Friday, May 30, 2014

Interview with Helen Rappaport, Author of The Romanov Sisters + Giveaway (US/Can only!)

I'd like to welcome Helen Rappaport to the blog today to celebrate the publication of her biography, The Romanov Sisters, from St. Martin's Press. Stick around until the end for a fabulous giveaway that you don't want to miss!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Helen! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?


Born in Bromley, England, Helen Rappaport studied Russian at Leeds University but ill-advisedly rejected suggestions of a career in the Foreign Office and opted for the acting profession. After appearing on British TV and in films until the early 1990s she abandoned acting and embraced her second love—history and with it the insecurities of a writer’s life.

Helen is a fluent Russian speaker and a specialist in Russian history and 19th century women’s history, her great passion being to winkle out lost stories from the footnotes and to breathe new life and new perspectives into old subjects. In 2005 she was historical consultant and talking head on a Channel 4 documentary The Real Angel of the Crimea about the Jamaican nurse, Mary Seacole. In 2010 she was talking head on a Mystery Files documentary about the Murder of the Romanovs for National Geographic channel.

Since the mid-70's Helen has also become well-known as a Russian translator in the theatre, working with British playwrights on new versions of Russian plays. She has translated all seven of Chekhov’s plays, including Ivanov for Tom Stoppard’s new version that was a huge critical success at the Donmar Season at Wyndham’s in 2008. In 2002 she was Russian consultant to the National Theatre’s Tom Stoppard trilogy, The Coast of Utopia.

A passionate Victorianist and Russianist, Helen is a member of Equity, the Victorian Society, the Society of Genealogists , the Society of Authors, The Biographers’ Club, and Writers in Oxford.


Here's a bit about the new book!

The Romanov Sisters

They were the Princess Dianas of their day—perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.

Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.

The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Helen Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados.

Readers, click "read more" to find out the biggest challenge that went into writing The Romanov Sisters, Helen's top five favorite novels, and her best advice for both writers—and people in general! We're also giving away THREE print copies of this fabulous edition, so don't miss out on that either!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wingmen Warriors by Catherine Mann Sneak Peek and Giveaway! (US/Can only)

Grayson's Surrender and Taking Cover
Catherine Mann

See how it all started with the first two books in Catherine Mann’s RITA Award winning Wingmen Warriors series! This 2-in-1 is available in print only. If you wish to order the books digitally, they must be ordered individually.

These two Wingmen Warriors stories will leave you breathless!

Grayson's Surrender: Nothing frightens Grayson "Cutter" Clark. Yet the sight of Lori Rutledge has the air force flight surgeon almost dropping to his knees. After a year without her, Grayson is now her partner. Suddenly, rescuing a group of orphans from a war-torn country seems easy compared to keeping his feelings for Lori locked safely away…especially when she wants his surrender!

Taking Cover: Dr. Kathleen O'Connell's years in the air force taught her a thing or two about handling arrogant top-gun pilots. But there's one hotshot flyboy who's always gotten past her defenses. And now he's her unwelcome partner—on the most dangerous mission of her career. Kathleen thinks she can keep him in line—maybe—but she's not so sure about her own traitorous heart...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

2 Heart Review: Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

Just Like Heaven (Smythe-Smith Quartet #1)
Julia Quinn

Page Count: 374

Release Date: May 31st 2011
Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins)
Source: Complimentary ARC provided by Romance Novel News in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Carolyn!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Honoria Smythe-Smith is:
A) a really bad violinist
B) still miffed at being nicknamed "Bug" as a child
C) not in love with her older brother's best friend
D) all of the above

Marcus Holroyd is:
A) the Earl of Chatteris
B) regrettably prone to sprained ankles
C) not in love with his best friend's younger sister
D) all of the above

Together they:
A) eat quite a bit of chocolate cake
B) survive a deadly fever and the world's worst musical performance
C) fall quite desperately in love

It's Julia Quinn at her best, so you know the answer is...
D) all of the above
I kept this book on my nightstand and my "currently reading" shelf for about a year before finally deciding to just mark it as DNF (did not finish). It's not that the book is SO bad that I couldn't keep reading, but rather, I kept putting it down, forgot about it, and was never really inclined to pick it up again... that went on for about a year. There are way better books I could be spending my time on.

