
Peanut Butter and Jellyfish
Written & Illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish love being best friends and exploring their underwater home, but they don't love Crabby, who constantly heckles the two friends and tries to make them feel bad. When Crabby finds himself in trouble, the Peanut Butter and Jellyfish decide to do the right thing and help Crabby, despite his previous bad behavior and taunts. Crabby is thankful that the two would help him after how horrible he's acting and gathers the courage to apologize and tell Peanut Butter and Jellyfish why he was so mean. A simple story about saying sorry and doing the right thing, PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLYFISH sends a straightforward and worthwhile message. Add on Goodreads.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Written & Illustrated by Dan Santat

"This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and-at long last-is given his special name: Beekle." I love, love, love everything Dan Santat does. His books are magic.  Add on Goodreads.

I Pledge Allegiance
Written by Pat Mora, Illustrated by Patrice Barton

Libby's aunt, Lobo, came from Mexico as a young girl and now, many years later, is becoming an American citizen. At the end of the week, Lobo will say the pledge of allegiance with the other new citizens and Libby will lead her class in saying the pledge. On the days leading up to Libby & Lobo's big day, they practice the pledge together and Lobo tells Libby why it's important to her to become a citizen: "When I was a young girl, my father wanted a safer place for us to grow up, and we came to the United States. The American flag - red, white, and blue - wrapped itself around me to protect me." I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE is a touching, beautiful story about the Pledge of Allegiance and being proud to be an American citizen. Add on Goodreads.

Following Papa's Song
Written & Illustrated by Gianna Marino

“Papa?”asked Little Blue.
“Are we going very far?”
“Yes, Little Blue. We will travel farther
than we have ever gone before.”
As two whales swim together through the big ocean, Little Blue has many questions for Papa, especially ones about the long migration. How will they know the way? Will he be able to keep up? What will they see along the way? Papa has answers for all these questions, but Little Blue remains curious as they begin their journey. What could be down below, where they can’t see? The answer is a magical world and Little Blue is enchanted . . .  until there is only darkness surrounding the young whale.  But if Little Blue is quiet and listens, can Little Blue hear Papa’s song? FOLLOWING PAPA'S SONG is beautiful and touching story filled with colorful and sweeping illustrations. Add on Goodreads.

Love any of the books featured this week? Want to see a certain theme explore, author, or illustrator explored in an upcoming Story Time post? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Interview with Adi Rule, author of Strange Sweet Song

The wonderful Adi Rule is here at The Hiding Spot to answer a few questions about her debut novel, Strange Sweet Song, a novel about a talented vocalist named Sing and a sinister boarding school cloaked in myth and legend. You can read my thoughts on this fantastic novel here!
Strange Sweet Song has many gothic elements. Did you specifically plan to write a novel with gothic undertones or did the story just lend itself well to a gothic setting and atmosphere?

The physical Gothic-y elements just kind of came together, I think. I wanted the conservatory’s concert hall to have a history that was greater than the school itself, and I liked the visual interest of an old church with gargoyles and stained glass. I chose crows for one of the plot threads because of their harsh voices and their intelligence, but it’s also a bit of a bonus that their association with the macabre adds to the atmosphere.

Angelique itself, the opera at the center of the story, is replete with melodrama, supernatural terror, and, of course, a pure-hearted damsel in distress. It’s an affectionate poke at 19th century opera, but it’s also the lens through which the main character examines her own life. Angelique’s shortcomings become more apparent throughout the book, and part of the main character’s journey is learning to let that sort of story go.

Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Alternately, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

I had a lot of trouble with the climactic scene on the roof of the cathedral. I think that’s the scene I rewrote more than any other. There’s so much that has to happen in it emotionally, but at its core it’s an action scene, and it was difficult for me to get those two sides to balance out.

The easiest scenes to write were the Felix scenes. Her perceptions are unfiltered and her motivations are simple. I had a lot of fun imagining her world.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

I originally called it Sing, after the main character. My publisher changed it to Strange Sweet Song.

Many people dream of their ideal jobs while working somewhere less desirable to make ends meet, never realizing what great experience those jobs of necessity are for their future. What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

For the last couple years I’ve worked at historic homes and mansions giving guided tours, which is awesome. Being out of your element (geography, tax bracket, century) can really feed your creative life. Giving tours is all about storytelling. It can be overwhelming at first, because you never know if visitors are going to ask about architecture or family trees or dishes or historical context, so there’s a lot of stuff you have to be able to access in your head. But you also have to connect the past to the present in a way that resonates with people. Being in those spaces, where you can not only see the objects, but smell them and exist with them in the place they were meant to be, is pretty close to time travel. My favorite comment I ever received was from a visitor who said, “Wow. You seem like you really love this house.” I don’t know if he meant it as a compliment, but that’s how I took it. And it was true!

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

“Muffins.” Muffins are delicious, inexpensive, and nontoxic to pets. You can never be harmed by people hurling physical muffins or the word “muffins” at you. It’s easy to spell, unlike “embarrassment,” which I have never spelled correctly on the first try. And hearing the word “muffins” reminds me of the hilarious muffin-eating scene in The Importance of Being Earnest.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

When I was a kid (an only child), my escape was toys (He-Man, My Little Pony, Thundercats) and books, particularly Roald Dahl, James Howe, Zoobooks magazine, Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield, and looking for Waldo. (OK, now let’s play, “Guess the Decade!” haha.) I still love all things fantastic and brightly colored. My favorite hiding spot now, I think, is video games. Some days I just want to explore amazing, impossible lands. And some days I want to blow up some heads. 

Learn more about Adi and her books here.

Review: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

Title: The Museum of Intangible Things
Author: Wendy Wunder
Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin
Pub. Date: April 8, 2014
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+

Add to Goodreads

Hannah and Zoe haven't been given much in life, except each other, and they don't have anything particularly wonderful waiting in their future. Unless you count enrolling at the local community college, which they don't. The only worthwhile tie the girls have to the New Jersey town they grew is Zoe's autistic brother, who relies on Zoe and Hannah to help him navigate the world and all the intangible things within it he struggles to understand. 

After climbing out of a dark depression, Zoe bounds into mania, declaring that Hannah might not have the best grip on the intangibles either. Hoping to recover the real Zoe in the midst of her cycles of depression and mania, Hannah agrees to ditch New Jersey and embark on a cross country road trip in search of those difficult to understand but absolutely essential intangibles: Loyalty. Envy. Obligation. Dreams. Disappointment. Fear. Negligence. Coping. Elation. Lust. Nature. Freedom. Heartbreak. Insouciance. Audacity. Gluttony. Belief. God. Karma. Knowing what you want (there is probably a French word for it). Saying Yes. Destiny. Truth. Devotion. Forgiveness. Life. Happiness (ever after).

The Museum of Intangible Things is, at its core, a love story. Not the typical romantic love story (though there is one of those within its pages as well), but the story of the strong and enduring love between two girls who have always been and always will be there for one another. True best friends with a wild streak... Bonnie & Clyde Bonnie. Wendy Wunder gives readers an unforgettable story of two girls who take to the road and commit the occasional crime in an epic quest to ensure the others' happiness.