Blog Tour Review: Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey

Welcome to the kick-off of the blog tour for Kerry Winfrey's Love and Other Alien Experiences! I'm very excited that Paper Lantern Lit asked me to take part in this tour, so let's get to it!

To start, here's a bit about the book:

Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey.

Published: November 10, 2015.
Published by: The Studio by Paper Lantern Lit.
Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher for the tour. Thank you, PLL!

Goodreads Synopsis:
In this heartwarming debut by HelloGiggles blogger Kerry Winfrey, a young agoraphobe begins a journey of first love that leads her to the true meaning of home—just by taking one small step outside of her house. 

My name is Mallory Sullivan.

My therapist says I have an anxiety disorder.

My brother says I’m an “optimistic recluse.”

Everybody else says I'm a freak.

And they kind of have a point, because I haven't left the house in 67 days and only attend class via the webcam on my laptop. The person I talk to the most other than my mom and brother is the completely obnoxious BeamMeUp, and all we do is argue on New Mexico’s premiere alien message board.

But after yesterday, I have something: a chance. If I can win the homecoming crown by convincing resident hot popular guy and Friday Night Lights spawn Brad Kirkpatrick to go as my date, then maybe #stayathome will never appear next to the name @Mallory_Sullivan ever again. 

First, I have to leave my room.

My Review:

Love and Other Alien Experiences is a well crafted combination of a cute high school drama and an exploration of dealing with and overcoming mental illness. Mallory suffers from severe anxiety and agoraphobia, triggered by her dad leaving their family one day without explanation. She doesn't leave her house, attending school through Skype and socializing largely on an online forum about aliens. But when she is nominated for homecoming queen - as a joke, she's sure - she begins to realize that she might actually want to win. At first just for the prize money - $500, which would help her achieve her desire to find her father on a trip she believes he'll be on. But the more she does to try to present herself as a viable homecoming queen candidate, the more she enjoys it - and the more progress she makes working through her anxiety.

I can't really speak to the handling of agoraphobia except to say that Winfrey wrote it in a way that made me understand and sympathize with Mallory, but I do think that some of the other anxiety manifestations described were conveyed well. I did find that it felt like Mallory moved forward in her progress quite quickly for the severity of the illness, but that was noted in a way by Mallory within the text, and I do understand that it couldn't be drawn out excessively for the purposes of the story. I appreciated the normalization of her seeing a therapist for her anxiety -- it was presented as a positive relationship and the fact that she saw one was never questioned or ridiculed. I think that's an important stance to take in YA, so I was glad to see it here.

One thing Winfrey does very well in LaOAE is Mallory's relationships with her peers. Despite Mallory confining herself to her house, she still has a great relationship with her best friend, Jenni. Jenni is supportive and considerate of Mallory and her struggle, but she also tries gently to help Mallory challenge her comfort zone in a very respectful way. I also appreciated that she has her own interests outside of the main character -- in her beauty vlogging, for example -- as that makes her feel more real as a character. Mallory also has a close relationship with her brother, Lincoln, the dynamics of which have changed since she became housebound. Watching them sort through these changes and work to maintain the strong relationship they have was a wonderful, if easily resolved, exploration of sibling bonds, something I don't find there's enough of in YA.

I found that the storyline surrounding the online alien forum and the mysterious user BeamMeUp was a nice addition to Mallory's story, and of course it plays into the plot more than it initially appears, which was fun. Despite figuring out the big reveal early on, I still enjoyed watching it unfold. I thought it was interesting the way Mallory relied on the forum and BeamMeUp as a comfort zone in dealing with her anxiety, and it only made the way the that plot line resolved even better.

All in all, I really have mostly positive thoughts about Love and Other Alien Experiences. It was fun when it needed to be, and it was serious and fairly realistic, in my opinion at least, when handling Mallory's mental illness. It's an enjoyable, empowering, and ultimately triumphant tale of a young woman facing a difficult struggle and learning that her life doesn't have to end where her mental illness begins.

About the Author:

Kerry Winfrey grew up in Bellville, Ohio, where she spent most of her time reading inappropriate books at the library. Not much has changed. Kerry writes for HelloGiggles and blogs at welcometoladyville.com. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and their dog, Merlin. You can find her on Twitter @KerryAnn.
photo copyright Alex Winfrey 

Buy the book: Amazon // Barnes & Noble // iBooks


Blog Tour Review: Frosh: First Blush by Monica B. Wagner

Today I'm excited to be on the Paper Lantern Lit blog tour for Monica B. Wagner's FROSH: FIRST BLUSH! I've been working on reading more NA lately because, with the college setting especially, it's closer to my own personal experience right now. So I was definitely looking forward to reading this one, and it didn't let me down!