Overall Just Like Heaven just bored me; nothing was exciting, and nothing intrigued me enough to want to continue reading. There's very little action both romance- and plot-wise; even by page 158—which is how far I got—hardly any of Honoraria and Marcus's relationship is built. If there is no swoon-worthy romance by the halfway mark, we've got a problem.

Honoraria isn't a dreadful heroine but she's rather desperate for a husband and childish, blushing at ever sight of skin and brush of fingers, and so on. I can understand these traits were meant to color her "cute" and "clumsy," but I just found it annoying. There's almost no chemistry between her and Marcus, which bothered me a lot considering this is a historical romance, and the dialogue and description scenes drag on forever, which made this one even more difficult to digest.

Pros


Well written // Playful, readable style

Cons


Romance moves at a snail's pace // Honoraria is annoying and Marcus is uninteresting // Boring // Not enough action!

Verdict


Containing too much backstory and not enough action, this first title in the Smythe-Smith quartet is rather boring. It isn't a terrible or intolerable—in fact, stylistically, Julia Quinn is a pleasure to read—but I just didn't have the patience to finish it. I was quite annoyed by the "witty" (not witty) banter and passionless relationship that's supposed to pass as a romance. True historical fiction fans may be able to swallow Just Like Heaven, but I definitely wasn't impressed Americanflag

2 hearts: Not completely a lost cause, but could not finish and did not enjoy; potentially could be used as a cure for insomnia (x)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Types of Research In Crafting a Novel by Doug Cooper, Author of Outside In + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

Outside In
Doug Cooper

From Memorial Day until the student workers and tourists leave in the fall, the island community of Put-In-Bay, Ohio, thrives on alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and any other means of forgetting responsibilities. To Brad Shepherd–recently forced out of his job as a junior high math teacher after the overdose death of a student–it’s exactly the kind of place he’s looking for.

Allured by the comfort and acceptance of the hedonistic atmosphere, Brad trades his academic responsibilities and sense of obligation for a bouncer’s flashlight and a pursuit of the endless summer. With Cinch Stevens, his new best friend and local drug dealer, at his side, Brad becomes lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification filled with romantic conquests, late-night excursions to special island hideaways, and a growing drug habit. Not even the hope from a blossoming relationship with Astrid, a bold and radiant Norwegian waitress, nor the mentoring from a mysterious mandolin player named Caldwell is enough to pull him out of his downward spiral. But as Labor Day approaches, the grim reality of his empty quest consumes him. With nowhere left to run or hide, Brad must accept that identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.

A look at one man’s belated coming of age that’s equally funny, earnest, romantic, and lamenting, Doug Cooper’s debut novel explores the modern search for responsibility and identity, showing through the eyes of Brad Shepherd how sometimes, we can only come to understand who we truly are by becoming the person we’re not.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Vitamin C Diaries #2: First Impressions + Belitae Organics FRESH-C Vitamin C Serum Giveaway! (US only)

Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.
Time for our first check-in of my Vitamin C serum journey!

It's been a month since I first started incorporating Vitamin C into my daily skincare routine (about four weeks), and so far, I haven't had fabulous results, but I do hope we're getting there.

The first two weeks were a bit iffy. I have sensitive and mildly acne-prone skin, but around the time I started using Valentia's Even Glow Serum, I noticed particularly frequent breakouts. I also felt the skin on my face feeling a little rougher, which wasn't a problem I'd had before. At first, I suspected the serum was too strong for my skin, too acidic, so I contacted the folks at Valentia and this is the response I received:
As you know, even some of the most harmless products for your skin can cause minor reactions if combined with other products, and in some isolated ingredients, we have seen this as well.

