Tuesday, January 31, 2012

REVIEW: FIRST DATE -- new YA from Krista McGee

When I first read the premise for First Date, a new romance for young adults, it seemed a little bit silly and a whole lot done. As in, "Yes, I've seen three different versions of that Disney Channel movie" done. But what I thought would be a tired, comic romp through the White House turned out to be a tender teen tale of love, friendship and faith -- set against the backdrop of a reality TV show. And, like the scores of viewers who tune into reality television each week, it took barely any time at all before I was utterly addicted to Krista McGee's version of the First Family Teen Romance.


Addy Davidson is a good student who works hard in hopes of earning a scholarship to an Ivy League school. She's got friends, but Addy is certainly not the most popular kid in school. She's just … normal. So why, out of all the outgoing, beautiful cheerleader-types at Addy's school, did her principal pick her to go on a new reality TV show? She has no desire to compete for a chance to go to senior prom with Jonathan Jackson, the son of the president of the United States, but regardless of her protestations, she's on her way.

The show is being filmed at a historic mansion near Nashville and when Addy, the 97th of 100 contestants, arrives she is even less happy to be there than she was reluctant to come in the first place. Tired and irritable, she meets Jonathan Jackson at the door of the mansion, like all the other girls, with the cameras rolling. But whereas the other contestants have concocted clever phrases to impress the president's son, Addy just wants the quickest ticket home – and she tells him as much, once she recovers from coming face-to-face with Jonathan's movie-star good looks. And the cameras catch every rude word.

Addy is sure that, come decision time, she'll be sent home, but her honesty backfires. America, of course, falls in love with "everygirl" Addy -- and Jonathan? Well, he's a little intrigued, too. Rather than fulfilling Addy's wish to go home, Jonathan pushes her through to the next round. But as much as America seems to like Addy, the other contestants do not. Her only ally is Kara, whose quick Long Island tongue and loyal friendship help to insulate Addy against the attacks of the catty, grasping contestants out to win their place at Jonathan's side.

As Addy moves forward in the competition, her attitude toward Jonathan – and the competition – changes. But when new enemies arise, will she be brave enough to stand up for what she believes in? Or, win or lose, will she go home having thrown away the opportunity to accomplish something of significance to God?


The author makes it very clear that Addy's school is a struggling, tuition-based Christian school. Keeping that in mind, it seemed a little off to me that the principal of the school would not only endorse a reality TV dating show, but would see it as an acceptable tool to help increase enrollment for the next year. But once I got over that little hiccup in my suspension of disbelief I found this story so darn addicting that that momentary squirm in the beginning was barely a twitch compared with the smiles the rest of the story gave me.

McGee handles issues of Christian hypocrisy, anti-God sentiment, and inter-faith friendships with a light but steady hand, avoiding preachy passages for the most part while still making her characters' faith and feelings clear. Teens will appreciate the trueness of McGee's main characters and will identify with the difficulty Addy faces in being honest about her faith after having displayed a less-than-Christ-like attitude her first few days on the show.


Other than that brief moment of squirm at the very beginning, I found this book to be a touching, fun, edifying, campy, quick and downright delicious teen read. First Date is a great debut from an author who's sure to make a splash in the inspy YA market.

If you're not a fan of YA romance, or if you're looking for something deep to stretch your brain, this may not be the book for you. But if you're in need of a pure escapist read that sings with tender teen honesty, you'll fall in love with Krista McGee's Addy Davidson -- and her First Date.

(This review first posted at USA Today's romance fiction blog,Happy Ever After)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: LOVE LIFTED ME by Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck

Country music superstar Sara Evans has once again teamed up with award-winning inspirational fiction author Rachel Hauck for the final installment of their Songbird series. Introducing a few new characters into the cast of well-crafted familiars, Love Lifted Me moves the troubled Benson family into a new setting that tests their faith and resolve.


Jade Benson's life looks pretty good from the outside. Her vintage clothing store is about to be featured in a magazine, she lives in the beautiful home of her dreams, and she finally has a child to hold in her arms. But not all is what it seems. Her husband, Max, is addicted to prescription drugs and has been away for months at a residential rehab in Texas. The little boy Jade is raising is not her biological son, but the result of a one-night stand Max indulged in right before their wedding, and Jade's own past is littered with pain. Theirs is not a fairy tale romance.

