Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

I have been on a ROLL with 5 star reads lately and I am not complaining one bit! After reading House of Salt and Sorrows, I felt like I immediately needed to jump into another sea-themed read so I grabbed my ARC of Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford. I honestly had no idea this would be another hit for me, but it absolutely was.

Nor and Zadie are twins. Raised in the ocean village of Varenia, the girls have been prepped their whole lives for the choosing ceremony, where the most beautiful girl will be selected to go to the mainland and wed the prince. Since Nor has a tiny scar, she has already counted herself out of the running, assuming her twin Zadie will be selected, even though she wants nothing more than to venture to the mainland. When Zadie is in fact selected, but is subsequently injured putting her beauty in jeopardy, Nor volunteers to go in her place. But things on the mainland aren't what Nor believed, and the more she learns, the more she becomes determined to risk her life to save her people.

This book was just so engaging and interesting, I couldn't put it down. I loved Nor and Zadie's relationship, and related to the constant scrutiny from their mother. There was action, politics, family drama, and forbidden love...all the ingredients for a great story. I really liked the concept of the pink pearls and blood coral, although when you think about it this world is kind of terrifying! 

I was also really happy with the ending of this read. It appears that the book was sold as a standalone, but Goodreads is now showing a second book in the series, Kingdom of Sea and Stone, set to come out in 2020! I could see how the ending was meant for a standalone read with the option for a second book. I was satisfied but still left wanting more, and if that sequel does become a reality, I will definitely be picking it up!

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I received an ARC of this read at the ALA Annual Conference. Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Ruthorford is out now, so be sure to pick up a copy!

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
From the time I started hearing rumblings about this book, I knew I had to have it. When the theme for the August OwlCrate box was released, I crossed my fingers. I hoped this would be this month's book, restraining myself from running out and buying a copy. AND IT WAS. 

Ignoring the rest of my TBR, I dove in the night I received this book, and was captured from the very first page. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig is a new twist on the 12 Dancing Princesses story, and is a beautifully atmospheric read that is hard to put down.

Annaleigh's family is cursed by the gods, or so people say. Her sisters keep dying, and of the 12 original Thaumas sisters, the 8 remaining girls all fear they are next. But with each death, Annaleigh's suspicions rise, and when she starts having gruesome visions, she becomes determined that the deaths weren't accidental. Pairing up with a handsome stranger, she fights to uncover the truth. But when everyone seems to be keeping secrets, who and what can you actually believe?

Reading this book was like stepping into an ominously beautiful fairy tale, and I flew through it. I just couldn't get enough. It was atmospheric and engaging, mysterious and powerful, and even a little bit (ok, sometimes more than a little bit!) creepy. I loved all the characters (and their gorgeous names!), and the setting that Craig created with Highmoor, the seaside manor, completely sucked me in. I kept trying to anticipate what would happen next, but each new twist and turn took me by surprise. And this was honestly the most satisfying ending I've read in a long, long time.

This one will definitely end up in my top 5 favorite books of the year, I already know it. 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Graphic Novel Mash-Up Review #1

I have just been blowing through graphic novels lately. Since these stories are usually shorter and more simple than traditional novels, I thought I would start doing mash-up reviews of a few graphic novels at a time! 

I adore graphic novels and comics, but the downside is that I read them so quickly I always have to ask myself if it's worth the $15-20 to buy them. My answer is always yes though! I feel like it's so important to read comics and graphic novels physically vs digitally to really get to enjoy the artwork. Are you a comic/graphic novel fan? What are some of your favorites? 

