Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review of DRIVEN by Lisa Nowak

DRIVEN by Lisa Nowak
Full Throttle series
Synopsis via Goodreads:
The last thing on 16-year-old Jess DeLand’s wish list is a boyfriend. She’d have to be crazy to think any guy would look twice at her. Besides, there are more important things to hope for, like a job working on cars and an end to her mom’s drinking. Foster care is a constant threat, and Jess is willing to sacrifice anything to stay out of the system. When luck hands her the chance to work on a race car, she finds herself rushing full throttle into a world of opportunities—including a boy who doesn’t mind the grease under her fingernails. The question is, can a girl who keeps herself locked up tighter than Richard Petty’s racing secrets open up enough to risk friendship and her first romance?
My Review: 5+ Stars 
Lisa, you've done it again!  Driven is hands down my favorite book in the series.  Pure literary joy. I didn't think Running Wide Open could be topped.  I was wrong.  I really couldn't put this one down.  I've never given a book higher than 5 stars, but I'm throwing in a plus on this one - I loved it that much.

In book 3 of the Full Throttle series, Lisa Nowak has taken a different approach with her story.  Instead of the story being told from Cody Everett's point of view, it's now Jess DeLand's turn.  And she does not disappoint!  The story is told from her perspective as her world collides with that of  our favorite characters' from the previous books.  This is a nice change and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The story is an emotional roller coaster ride, while being heartfelt, real and relatable, the entire way through.  

Jess DeLand has it rough.  Her dad walked out when she was 8, leaving her in her mother's care.  While not an uncommon situation, this is an extreme hardship on her because her mother is an alcoholic.  Jess has endured things no child should have to ever endure.  Such as having to go to a bar, at the age of 10, and dragging her drunk mom home because her keys have been confiscated by the bartender.  Or having to cut a much needed, much deserved evening with friends short because she has to collect her mom from the police dept. after she's busted for a DUI.  Or having to work 2 jobs to help meet their basic needs because her mom can't be bothered to make it to work on time and hold down 1 job.

Luckily, Jess has skills.  Before he left, her father cultivated in her a love of automotive mechanics.  Her dream job is to work on cars, particularly racing ones.  One day, Jess get a lucky break.  She's offered the opportunity to live her dream of working on race cars . . . .  and getting paid for it.  No more flipping burgers for her.  The bonus comes as she develops real friendships for the first time in her life.  Having to hide her mom's abusive, neglectful and alcoholic tendencies has meant she could never make friends for fear her secret would be discovered and she'd end up in foster care.  But, her new  boss, teenage race car driver, Teri-Sue Cline and her younger brother Rhett, become the siblings she's never had.  What she also wasn't expecting was the attention of one Cody Everett.  After she takes a few swings at his head in a fit of rage, he can't seem to stay away from her.

Things are far from normal or easy for her.  She's trying to find balance in her life, and it's proving to be a difficult task.  Especially for someone who isn't accustomed to asking for help from anyone, no matter how dire her circumstances become.

What I most enjoyed about this book, is how all my favorite characters are  incorporated into Jess' life, in addition to the new ones.  Cody's and Jess' worlds mesh perfectly and we get what we loved about the previous books with a new, equally endearing story and protagonist.  Although their relationship starts off on a hostile note, Cody and Jess compliment each other beautifully and find that they have a lot more than a love for the race track, in common.

"I understand how it is, not knowing what's gonna happen to you because your parents are too messed up to put you first." - Cody

Lisa's characters have tugged at my heartstrings since book 1.   They are lovable and endearing as well as infuriating.  I find myself wishing some of these people were real and that I was part of their inner circle.  Their devotion to each other melts my heart.  While some are selfish, flawed, and deeply troubled, others are fiercely loyal, sweet, vulnerable, dependable and sincere.  As always, both sides of humanity are displayed.  You have those who practice unconditional love and those who can't see past their own wants and desires.  They elicit a wide range of emotions from the reader.

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of Lisa Nowak's.   She's easily one of my favorite authors.  She has a way of telling a wonderful, compelling story with incredible depth and humanity.  This enables her to pull the reader in and make you care as if you've become a part of her characters' family.  Her writing style is completely enjoyable.  It's easy and flows effortlessly, never distracting from the storyline.  If anyone has been on the fence about this series, I guarantee this book will seal the deal. 

You can find my reviews of  Running Wide Open HERE and Getting Sideways HERE.

Purchase links for DRIVEN:

About the author:
In addition to being a YA author, Lisa Nowak is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are. She enjoys dark chocolate and stout beer and constantly works toward employing wei wu wei in her life, all the while realizing that the struggle itself is an oxymoron.