I'm not going to give you any direct advice, but I will share some information and you can make your decision on how to process from there.

1) Vitamin C serums have been known to create some blemishes when they are first used as it is the product drawing out the toxins from the skin and after repeated use, sometimes for a few weeks, the skin adjusts to the new level of nutrients it is receiving daily and these blemishes (amongst others) disappear.

Again, I'm not saying this is your case exactly but it is one of the scenarios we have experienced with our customers.

2) You may want to start using the serum only in the morning opposed to twice a day, and be sure you are using a high quality skin cleanser in the evenings before bed and in the mornings as well. This will leave your pores cleaner and less likely of being clogged reducing incidents of breakouts. This also helps the serum to absorb better into the skin.

Also, if your situation is number 1) then using so much will give the skin more reason to react as it is a more drastic shift.
So, apparently Vitamin C serums do cause acne—at first use, anyway. But because I was determined to get the full benefits of the serum, I decided to continue using it because a) I wanted to see if the acne eruptions would improve after a few more uses, and b) I wanted to be able to write about my experiences! As instructed, I only used the serum in the mornings.

My acne definitely didn't get worse, but even when using with other companies' serums, I haven't seen an improvement in acne either. I am still using the serums on a rotational basis, and still do wake up some mornings with rougher feeling skin, but it's only been a little over a month, so I'm going to stick it out Americanflag

Until next time!

Switching gears...

So far, my Vitamin C arsenal includes serums by: Valentia, La Beauté Pure, Mystelic, TruSkin Naturals, InstaNatural, Day by Day Beauty, Xfacio, and last but not least, Belitae Organics!

Today's giveaway is sponsored by Belitae Organics, for a full-sized bottle of their Fresh-C Vitamin C Serum!

Here's a little bit of information about it, as well as the product claims the Amazon page lists:

BELITAE VITAMIN C SERUM is specially formulated with STAY-C®50—a breakthrough in Vitamin C skin care. STAY-C®50 is converted to L-Ascorbic Acid by your skin cells going to work when and where it's needed. This form of Vitamin C will never oxidize in the bottle.

VITAMIN C SERUM WORKS! It has been called #1 anti-aging secret that can help drop a decade from your face. Studies has shown that topical vitamin C is 20 times more effective than taking it orally to replenish your skin's vitamin C levels.

ANTI-AGING BENEFITS THAT YOU WILL LOVE: Vitamin C Serum is proven to stimulate collagen and elastin helping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It also has unique qualities that helps to fade age spots and discolorations while making your skin feel smooth and soft.

FRAGRANCE-FREE Formula that will help restore skin's natural glow and leave your skin feeling velvety-smooth MADE in the USA, 98% Natural / 72% Organic, Paraben Free, Alcohol Free, Cruelty Free.

Giveaway!


Who wants to win it?? This serum retails at $68, and I'm giving it away for free!

To enter, all you have to do is tell me:
What's YOUR favorite "beauty weapon"—that one item you use every day, you can't leave the house without, or just makes you feel 100% more confident when you're wearing?
Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the seller and review coordinator—a huge thank you to Belitae Organics and Tomoson!
Giveaway ends June 8th at 11.59 PM (your time).

Open to US residents only—sorry everyone else! Check my sidebar for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide.
Void where prohibited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for shipping and handling, or for the prizes themselves.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

FTC Disclosure: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. However, I was not paid in any way to write a review—positive or otherwise—and all thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone. I only recommend products or services I have used personally and believe will be good for my beautiful readers!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fallout by Sadie Jones Giveaway! (US only)

Fallout
Sadie Jones

Four young people in 1970s London race toward the future, fueled by love, betrayal, and creative ambition.

Luke Kanowski is a young playwright— intense, magnetic, and eager for life. He escapes a disastrous upbringing in the northeast and, arriving in London, meets Paul Driscoll, an aspiring producer, and the beautiful, fiery Leigh Radley, the woman Paul loves.