Before I get ahead of myself, though, here's more about the book:

Frosh: First Blush by Monica B. Wagner

Frosh #1.
Published: October 20th, 2015.
Published by: The Studio by Paper Lantern Lit.
Source: Received an eARC of the novel for review for the tour. Thanks, PLL!

Goodreads Synopsis:
During welcome week at Hillson University, the FROSH will hit the fan.

Type-A aspiring journalist Ellie plans to take freshman year by storm. But hell-bent on breaking a huge on-campus scandal, she risks becoming one herself—and getting the mysterious, heart-melting QB in serious trouble. 

Grant, star quarterback and charismatic chick-magnet, is hiding a life-altering secret. The last thing he needs is an overeager (absolutely adorable) journalist asking questions. He’s got a reputation to protect.

High-society legacy student Devon is ready to catch the football hottie of her dreams. If the tabloids feature her with the “it” boy on her arm, her tainted past will be buried—or so she thinks.

Charlie, pre-med, is done being the sweet and funny geek that girls like Devon ignore. But if he tries to impress her with a new edgy, spontaneous attitude, will his heart end up in the emergency room?

FROSH intertwines the stories of Ellie, Grant, Devon, and Charlie in Mónica B. Wagner’s sexy NA debut series, about falling in love and falling apart.

My Review:
FROSH: First Blush, the first book in a new series, follows four college students, three of whom are in their first year and just beginning to learn what college life is like. It has its dramatic moments and its sweet ones, and is overall an enjoyable foray into the world of NA.

The four main characters are an interesting bunch, and mostly felt quite realistic. Each had their ups and downs - what college student doesn't? - and each had things about them that I admired, and other things that I wasn't so crazy about (except for Charlie... I think I just really liked nerdy, adorable Charlie). But take Devon, for example. I loved her confidence and her sex-positivity, but I didn't love the way she rejected the idea of female friends and put down other girls without actually knowing them. Of course, everyone's flaws make them human, but that one did kind of put me off a little more than with Ellie and Grant's characters and their flaws.

One thing that I find can be quite tough with multi-POV books is making each voice distinct. Sometimes even authors juggling only two POVs can struggle with this, but Wagner managed to distinguish all four voices enough for me that I never had to flip back and check on whose chapter I was reading. I really have to commend her on that, because that's not an easy task, It helped, of course, with just reading and enjoying the story, but it also made it easier for me to get invested because it enhanced the characters' realness.

I also have to say that while the storyline wasn't constantly pull-me-in exciting, there was enough going on between the four of them that I was kept interested every time I picked the book up, and I became engaged in all that was going on in their lives. I don't want to give much away, because it all really unfolds quite nicely - and I like the way each of them is connected to the others as it does. Plus, Wagner ends on quite the cliffhanger that definitely has me curious to come back for the next installment - there's a lot at stake, and previous evidence shows that it might not play out so well for the characters at first. So while I didn't absolutely love it, there was certainly enough there to get me interested in the characters (and yeah, I'm probably invested in Charlie), and enough plot happening that I need to know what happens next!

Enter the giveaway for a chance at a copy of FROSH:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author:

Mónica was born in a Peruvian city by a snow-capped volcano. Growing up, books were her constant companions as she traveled with her family to places like India (where she became a vegetarian), Thailand (where she *almost* met Leonardo di Caprio), France (where she pretended to learn French), and countless other places that inspired her to write. Now, Mónica lives in Chile with her husband, three boys, eleven hens, and stray dog. Keep up with Monica and follow her on Twitter @Monica_BW or visit her website: http://monibw.blogspot.com.  


Blog Tour Review: Leading Lines by Chantel Guertin

Leading Lines by Chantel Guertin.

Pippa Greene #3.
Published: October 13, 2015.
Published by: ECW Press.
Source: Received from the publisher for review for the blog tour. Thanks, ECW!

Goodreads Synopsis:
“You’ll fall in love with this genuine young heroine.” -- Best Health

After two drama-filled weeks in Manhattan, Pippa Greene is back. Despite a romantic reunion with boyfriend Dylan, she can’t seem to shake the emotional aftermath of New York. As she navigates parental drama at home and her charged dynamic with Ben Baxter at school, Pippa finds that Dylan is more wrapped up in his post-high-school life of bands, shows, and new friends than in their relationship. Will it survive?