Lisa has no spare time, but if she did she’d use it to tend to her expansive perennial garden, watch medical dramas, take long walks after dark, and teach her cats to play poker. For those of you who might be wondering, she is not, and has never been, a diaper-wearing astronaut. She lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband, four feline companions, and two giant sequoias.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


This year's edition of THE BOOK BLOGGER"S COOKBOOK is out and it's fabulous.  The recipes are simple enough that even someone like me can whip them together.  The reviews have been positive and this includes mine as well.  It was fun to see what fellow book bloggers, like myself, had to say about books I've read and one's I still haven't been able to get to yet.  I enjoyed reading reviews from book bloggers I currently follow and one's I'd never heard of before.  What a way to bring us together!

The books featured in this edition are:

Some of the delicious recipes you'll find in the book are:
Beignet Chess Squares
Jagged Ham
Octavian Ribs
Polite Pumpkin Custard
On the Go Ice Cream
Lumba Berry Pie
Everliving Soup
Modern Day Rootbeer Cookies
Wind-whirled Ice Cream Cake

I was immediately sold on the idea of this book.  It's genius.  Combine delicious recipes and pair them with book in the Young Adult genre.  Bloggers and readers have to eat, right?  Of course, being me, I headed straight for the dessert recipes.  The first one I tried was the On the Go Caramel Ice Cream Topping - which is the the recipe my review of WATCHED is featured in!  See my full review of Cindy M. Hogan's book HERE. 

Funny thing is, I'm not a caramel lover.  But, I really wanted to give it a try...AND it did not disappoint!  It's so delicious and my husband and 4 kids loved it.  It only has 3 simple ingredients:  bananas, brown sugar and butter.  It serves 6, which was perfect for my family size.  Thanks, Christy, for putting together such a wonderful book.  Although I haven't tried all the recipes, I will.

I love the idea of this book and what it does for people who love to try new things.  If you get the cookbook right now, it's only 0.99!  But this won't last for very long, so hurry and snatch it up!  To find out more about Christy and the incredible giveaways she's doing during her book launch visit her website HERE where you could win $200 worth of books!

Also on the tour stop today is Jennifer over at My Life with Books.  So stop by and see what she has cookin'!  And don't forget to enter Christy's GIVEAWAY!

About the author:
 My family means everything to me and I love being a wife to my amazing husband and stay at home mom to five awesome kiddos.

Reading, writing, cooking and Irish dancing make me happy. You will find a little of everything here.

I am a freelance writer and author. My articles have appeared in Feis America Magazine and DiddlyiMag. I write for my local newspaper, The Syracuse Islander, and I recently had an article accepted for the children's Friend Magazine.

I love to read books and review them.  And because I love to cook, I found a way to combine reading with eating--I guess you could call it reating!  I enjoy matching recipes to the books I read and then I blog about them both.  Last year I combined my reviews and recipes with reviews around the blogosphere and created a book.

My first book, The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook is now available on Amazon. The 2012 edition is slated to be published in May (if you are an author or blogger who would like to be a part of the 2012 edition, fill out this form). Currently I am working on a non-fiction book on Irish dancing, several picture books and a YA fiction that's in a rough outlining stage.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review of PRETTY AMY by Lisa Burstein Plus Author Interview

PRETTY AMY by Lisa Burstein
Synopsis via Goodreads
Amy is fine living in the shadows of beautiful Lila and uber-cool Cassie, because at least she’s somewhat beautiful and uber-cool by association. But when their dates stand them up for prom, and the girls take matters into their own hands—earning them a night in jail outfitted in satin, stilettos, and Spanx—Amy discovers even a prom spent in handcuffs might be better than the humiliating “rehabilitation techniques” now filling up her summer. Worse, with Lila and Cassie parentally banned, Amy feels like she has nothing—like she is nothing.

Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it’s worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.

MY REVIEW: 4 Stars  
This book took me right back to high school and the uncertainty of it all.
My initial impression of Amy is that she needs a backbone and a brain.  She's the one in the group that doesn't speak up for herself and just goes along with everything, despite what common sense tells her.  I was immediately frustrated with her character and shaking my head with each page turn, but the story is so well-written I became invested in her journey to (hopefully) self discoveryI had to see if she would grow from her experiences, find her voice and realize that she doesn't need the approval of others to validate her existence.  She so afraid of being obscure and overlooked - it's almost paralyzing.  There were certain aspects of her mentality that I remember sharing in high school.  Her inner voice is very real and competently translates the rawness of her pain.  You can easily feel her frustration, angst and desperation.  Amy's inner voice is candid and entertaining - among my favorites is this summation:
'In  high school you are not given a choice as to who you become, you are signed up long before that based on looks, smarts, and talent, and then corralled into your group.  The problem was, I didn't like my group.  Girls who were not popular but not dorks, either, who were not pretty but not totally disgusting.  Girls who floated somewhere in between, somewhere boring; who didn't get asked on dates, who never had to stay out past curfew, who never had to lie to their parents.'