The three set up a radical theater company, living and working together; a romantic connection forged in candlelit rehearsal rooms during power cuts and smoky late-night parties in Chelsea's run-down flats. The gritty rebellion of pub theater is fighting for its place against a West End dominated by racy revue shows and the giants of twentieth-century drama.

Nina Jacobs is a fragile actress, bullied by her mother and in thrall to a controlling producer. When Luke meets Nina, he recognizes a soul in danger—but how much must he risk to save her?

Everything he has fought for—loyalty, friendship, art—is drawn into the heat of their collision. As Luke ricochets between honesty and deceit, the promise of the future and his own painful past, the fallout threatens to be immense.

About the Author


Sadie Jones was born in London, England, the daughter of a poet and an actress. Her father, Evan Jones, was born in Portland, Jamaica in 1927. He grew up on a banana farm, eventually moving to the United States, and from there to England in the 1950s. His most widely acclaimed work is "The Song of the Banana Man". Sadie's mother, Joanna Jones, was featured as an extra in various television series, including "The Avengers."

As a young woman, Sadie opted out of attending university, preferring instead to work an assortment of odd jobs (video production, temping, waiting tables) and to travel. After visiting America, the Caribbean and Mexico, Sadie settled in Paris, where she taught English and wrote her first screenplay.

Sadie wrote screenplays for fourteen years before producing The Outcast, her first novel, which was a winner of the Costa First Novel Award in Great Britain and a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. She is also the author of the novels Small Wars and the bestselling The Uninvited Guests. She lives in London 
with her husband, architect Tim Boyd, and their two children.


Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away
 one finished print copy of Fallout—yay!! To enter, all you have to do is tell me:

What are you up to this summer? Any vacation plans, breaks from school/work, anything in particular you're looking forward to?
I'm currently all over the place visiting friends and family, but have to go back to Berkeley soon to take summer classes. Also going to a Man Man concert in July—excited for that!!

Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the tour publicist and publisher—a huge thank you to TLC and Harper Collins!
Giveaway ends June 6th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US residents only—sorry, international readers! Check out my sidebar for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Over My Live Body by Susan Israel Giveaway! (US only)

Over My Live Body (Delilah Price Mysteries #1)
Susan Israel

Page Count: 280
Formats: Paperback, Digital
Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Art, Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary

Delilah is accustomed to people seeing her naked. As a nude model—a gig that keeps food on the table while her career as a sculptor takes off—it comes with the territory.

But Delilah has never before felt this vulnerable.

Because Delilah has an admirer. Someone who is paying a great deal of attention to her. And he just might love her to death.

The debut of a shockingly fresh voice in suspense fiction, Over My Live Body will work its way inside of you.

About the Author



Susan Israel lives in Connecticut with her beloved dog, but New York City lives in her heart and mind.

A graduate of Yale College, her fiction has been published in various publications and she has written for magazines, websites and newspapers, including Glamour, Girls Life, Ladies Home Journal and The Washington Post.

She is currently at work on the second book in the Delilah Price series, Student Bodies.


Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of Over My Live Body to one lucky reader—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is tell me:
If a thriller novel/movie were to occur in your workplace setting, what would go down, and what would the book or film be called?

Don't forget to include your email address or Twitter username in your comment so I know who to contact when I choose a winner. Don't make me track you down!!!! No email = No entry!
Since I'm still in school, my movie would be called Campus Confidential... and it would be about the dangerous secrets revolving around sex, drugs, and violence (!) that accumulate to a disastrous outcome. Original, huh? :)

Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Susan and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher—a huge thank you to The Story Plant!
Giveaway ends June 5th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world! Please check my sidebar for a list of currently-running giveaways that are open worldwide.
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize after they have been notified, otherwise risk forfeiting their winnings.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Redesigning Rose by Lydia Laceby Sneak Peek and Giveaway! (International)

Redesigning Rose
Lydia Laceby

Rose Parker’s husband has been lying. About everything.