Written with the same humour and heart that made Chantel Guertin’s first two Pippa Greene novels instant favourites, Leading Lines offers a fresh and charming perspective on friendships, family, and first love.

My Review:

Pippa Greene is back, indeed, and bringing some new struggles with her.

Leading Lines is the third installment in Guertin's series about young photographer Pippa Greene and is full of the same kind of realistic moments and, as the synopsis claims, humour and heart that the first two books did so well.

One thing that Guertin really shines at is the way she writes relationships -- both familial and romantic -- and both of those came through strongly and were very well crafted in this story. As of the beginning of Leading Lines, Pippa has discovered a lot about the previously unknown dynamics of her family. Following that, Pippa has to further deal with her grief over losing her father as she takes on some photography assignments rooted in the past, as well as having to confront her feelings towards the surprise addition to her family circle and those towards her mother for having kept such a big secret. As before, these family relationships are thoughtful and touching while still maintaining enough drama to keep them interesting enough to be worthy of a novel.

The romantic ups and downs that Pippa goes through with her boyfriend Dylan upon their post-winter break reunion, after all the time spent rooting for them to get together in the past books, actually got a little hard for me to read at times because of how true to young relationships it felt. I saw so much of the personal conflicts and questions as well as the interpersonal issues that came up in my own young relationships come up between Pippa and Dylan as they try to figure out if they can grow together as they each grow on their own as individuals. I really appreciated the way Guertin not only made these issues feel so genuine but also that she gave them the weight they deserve in the story because these are things that really do hold significant weight in a young woman's life. Pippa and Dylan's relationship struggles were never depicted as juvenile in a negative way, even while Guertin maintained the true "teenager feel" of the characters, which was a great balance. One thing I also thought was interesting was that Guertin didn't take the romance where I thought she would, which was great in that it was a surprise, but was still a bit of a bummer for me because I was interested in where I thought it was going (and yes, I'm trying to remain spoiler-free here).

Other than that, as seems to be consistently the case with these novels, my only real complaint is that there isn't a great deal of excitement that goes on over the course of the story. This isn't a flaw in the books, because it isn't that there's a lack of story here. I think it's more that this is a more "domestic," if you will, storyline than what I normally choose to read and so it doesn't live up to some of the larger scale novels I spend more time with. But family dynamics are something that readers have been loud about asking for, and this series is very strong when it comes to that. It absolutely has its audience, and though I don't fit into that audience 100%, I still definitely enjoy the novels.

In all, Leading Lines is a great follow-up to the previous two Pippa Greene novels and takes her story deeper into her personal life and into her genuine love for her family, her friends, and her photography. As usual, I also of course appreciate the photographic reference in the title and the weaving into the narrative of the photography terms and techniques. These novels remain relatable and sweet and are a great read for anyone looking for dynamic and honest relationships in their YA fiction.

Follow the blog tour:

September 5: Tour kickoff, Review, and Giveaway, Booking it with Hayley G
September 6: Giveaway, Chapter by Chapter
September 7: Review, Books Etc
September 8: Review, Read My Breath Away
September 9: Review, One More Page Reviews
September 10: Review, Sukasa Reads
September 11: Guest Post, Dear Teen Me
September 12: Review and Excerpt, Brains, Books, and Brawn
September 13: Review, Musings of a Writer
September 14: Review, Ramblings of a Daydreamer
September 15: Review and Giveaway, The Book Bratz


Author Interview: Taryn Scarlett, of the Sin & Honey Series

Today I'm interviewing an author who takes us away a little from the kind of story that's usually featured on this blog. Through my blogging partnership with Paper Lantern Lit I learned about a series of novellas they're releasing that is their first adult work and I have some info on the series straight from the author.

First, here's a bit about the newest novella in the series:

For the Love of the Enemy by Taryn Scarlett

Sin & Honey #3
Published: September 1, 2015.
Published by: The Studio by Paper Lantern Lit.

Since the first day he saw her, he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her. –Judith 12:17

Judith fought for justice.

Bagoas reasoned for peace.

Holofernes thirsted for blood.

In this third Sin & Honey novella, Taryn Scarlett explores the provocative story of Judith, a woman tormented by the war in her country—and the war in her heart.

A young widow living in devastated country, Judith is forced to watch as the ferocious Assyrian general Holofernes slaughters her people. Desperate to save her family, she decides to take matters into her own hands: she will seduce the general and get into his bed—where she can kill him, and end the war.