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang: This graphic novel has been around for a while. The story follows Anda, a girl who gets a little too involved with a game on the internet. But maybe the internet can teach important life lessons, too. I had high hopes for this one. That cover though! But unfortunately I didn't really connect with it as much as I had hoped. The art style is cute, but the story itself was a little simpler than I would have liked. 
3 out of 5 Stars

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Heavy Vinyl Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva: Girl gangs, unite! When Chris gets hired at her local record store, she has no idea she's getting involved with WAY more than just music sales. What she does know is that the girls she works with couldn't possibly be cooler. This story had great f+f rep and a strong female empowerment message. I love a good record store, so this was right up my alley. I do think it was missing something, and too much of this volume was spent setting up the story vs legitimate action, which made me knock off a star.
4 out of 5 Stars

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Giant Days Vol. 1 by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, and Whitney Cogar: This is about three college girls: Susan, Esther, and Daisy. I just adore Esther's gothic little heart! I read a tie-in novel to this franchise a while back and didn't really enjoy it, but I really loved this comic. I was so amused by the messes they got themselves into and am excited to dive into the rest of the volumes of this one (volume 11 is currently available for preorder!). I might even reread that novel now that I know more about the characters! 
5 out of 5 Stars

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Cover Art Courtesy of Amazon
I chose this book for my "Read an author's first book" selection for The Reading Rush and I was so excited to get to it. Touted as "The Road meets 28 Days Later," Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff is a zombie survival story perfect for fans of The Walking Dead.

Orpen needs to get to Phoenix City. There, the famous women known as Banshees fight the skrake and keep people safe. But in order to get there, she must brave the dangerous landscape and the horrors that lurk around corners, in abandoned buildings, and behind bushes. This story is her journey, both the physical and mental challenges she must endure to get to a location where she believes she will finally be safe.

This alternated between present time chapters and flashback chapters, allowing the reader to understand what has happened to Orpen leading up to present day events. You don't really get any backstory on what caused the creation of the skrakes though, and I would have appreciated some sort of overarching "WHY" vs just jumping right into how things are. I think this would technically be a dystopian horror story, but I didn't find it that scary. That being said, I read and watch a lot of horror so it's pretty hard to scare me overall.

I am really hoping for a sequel to this read because I am very curious what happens to Orpen and the other characters! The ending was exciting, and I was on the edge of my seat as I read the last major scenes of this book.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Flatiron Books for an ARC of this read! Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff releases Tuesday, August 27th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
The cover of this book about ballerinas is absolutely stunning. Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small follows two aspiring dancers, Marine and Kate, at a ballet academy in Paris. Best friends and equal competition, each girl has her eye set on The Prize, the one female slot in the corps de ballet. But what exactly are Marine and Kate willing to do to win it?

This is told in alternating perspectives of each of the two dancers. Marine dances for her deceased brother, while Kate dances to escape her life back home in the US. As they near the end of their schooling, the competition heats up, sparks fly, and friendships are tested.

This book was just okay. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. It wasn't a struggle to finish it, but I definitely wouldn't pick it up again. I didn't really like either of the characters, and didn't have reason to root for either one of them. I was happy with one part of the ending, but not the other, and almost all the guys in this book were complete jerks. 

I am a former dancer myself, so I really identified with some of the struggles these girls were going through. From your place at the barre to your body image, dancers have so many things to think about in addition to the steps, and ballet is a mental sport just as much as a physical one. To me, this book was Black Swan mixed with Center Stage.

Definite trigger warnings are needed as well for a forced miscarriage, anorexia, drug use, and suicide references. This book got very dark and intense at points, which did a good job highlighting how far these girls were willing to go to achieve their goals, as detrimental as they may be.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I received an ARC of this read at ALA. Bright Burning Stars is out now!

The Retreat by Sherri Smith

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
It's always so disappointing to me when a book starts off really well and just tanks as it goes. Unfortunately The Retreat by Sherri Smith was one of those books.

Katie Manning is a washed up child actor. Having played the famous Shelby Spade as a girl, her life is now in shambles as an adult. As she blows through her money and drinks herself into oblivion, Katie realizes she needs to make a change. So when her future sister-in-law suggests a wellness retreat, ending with a transformative hallucinogenic tea experience, Katie can't say no. Not wanting to be alone with Ellie, Katie decides to invite her two best friends Ariel and Carmen along as well.

