Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: I'm Not Okay by Renee Antonia

Monday, April 30, 2018 2 comments
I'm Not Okay by Renee Antonia
Published:  06/24/17
Publisher: BookBaby
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Source: Blog Tour
Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon 

When she wakes up in the morning, the first thing that goes through Alejandra's head is whether or not she will be forced into another anxiety inducing situation. The struggles of being a young adult living with an anxiety ridden brain become too much for Alejandra to deal with. So, with the help of her friends, she forces herself our of the bubble her anxiety has placed her in. She learns to conquer the fears she once thought would destroy her and learns to rely on herself more than she ever has. 

About the Author
Renee Antonia grew up in the Los Angeles area with four siblings and two wonderful parents. Having such a strong support system enabled her to decide who and what she wanted to be. However, this question haunted her for years, because she couldn't quite pinpoint what exactly she saw herself doing for the rest of her life. She began to read a lot, hoping to find inspiration between the pages of a book. It was at this time that she realized one thing. She loved sharing, reading, and writing. Renee decided that she wanted to be a writer, and since that day, she has taken any steps necessary to achieve that goal. 

You can find Renee on her website and Goodreads, as well as on Instagram and Pinterest

Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post!!

One of my favorite things about reading is that it can be an incredibly intimate act. I'm not talking 50 Shades intimate here. You're becoming part of the lives of the characters and being given a glimpse into their innermost thoughts and feelings. You learn about who they are at their core. Sometime those characters are extension of the author or based on the author's experiences, and as such give you an intimate glimpse into the author's core as well. I'm Not Okay gives you that intimate feeling.

Mental health is one of those things you don't talk about much. Unless they're a really close friend, most people don't know I've been on antidepressants for 17 years. (I wrote "15 year" at first and then had one of those "you're older than you think" moments.) It's not that I try to hide it. Obviously not since I just shared it with all of you, dear readers. It's just not a part of my personal introduction script. Depression is, however, a part of my everyday life that I treat and cope with accordingly. It informs how I approach certain situations and how I assess my well-being. It's what I call an invisible illness. I happen to have two invisible illnesses, the other being Crohn's Disease.

I related to Alex from the first pages of I'm Not Okay. The book begins with a moving description of what it's like to look in the mirror and not totally understand the person looking back. It's a description that anyone with mental illness, or even a chronic illness, would understand. You feel like something has been stolen and you have to figure out how to take it back. This is where we join Alex on her journey. Alex's relationships with her family are strained because anxiety and the need she felt to hide it from the world. She watches her siblings leading their lives and wonders why she struggles to make it through the school day.

I'm Not Okay attacks the taboos surrounding mental illness head on. It shows that while you may not feel okay yourself, acknowledging and talking about it is okay. More than okay, it's important. Renee Antonia brings a story about a young woman as she finds her own strength and begins to blossom into her own person as she deals with her anxiety. It shows that what has felt crippling can make you stronger, and with the help of the people who love you life can turn around. It's a story of hope. Not only did Renee Antonia write this brave story, she self-published it as well! Kudos for extra courage!

I definitely recommend I'm Not Okay, especially if you or someone you know struggles with anxiety or other mental illnesses. It's an empowering read and an all around great book.

Check out the blog tour launch post on the WOW - Women On Writing blog, The Muffin, for the full list of blog tour stops! There are posts for the next couple of weeks including reviews and gust posts from Renee Antonia!

I'm also hosting a GIVEAWAY! Enter below for a chance to win a copy of I'm Not Okay. The winner's name and email will be given to Ms. Antonia so that she can send out your copy! The giveaway will be open until May 7th at 12AM CST.

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 0 comments
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Publication Date: 06-18-2013
Genre: Fantasy
Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past come flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie - magical, comforting, wise beyond her years - promised to protect  him, no matter what. {Goodreads}

I've been working on putting this review together for the better part of a month. Possibly because the book is just that good and anything I saw would be inadequate. It's possible I could just put NEIL GAIMAN and be done. However, I feel I should at least make some effort at telling you why it's awesome. So today's post will be a bullet review. I can get my thoughts out without the added pressure of complete paragraphs.

  • Definitely a modern fairy tale a la the Brothers Grimm. Fantastical and out there and not at all sunshine and rainbows. With no guarantee that everything will turn out okay in the end. 
  • Excellent suspense - I was actually holding my breath at one point. I found it was more intense than The Graveyard Book and absolutely aimed at an older crowd. 
  • Neil Gaiman write the most beautiful prose and this as some of the best I've read. 
  • I didn't realize this until the end but the main character telling the story is never named, nor are any of his family members. They aren't given much physical description, either. I found this lets you become more involved in other details and even with the characters, because they could truly be anyone existing in any time. 
  • The story-line is one that leaves you marveling at the author's creativity. Gaiman states that this is a story that has been brewing in his mind for years, which I find amazing. It's unique in its concepts and plays with how we remember events and the role it plays in our future. The act of remembering can be just as powerful, if not more so, than the experience itself, but do we always need to hang on to them all? Are we still changed by it in the end, regardless? 