Max has now completed the rehab program and is ready to come home and resume his life, but Jade isn't sure what to expect. She wants her marriage to survive, but trust is something that must be earned – and love, once damaged, must be proved true before she can let herself believe in it again.

When Max receives an unexpected offer to take over a troubled football program at a Texas high school, Jade is torn. She doesn't want to abandon the Tennessee town she has grown to love, nor the business she has fought to build, but she knows she must surrender her heart to God – and eventually to her husband – if her little family is going to survive. Texas – and football – might be the fresh start Jade and Max need to fall in love again.


The story is told from alternating points of view of Max and Jade, allowing the reader to empathize with both characters' struggles, failings and fears. Hauck and Evans don't pussy-foot around issues of relational dysfunction and pain, nor do they pour glitter over the results of their characters' past mistakes. Instead, the authors get into the head and heart of betrayal and shame to carve out a timid path toward forgiveness. The result is a touching and emotive love story that sizzles with passion even while the characters remain believably gun-shy about fully giving their hearts – whether it be to each other or to a calling.

This story is fine as a stand-alone novel, but readers will have a much better appreciation for the rutted road that split Max and Jade apart if they read the preceding Songbird novels (The Sweet By & By and Softly and Tenderly) before diving into this one.


With echoes of Remember the Titans and We Are Marshall resounding throughout the well-written football scenes, Hauck and Evans engage even the most football-illiterate of readers into the relational metaphor of overcoming the past by fighting for a fresh win. Love Lifted Me is a beautiful story of hope tackling betrayal and love manning up to win the game.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

with an interview and, of course,
One lucky winner will win a copy of Love Lifted Me -- autographed by both Rachel Hauck AND country music superstar Sara Evans!

Serena's rating:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Author Interview with RACHEL HAUCK

Rachel Hauck published her first novel in 2004. Since then she has become an award-winning (and best-selling) author of 11 more novels — with more to come. Her latest novel, co-written with country music superstar Sara Evans, is Love Lifted Me — the final novel in the duo's Songbird series.
I recently caught up with Rachel to talk about vintage clothing, Texas football and, of course, her latest book.
Serena: How did you and Sara Evans initially hook up to write the first Songbird novel?
Rachel: Our publisher, Allen Arnold at Thomas Nelson, approached us separately with the idea of writing together. First, Sara — to see if she was willing to take on a fiction project. Then me — to see if I wanted to work with her. I was at a place in my career where a partnership sounded fun and challenging so I gladly took on the project. Sara was working on a new album and gearing back up to be on radio, but had enough time to give initially to the book series.

