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Feature and Follow: Book Buying Before Blogging

Before book blogging, how would you find out about new books, or did you?

bookfair

Scholastic Book Fair: the day you especially did not want to stay home sick

When I was a youngin’, I learned about new books through the Scholastic Book Fair! As soon as the book catalog was sent home with students, I became antsy with anticipation. I’d spend the evening circling the books I wanted to purchase, and my mom would send me to school with a check to cover the cost. I think this was the only time I ever “discovered” new books. You see, as a kid, I was a bit of a habitual reader. I would discover an author or series, and I would stick with it.

The Time Warp Trio books were some of my faves.

The Time Warp Trio books were some of my faves.

My go-to authors were:

  • Jon Scieszka– the Time Warp TrioThe True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Math Curse
  • Louis Sachar– Sideways Stories from Wayside School and of course, Holes
  • Jack Prelutsky– all his poetry books, but especially A. Nonnymouse Writes Again! and The Dragons are Singing Tonight
  • Robert Munsh– Again everything that came out during my childhood, Paper Bag Princess, Pigs!, Love You Forever, Purple Green and Yellow
  • R. L. Stine– Goosebumps, Give Yourself Goosebumps (which were the choose your own adventure series), and oh gosh, FEAR STREET!!!
  • Shel Silverstein– EVERYTHING! I also had his poems on tape, and I listened to them on repeat, repeat, repeat.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks (series) by Nancy McArthur
  • The Magic Treehouse (series) by Mary Pope Osborne
  • The Boxcar Children (series) by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • The Bailey School Kids (series) by Marcia T. Jones, Debbie Dadey, and John Steven Gurney

Do you see a theme here? Almost everything I read was a series. I wonder if I burned myself out on them, and this is why I cannot finish a series now.

Angusthongsandfullfrontalsnogging

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging made me laugh until tears streamed down my face

In high school, I was on my own to discover new books. And this is actually pretty strange to me. All of my friends were book nerds too, but we rarely talked about books unless that book was Harry Potter. There was one exception– I turned a friend onto The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson books. These books were hilarious! But…I never finished the series.

Most of the time, I would walk in to Barnes and Noble, armed with $70 of allowance money, and I would spend then entire day roaming the bookshelves. I would pace in front of the young adult section for covers and titles that caught my eye and summaries that kept my attention. People weren’t as avid readers of young adult books back then, so I don’t recall the selection changing too often. Still, I felt like I re-read those summaries and stared critically at those covers every time I went to buy books. Despite the lack of reviews or book chatter, I always seemed to love the books I picked out.

Feature and Follow is a weekly feature hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.

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I Finally Finished Another Series: Twilight

I’ve done it! I’ve really done it! I have officially completed two entire series in my 26 years of existence. I spent the afternoon of Labor Day power reading the last 200 pages of Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. And this GIF of Kristen Stewart sums up my feelings over losing several hours of my life to the book:

I avoided the Twilight saga for as long as possible. I had heard too much about the bland characters, the poor writing, and the sketchy romantic relationship to know that this was one book hype I should probably avoid. And! When Twilight hit the shelves, people compared its popularity to Harry Potter. As if it were even in the same league! But somehow, I got talked into reading it. I went in totally prepared to hate everything about the series, but if I’m honest, I don’t actually hate the series. Not all of it, anyway.

 

When I read Twilight, I was surprised. Surprised by how much I didn’t dislike Bella and Edward and Jacob. Surprised by how easily I was swept up in the fantasy of Bella’s budding romance with a sparkling vampire. Surprised by how I did not want to put the book down– not even for Fallout 3, which I had just purchased that weekend, and this is kind of big deal. I ended up reading it in two days even though I’m a pretty slow reader. I was just…hooked! I mean, obviously I could tell the quality of story telling and character development wasn’t the greatest, but for some reason that didn’t even matter. Twilight has this junk food quality about it. I compare it to cookie dough, which is unhealthy, but I cannot help gobbling down spoonful after spoonful of it anyway.

New Moon made me even weaker in the knees. In Twilight, I got to read about Bella and Edward’s relationship, but in New Moon, I got to read about Bella and Jacob’s friendship, and I adored that. I freaking loved Jacob Black in New Moon– in all the books. And I finished this up just as quickly as the first book. I had to because the second movie was hitting theaters, and I ended up dragging both my parents along to see the film.