Review: Fatherland by Robert Harris

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 0 comments
cover art fatherland by robert harris
Fatherland by Robert Harris
Published: 05/26/1992
Publisher: Hartorch
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller
Source: Personal Library
Goodreads ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon

What would the world look like if the victors of history were different? For instance, what would the world be like if Germany had won World War II? If all the revelations that took place after Russia and the US liberated the concentration and extermination camps had never come to light? This is the question Robert Harris posits in Fatherland, and the answer is spine-chilling.

I love a good historical fiction novel, especially one about World War II and/or post-war Nazism. Probably because the mindset is so bizarre and foreign from my own. Fatherland dives head-first into the Nazi mindset to create a world where Adolf Hitler never died and Germany won WWII over other world powers.

Set in 1964, Berlin is preparing to celebrate Hitler's 75th birthday, a time of revelry and celebration that goes on for days. In addition, President Joseph Kennedy has decided to come to Germany following the celebrations on a peacemaking visit. Berlin Detective Xavier March is called out in the early morning hours to investigate the drowning of a former Nazi leader. Within hours the Gestapo declares they have taken over the investigation and orders March off the case. Detective March doesn't listen very well, though, and continues to investigate not only the drowning, but other deaths that took place in the days leading up to the celebrations. Teaming up with an American journalist Charlie Macguire, March risks his own life to finally ask the hard questions and uncover the truth behind the Nazi regime.

Most of the characters in Harris' book are real historical figures - party leaders and high-level Nazi - who either died in the war, were executed  after the Nuremburg trials, or escaped capture. The research undertaken to write the novel is unbelievable. Harris uses journals, correspondence, and official documents to create his story. The most chilling part of the book is the realization that these were the actual thoughts and beliefs of the Nazi regime. The Gestapo and police structure of Nazism remains in place. Laws regarding ethnicity are still in place. People can be arrested if a Gestapo member thinks they might one day turn against the regime. It's really quite horrifying.

This was a fantastic and gripping read. It puts you in the mind of a German citizen realizing the atrocities committed by their government for the first time. It's emotional and heavy, but brilliantly written. I'm looking forward to exploring more of Robert Harris's writing.

Literary Vows

Saturday, March 10, 2018 2 comments
When it comes to books and movies, I'm something of a purist. For example, I pretend the third Anne of Green Gables movie doesn't exist and am positive L. M. Montgomery rolled over in her grave the moment it hit the airwaves. Jar Jar Binks was a Stars Wars travesty. I'm always traumatized by a Doctor regeneration. And who on earth came up with the idea to set the Burrow on fire when it did not happen that way in the book?!

One of my biggest oppositions has always been the myriad of books that continue the story of the main Jane Austen characters. Why would you mess with perfection?! Sure, I'm curious as to what family life would have been like in the Knightly household, but if Jane Austen had wanted us to have that information she would have written it.

You guys...I strayed. I broke my long-standing literary vows.

I read Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James...and liked it.

Maybe it was because P. D. James is such an acclaimed mystery writer. Maybe my curiosity got the better of me. I'm still not sure what exactly made me decide to give the booka try, but I'm quite glad I did. James did such a good job of mimicking the style of Jane Austen. The characters felt like coming home again and it was delightful. I also disliked Lydia just as much as I did in Pride and Prejudice.

Death Comes to Pemberley (Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble) revisits the Darcys, Bennetts, and Bingleys several years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. The normal family life at Pemberley is interrupted by the arrival of a wildly driven carriage and a hysterical Lydia Wickham, screaming that her husband has been shot in the Pemberley woods. The book then begins to investigate the murder of George Wickham. The unfolding mystery shows the skill of P. D. James's long career and has a very satisfying ending.

I'm not sure I'll completely take leave of my senses and dive headfirst into the wide array of books continuing the stories of Jane Austen, but I'm glad I gave this one a shot. It definitely made me want to check out more of P. D. James's writing! Her virtues are repeatedly extolled by my beloved Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote, which is really all the recommendation one needs. Having now read some of her writing, I can say Jessica is right - P. D. James is wonderful.

Review: The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Thursday, March 8, 2018 0 comments
Cover art for The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James
The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James
Published: 03/06/2012
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: Mystery / Romance
Goodreads ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon

Sarah Piper is a young woman living in in post-World War I London. Outside of the jobs she gets through a temp agency, Sarah doesn't get out much. When a job offer appears, she heads out to the interview oblivious to the life-changing experience that awaits her. Sarah accepts a job as an assistant for Alistair Gellis, a ghost hunter heading out to investigate reports of a rather disruptive ghost in the British countryside. They are later joined by his usual (and quite moody) assistant Matthew Ryder. The three must figure out what is holding the spirit of Maddy Clare to the barn where she took her own life in an effort to stop the torment of Maddy's former employer. Things turn dangerous as the investigation proceeds and it is eventually up to Sarah and Matthew to bring about resolution to the mystery and haunting of Maddy Clare.