When a conversation with her husband triggers questions, Rose Parker uncovers alarming answers that shatter her perfect life. But it is only when she shoves her belongings in her SUV and drives off that Rose realizes just how far from perfect her life actually was. She has nowhere to turn.

While debating between distressing sleeping arrangements–her mother’s house full of questions or a hotel room with too much solitude–Rose bumps into an acquaintance from her gardening class and allows bubbly, exuberant Becky to indulge her in a wild night full of whiskey, weeping, and whispered confidences. Suddenly, Rose has a new friend, a roof over her head, and two gorgeous men moving her out of her marital home.

As Rose struggles to settle into her new life, she remains determined to comprehend her past. And with time and distance and especially wine, comes knowledge: Frank wasn’t the only one lying to her... Rose was lying to herself.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

6 Heart Review: UNi Moroccan Argan Oil Review

Disclosure: I received a free sample of this product as part of an advertorial.

Ingredients: 100% Organic and Natural Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil
Price: $35.99 (currently $14.95 + shipping on Amazon)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

UNi Argan Oil is 100% pure organic made from Moroccan Argan Trees. This naturally light scented oil helps protect, hydrate, and restore elasticity to all hair types.

The high concentration of fatty acids and antioxidants helps restore the appearance of dull skin, hair, body, scalp and hands, and also reduces and removes frizzy and damaged hair.

The oil is excellent for cuticles—it helps prevent cracking and peeling of nails—and can treat all skin types as well.
  • Our fast-absorbing lightweight oil is smooth, and NON greasy compared to other brands.
  • Highest quality of oil production, it is cold pressed and unroasted. Comes rich in Vitamin E (Tocopherols) and Omega 6 (Linolenic Acids).
  • NO strong odors. Our 100% organic Argan oil has a light nutty smell and is fragrance free.
  • USDA and ECOCERT certification means high purity and authentic.
  • Can be used on sensitive and non-sensitive skin to reduce age spots and boost skin tones.
  • Manufactured in the Kingdom of Morocco and Packaged in the USA.
  • UNi Argan Oil comes in a beautiful smooth dark glass bottle with easy access dropper.
  • UNi Argan Oil are manufactured and bottled throughout the year to ensure freshness and quality.
  • Manufactured date is printed on every bottle with a shelf-life of 36 months.

Review


I've tried different products that contain Argan oil for my hair before, but this was the first time I'd gotten the chance to use pure Moroccan Argan oil.

The oil itself is completely liquid and very lightweight—not as thick or dense as olive or canola oil, but still heavier than water. It's a pure brownish-amber color like the color of the bottle. One of the first things I noticed was the terrible scent. Maybe it's because it's an unprocessed oil without any added fragrances, but the smell was NOT pleasant and nutty, but rather pretty strong, with a hint of motor oil smell. I didn't like it at all, nor did I like the idea of applying it on my body and hair, but had to for review purposes.

After showering, I used the glass dropper to put a few drops in my palms and rubbed the oil between my hands as instructed, then smoothed it through my wet, combed hair. It went on smoothly like a detangling product. I kept it in rather than washing it out to use it as a leave-in conditioner and was pleasantly surprised. When my hair dried, it was sleek and shiny like when I use other pricey leave-in treatments (such as John Frieda's). I would much rather use this all-natural oil than be putting processed products in my hair.

Apparently you can apply this oil to your face as a moisturizer, but because I have pretty sensitive and acne-prone skin, I didn't want to risk it. There is no indication of the comedogenic ranking of Argan oil on the UNi bottle's description, but either way, it's an oil so you can never be sure.

Instead, I rubbed this into my legs right after shaving and showering. Just a few drops go a looong way for your entire body. It absorbed right away and didn't leave a greasy residue like coconut oil does. However, because it didn't smell that good, I wouldn't use it regularly on my body; the scent seeped into my skin and I smelled like mild gasoline the entire day, yeeuch.