Serena: The working relationships of co-writers look as different as the writers themselves. What does your co-writing relationship look like?
Rachel: Sara and I have a great partnership. From the beginning we knew our roles in this journey. She fed me ideas and I developed them. Sara has great story-telling instincts. It was my job all along to be the writer. It was, and is, hers to be the voice and the face of the series.
Serena: You've written about the costs of the writer's life, one of which is the necessity of leading a fairly solitary existence. Have you found the co-writing life to be more (or less) socially fulfilling?
Rachel: Writing is writing. With a co-writer or not, it's solitary. To develop characters with heart, the world has to be shut off. If I had questions or ideas that I needed Sara's input on, I'd e-mail her. We'd go back and forth for a bit and then settle on what we wanted to do. But most of the time it's me, in my office, backside in the chair, writing.
Serena: Solo vs. co-writing: Overall, which do you prefer?
Rachel: Great question. The lazy part of me says "co-writing." Why not have a constant partner to bounce ideas off of and get input? I'm envious of television writing teams who gather in a war room and hash out ideas together. I have a writing partner I call, Susan May Warren, when I need help. I'm blessed to have her. But we live many states apart!
The creator part of me says "solo." Novel writing is so much about pulling the emotions and creativity out of "you," the author, that it would really be hard to partner as a full-time process. Sara and I are blessed to have clicked from the beginning. A lot of partnerships don't fare as well as ours. We've been blessed.
Serena: Some reviewers are touting Love Lifted Me as a stand-alone member of the Songbird series. Do you see the novel that way, or do you think new readers could be confused if they haven't read the preceding two books?
Rachel: We wrote the novel to be stand-alone, but certainly readers will gain more of Jade and Max's perspective, and develop a deeper affection for them, if they've read the previous books. But readers will not be confused if they read Love Lifted Me first instead of third.
Serena: The Songbird series hits on a lot of touchy subjects for the inspirational genre, such as adultery, abortion, substance abuse and divorce. What made you want to tackle the relational fallout of these issues?
Rachel: Life. People deal with weighty topics every day — either in their own lives or of someone they know. Just because my characters may be Christians doesn't mean they don't have serious issues to face. So, instead of shying away from sin or shame, we jumped in so we could show the power of true hope in God.
I've experienced pain in my own life, much like my characters, and my faith and hope in Jesus rescued me. So that kind of inspiration and epiphany is a natural outcome of my writing.
Sara has also experienced God's grace in her life. She wants other women to know there is true and real hope.
Serena: Your books don't shy away from showing physical desire as part of a healthy (or unhealthy) romantic relationship. Have you taken any flack from more conservative readers? Or do you find that the inspy audience is becoming more open to this "edgier" content?
Rachel: No fallout that I know of, but I don't read all the reviews. If readers are upset, I'm unaware. I've had many readers write to say they appreciated real emotion and true desire shown in a palatable way. The reader gets what's going on sans the in-depth details.
The inspirational audience seems to be divided on the kind of content they expect in a CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) book. My goal is to write emotion and desire that's true to the story. Not every book will have the passion of Jade and Max. But for this story, a married couple reuniting, I felt that sexual tension was fitting.
Serena: Texas football plays a pretty big role in Love Lifted Me. Are you a football fan?
Rachel: Both Sara and I are football fans. She roots for the Crimson Tide, while I support my Ohio State Buckeyes.
Serena: Have you always been a football fan, or was that something that developed over the course of writing the novel?