While this book started off engaging enough, I very quickly started to lose interest. I flew through the first 75 pages or so, but after that point had to basically force myself to get through this. This book was told from the points of view of all four main characters: Katie, Ariel, Ellie, and Carmen. To me this made the whole story feel disjointed, almost as if I was reading 4 different books instead of one. There was entirely too much going on. From a missing guest to an inappropriate relationship with the retreat leader to a drug plot and more, I just didn't know which way was up, and as such just wanted to abandon the whole story.

The ending was just chaos. So much didn't make sense, and I found myself more confused than thrilled or excited. This story had so much potential and I hated to see that it was wasted. 

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Forge for a finished copy of this read! The Retreat is out now!

Author Spotlight: Vera Brosgol

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
I love a good graphic novel. They are perfect for getting out of reading slumps, boosting your numbers for your Goodreads challenge, and providing a light respite after trudging through thick and dense reads. I've been obsessed with them recently, so I figured I would do a spotlight on one graphic novelist in particular: Vera Brosgol.

I'd ordered Anya's Ghost from Book Outlet a while ago after hearing great things, but for some reason hadn't ever gotten around to reading it. After getting through The Reading Rush, I just wanted a quick and easy read, so I finally reached for it. I flew through it just like I expected, and really enjoyed the time I spent with this story! After falling down a well, Anya discovers an unexpected and creepy new friend at a time where she desperately wants to fit in. But does her new BFF really have Anya's best interests in mind? This story was really cute, and touched on some important subject matter like embracing your culture and being loyal to the friends that have always been there for you. Brosgol's art style in this was amazing, and even though it was done in a very muted, monochromatic hue, I thought the images were engaging and beautiful. This would be the perfect graphic novel to pick up as Halloween approaches. I gave this one 4 stars.

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
After reading Anya's Ghost, I immediately ran out and purchased Brosgol's newest graphic novel, Be Prepared. This art style was slightly different than Anya's Ghost, and much more colorful (even though the colors were still muted, more colors were used overall). This story is a memoir-esque tale about Brosgol's own time at camp. In the author's note at the end, she notes that some of the story is fabricated, while other elements draw directly from her personal experiences. Excited to finally find a place to fit in, Vera begs her mother to send her to Russian summer camp. But when Vera arrives and still isn't fitting in like she'd hoped, she's unsure if she'll be able to survive the duration of the experience.  I liked this one fine, but not as much as Brosgol's other graphic novel, and it got 3 stars from me.

Vera Brosgol has some children's books out as well, but these are her only two full-length graphic novels. Even though I didn't love the newest one as much as her older work, I am definitely excited to see what she puts out in the future! I especially love the way she intertwines her Russian culture into her work, and think her art style is super cute!

Have you read any of Vera Brosgol's work before?

Scooby Apocalypse by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Howard Porter

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Jinkies, this comic is everything! What do you get when you mix gorgeous artwork with mystery, sci-fi, some meddling kids, and an adorable dog? Scooby Apocalypse!

Daphne and Fred are washed up TV has-beens. Velma is an advanced scientist at a top secret government research facility. Shaggy is a dog trainer at that same facility, responsible for the care and training of the genetically-enhanced dogs, including the failed experiment Scooby-Doo. After meeting by chance, they all have to team up to save the world from gene-changing nanites that threaten life as we know it before terrifying monsters destroy the human race.

I knew from the moment I first flipped through this bind up that I had to buy it, if just for the visuals alone. The artwork is absolutely stunning. The colors are more vivid than I've ever seen in a comic and the images just explode off the page. There is a ton of dialogue in this one compared to a lot of comics as well. 

I am absolutely a classic Scooby-Doo fan, but this comic takes some of the characters in a slightly different direction. Fred and Daphne have almost switched roles here. Daphne is strong, empowered, and fearless, with some very obvious anger issues. Fred is meeker and hangs on Daphne's every word, regularly professing his unreciprocated love for her. Velma is completely clueless about social norms and even more awkward than she is in the show, but she's still extremely intelligent. 