Then, my love for the series ended abruptly. Eclipse happened, and I fell out of love with the series. Eclipse was so boring. I actually skipped about an entire chapter of this book because it was not holding my attention– the one where Bella is sitting about a campfire with Jacob and his family/friends, learning about shape shifters. I consider myself Team Jacob, but not even he could keep my attention during the info dump. To make matters worse, Bella turns into a jerk toward Jacob– like she was over compensating her faithfulness to Edward because she finally realized she had feelings for Jacob too.

I didn’t think it were possible, but I started to like Bella even less in Breaking Dawn. Edward too. Because they were just so, so mean. It was off-putting enough that I ended up putting the book down for two years. I regret doing that because the last 200 pages of the book were such a doozy that attempting to finish the book became a real challenge. I ended up skim-reading to the end, but nothing really happened anyway. I thought it was going to be this battle royale– Cullens and Co. vs. the Volturi. I thought that’s what New Moon and Eclipse were building up to, but they just talked through their differences and everyone lived happily ever after. It was anti-climactic. [Note: I actually saw Breaking Dawn part II in theaters before finishing the book, which was also a mistake because while I liked the movie's ending a little better than the book's ending, it was still a "cop-out", and this affected my attitude towards the book.]

I of course dragged my mom to see all the movies, and I think I preferred them to the books despite Kristen Stewart’s emotionless acting and all of the cheesy fight scenes. I liked the scenery and I loved the music. Also, I liked this guy and his abs:

Taylor Lautner, you are so dreamy.

 

Have you ever read the Twilight saga? Did you love it or did you hate it? Or, do you fall somewhere in the middle like myself?

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Book Buying Woes

I am uncertain how this is even possible, but I am terrible at buying books. I spend months, even years pining over books and organizing them on my Goodreads shelves according to which books I want to read the most. Yet, when I receive my Barnes & Noble gift cards for my birthday or Christmas, I almost never purchase the books that take the top rank. I celebrated my 26th birthday at the end of July, and I ended up filling my shelves with the following:

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple ♥ Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell ♥ The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan ♥ Life After Life by Kate Atkinson ♥ I Wrote This For You: Just the Words. by pleasefindthis

Most of these I want to read. Eventually. People have raved about these books (with the exception of I Wrote This For You, which I bought on a total whim late at night), but they are hardly the books that make me feel giddy when I think about finally having the opportunity to read them. I think the only reason they ended up in my Barnes & Noble cart is because of indecision. Being apart of the book blogosphere puts so many different books on my radar that sometimes it’s overwhelming; sometimes I forget how to prioritize. Do I go for the book that I’ve had my eye on for months, or do I go for this shiny new book that everyone has been talking about? I spent so long flipping between tabs of potential purchases in my browser that I eventually became fed up and just picked something. Anything.

If I had a time turner, I’d probably go back and fill my cart with these books:

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer: Who hasn’t read this book? *raises hand sheepishly* Considering I loved Cinder so much, I’m really surprised I still haven’t read the second installment in this sci-fi fairy tale adaptation.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan: This book was immensely popular when I was first introduced to the book blogging world. I read so many positive things about this book that I knew I had to read it. I also knew that I needed to take a step back from all the hype. It’s been about five years since this book was first put on my radar… that should be a sufficient amount time for that hype to fizzle, right?

Y is for Yorick: A Slightly Irreverent Shakespearean ABC for Grown-Ups by Jennifer Adams: The summary says it’s the perfect gift for Shakespeare fans, and I really, really like Shakespeare. (Digression: one of my co-workers put a plastic, Halloween skull in my office, and I’ve named him Yorick. A lot of my co-workers seem put-off by Yorick.)

Spook by Mary Roach: I was introduced to Mary Roach in 11th grade. We read and analyzed an excerpt from one of her books, Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. She tackled such a morbid subject in a fascinating and sometimes humorous way, and I’ve wanted more ever since.

The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way by Bill Bryson: I also just really, really, really like Bill Bryson, and I probably won’t be satisfied until I read all his books.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson: It was a toss-up between this book and Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I’m a sucker for non-fiction, and lately I’ve been fascinated by these micro-histories.

Alas, I do not have a time turner. And to be honest, this Christmas, when I get my second bout of gift cards, I’ll probably end up with another cart filled with books I only kind of want to read because they’re titles that are fresh on my mind.


What was the last book you purchased that left you with buyer’s remorse? How do you prioritize what books to purchase when you’re perusing bookshelves in the store (or online)?

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Waiting on Wednesday: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

scarlet

From Goodreads:
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Is there a rule about only showcasing new and upcoming releases for Waiting on Wednesday? Because I’m breaking it.