Rachel: Longtime football fan. I was really excited to write a football kind of story.
Serena: Was any AstroTurf harmed in the writing of this book? LOL
Rachel: LOL. None whatsoever. All real grass and AstroTurf is safe!
Serena: You and Sara did a great job of making the football scenes come alive. My football vocabulary consists of about four words: touchdown, cheerleader and halftime show. I'm not much of a football fan (truth be told, I was something of a band geek back in my high school days), but I found myself engaged in the Warriors' fight for a win. How much high school football did you watch in order to write those scenes with such energy and still manage to make them accessible for the football-challenged readers like me?
Rachel: Football is a universal sport to me. It speaks to life: winning, losing, triumph, failure, working as a team to achieve the goal. Football is about growing up. It's about leadership and effort. We see in the character Tucker how wrecked his confidence was until he was forced by his coach to man-up and learn to kick the ball. We watched him fail. Then we finally watched him succeed and he started to change. I actually teared up at that scene when I was going over the final galley. Football is about "doing it" even on the hard days and staying true until results are achieved.
Don't we all want that kind of success? I apply this thinking to my own writing life. If you took those football scenes and made them about … riding, a spelling bee, the debate team, writing a novel, or even about being in the marching band, the truths and emotions of those characters would still apply. At least that was our goal! I hope it worked! Football was more of a setting than a "sport."
Serena: Jade, the main character of the Songbird series, operates a vintage clothing shop. Are you a fan of vintage duds? And, if so, what's your favorite piece?
Rachel: I am a fan of vintage, but I am a horrible shopper so I don't find as many pieces as I'd like. I loved the vintage thread in this story because it was really a reflection of Jade, her heart and character. It was her way of creating a past she could live with.
Serena: The moment Jade discovers that Chanel LBD is priceless. Do you have a cherished shopping memory you drew from to write that scene?
Rachel: I wanted to BE Jade in that scene. Are you kidding? Ha! I just imagined what it would be like to find a real, true Chanel Little Black Dress. The more I researched the history of the dress, the more Jade's scene came alive to me. I drew completely from Jade's point of view. What a find!
Serena: Will there be any more novels in the Songbird series?
Rachel: Love Lifted Me is our swan song in the Songbird series. We are working on a fourth book, though — and the premise is super fun!
Serena: Do you prefer writing series or stand-alone titles? What are the pros and cons?
Rachel: Every title is a stand-alone to me, but if I find a thread in a story that would make a sequel, then I go for it. We hear all the time "series don't sell well," yet readers seem to love visiting characters and settings over and over. It's like being with good friends.
What I loved about this series with a continuing character is the emotional attachment I had to the cast. I knew them so well it was easier than normal to write their story. The con to that is you must be consistent with the story across the novel series. You're locked in!
The pro of writing stand-alone is you can do whatever you want, and when the book is done, it's done. The author is free to create something completely new. That's exciting. But the story and character development start all over again.
Serena: What is the weirdest/oddest/coolest research you've attempted in the process of writing a novel? Was it a success?
Rachel: I believe in research, even for contemporary novels. I try to travel to my settings. I call people for the tiniest bit of information. For Softly and Tenderly, the second Songbird novel, I researched and researched old Cadillacs to find out where the convertible top release was positioned. I know, crazy. But the top played a role in the story and I wanted to know if Jade reached to the right side of the steering wheel or the left to release the top. And I found a guy in California who gave me my answer.
For one of my books, Love Starts with Elle, I had an artist friend help me paint a picture because Elle was an artist. I've sat in kitchens to learn the restaurant business. For Love Lifted Me, I called up a high school football coach for an interview. He was running PE classes so I followed him around asking questions.
It's fun …
Serena: The face of publishing and book promoting is changing. How much time do you allow yourself per (day/week/etc.) for promoting your work?
Rachel: I am online constantly with e-mail or social media. When a book comes out, I just make the required time needed to do promotion. I think the real question for me, and for some authors, is, "How much time do you allow yourself in a day to actually write!?" LOL.
Serena: With all the possible e-venues added to the standard physical book signing and personal appearance opportunities, do you find you are needing to spend more time promoting your work now — or has the increase of social media streamlined the process for you?
Rachel: Authors must be on social-media platforms. I'm not sure anyone can get away from it these days. I'm good friends with a very successful, nationally known author and this year she got on Facebook. Social media is about a dialogue. I can't just promote myself or I'll lose ground in the social-media arena. I have to join the conversations that are happening, as best I can, and gain readers or followers that way.
I use a promotional company in tandem with my publisher to promote my books when they come out. But on a day-to-day basis, with Facebook and Twitter, authors have to be "on" at least a few minutes each day. If I don't have anything worthy to share, I try to share the news of author friends.
Serena: What's your favorite part of writing and/or promoting a new novel?
Rachel: My favorite part of writing is having had written a book. It's done. Turned in! Finished. I love that feeling! My favorite part about promotion is connecting with readers, talking about the story and the characters, hearing what impacted them or not, discovering how they might have interpreted a situation in the story that I never even considered. I love talking about writing and books, so promotion is always fun!
Serena: How do you "get away from it all"?
Rachel: Is there a get-away-from-it-all? Just kidding … I ride my bike. Watch a movie with my husband. Read. Lunch with friends. I love a good prayer and worship meeting too!
Serena: Are you making any New Year's resolutions this year?
Rachel: Pursue love.
For more about Rachel Hauck and her books, visit her website, RachelHauck.com.
(This interview originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

RIP Picnik.com

Bloggers, how are you going to edit images now that Picnik is closing shop? Just about every picture we post on this blog is manipulated in some way using Picnik's internet software. I'm not sure can blog without them. What am I going to do now? Quick someone talk me off this ledge...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: THE ACCIDENTAL BRIDE by Denise Hunter

Inspirational romance author Denise Hunter writes novels with settings bold enough to almost be considered characters within the story. Her latest novel, The Accidental Bride, takes place in Moose Creek, Montana, a small town along the Wyoming border. It is the second book in the Big Sky Romance series.


Bad luck seems to follow Shay Brandenburg – especially when a wedding is involved. But when her doll-making elderly friend, Miss Lucy, asks her to play the bride in Moose Creek's annual Founder's Day re-enactment, she can't weasel out of it. No one can say no to sweet old Miss Lucy.