After finishing The Broken Girls, I launched into a week-long Simone St. James reading binge. It made for a really fun week, I highly recommend it.

The atmosphere of the story was incredibly creepy. I will probably think twice before walking into a barn for awhile. Ms. St. James knows how to integrate the paranormal into the story line while making it believable and giving the reader chills. The story of Maddy Clare was intriguing and tragic, and the reader is able to find empathy with the character even though she's doing her best to torment others.

Even though I'm not generally drawn to romance novels, The Haunting of Maddy Clare was pretty good. I didn't find myself getting overly frustrated with the progress of the romance. It helped that the characters were very well developed independently of the love story.

For more about Simone St. James, check out her website.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 2 comments

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and The Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to The Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

I was so excited to see this week's topic! I love collecting quotes and started when I was in high school. I have them written everywhere - in notebooks or on post-its and napkins. The challenge comes in just picking ten! I could probably go on and on all day with quotes, but I decided to choose some from some of my favorite authors and books. So, here they are. My Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes.

"'One must always be careful of books,' said Tessa, 'and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.'" ~ Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

"Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"                               ~ Dumbledore,  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

"Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic." ~ Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature." ~Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Reading or watching, this part  makes me happy

"I don't want sunbursts or marble halls, I just want you." ~ Anne Shirley, Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery

"Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain!" ~ Arthur Weasley, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

"My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes." ~ Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (This quote perfectly captures the drama of Anne Shirley - it's one of my favorites. I say it over in times of trial to comfort myself. See what I did there?)

"Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." ~ Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feeling will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." ~ Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

"'After all,' Anne had said to Marilla once, 'I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.'" ~ Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery

And now for a bonus quote! It's not from a book per se, but from Jane Austen's letters:

"I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal."

Jane Austen is my spirit animal.  

Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 0 comments
cover art the broken girls by simone st. james
The Broken Girls by Simone St. JamesPublished: 03/20/2018
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Genre: Literary Fiction / Mystery
Goodreads ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon

As mentioned in my review of The Lake House by Kate Morton, I love a book that alternates between the past and the present. When it's done well, the stories will seamlessly fuse together at the end, bridging the gap between the generations in unexpected ways. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James follows this pattern and is a wonderful mystery told between 1950 and 2014.

Idlewild is an all-girls school for the girls that no one wants. In 1950, four friends are doing the best they can to make it day to day, each dealing with their own private tragedy and horror. But the students and teachers aren't the only ones at the school - rumor has it that Idlewild is haunted.

Fast-forward to 2014, where Fiona is still trying to cope with the murder of her older sister twenty years before. Fiona is connected to Idlewild because her sister's body was dumped on the sports field at the school. Fiona learns that the property has been purchased by an elderly widow with no obvious connection to the school and plans have been put in place for the restoration of the school. Finding new purpose, Fiona decides to write a journal article on the history of the school and the restoration.

The title The Broken Girls couldn't be more perfect for this novel because all of the women in the story are broken in some way. They don't have to stay that way, though. Woven through the story is the hope that what is broken can be put back together, the breaks healing over time. The friendship of the girls in 1950 gives them new strength and healing occurs as they share their individual stories and take their power back. Fiona hopes to find healing as she confronts the past and finds new connections with her father in the present.

The spooky tale of the haunted Idlewild campus stays in the background of the events, present in both the present and the past. The ghost known as Mary Hand is just one element driving the storyline and connecting the characters. Simone St. James does an amazing job of creating connections over the generations and moving the story forward. She does a masterful job of giving the reader just enough information to answer the present question while posing five more. I ended up reading late into the night, promising myself it was "just one more chapter" until I finished the book.

The mysteries of The Broken Girls will grab you from the very beginning. The prologue is one of the best I've ever read - it starts things off with a bang and forges an instant investment in the outcome of the lives of the characters. I've read a LOT of mysteries in my life and this quickly became one of my very favorites. I had NO IDEA how the book would end or how the past and present would be connected, and I was very pleased with the outcome. Truly, I had no idea how Simone St. James would tie things together.

I enjoyed this book so much that I immediately bought another...and another...and another. As of the writing of this post, I just finished a fifth book by St. James, which only leaves one other that I haven't read. I'll need to savor it. I can't wait to see what else Simone St. James comes up with. She's a talented author with a gift for telling a story that the reader cannot help but become invested in the characters. The characters themselves are flawed and beautiful with their own vivid personalities.

I hope you enjoy The Broken Girls by Simone St. James as much as I did! For more on the author, check out her website.
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