I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer last year, and the author’s creativity blew me away. Scarlet has been on my wishlist ever since, but I never got around to gifting myself with the book. I like to pretend that it’s because I have excellent self-control, but really I’m just broke. I need to re-re-re-setup my Nook so I can download library books again. I digress! Now that the third installment of the Lunar Chronicles is hitting shelves early 2014, my desire to read Scarlet has turned into a need. I’m so neurotic about this book that every time I cross a review for Cress, the third book, I immediately close the window. I won’t even let myself finish reading the description because I don’t want to spoil anything in book two.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Published: February 2013
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.

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Book Report: Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Dark Parties by Sara Grant
Released: March 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian
Pages: 320
Source: Giveaway hosted by Khy @ Frenetic Reader

From Goodreads Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped since birth. She was born and raised under the Protectosphere, in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies, and xenophobia. A shield “protects” them from the outside world, but also locks the citizens inside. But there’s nothing left on the outside, ever since the world collapsed from violent warfare. Or so the government says…

Neva and her best friend Sanna believe the government is lying and stage a “dark party” to recruit members for their underground rebellion. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she’s ever known, including the people she loves the most.

My Thoughts
Inside the electrified walls of the Protectosphere is a community cut off from the rest of the world. The government says they’re better off because beyond the Protectosphere lies a wasteland. Citizens may notice luxuries like blueberries, chocolate, and new clothes are disappearing, but at least they are alive.

But, are they really living when the government determines what job an individual holds? Or tries to brainwash the youth into reproducing at a younger age to save a dwindling population? Are they really alive when troublemakers are injected with tracking devices? Or worse, when family members and friends suddenly disappear during the night? Only the government knows where to, but to question them might create for you the same fate.

The teens hold Dark Parties to start underground rebellions, to join celibacy pacts, to spray paint anti-government propaganda on city walls. But, when their friends start disappearing, their rebellion fizzles out. Of the youth that attended the Dark Parties, three fighters remain– Neva, Sanna (her friend), and Braydon (Sanna’s boyfriend). Without the support of their peers, the three dig into their government to discover the history of the Protectosphere, and they begin to learn the atrocities their government is capable of.

Dark Parties by Sara Grant could have been a great novel, but like most of the other books I’ve read in 2013, it fell short of amazing. “Decent” and “all right” are more fitting adjectives. Perhaps my opinion would have differed if I hadn’t read two, awesome dystopians prior to Dark Parties. Already, the novel had some pretty big shoes to fill, and I approached reading it with a more critical eye. At first many of the elements of the society in Dark Parties seemed generic, but as I read on, they started to seem similar. Dark Parties by Sara Grant is to Young Adult as The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is to Middle Grade. I’m not implying Dark Parties is a rip off because there are a few elements unique to its storyline. I am saying that because I’ve experienced a similar story already, Dark Parties failed to excite me. Besides, I liked Lina and Doon better than Neva, Sanna, and Braydon.

Neva, the main character, lacks passion and personality. Her ability to lead a rebellion seems more a result of circumstance than her own drive. Then there is Braydon, the love interest. He’s dating Sanna, Neva’s best friend, but Braydon is trying to become intimate with Neva, too. And Neva falls for it! As I read the story, I kept wondering how Neva could be attracted to a guy, who is two-timing her best friend. Hoes before Bros, amiright? Even worse, Neva is barely remorseful about it. I mean, she keeps saying she feels bad, but she still pursues Braydon. Aside from his teenage infidelity, Braydon lacks a personality, like Neva. (Perhaps they are meant for each other after all.) He’s pseudo-mysterious. He appears to be brooding, but that’s only because he doesn’t have anything valid to offer in a conversation. He does drive a motorcycle though, and everyone knows the ladies find motorcycles sexy or something. Braydon seems to exist merely as a plot device– Neva’s temptation to break her celibacy pact. But, I feel like the author should have given Neva someone more worthwhile and convincing. Sanna is about the only character in the story that is interesting, though at times she seems artificially sweet. Regardless, she has more passion, she has more challenges to overcome, and she has more life-altering decisions to make. Why couldn’t the story have been about Sanna?