Abandoned by one man at the altar, then married to – and divorced from – another, Shay wonders if even a fictional wedding can go off without a hitch if she's involved. Against her better judgment, Shay slips into the historical wedding gown and begins her walk down the aisle toward her fictional groom. Standing by the preacher, however, is not the man she expected to play the part of the groom, but Travis McCoy, her first love – and the man for whom she bought her first wedding dress.

Fourteen years ago Travis McCoy suffered an attack of cold feet that pressed his truck's accelerator all the way to the Texas rodeo. He loved Shay, but he knew marrying her would trap him in Moose Creek forever. Shay would never leave the third-generation ranch on which she was raised. Travis had bigger dreams than eeking out a living in Moose Creek and, in a split-second decision to drive away from his wedding, he chose his rodeo dreams over Shay.

Travis achieved both wealth and acclaim on the rodeo circuit, but all his success can't make up for the empty places where memories of Shay still occupy his heart. When temporary circumstances allow him to return to Moose Creek for an extended visit, Travis hopes to reconcile with his past mistakes. He wants to earn back Shay's trust and love, but the well-deserved disdain he receives from her when they cross paths leaves Travis with no idea where to start.

A last-minute upset to the Founder's Day celebration places Travis in the role of groom opposite Shay. And when an old piece of memorabilia – he and Shay's original marriage license – is mistakenly signed and filed by the absent-minded preacher, Travis sees his accidental-but-legal marriage to Shay as an opportunity to right his wrongs and prove his love is not only true, but that it has matured enough to stay.

After what she's been through, Shay has no faith in any man's staying power – least of all Travis McCoy's. But his help could help save her ranch from foreclosure – at least for a little while, so she agrees to keep up the farce of their marriage for a trial period. But living with Travis underfoot isn't as easy as she thought it would be. And keeping her distance from the handsome, sexy, grown-up version of her first love may prove impossible.


As with the setting of her Moose Creek community, Hunter's characters are clearly drawn and each voice is unique to its owner. Shay is a strong woman whose wounds have made her skittish and insecure; still, she knows what she is about and, though stubborn to a fault, Shay is uncompromising on what she believes to be true. Travis' upbringing and success have given him a cocky sort of confidence that is offset by the tender and humble way he tries to woo Shay back. On the other hand, he has a weaker will than Shay and, once discouraged, it takes awhile for Travis to recover his mojo. Their interactions are entertaining, to say the least, and the physical attraction between the two sizzles with desire.

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more from eccentric Miss Lucy, whose presence serves as the plucky comic relief. Who doesn't like a character who asks her dolls for advice? Call me crazy, but I wanted more Miss Lucy; not necessarily because the story needed more to move forward, but just because she's such a quirky character. And I'm a glutton for quirk.


The Accidental Bride is one of those books that plants a smile on your face and draws your heart into even the most farcical aspects of its plot. A fun weekend read with equal parts spunk and spice, Denise Hunter's The Accidental Bride will keep readers lassoed up tight 'til the cows come home.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's Romance Fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Review: The Wishing Pearl by Nicole O'Dell

New YA from Nicole O'Dell
THE WISHING PEARL: A Diamond Estates Novel

Popular Christian author, speaker, and teen radio host Nicole O'Dell's latest novel introduces readers to the fallout of mishandled loss. Telling the story of Olivia, a talented musician who longs for the day when she will go to college and get away from her unhappy home, The Wishing Pearl, A Diamond Estates Novel, is written for teens.

It should be noted that Olivia, the novel's main character, is a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather and that her quest for escape leads her to experiment with alcohol and drugs. As a mom, however, I found NO ISSUE with the real, yet careful way O'Dell portrayed these sensitive subjects and I have no qualms about recommending this book to teens.

Here's the sitch, from the back cover:

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Mansfield dreams of a land far, far away... A land far away from her stepfather's abuse and torment. A land far away from her mother's blind eye. A land far away from the haunting memories of her past.

But then reality sets in, and Olivia knows she must make the best of her dire situation -- at least until her high shcool graduation. But when poor choices lead Olivia to the brink of a complete breakdown and she finds herself dealing with the unexpected death of her best friend, she comes to a crossroads.