Pros


Absorbs quickly // Light oil, not heavy like olive oil // Makes hair really smooth and manageable // Great for dry skin, especially on hands

Cons


Really weird, gasoline-like smell that doesn't go away even after oil is absorbed // Dropper bottle is easy to use, but could be potentially unsanitary or prone to spillage

Verdict


UNi's 100% Pure Moroccan Argan oil is a great all-natural alternative for leave-in hair treatments and conditioners, as well as a great body and potentially facial moisturizer. If it weren't for the unpleasant smell, I would definitely add it to my regular beauty arsenal Americanflag

6 hearts: Decent to try, but I'm not going back; this product is decidedly average (whatever that means!) (x)

Tell me:
Have you used Argan oil for your hair, body, or face, before? What was your experience like?
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary sample of UNi Argan Oil in exchange for an honest and unbiased review via Tomoson.com. I was not paid or sponsored to write this review—positive or otherwise—and all thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone.

Monday, May 19, 2014

1 Heart Review: Something Pretty, Something Beautiful by Eric Barnes

Something Pretty, Something Beautiful
Eric Barnes

Page Count: 247

Release Date: June 1st, 2013
Publisher: OutPost19
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, OutPost19 and TLC!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

In Tacoma, a circle of friends finds their leader in Will Wilson. Together, they drink, they get high, they take girls to the woods—but Will Wilson keeps pushing toward darker extremes. 

As the descent gets steeper, there is a way out: Another friend’s fishing boat off the coast of Alaska. There is life after Tacoma.

But the choice has to be made. And some friendships feel more than inevitable.

Something Pretty, Something Beautiful is a novel about bare and common violence. About the simple horrors taking place in the house that's down the street. The house along the road you drive past every day.

It’s about cars moving fast along streets lit white and gray. It’s about the crashing screams of a roller-coaster echoing out from the county fair.

Yet Something Pretty, Something Beautiful is also about quiet days in a small boat out on Puget Sound. Quiet days working hard in a fish plant in Alaska.

And it’s about the sadness of how to make those lives finally connect.
Will Wilson made our lives. He broke down limits Coe and Teddy and me didn't want. And by the time I left Tacoma, Will Wilson had given us all the kind of purpose and power that little kids fantasize about and most adults can never quite achieve.

I got up to page 52 of this book before I reached my "can't take this any longer" threshold, so I'm unable to reflect upon the storyline, but am more than happy to elaborate upon my DNF (did not finish) reasons below:

Something Pretty, Something Beautiful carefully details and juxtaposes the dark, wild antics of one group of friends's teenage years with the responsibility that comes with the adult world. Centered around the leader, Will Wilson, and the consequences that ripple out from childhood decisions, this book is descriptive but ambiguous, and reads like an extended vignette.

Stylistically, a novel-length vignette may sound attractive, but in this book, it's my biggest point of criticism. Eric Barnes tries terribly hard to sound poetic, but his sentence structure and word choices are off-key, and the pace of the storytelling is too sluggishly set. It took a lot of effort me to get just to page 52 (about one-fifths through) because I would find myself rereading certain sentences to try and process them.

The comprehensive effect is even worse; the awkward, choppy sentences paired with slow-moving scenes just make the book unreadable. What little I got out of the characters, I didn't like because they weren't very humanly portrayed—too flat, too uncertain—and the story was near impossible to follow because the mechanics of the writing just didn't keep my attention. The narrative and plot are constantly unclear, making it a confusing effort for me, which is why I eventually had to put it down.