While most of the characters lacked substance, the world didn’t. About 16 chapters in, the reader learns the founding fathers of the Protectosphere were xenophobic. The Protectosphere was developed to keep the effects of globalization out– no sharing religion, no sharing language, no sharing culture, no sharing ideas. I think this is an interesting idea given the shrinking world we live in, but I don’t think the idea was explored as well as it could have been. In fact, it caused a few holes in the world building. Earlier in the story, Neva laments over blueberries, which are no longer available in her world. Except, chances are, if she’s living in America or Europe, blueberries probably grow…naturally. Things like coffee and gas for cars still exist in Neva’s world though, and both of these most definitely would have to have been exported from the outside world. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense any irony or hypocrisy here, which makes this aspect of the world seem underdeveloped.

Even though I didn’t find the storyline compelling for the most part, I continued to read because I kept hoping the story would improve. And improve it did. Things took a turn for the better when Neva infiltrates the Women’s Empowerment Center. For the first time, the reader and Neva understand the grotesque and horrible things the government does to its people, its women. Finally,  a fire sparks in Neva; she realizes what she’s fighting for and fighting to get away from. Then, Grant leads us through a series of twists and turns and twists that had me at the edge of my seat. And just when I thought things could get any more satisfying, the last few pages happened. The end. OH MY GOD! I mean, I can’t tell you what happens because spoilers, but trust me when I say the ending was perfect. Unexpected. Thought-provoking. Grant doesn’t wrap up Dark Parties neatly with a nice little bow. As many answers are provided as questions are created in those last few pages. I guess you could say the story ends on a cliffhanger, which I understand is an acquired taste. I’m obviously a huge fan of them. I like it when a little is left up to the imagination, and since this book appears to be a stand-alone, all I will have is my imagination. I loved that the ending of Dark Parties filled me with as much wonder as it did Neva.

Read Dark Parties if you enjoy dystopian novels but haven’t read too many stories that fall into that genre. The character development and world building seemed worn out at times, but Grant’s storytelling shines during the second half of the novel. I’m not even being cheeky when I say the ending of Dark Parties makes it a book worth reading.

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Book Report: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful CreaturesBeautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1) by Kami Garcia + Margaret Stohl
Released: December 2009
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 563
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

My Thoughts
You guys, why didn’t you tell me how amazing Beautiful Creatures was? Oh wait, You did! I often talk about how book hype usually ruins books for me, but on this rare occasion it didn’t! In my opinion, Beautiful Creatures deserves all the rave reviews it’s received so far.

There is something so satisfying about Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It was the setting that sucked me in first. The fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina reminded me of hot and soggy summers spent in the woods and creek behind my house in northern Georgia. I half expected kudzu to creep and crawl from the pages of my book. Had the transmission in my car not gone kaput a month prior, I may have jumped in to my dodgy Ford Taurus and drove south for the winter. Next, I was immediately preoccupied by the lives of the people in small-town Gatlin. I wanted to stand in line at the corner store sipping sweet tea while nonchalantly listening in to gossips air their neighbor’s dirty laundry.

The characterization in Beautiful Creatures was near perfect. They all came alive almost effortlessly. The southern belles and their jock counterparts were a cause of friction that was written well. The mean girls/jock conflict might be overdone, but Garcia and Stohl’s approach is surprisingly refreshing. Perhaps because it reads more like a small town versus an outsider threatening what is comfortable rather than the mean, preppy girls versus the goth. The Sisters, with their batty ways were hilarious! But Amma, with her crossword obsession and her voodoo superstitions stole the show for me.

If the characters and the setting don’t suck you in, perhaps the point of view will. What a surprise it was to discover that this paranormal romance  was written almost entirely from a male’s point of view. When was the last time you read a book dealing with romantic elements from a guy’s perspective? It’s just not usually done, which makes this book even more outstanding. Ethan is more complicated than some high school horn dog. He struggles with parting himself from the small town mentality that his friends are trying to shove down his throat as he realizes he’s falling for mysterious and eccentric looking Lena. The romance that develops between the two is sweet and so reminiscent of what I remember of high school romances—holding hands and almost-kisses and wondering if you’ve really just fallen in…well, the “l-word”(because who knew saying “love” would be so anxiety inducing even though it’s kind of invigorating?). It’s such a nice break from overly dominant and manly teenage boys and submissive teenage girls.

The supernatural elements were a show-stopper as well. They were just plain, ol’ neat. I mean, we’re talking about controlling elements, shape shifting, seeing time, mind control, healing, and that’s only scratching the surface. But, that’s not all. There is also Amma who wards off bad spirits with voodoo charms and pleases dead ancestors with chicken and whiskey. There is a natural conflict that arises between the casters and Amma just as there is a conflict that arises between all of the mortals in Gatlin and the casters. It makes for some pretty suspenseful moments.

