Debut Review: The Best Lies – Sarah Lyu

Debut Review: The Best Lies – Sarah LyuThe Best Lies by Sarah Lyu
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: July 2, 2019
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four-stars

Remy Tsai used to know how her story would turn out. But now, she doesn’t even know what tomorrow will look like.

She was happy once. Remy had her boyfriend Jack, and Elise, her best friend—her soulmate—who understood her better than anyone else in the world.

But now Jack is dead, shot through the chest—

And it was Elise who pulled the trigger.

Was it self-defense? Or something deeper, darker than anything Remy could have imagined? As the police investigate, Remy does the same, sifting through her own memories, looking for a scrap of truth that could save the friendship that means everything to her.

Told in alternating timelines, Thelma and Louise meets Gone Girl in this twisted psychological thriller about the dark side of obsessive friendship.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

As soon as I heard about The Best Lies it was immediately added to my TBR. I’m a sucker for a book that is told from alternating timelines and a book with an added thriller/mystery aspect…sold! And boy did Sarah Lyu deliver. The Best Lies was everything I had hoped for and more that I didn’t expect.

The Best Lies starts off with the death of Remy’s boyfriend who was killed by her best friend Elise. Remy is completely torn up on what she should do, what happened, who she needs to protect, and why it happened to begin with. While being interviewed by the police she relives the year of friendship with Elise, meeting Jack, and everything that happened that lead up to that night. As the story unfolds so does the reality of what really happened to Remy’s boyfriend and why.

I can’t fully review this book because I am terrified I will give something away but what happened the night Jack died. What I can tell you is that I loved Jack a lot and my heart broke for Remy. She didn’t have any easy time of things and Jack was her bright stop for a while. It was also super interesting to see how Remy and Elise began and how their friendship was formed.

Basically based on the description for The Best Lies, I knew this debut novel by Sarah Lyu was going to have me on quite the journey. But I never expected the journey to be as intense as it was and man was this book intense. It kept me interested from the get-go and never stopped. definitely one I would recommend picking up. I look forward to seeing what else this debut author will bring to the table.

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Blog Tour: Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali

Blog Tour: Love from A to Z by S. K. AliLove from A to Z by S.K. Ali
Published by Salaam Reads
Published: April 30, 2019
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five-stars

From William C. Morris Award Finalist S.K. Ali comes an unforgettable romance that is part The Sun Is Also a Star mixed with
Anna and the French Kiss
, following two Muslim teens who meet during a spring break trip.

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The description for Love from A to Z says, “…an unforgettable romance that is part The Sun Is Also a Star mixed with Anna and the French Kiss…”. I was concerned when I read that. Anna and the French Kiss is my all-time favorite book so those are some really big shoes to fill. However, the book sounded too good to pass up, even if it scared me. Well, thank goodness I did because Love from A to Z was so heartbreakingly beautiful and I didn’t want it to end.

Love from A to Z is a book about Adam and Zayneb, two teens from two different parts of the world. Besides both being Muslim, they have one thing in common, they journal in the same Marvels and Oddity notebooks. When these two randomly meet on their way to Doha, Qatar they end up on a journey they didn’t expect and learning things about themselves and each other that will forever change them.

It is going to be really hard for me to put into words how amazing Love from A to Z is. Simply saying ‘I loved it so much’ doesn’t seem to be enough, but I’m struggling to find the most accurate way to describe it.  I can tell you that Adam and Zayneb were magical together and as their own character. I can tell you that each of them had such strong stories that stood completely on their own, but bringing them together was like setting off fireworks. I can tell you that I cried in a place or 30 and peoples actions broke my heart. I can tell you that Adam had a rough road ahead of him but he was dealing with it with grace. And I can tell you that Zayneb should never have dealt with the discrimination she faced on the daily, and she had every right to feel the anger she did.

To simply say that Love from A to Z was fantastic is doing it a disservice. It was a beautifully written story about life, love, and disappointment. It was about two teens that find each other when they needed each other the most. In the end, it is a book that all I can say is…READ IT!

About S.K. Ali

S. K. Ali is a teacher based in Toronto whose writing on Muslim culture and life has appeared in the Toronto Star. Her family of Muslim scholars is consistently listed in the The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, and her insight into Muslim culture is both personal and far-reaching. A mother of a teenage daughter herself, S. K. Ali's debut YA is a beautiful and nuanced story about a young woman exploring her identity through friendship, family, and faith.