Pros


Attractive cover and title

Cons


Even the synopsis is so incredibly vague that I don't know what the story is supposed to be about...?? // Writing style is superfluous and choppy // Poorly structured; setting, time, and perspective are never specified // Characters, or the narrator, for that matter, are superficially portrayed and hard to relate to // I couldn't even get through half of the book

Verdict


With ambitious attempts to be stylish in prose, but ending up more stylized and long-winded than anything, Something Pretty, Something Beautiful is a difficult, plodding novel I simply couldn't get into. It's pretty rare for me not to be able to finish a book, but the poor composition and uncertain storyline were too disorienting and floaty for me, and not in a good way (this is no Gabriel García Márquez, mind you). I tried hard to like Eric Barnes's sophomore novel because of its weighty, sinister undertone, but unfortunately gave up after 52 pages Americanflag

1 heart: Could not finish and have nothing positive to say; use this book to see if your pens still have ink, and keep it far, far away from me (x)

7 Heart Review: Lavishy Garden Flower eReader Sleeve + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary sample of this product as part of an advertorial.

Lavishy's Garden Flower eReader Sleeve is compatible with 6" Kindle, Nook, and Kobo eReader devices.

With inner core foam padding for safely carrying your beloved eReader as your travel companion, and made with certified non-toxic and eco-friendly durable vegan leather, this sleeve features beautiful embroidery on both sides.
  • Zipper around closure to ensure things inside are safely kept
  • Size: 20 x 14 x 2 cm / 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 in
  • Available Colors: Red, Black
  • Retail Price: $19.99

Being a frequent traveler and the kind of traveler that always totes a book around at that, it's no wonder a eReader sleeve like Lavishy's would come in handy. I always have to put my Kindle at the top of my bag because I'm worried it'll get crushed by all my books and miscellaneous stuff, but now I can just slide it in between my books because of the padded protection this sleeve provides.

This sleeve is definitely sturdy; the vegan leather cover seems tough and while I don't want to wrongly vouch for it being waterproof, it's definitely scratch-resistant and does a good job protecting my device from other materials (sand, dirt, etc.).

The biggest drawback is that there aren't any little pockets or compartments for my charger or any other little accessories. I docked a few more points for the design as well; it's a little tacky and not exactly "me" but would be perfect for preteen girls or for people who like the embroidered flower look.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall a good product; borrow, don't buy! (x)

Giveaway!


The folks over at Lavishy have been generous enough to offer two Garden Flower eReader Sleeves to Books à la Mode readers—that's two winners total! To enter, all you have to do is tell me:
Which eReader do you own and would you recommend others buy it too, or are you not that much of a fan? I've been thinking of getting a new eReader and would love to have YOUR input on the pros and cons of different devices based off your own experience!
Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist and retailer—a huge thank you to Tomoson and Lavishy!
Giveaway ends June 2nd at 11.59 PM (your time).

Open to US/Canada residents only. Sorry, rest of the world! Please check my sidebar for a list of currently-running giveaways that are open internationally.
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

FTC Disclosure: I received one Lavishy Garden Flower eReader Sleeve in Black using Tomoson.com in order to write an honest and unbiased review. I was not paid or sponsored to write this review—positive or otherwise—and all thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone.

Friday, May 16, 2014

7 Heart Review: Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols + Giveaway! (US only)

Brought to you by the fabulous Itching for Books Book Tours...

Biggest Flirts (Superlatives #1)
Jennifer Echols

Page Count: 336

Release Date: May 20th 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Simon & Schuster and Itching for Books!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

The yearbook votes have been cast.

Senior year is about to get interesting.

Tia just wants to have fun. She’s worked hard to earn her reputation as the life of the party, and she’s ready for a carefree senior year of hanging out with friends and hooking up with cute boys. And her first order of business? New guy Will. She can’t get enough of his Midwestern accent and laid-back swagger.

As the sparks start to fly, Will wants to get serious. Tia’s seen how caring too much has left her sisters heartbroken, and she isn’t interested in commitment. But pushing Will away drives him into the arms of another girl. Tia tells herself it’s no big deal... until the yearbook elections are announced. Getting voted Biggest Flirts with Will is, well, awkward. They may just be friends, but their chemistry is beginning to jeopardize Will’s new relationship—and causing Tia to reconsider her true feelings. What started as a lighthearted fling is about to get very complicated...
I didn't understand Will, but I knew enough that I didn't want to. He was so hot, and kissed so well, and that earring! He was the type of guy I could get really attached to if I wasn't careful. And though I might not seem like the most conscientious person most of the time, I was always careful about boys.

