BLOG TOUR | Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson + My Undead Girl Gang

Title: Undead Girl Gang
Author: Lily Anderson
Pages: 272 pages
Release Date: May 8th, 2018
Source: ARC from Penguin Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery
Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There's not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley's favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.

So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone's explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer...before the killer strikes again.

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Lily Anderson's newest novel follows a story of friendship, mystery and... the undead? Yep, that's right. The main character Mila Flores brings her friends back from the dead to uncover the truth behind their murders. This got me thinking: Who would I bring back from the dead if I had a mystery in need of solving? In today's post, you're going to be reading about the three women from history that I would bring back from the dead to be apart of my Undead Girl Gang. I took this opportunity not only to choose women that I thought would be successful to this mission, but I also chose women from history that I admire.

MY UNDEAD GIRL GANG!


Rachel Carson is one of my favorite women in history. I've done extensive research on her and have even written a scholarship essay about her. Carson has always been one of my inspirations for pursuing a field of research and the reason for why I am so dedicated to helping the environment. In her days, the world was relatively unaware of the consequences certain chemicals had on the environment. She exposed the harmful effects of a very popular pesticide back in the early 70s, which led to a ban on the harmful substance. To be honest, I don't know how helpful Rachel Carson would be on my mission to uncover a murder mystery, but I'd sure as hell bring her back from the dead just to have a conversation over a nice cup of coffee. Plus, she's a scientist so she definitely has a scientific way of thinking. 
I'm sure we've all read about Helen Keller when we were in elementary school. She truly is a notable woman in history. Keller has a different perception of our world, as she became deaf and blind when she was young. She became the first deaf-blind person to attain a bachelor's degree and was an influential social activist for political and disability issues. Of course, I'd love to meet her! But besides that point, I'd love to have her apart of my undead girl gang because her optimism and perseverance would most likely contribute a lot to the mission.  

Mildred Benson, better known as Carolyn Keene, was the original author of the Nancy Drew mystery stories. Those were some of the best mystery stories I had ever read when I was a young adolescent girl who craved adventure. Nancy Drew is such an iconic teenage detective, and I'm sure if she was real I'd bring her back to join my girl gang. But the creator of Nancy Drew, Mildred Benson, is the next best thing. I think her extensive background in writing mystery and crime novels could be the greatest contribution to our undead girl gang alliance. 



Author Bio

Lily Anderson is a school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California. She is also the author of The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You and Now Now, Not Ever. She tweets at @ms_lilyanderson. 

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi | Mini Review + GIVEAWAY!

Title: Emergency Contact
Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Pages: 391 pages
Release Date: March 27th, 2018
Source: Hardcover from Simon Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Rating: 4/5 stars
For Penny Lee high school was a total nonaevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a cafĂ© and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

Buy it now! 
Emergency Contact is a mature and adorable novel about two young people falling in love. Don't let the pink and light ambiance of the cover fool you. This book touches upon topics like alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual assault, and anxiety. I wasn't expecting it to be as hard hitting as it was, and it made every minute of reading this book completely worth it.

We usually read books to get off our cell phones and escape this age of mass texting and social media. Because people have become so consumed with their cell phones, communicating through text and social media has since received a bad rep. There has long been a debate over whether cell phones are doing more harm than good to users. Sure, it distracts students from schoolwork and diminishes the chances of face-to-face interaction. But it also brings communities of people together and connects long-distance relationships. Also, I'm not the first to admit that meeting people face to face can be daunting.

At the beginning of the book, Sam has a panic attack. As someone who has experienced what it's like to have a panic attack, it was incredibly hard to read. But after I made it through that part, I was grateful that Choi added it in the first place. It's an experience everyone should be familiar because it's incredibly hard to understand what someone goes through during a panic attack. And of course, Sam's experience will mirror everybody's, but it's a start to talking about mental health in young adult literature.

Emergency Contact is not your topical meet-cute contemporary novel. Penny's fear of confrontation and her awkwardness makes her such a relatable character in the story. The fact that this book also took place in a college setting was just the cherry on top. I feel like we don't get enough college YA's that actually have scenes where the character is in a class! If you're even in the slightest bit interested in picking this one up, consider entering my giveaway below!

ENTER TO WIN AN EMERGENCY CONTACT PRIZE PACK!


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The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Pages: 480 pages
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Source: ARC from publisher
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Rating: 5/5 stars
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

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** I received an advanced readers copy from the publisher. All of the thoughts and opinions stated in this review are my own. **

Everyone deals with grief in their own way. When her mother commits suicide, Leigh Chen Sanders refuses to believe that she's really gone from the world. She's sure that when her mother died, she took the form of a crimson bird. When Leigh receives a mysterious package that leads her to travel to Taiwan to meet her grandparents, she discovers a whole other side of her mom's life she wasn't aware of and even learns a thing or two about herself.

The writing was descriptive and gorgeous without being too flowery. Trust me, I'm a picky person when it comes to writing style. It kind of reminded me of the writing in The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, which you must know is a book I could talk your ear off about. Pan does something completely unique, which is use color to describe emotion. Whoosh. Absolutely mind blown. It came so naturally and it wasn't like someone intentionally finding colors to match their emotions with. Read it for yourself:
"... I was colorless, translucent. I was a jellyfish caught up in a tide, forced to go wherever the ocean willed."

- Emily X.R. Pan, The Astonishing Color of After 
The book followed a non-chronological sequence that was both entertaining and fulfilling. At first, it was a little disorienting to jump back two decades, but it's something you pick up quickly and the chapter titles make it even easier.