Mon, April 29 – Utopia State of Mind
Tues, April 30 – Andi’s ABCs
Weds, May 1 – Runaway with Dreamthieves
Thurs, May 2 – Take Me Away
Fri, May 3 – Vicky Who Reads
Sat, May 4 – Book Scents
Mon, May 6 – Mary Had A Little Book Blog
Tues, May 7 – As Told by Zaheerah
Weds, May 8 – The Infinite Limits of Love
Thurs, May 9 – Pop! Goes the Reader
Fri, May 10 – Rich in Color
Mon, May 13 – Actin’ Up With Books
Tues, May 14 – Kaitlyn Gosiaco’s Blog
Weds, May 15 – It Starts at Midnight
Thurs, May 16 – Sleepy Sam Reads
Fri, May 17 – Wishful Endings

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Review: Serious Moonlight – Jenn Bennett

Review: Serious Moonlight – Jenn BennettSerious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: April 16, 2019
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five-stars

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Opening a book by Jenn Bennett immediately gives me a sense of joy. She has written some of my favorite books so it just feels like home when I get to read her words again. So to say I was beyond excited for Serious Moonlight is an understatement. I honestly remember Bennett announcing it and I immediately knew it was going to be another favorite. And let me tell you, she did not disappoint. It was EVERYTHING I love about a Jenn Bennett book and maybe a little bit more.

Serious Moonlight is the story of Birdie, an 18-year old that is trying to find her way. When Bridie’s mom died when she was 10 Birdie was sent to live with the overprotective grandparents she never knew. After her grandmother died 6 months ago, Birdie gains some independence and a job working the night shift at a hotel in downtown Seattle. When Birdie runs into someone she had a chance encounter with, her life ends up on a mystery filled path she never expected.

The thing that is a constant with a Jenn Bennett book is 1) the cute boy and 2) the chemistry the main character has with said cute boy. Jenn nailed this in Serious Moonlight. The first time Daniel was introduced I immediately swooned for him. He was everything Birdie needed in her life. He was the thing that brought out the best in her and vice versa. They played off of each other so well and I loved every minute of their relationship. Both of them had problems and fears and hang-ups which made them even more relatable

In the end, there wasn’t one thing I could complain about in Serious Moonlight. It was what Jenn Bennett does best and it shined. It is one of those rare 400+ page books that you may end up finishing in a sitting because it is that good. Make sure this one if on your radar!

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Review: Girls with Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

Review: Girls with Sharp Sticks – Suzanne YoungGirls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: March 19, 2019
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five-stars

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Since coming across The Program in 2013 I have been a fan of Suzanne Young and her books. There is something about the way she tells a story that sucked me in from the get go. I swear every time I need a new book by her I don’t think she can write any better than she has and yet she constantly proves me wrong. But I can confidentially tell you that Girls with Sharp Sticks is 100% her most brilliant masterpiece yet. When I tell you that I loved this book, I mean it more than I can accurately explain. It is just such a memorable reading experience you truly won’t be able to find the words to describe your feelings.

Girls with Sharp Sticks is about Mena, a girl that goes to a school where she is taught how to be the ‘perfect woman’. The girls are told how to dress, how to act, and how to behave in order to please the men in their lives. They are conditioned to behave and be ‘proper’ and to obey. But when strange things start happening Mena starts noticing how unusual the school is and how sheltered the girls actually are. With the help of a new friend from outside the school walls, Mena opens her eyes and sees what’s really going on at Innovations Academy and she isn’t going to let it continue. When all the girls ban together the men of Innovations learn what the tag line says: Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

This book was hardcore! And epic! And amazing! And fantastic! And any other adjective you can think of to describe such an unexpectedly powerful book. I was completely creeped out and disgusted reading it. These men were so vile and gross and 100% taking advantage of these girls to suit their needs. I swear I wanted to punch them all in the face so many times. But these girls, Mena, Sydney, Annaliese, Marcella, Brynn and Valentine (not a name a few), were actually what these men feared. These women together held all the power. They were the ones that were able to stand up for themselves and say ‘no, enough is enough’, and I loved every minute of it.

I want to say so much about this story. I want to tell you every detail and small thing I loved. But I refuse to ruin this experience. I strongly feel this is a book that everyone should read and will love. It is so unexpected and brilliantly done. I really can’t say any more than that. If you have trusted my book judgement in the past then trust it now. I swear it is worth it!

Now bring on Girls with Razor Hearts!

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New to You (18): CJ Reviews Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Welcome to New to You!

This idea came along last year when I was supporting Lauren Miller’s newest book All Things New and I asked Kelsey to read and review Parallel, a book I have read more than once. I didn’t really get it going until December when I offered people the chance to sign up to read and review a book that has been a favorite of mine that they have never read. I got a great response and I’m happy to tell you (minus January) you will see a New to You post twice a month.