Raw, real and honest are definitely the words that come to mind when I think of Amy's pain and sorrow.  She doesn't necessarily suffer any more than other teenagers who have parents who just don't 'get' who their children are and what they need from them.  It's that Amy is us - me and you - she embodies every teenager in one way or another.  Am I pretty?  Am I smart?  Am I worth attention?  Will anyone ever truly know me, including myself?  Who am I?

What made me care about Amy was her potential for greatness.  If she didn't have anything to look forward to in life, if she didn't have anything to offer, I wouldn't have cared what happened to her (I realize how callous that sounds).  But, she is one of those teens that, if given some guidance, reassurance, affection and self-esteem, could really go places in life.  I didn't want Amy to end up as wasted potential. 

After her arrest she needs to do some growing up.  Her parents make her find a job to pay for attorney fees, she's cut off from her supposed 'friends', and she's forced to decide if she's willing to throw her friends under the bus to save her own neck.   And let's not forget the all-important lessons of how to identify the boys who are only interested in controlling, using and discarding you from the ones who uplift and empower you.

Be warned there is a high use of profanity, instances of drug use and adult situations, so this book should be read by older teens and adults.

***You can enter to win a copy of PRETTY AMY on Goodreads here 
Buy links
Barnes and Noble

~~~~~~~INTERVIEW with Lisa Burstein~~~~~~~
*I always wonder how authors decide what to write about, where did the inspiration for Pretty Amy come from?
Most of my ideas start as things I have actually experienced.  For example in PRETTY AMY, I was arrested during my senior year of high school, not for the same reason Amy was, but that was where the kernel came from.  Usually, I will take an idea and think about how crazy I make it.  I like my books to seem like hyper-reality, because while reality is interesting, I think pushing limits is ever MORE interesting.

*Who are your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books?
I love Courtney Summers, Sara Zarr, John Green and Deb Caletti, any author who is willing to be raw and real.  My favorite book of all time is A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

*What's next for you?  Any new projects in the works?
A companion novel to PRETTY AMY, titled DEAR CASSIE about the aftermath of the girls' arrest and its effect told through diary entries of Amy's best friend Cassie. 

*What were you like as a teenager?  Who were you?
I was a lot like Amy.  Just like her I had such a desire to belong, to fit in, to have people who understood me.  I wanted that so badly and I guess I never felt like adults understood that.  It was most of the reason I wrote PRETTY AMY.  If I'd had it when I was in high school I feel like I would have been able to understand my feelings better.  I wouldn't have felt so alone.  That feeling was something I never admitted to anyone, not even my friends and I wanted to let teens know it's okay to feel lonely even surrounded by friends and family.

*Do you have any special charities or causes that are near and dear to your heart?
I have a dog and two cats, so anything with animals.  We donated an old car to the Humane Society in our town.   

*Any celebrity crushes?
Leonardo Dicaprio when he was in Romeo and Juliet and Bradley Cooper.
*Shows on t.v. you don't miss?
Seinfeld, 30 Rock.  When Lost was on I was addicted.
*You're a tea seller by day, what are your favorites?
My favorite teas are Earl Grey and Jasmine Green.

*I read that you missed your senior prom.  Is there a story behind that?
I didn't go to my senior prom.  No one asked me.  I had a boyfriend at the time but he was a junior and I guess I didn't want to ask him.  There was a boy in my grade I was friends with, he was also friends with two of my good friends too and basically he was like I will take one of you to the prom.  It went on for two weeks of his trying to decide which one of us to take.  It was weird and stressful, like an episode of the bachelor before that show existed.  Guess who he picked?  The pretty one.  Some friend!

*How are you similar to Amy?  How are you different?
I would say we are both cynical and snarky.  I was also a lot like her in high school scared, unsure, lost.  Wondering if I would ever figure out who I was.  Wondering if I would ever find people who liked me for me.  Wondering if I would ever like me for me.  We are different in that I would never say some of the things she says out loud.
*Any advice/words of wisdom for teenage girls out there trying to survive high school, parents and boys?
Try to remember that even though high school can sometimes feel like a roller coaster; as Amy says, "Four years of hardship, toil, boredom and memorization; of each day feeling the happiest you think you could possibly feel and then sadder than you ever imagined," you will start to even out on the other side. 

So true, Lisa.  I love your description of the high-highs and low-lows of emotions on a daily basis.  It's a wonder any of us get out alive.

You can find Lisa ......                

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER...sequel to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.
I like how they stuck with the theme of the first book....I approve.
Plus, you can enter to win an ARC of this book on goodreads here.

 3 in Lisa Nowak's Full Throttle series.