Beautiful Creatures would be perfect except for two issues that I had with the book. First, the book seemed long. I understand that it is long but so are Harry Potter books, and sometimes those don’t seem long enough! I don’t know if it was pacing or if certain events in the middle were dragged out a chapter too many or even if my anticipation for the events at the end made the book seem so long. Regardless, at some point, I lost my reading vigor because it seemed daunting. Now, on the flip side, it seemed like the ending was rushed! And it seemed like a few explanations were made up suddenly at the end to cover holes in logistics. Like, how is Ethan supposed to get from the Library back out the spooky mansion when they’re clear across town from each other? A perfectly rational supernatural explanation is offered even though no mention of such a thing was made when Ethan first visited the library.

Overall,
I LOVED Beautiful Creatures! The setting, the characters, and the point-of-view made the book a refreshing read. Especially in a genre that has exhausted shoddy love interests, vague characterization, and love triangles. Perhaps Beautiful Creatures was a little too satisfying though. I honestly felt Beautiful Creatures would have worked perfectly as a stand-alone novel. It tied things up nicely but left enough to the imagination. So, as much as I loved Beautiful Creatures, I’m not entirely convinced I want to continue on with the series. Conflicting, eh? I’m not sure book two can live up to its predecessor. If I’m way wrong, please tell me in the comments!

Cover Story
I’m not nearly as smitten with the cover as most people seem to be. The bold colors and the font are lovely, but that’s the only striking thing about it. I don’t think I’d be encouraged to pick this book from the shelves (maybe 10 years ago when I was in my goth stage I may have…)

Read this book if you love supernatural stories. Read this book if you like those supernatural stories tinged with forbidden romance. Read this book even if you’re skeptical of supernatural stories tinged with forbidden romance. It’s not like all the others on the market, I swear! Read it!!!

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Book Report: If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

If I Tell by Janet GurtlerIf I Tell by Janet Gurtler
Released: October 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 244
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads
“It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away but couldn’t take my eyes off them.”
IF ONLY …If only I hadn’t gone to that party. I never would have seen what I did. Jackson wouldn’t have driven me home. I wouldn’t have started to fall for a guy just out of reform school. I could go back to pretending everything was normal. I wouldn’t be keeping a secret from my mom that could blow our family apart …

My Thoughts
I wanted to love this book. It seemed promising enough. I mean, at it’s bare bones If I Tell was good. The main character, Jasmine, is a bi-racial girl in a white-washed suburb in Washington. If feeling like an outside because of her skin color isn’t bad enough, Jasmine also sees Simon, her mother’s boyfriend, mackin’ on some other girl at a party. (Do people even use the word “macking” anymore?). Jasmine struggles with how to deal with this situation: how will she keep her cool around Simon? He’s been a good friend to her, and he is one of only two black people in Jasmine’s life. She also struggles with how to approach this issue with her mom– if she even should bring it up. Because Jasmine’s mom is pregnant, and Simon is the father.

If I Tell also deals with the issue of postpartum depression, which adds depth to the storyline. Jasmine was born when her mother was a teenager and unprepared to take care of a child on her own. So, Jasmine was raised by her grandparents. Now, Jasmine’s mom has a second chance at being a parent, and all throughout her pregnancy she’s excited by the idea. But after Jasmine’s mom gives birth, the depression settles in. The moment she’s been waiting for for nine months disintegrates. It’s truly heartbreaking.

But…the rest becomes really muddled. I mean, if you’re looking for an “issue book”, If I Tell really fits the bill. Infidelity, racism, and broken families aside, this book also deals with…molestation, alcoholism, homosexuality, AIDS, drugs, psychotic ex-girlfriends, death, uh…and sexual assault. I just felt like all of these issues piled into one book that was a little much for a book that has a little more than 200 pages.

I also didn’t care for the author’s approach to sex. Or maybe it’s really Jasmine’s view of sex, but sometimes it’s hard to separate the two from the message. Most of the time, whenever the topic of sex was brought up, slut-shaming was involved. Even more, the slut in question was an adult very capable of making adult decisions. I don’t know why this character’s sex life was blamed on her troubled past.

Overall,
This book was okay. I think there was a good story here, but all of the other characters’ problems was a distraction.

Cover Story
I think the cover is lovely. I like the colors and I adore the setting. I’m kind of curious if the gal on the cover really is bi-racial though. It would be crummy if the cover was white-washed.

Read this book at your own risk. I’m wondering if there might be too many issues present in this book for even this biggest fan of “issue books”.

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