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Next up for New to You CJ from Sarcasm and Lemons. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous when I assigned this book to her. It is heartbreaking and a gorgeous story, but the subject matter is a hard sell. Honestly I have never recommend Forbidden to anyone because it isn’t a book that you can tell someone to read, they have to want to read it because it is high disturbing. But when CJ was the only one that selected it as an option, my warning included) I knew she was the right person. Let’s see what she had to say about a book that tore me to pieces:

New to You (18): CJ Reviews Forbidden by Tabitha SuzumaForbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: June 28, 2011
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three-stars

Perfect for readers who enjoyed Flowers in the Attic, this is a heartbreaking and shocking novel about siblings Lochan and Maya, their tumultuous home life, and the clandestine, and taboo, relationship they form to get through it.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As de facto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: A love this devastating has no happy ending.

Family Dysfunction is an Understatement

If I had to reduce my thoughts to a sentence, I think it would mostly be facial expressions. FORBIDDEN is a slow burning, heart wrenching book. There’s something a little old fashioned about the writing, something a bit V.C. Andrews or Nancy Drew, and it’s difficult to place it in any particular time. Entering it is almost entering another world. Even the characters speak with a poetic gravity. But all this gives a timelessness to the story of two hapless lovers, who happen to be brother and sister.

It’s no easy read. I found myself alternately hand-wringing and squirming and placing my hand to my heart throughout. You can’t help but sympathize with Lochan and Maya’s impossible situation, even as a very deep part of you feels nauseated by a relationship you’ve been programmed to revile. It’s a complicated story with no easy moral statements, no clear answers, and although the slow pacing made for some languorous skimming at times, the relationship between Maya and Lochan–and its startling conclusion–left me deeply mired in thought. It’s a book worth talking about.

Romeo and Juliet Had it Good

Our story opens on the Whitley family. Just from the set-up, you know this is going to be a Family Drama. The mother never wanted children and is scarcely at home; most of her time is spent playing cougar with her boyfriend. The father has gone to Australia and never calls. Teens Lochan and Maya are forced to play siblings and parents both to delinquent Kit, hyperactive Tiffin, and sweet naive little Willa. I often found myself raging at their mother, but also knowing that she’s the kind of person who would never take responsibility–which made me rage more, and also feel quite protective of the characters.

In this environment, it’s no wonder the result is a strange relationship between Lochan and Maya. I’m not sure if Suzuma meant to write it as a pure, sweet love; perhaps because of my background, I read it as unhealthily co-dependent. There’s an aspect of Heathcliff and Cathy in it. They cling to each other, fiercely enmeshed in their own world, isolated from others by fear and choice, parentified by the lack of an adult figure. They are everything to each other. I found it a little shocking how quickly they grow used to the idea of their romantic relationship–I would have expected some more hesitancy initially. But perhaps that’s part of the tragedy. It was a strange feeling, finding myself sometimes rooting for them, sometimes sickened, sometimes horrified and overwhelmed by the pathos of their abnormality. It made me want to do research, which is always a good sign that a book has made me think. I think the ending really underscored the tragedy of it all: in this world, their romance is abomination. Should it be? Was it a phase? Was there another way? Are we supposed to support them or assume they need therapy?

The best part of the book was its portrayal of depression and anxiety. I’ve rarely read such a thorough, accurate description as Lochan’s. He suffers from extreme social anxiety, to the point of having intense panic attacks at school when forced to speak to anyone. He also experiences soul-crushing depression, tinged with hopelessness and marked by the occasional outbursts of temper and self-harm. His POV chapters are electric and claustrophobic with the feeling of being trapped and beset on all sides. By contrast, I thought Maya was a bit fluffy. She’s the one who immediately accepts their relationship, sees it as them against the world. Her personality seems less distinct. Lochan was her whole world, and I couldn’t help but feeling the horror of that, and knowing it wouldn’t end well.

That Ending Though

Whatever you think of the sibling relationship, you’d have no soul if the ending didn’t give you pause. I admit, I didn’t see it coming. Not because it didn’t make sense, but because the last few chapters are so frenetic and fraught after a period of seeming contentment that it comes as a slap in the face. I was left with so many questions, for myself and the world. How could such an attraction like this occur? Was it the neglect of their circumstances? Would they have grown out of it? Is it wrong for society to see it as wrong if it’s two consenting parties? Am I wrong for being disturbed? Despite my hangups with the pacing and tone, I’m glad I read FORBIDDEN. It’s always good to be thrust out of your comfort zone and to question everything you’ve accepted as true. I have a feeling I’ll think of this one for a long time.

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Thanks CJ for signing up for New to You. I promise, you are right, you will think about this book for a long time. I read it in 2011 and I still find myself thinking about it.

Have you ever read anything with a disturbing subject matter? How do you feel about recommending it?

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