I wouldn't mess with this chick.

CLOSED HEARTS...sequel to Open Minds (Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn 2 in The Swarm Trilogy by Megg Jensen

BITTERBLUE...sequel to Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

Review of DIE FOR ME by Amy Plum

DIE FOR ME by Amy Plum
Series:  Revenants book 1 
UNTIL I DIE  (Revenants #2) release date: May 8
Synopsis via Goodreads
In the City of Lights, two star-crossed lovers battle a fate that is destined to tear them apart again and again for eternity.
When Kate Mercier's parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life--and memories--behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.

Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate's guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he's a revenant--an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again.

I liked this book, I really did.  Did I love it?  No, sadly, I didn't.  And I really wanted to.

I was initially drawn in by the positive reviews of this book.  Then, I saw the cover and....  well, I may have swooned.  I think I've mentioned this before, but I love a beautiful book cover.  And it's not because I think it's any real reflection of the quality of the story or the writing.  It's art.  Eye-candy.  I could probably sit for hours sifting through book covers alone on goodreads.   I had immediate cover love for this one.   There she is standing in a beautiful red dress looking down on Paris - Eiffel Tower in the distance.  So dramatic and wistful.  I decided I had to read this book and find out why she seems so forlorn
As I read, I learned that the main character's name is Kate and she's suffered a terrible loss at 16 yrs old.  She and her older sister Georgia have lost their parents in a tragic car accident and have moved to Paris from their home in the U.S., to live with their grandparents.  This is an easy transition for them, mostly.  Kate and Georgia have spent many a summer in Paris growing up and were raised speaking both English and French fluently.  They're pretty familiar with the area their grandparents live in and are accustomed to the culture.  Kate is understandably depressed and tries to escape her sorrow by burying herself in books, museums and her bedroom.  Georgia chooses a different route.  She's gonna party every night till the break of  dawn with random people to distract her from her sadness.

These two sisters couldn't be more different - even in looks.  Kate is a shy, dark-featured brunette, who has an appreciation for the arts, while Georgia is an extroverted, blond bombshell with a short attention span.  Despite their differences, they have a close sisterly bond.

Kate frequents a charming little cafe where she spends most of her day submerged in her books (she's a die-hard reader, I like that).  She only surfaces to order her hourly beverage - there's an unspoken French rule that says you can  occupy a table for as long as you want if you order a drink every hour, like paying rent on the table.  It's at this cafe that she first spots the 'devastatingly handsome and mysterious' Vincent.  

Life becomes a whirlwind of secrets, lies, danger and fear for Kate as she becomes more and more involved with Vincent.  Why? Because, technically speaking, Vincent is dead.  More specifically, he's a revenant.  And he has enemies.

What I liked about this book....

Amy Plum is a great writer.  Her descriptions, pace, the flow of the story and development of the characters are what make this book worth reading.   While we're currently inundated with stories of vampires, werewolves and faeries, Plum offers a refreshing take on the paranormal.  And the undead, for that matter.  I never would've thought someone could successfully achieve romanticizing zombies....sorry, revenants.  And having Paris as the back drop for the story certainly adds to the romantic ambience.   Her descriptions are so vivid I could almost feel cobblestone paths beneath my feet and pick up the scent of pastries wafting from the cafes.  For the most part I liked her characters, some way more than others.  I also enjoyed the playful banter between the them as they teased each other.  So the story had it's lighter moments to counteract the heavier ones.  It worked.

Why I just couldn't love this book....

I'm not sure I can pinpoint the answer to that.  I couldn't help but to notice all the similarities between DIE FOR ME and TWILIGHT.  There's the teenage girl, wise beyond her years and the much older, gorgeous, 'undead' guy who's been waiting for love and lives in a mansion with his friends-who-have-become-family.  I could go on, but I'll stop there.  I'm not so much bothered by these similarities, it's more the story's lack of Oomph! that made Twilight so great and addictive.  I liked Vincent, thought he was a nice guy, but past that, I didn't really see the draw to him.  I didn't find him tempting and irresistible - so I couldn't really understand her obsession with him.   You gotta come at me with way more than just extraordinary good looks.  Instead, you know who I was drawn to?  His sorta brother, Jules.  Now, that guy had it all - hotness, witty sense of humor, sarcasm, tenderness, sensitivity, loyalty, bravery and most of all, what an insufferable flirt.  Gimme more of him!

All in all, it was a good book and I recommend it to people who liked Twilight.  I'm a Revenants fan for sure, just not a die-hard one.  So, was it worth reading?  Yes.  Will I be reading the sequels?  Another yes.   I'm interested to find out where Amy Plum takes this.