But once Judith steals into enemy territory masquerading as an Israeli defector, she meets Bagoas, a soldier on a mission for peace. Aroused by his honor, Judith has a terrifying choice to make: let her people suffer and die, or sacrifice true love for the greater good.

Now, welcome Taryn Scarlett to the blog!

Jess: Hi Taryn, thanks for joining me! 
First off, I must admit to being curious: what draws you to writing erotic romance?
Taryn: I've always been drawn to the romantic aspects of books and movies, even from a very young age. I remember watching Phantom of the Opera, the musical, when I was only 4 years-old, and being utterly captivated by the passion and drama of that dark romance. I grew up reading Little Women, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice—some of my first 'ships' were couples from those books! (Jo and Professor Bhaer 4ever.) Writing romance has always made sense to me, and romance READERS are some of the most supportive and passionate in the industry. It's a community I'm proud to be a part of!

J: What prompted the use of the bible stories as inspiration for this series?
T: I read The Red Tent when I was very young and I've spoken before about how that book influenced my life—I even went on to write my thesis in college on Biblical women, using Lillith (Adam's oft-forgotten first wife) and Leah (one of the characters in the first SIN AND HONEY novella!) as my primary examples for the two ways we categorize women in literature: as lovers, or mothers. I've always been fascinated by Biblical depictions of women: they get these fascinating stories, bring down nations, save entire civilizations, fall in love, fall in lust, get betrayed and abused...but their stories are all told via a male perspective. I wanted to bring some humanity to their stories, as well as some passion. 

The first novella in the series, Seven Years of Longing

J: Is there a certain bible story you're especially looking forward to reimagining? Why that one in particular?
T: It's so hard to pick just one! I will say that the first 3 novellas take place in uber-ancient times and in mostly rural areas; I'm talking they only had wool, oil lanterns, and lots of goats. The latter 3 novellas (coming Spring-Summer 2016!) take place later in history AND are all royal-themed so there's been some evolution in what we have to work with: fine silks, gold jewelry, beautiful marble columns and candlelight, lavish feasts...I'm excited to have some freedom to describe the luxuriousness and sensuality of the later time periods. :) 
J: What was the experience like working with the Paper Lantern Lit team on these books?
T: Amazing. I love the team at PLL so much. It's a great place to come into your own as a writer while also allowing yourself to be challenged: from nuanced Editorial letters from Lexa Hillyer and the sharp and tactful notes from Lauren Oliver to my own editor Rhoda Belleza's compassion when dealing with a story that obviously means so much to me–I really couldn't have asked for a better team to shepherd this series into the world. (Also shout-outs to Alexa Wejko and Kamilla Benko, who have done so much behind-the-scenes for SIN AND HONEY!)

J: Can you give us a sneak peek at what else is coming from you for this series?
T: The next novella, FOR LOVE OF THE ENEMY, is one I am extremely proud of. It's the story of a widow, Judith, who goes to great lengths to save her people from a violent war: seducing and killing the enemy general. But, of course, she falls in love with a soldier behind enemy lines and has to choose between the fate of her entire people or true love. It's got Game of Thrones levels of drama, the romance is suspenseful and high-stakes, and I can't wait for you all to read it!

Wow, sounds really intriguing! Thanks so much for chatting with me, Taryn!

The second novella in the series, The Touch of Betrayal

Make sure you go check out the Sin & Honey series if some erotic novellas sound like a nice little break from the usual YA fare!

About Taryn

Taryn Scarlett holds a B.A. in Theater and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her weaknesses are chocolate, floral sundresses, soapy TV dramas, and anything purple. SIN AND HONEY is her first series. You can visit Taryn at www.TarynScarlett.com.


Weekly Wrap: July 25th, 2015

Inspired by Kathy and Kelly's Weekly Obsessions and Kay's Bookish Report, this is where I catch you up on things from around the blogosphere that caught my eye over the past week.

I missed last week because I was halfway across the country with limited internet, so this is kind of a double dose of wrap up! Although I'll admit I'm behind on a few things, especially posts from other bloggers, so I'll try to catch up on those for next week!


The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

Curio by Evangeline Denmark

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

Return Once More by Trisha Leigh

Around the Blogosphere

Book Riot wrote a great post about fat phobia in YA and how publishing can work to combat it within the books the industry puts out as well as in how they market those books.

Book Bub put together a list of books to read if you enjoyed Gone Girl. There's a great YA featured on that list too, by none other than the wonderful Paula Stokes!