Having witnessed all of her older sisters fall in love and fall apart, the last thing Tia Cruz wants is a boyfriend, but senior year, when Will Matthews arrives at her school—the undeniably cool kid from the Midwest, and possible the cutest boy she has ever seen—her determination begins to falter. Will Matthews is the kind of boy who could make her forget.

Tia and Will's playful relationship is definitely fun to follow, especially watching both characters grow as they discover themselves within each other. I also love the portrayal of high school casual relationships—better known as "friends with benefits"—which seems like a racy topic for YA fiction, but is actually prevalent among teenagers, and thus, entirely relevant; Echols brings the experience to life maturely and memorably. What bothered me, however, was the progression of the relationship. The breakup, makeup, breakup-again sequence was too formulaic, too predictable. Given the synopsis of the book, there's nothing I couldn't have seen coming. Nothing about Tia and Will as a couple particularly surprised, devastated, or delighted me; it was nothing we've never seen before in YA romance. Once the two are paired as the school's Biggest Flirts (since when is that even a superlative?), the rest of the story just went along as expected.

I loved Tia as a character; she's unconventional, and not your typical bashful, romantic heroine. She's strong, but also has a thousand insecurities; brilliant, but intentionally an underachiever. I think she's a hit-or-miss character, though; I can definitely see some readers not liking her recklessness or her brash tone. Her chemistry with Will is spot-on, and the sexual tension and energy the two create will have your heart thumping and you remembering what teenage romance feels like again.

The secondary characters are both a strength and a weakness of Biggest Flirts. Most of them make very minor but very frequent appearances that I found sort of pointless, other than to keep confusing me with all the different names. Tia's best friends rarely show their faces, which made me feel like they aren't her friends at all. Will is a beautifully written character (Jennifer Echols creates another heartbreaker—surprise!) but I absolutely loved Sawyer, Tia's on-again-off-again "boyfriend," and can't wait for Book #3, because it's his story. Won't give too much away, but if you like tragic teen boys, be prepared to swoon!

Pros


Tia is an imperfect, but genuine character with lots of attitude! // Family backstory is important, not just the romance // Portrays the mindset of casual, rather than dating, relationships well // Hot hookups! (Nothing wildly explicit, but still for an older YA crowd) // Will and Sawyer ♥

Cons


Plot is predictably structured // The only real characters are Tia and Will, the rest seem to have come from YA character moulds // Flows well, but style is not remarkable

Love

"I would really like to get in trouble for touching you right now."

Verdict


Sexy and smart, Biggest Flirts is a thrilling escape of a contemporary young adult novel that captures the spirit and squalor of high school colorfully and entertainingly. I didn't find Tia and Will's relationship that special, and stylistically, it's not particularly clever, but Jennifer Echols's newest book is fun, flirty, and full of impressionable characters and a convincing romantic undertone Americanflag

7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall enjoyable; borrow, don't buy! (x)

Giveaway!

We are giving away three print copies of Biggest Flirts and one grand prize of print copies of Such a Rush, Dirty Little Secret, and The Only One That I Want as part of the virtual tour hosted by Itching for Books—that's four winners tour-wide. Yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form below:
As a reminder, this is a generic tour-wide giveaway so I do not choose winners or prizes, and am merely a part of the promotional efforts.

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the tour publicist and publisher—a huge thank you to Itching for Books and Simon Pulse!
Giveaway ends May 19th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world! Please check my sidebar for a list of currently-running giveaways that are open worldwide.
Void where prohibited.
As this is a tour-wide giveaway, I have no say in the selected winners and am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!