Before reading this book, I was convinced that magical realism was not my genre. The magical realism element was used as a coping mechanism for Leigh, so that she could remember her mother and learn how to live on with her life. There was symbolism that appeared in carefully constructed times throughout the story making it feel like an easter egg hunt. I don't think this book would have been what it was without that element, and I am grateful to this book for showing me a new side of this genre.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the exploration of mental illness and suicide. Some books stick to you years after you read it, and I can predict this being one of those titles. The author states in the author's note that her family previously lost one of their own to suicide. She partly wrote this book in homage to breaking the stigmas behind mental illness and suicide.

I don't mean to get personal, but there was once a time in my life when I felt like suicide was the only option. Just like it was hard for Leigh to understand why her mother was depressed, my friends and family would often ask me why I felt that way when I had such a good life. First of all, that doesn't help. Second, there doesn't have to be a reason to explain someone's depression. Leigh's mother, like so many people, fell victim to a terrible disease. Depression is different for everyone. When I noticed that this was a recurring theme in the novel, I appreciated it a billion times more. Yes, you probably would have guessed by now that I cried while reading this book.

In the story, Leigh struggles with blaming herself and the people around her for her mother's dead. I just wanted to crawl through the pages, enter the story and hug Leigh because she didn't deserve to be so hard on herself. Even though we follow Leigh as the narrator, we're not just simply following her actions through the story. We also get a glimpse of her motives and desires through her internal thoughts.
"Whose fault was it? That's the question on everyone's mind, isn't it? Nobody will ever say it out loud. It's a question people would call inappropriate. The kind of thing where everyone tells you, 'It's nobody's fault.'"

- Emily X.R. Pan, The Astonishing Color of After
Let it be known that I absolutely adored this book. It is everything I ever wanted in a Young Adult contemporary that not only entertains but teaches and promotes. Why read this book? It's hard to understand mental illness, depression, and suicide. Sometimes when we, as humans, don't understand something we automatically fear it. We need to promote books like this to end the stigma. Help people. Break the cycle.


BLOG TOUR | To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo + Book Review

Title: To Kill A Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Pages: 384 pages
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Source: ARC from Macmillan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: 4.5/5 
Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

Purchase it now!
2018 is the year of mind-blowing and spectacular Young Adult fantasy books, I just know it! First Everless by Sara Holland blew me away with its unique plot and well-executed world-building and magic system, and then To Kill A Kingdom steals the spotlight with a dark spin on the classic, The Little Mermaid. I wonder what's next...

In the short time that I've been reading avidly as a book blogger, I don't think I've ever actually read a good Young Adult mermaid book. There is a scarcity of really popular YA mermaid books, so I think that the pitch that this book has going for it- "dark Little Mermaid retelling" - is going to help this book sell really well. Not to mention, that the cover is drop dead gorgeous. And thankfully in this case, looks are not deceiving. This book is beautiful both inside and out.

With every chapter, I was enticed to read more and more even if that meant sacrificing sleep. There was no shortage of adventure and intrigue. I don't think the world was so difficult to understand that the author had to fill the reader in that much, but there were a lot of rules that were cleared up in the first 50 pages. I think the only critique is that I wasn't able to get a sense of how far or close the kingdoms were to each other. There might be a map of the world in the hardcover copy, which would really help. What I liked especially was the clear distinction the author drew between mermaids and sirens.  Although mermaids and sirens bow down to the same Sea Queen, they are very different. Our main character Lira is a siren, not a mermaid.

Anyone who is a huge fan of The Little Mermaid (me me me!) will appreciate the small things that the author kept in the novel to keep the authenticity and the classic tale alive, but with dark and deadly twists. It was really intriguing, and I was just honestly blown away by how the author was able to take the infamous classic and make it her own. I won't spoil anything, but she takes really big elements of the classic Little Mermaid story and completely turns them around. It's very unexpected and simply refreshing.

A note to make: there is a lot of verbal and physical abuse from Lira's mother, so please be cautious. Like shit, it gets really intense. Trigger warning for verbal and physical abuse! 

We've got a host of fabulous leading ladies, and of course your occasional prince charming. But Prince Charming be damned, I wanted to take all the strong females in this book and put them in a all-female singing group. Lira, the main character, is a ruthless and ambitious siren. There's Madrid, another fearless female who holds a high rank on the Prince's fleet. Let's not forget Kahlia, Lira's siren cousin.

A lot of people will read the synopsis and simply dub it as a "mermaid book". What people don't expect though, is a pirate adventure filled with mischief, mayhem and a LOTTA romance.

I think one of Christo's biggest challenges with writing this book was to try and set her book apart from all the other Young Adult mermaid novels out there. And she did just that. Her writing is something that can only be experienced by reading this book. She's so descriptive, and she was really able to capture the beauty of the ocean and what it holds.
"With it comes the smell of dawn as the pink-lipped sky barely stays tucked behind the line of the ocean."

"When I open my mouth to sign, the air caramelizes on my tongue."

- quoted from an uncorrected proof of To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
For all you folks that love the trope of hate-to-love romances, you will eat this book up. It was steamy and just...

Take whatever preconceived notion you have of this book and throw it out the window! This 2018 debut is already turning heads with the promise of being a book about "mermaids", and I'm glad to say that it lived up to my expectations and more. It's already out, so don't forget to get your hands on it. 
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