Aimee from The Social Potato made some gorgeous graphics for ACOTAR and ADSOM and I loooove the ADSOM one! Go check them out!

Variety shared the news that Disney is developing a movie based on Julie Murphy's upcoming release, Dumplin! Learn more here.

Publishers Weekly put out their Spring 2016 Children's preview and there are quite a few books on there that I am super intrigued by. Go forth and let your TBR multiply!

New Book Deals

Anchor & Sophia trilogy by Tommy Wallach

 By Your Side by Kasie West

 Hearts Made of Black by Stephanie Garber

 I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

 Roar by Cora Carmack

 The Art of Starving by Sam Miller

 Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Song of the Week

Song of the Week is where I try to pick a song I was listening to a lot over the past week, unless I was boring, in which case I just pick one I love! This week's is by an English band I really love and I've been listening to their first full-length album a lot lately.

What's new in your corner of the book world this week? Did I miss anything that you're really excited about? Let me know!


Top Ten Diverse Books

Top Ten Tuesday is created and run by The Broke and the Bookish.

This topic lends itself well to a post I'm working on about diverse books, so it was great to look through my shelves and find some diverse books I'm happy to recommend.

I'm going to divide them up by kind of diversity instead of ranking them like I usually do with Top Ten Tuesday posts.

People of Colour

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Like No Other by Una Lamarche


Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman

Both (intersectional diversity FTW)

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Neurological diversity

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu


Three diverse books that I have seriously heard nothing but great things about and which are on my immediate TBR:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

What are your diverse recs?


Quiet YA Spotlight + Guest Post from Ann Redisch Stampler

Julie, creator of the wonderful #QuietYA hashtag and all around great person has put together a fantastic series with some authors in order to highlight their Quiet YA books. Today I'm excited to be hosting Ann Redisch Stampler, author of Afterparty, Where It Began, and the upcoming How to Disappear, talking about what Quiet YA means to her. Welcome, Ann.

What #QuietYA Means To Me

I grew up in Santa Barbara, with a beautiful white Spanish, red-tile-roofed library.  It was the era of no-talking-in-the-library. So while you’d hear footsteps, a laugh or a dropped book echoing in the high ceilinged rooms, in my memory, there was always a hush.  

For me, this was the hush of connecting with a book, of searching through the stacks, taking books from the shelves and leafing through them.  Retreating to a cool, isolated corner with an armload of volumes which might contain my book.  The perfect one.  The one I had to read right then. The book to that drew me in and spoke to me --mind, heart and soul.

This, for me, is what #QuietYA is all about.  The debate about whether the definition of Quiet YA should be a book without plot pyrotechnics, or a book that’s been undervalued, or a book that hasn’t received major awards is interesting.  But to the YA reader, searching the stacks as I did, wanting to fall into the pages of her perfect book, I’m not sure that definitions matter.

Quiet YA is about being so connected to a book, so involved in the book’s world, so fascinated by the characters, that all the other noise in the reader’s life fades to the almost-sacred silence of the Santa Barbara Public Library.  
Quiet YA represents the reader’s opportunity to range through a citadel of books like the childhood library where I wanted to pitch a tent.  That was my fantasy:  spending the night alone in that library, black words on white pages illuminated by a flashlight, teaching my imagination to fly; expanding my understanding of the world and my ability to see things from different points of view; demanding that I feel empathy for people who reached up from the pages and grabbed my heart.

As I entered my teen years, books allowed me to create that quiet place of passionate involvement wherever I went.  I carried books around with me, and they carried me away and brought me back nourished and refreshed.

It is a wonder to me now that books with teen characters are being published in such great numbers, and are so highly valued by their readers.  The moments of intense involvement with characters and stories are heightened when the reader is, developmentally, in a place so similar to the characters who speak to her, that she’s able to experience the story with a unique emotional immediacy.  For older readers, Quiet YA moments pull us back into a fuller appreciation of where we’ve been, and shed light on our process of becoming who we are.

Quiet YA isn’t a book, but the experience of interacting with a book.

I wish you all a flashlight, a tent, and the YA novel that compels you to enter its world.

Thank you, Ann, for such a fantastic post. 

Just so you know, Ann's book Afterparty is a Kindle bargain right now. You can grab that here: http://amzn.to/1JfH6Zq

Make sure you also enter the (US only) giveaway with books provided by some of the awesome participating authors, including Afterparty

a Rafflecopter giveaway