Will Olivia find the path to ultimate hope and healing that her heart longs for Or will the demons from her past prove too much to bear?

My Take On It:

Emotively written in a teen-appropriate manner, The Wishing Pearl tackles sensitive subjects without gratuitously over-detailing the icky parts -- yet, at the same time, O'Dell does not gloss over the heartbreaking results of its characters' actions. Well done.

The Wishing Pearl has a spare bit of boy attraction-action, but the romantic subplot is not the main thrust of this book -- it's more about the complexity of relationships when abuse is present in a person's life; and about chasing the hope that feeds a hungry, hurting soul.

My thanks to Nicole O'Dell and Barbour Publishing for sending me a copy of this novel. My fourteen-year-old, high school freshman daughter read The Wishing Pearl also -- and this review comes with both of our recommendations. Not only did we both enjoy it, we are also looking forward to the next Diamond Estates Novel.

Serena's Rating:

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Review- The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen is fun, light romance and a pleasant way to spend a lazy afternoon. I enjoyed reading about life below stairs for the servant class, the setting reminded me a little of Deeanne Gist's Maid to Match in that way.

The plot line requires some suspension of disbelief. Margaret seems to think a pair of spectacles, a wig, and an inconsistent accent are enough to disguise her from the man who once proposed. But she's not fooling Nathaniel (and how she ever fools herself is the unbelievable part).

Like Nathaniel, the reader waits to see how Margaret's little charade will play out, amused by the process along the way. And the payoff is worth the buildup, because sparks fly when Nathaniel finally confronts his former flame with the truth.

Fans of historical romance can't go wrong with Julie Klassen, she delivers every time.

Want more info? Here's the book blurb:
Pampered Margaret Macy flees London in disguise to escape pressure to marry a dishonorable man. With no money and nowhere else to go, she takes a position as a housemaid in the home of Nathaniel Upchurch, a suitor she once rejected in hopes of winning his dashing brother. Praying no one will recognize her, Margaret fumbles through the first real work of her life. If she can last until her next birthday, she will gain an inheritance from a spinster aunt--and sweet independence. But can she remain hidden as a servant even when prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall?

Observing both brothers as an "invisible" servant, Margaret learns she may have misjudged Nathaniel. Is it too late to rekindle his admiration? And when one of the family is nearly killed, Margaret alone discovers who was responsible. Should she come forward, even at the risk of her reputation and perhaps her life? And can she avoid an obvious trap meant to force her from hiding?

On her journey from well born lady to servant to uncertain future, Margaret must learn to look past appearances and find the true meaning of "serve one another in love."

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, go HERE

My rating:

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Joy and Serena's Faves of 2011 (the general market edition)

This may be a Christian fiction blog but Serena and I both love a good mainstream market read, so we're breaking character today and giving you a list of our faves from outside the CBA. Don't worry CF fans, we'll return to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow!

1. Favorite book read -- it's unanimous! (or duo-naminous, anyway!)

Joy: Divergent by Veronica Roth
Serena: Divergent by Veronica Roth

2. Most Powerful Book

Joy:The Help by Kathryn Stockett (I could easily put this in favorite book read too).

Serena: I didn't read a whole lot of "powerful books" this year (I got The Help for my birthday in December, but haven't had the chance to crack it open yet!), but I have to admit that I found The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente to be powerful in an unconventional sort of way. I was utterly delighted with this book and with "the classic storyteller" way it fabled its way through an entirely original moral tale.

3. Brilliantly Funny

Joy: Eh, Jenny B. Jones was funnier than anything I read in the general market this year.

Serena: Skulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy
(pub. in 2007, this one was new to me, but not the rest of the world, in 2011). This book reads like the best kind of buddy-comedy action movie, except the buddies are a middle school girl and a hundreds-of-years-old detective -- who just so happens to be a skeleton with mad ninja skills and a wicked collection of sarcastic one-liners. Brilliant.

4. Best ache-y, break-y tear jerker read:

Serena: Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes (this is CBA, actually, and was released in 2010, but I'm counting it because I didn't read it until 2011 and I was utterly moved to tears by the story!)

5. Best rainy day comfort read:

Joy: After historical inspy, the celeb memoir is my go to genre for a comfort read. I consumed Rob Lowe's Stories I Only Tell My Friends in one afternoon from a comfy chair in Barnes and Noble, and it was delish!

Serena: These aren't new, but as when one visits Narnia, I find the richness of the tales grow as I do, so it is not uncommon for me to reach for: the Harry Potter set, in order -- but if I have to pick my faves for a rainy day, they would be: 1, 3, and 5. (Of course this only works if you have a string of rainy days, you understand!)

6. Adrenaline fueled un-putdownable award:

Serena: I'd have to say... Divergent by Veronica Roth, again. I think I read it the day I downloaded it.

Joy: I agree. I read this one on my cruise and there were times I'd rather be in my room reading it than out enjoying myself.

7. Beautiful Prose Award:

Joy: Linger and Forever by Maggie Stiefvater. Stiefvater is a master of writing subtext, her characters frequently discuss life altering issues without ever actually talking about them at all. Sam, Grace, Isabel and Cole's personalities are so deep and complex, writer wannabes like myself should take notes.

Serena: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (see picture under #2). This might seem an odd choice for a beautiful prose award, but I loved the voice of the narrator, the symbolism, and the beautiful nuggets of truth hidden within the text. (There's even a character whose name is Truth. She is made of soap.) This is one I got from the library but plan to purchase, highlight, and read aloud to my girls -- even the highschooler (you're never too old to listen to a great book!) It's just a lovely, lovely story.

8. Most vivid, atmospheric setting:
Serena: Again, Divergent by Veronica Roth. Even now, I can see that world-gone-wrong in my head.

9. Most Haunting story:

Serena: Kindred by Tammar Stein. There is no pretty-bow ending on this unusual tale of spiritual warfare -- told from the point of view of a contemporary Jewish teen -- but the ending is not only satisfying, but thought provoking; and in that way, it is haunting.

10. Had no idea I would love this so:

Joy: Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. When I posted a list of 5 titles to read in the event of a zombie apocalypse, my blogging buddies chimed in with a bunch of zombie romance recs. Equal parts disturbing and engaging, they left me grasping for more. I finished Ryan's entire series and now I'm looking for the next zombie author I can sink my teeth into.

11. Wanted to love it but it didn't do it for me:

Joy: Bossypants by Tina Fey wasn't nearly as funny as I hoped it would be.

Serena: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell. I loved the cover and sometimes the story almost lived up to its gothic, otherworldy beauty, but... not enough to make me rush out for the sequel.

12. Best Plot Twist/Revelation:

Joy: Minny's Terrible Awful from The Help.

Serena: The ending of Cascade by Lisa T. Bergren. I know this one is considered CBA, but... it's so crossover that I have no qualms listing it among general market titles. There is a serious "Oh no you did NOT just leave me hanging like that!" at the end of that book -- and it was beautiful and unexpected and opened all kinds of worm cans for the next book(s?!) in the series.

Joy: Oooh, I agree, great cliffhanger on that one.

13. Best love triangle:

Joy: I have a love/hate relationship with the love triangle. But I would have been happy with Gabry and either Catcher or Elias in Carrie Ryan's The Dead Tossed Waves.

Serena: Cassia/Xander/Ky in Matched, a dystopian YA by Ally Condie (the triangle continues, I believe, in Crossed, which was just released and is sitting in my house waiting for me to read it!)

Joy: Good choice! I finished Crossed this week and I'm still not sure if I'm Team Xander or Team Ky.

14. Favorite couple:

Joy: Isabel and Cole from Forever by Maggie Stiefvater. These broken side kicks stole the show.

15. Favorite Cover Art:

Serena: Entwined by Heather Dixon. If I could buy a print of this and hang it in my office, I totally would. I love this cover. And for a former-little-girl who dearly loved the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, I'd have to say: the book was pretty doggone good, too.

And as for a cover that was perfect for the book? I'd have to go with Matched by Ally Condie (see pic above)-- it got the dress right (so many covers are a poor reflection of what the character is supposed to look like according to the text!) and it captured the essence of Cassia's existence. Perfection.

Special thanks to Inkcrush for creating such a neat book blogging meme.


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