And Scooby and Shaggy, well they never change much do they? Except Scooby is now genetically modified and has killer fighting instincts that kick in when his friends are in danger. Their classic catch phrases still abound throughout the story even though some of their personality traits have changed. And of course Scrappy makes an appearance as well!

If you are a Scooby purist, I'm not sure that you would be happy with the character changes, but I still really loved the new spin they put on this.

Even though I've only read the first collected volume of this, I can tell that Scooby Apocalypse is something special. Can't wait to pick up more volumes and continue on this journey!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman takes online dating, murder, and domestic terrorism and blends it all into one bad-ass LGBT action adventure.

Bored an alone in a fancy hotel room, Aidan turns to a dating app for a quick hookup. But he has no idea how intense things are about to get. When the guy he meets ends up dead and Aidan is mistaken for a black hat hacker, he finds himself on the run from a terrorist organization called The Swans. Battling both internal and external forces, Aidan must decide what side to take in order to save himself, his family, and tons of innocent lives.

When I first started this book, I wasn't sure I was going to like it. But that turned around really fast! It was full of action, danger, and even a little romance! The ARC I had was over 400 pages, but I flew through it as every page just builds and builds to a very dramatic ending. 

Continuously making mistakes in the hope of getting someone to love him, Aidan is borderline reckless. His brother's death left him detached from his family. And chaos seems to follow him wherever he goes. I found myself very invested in his fate and rooting for him through the trauma.

So many different pieces of this story intrigued me. The conversation about whether or not the government can use you without your consent was an interesting one.  And this book highlighted that the LGBT population still does not have the acceptance it deserves. 

Trigger warnings needed for domestic terrorism, a consenting sexual relationship with a minor, drug use, the cruel killing of a rabbit, and suicide. Yes, this book was extremely intense. But it was incredibly engaging and this story kept me hooked the entire time.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Jimmy Patterson for an ARC of this read! Swipe Right for Murder just released this week, so be sure to pick up a copy!

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

"A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything." 

― Grady Hendrix, We Sold Our Souls

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Mix rock and roll with horror and you've got the perfect lure for me, and that's exactly what We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix is. Plus the Rolling Stone-esque cover? I'm sold. Just in opinion though. No soul dealing for me.

Kris Pulaski is washed up. Now working at a Best Western, her rock and roll dreams have long been crushed since her Dürt Würk bandmate Terry left everyone high and dry to go solo. But what really happened the night everything went down? Why can no one remember? With Terry's new act Koffin going on the road again, Kris is determined to find out. Reuniting with her bandmates to get to the bottom of things, Kris learns that Terry didn't just steal her songs, her money, and her future. He also stole her soul. 

This book hit all the right notes (if you'll pardon the pun!), and takes the idea of "selling your soul to the devil" in a new direction. There were definitely some great horror elements, some good action, and a little mystery as well! I really liked how interspersed throughout the book were interviews about the different rock artists (real and fictional) mentioned throughout the story. It definitely made everything feel more real. And titling each chapter after a famous album? Genius. Kris's journey was fantastic, and every interaction she had along the way was unique and added something to the story, versus just being fluff written to fill space.

I will leave a trigger warning on this for suicide, and if you get easily grossed out by gory descriptions, this might not be the book for you.

The reason I knocked off a star on this one was because the title completely gives away what happens. Yes, you don't know the intricacies until you read the story, but the bottom line is given away on the very front of the book.

This was the first Grady Hendrix book I've read, and definitely want to pick up more. I've heard great things about Horrorstör, so I think I'll try that one next!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Quirk Books for a finished copy of this read! We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix is out now, so be sure to pick up a copy!

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
This was another pick of mine for The Reading Rush, and I absolutely adored this read. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is an adult thriller that follows Rowan as she undertakes a position as a nanny. Not able to pass up the excellent benefits and salary, Rowan ignores the fact that numerous nannies have vacated the position before her under the pretense of the house being haunted. 

But when Rowan actually arrives at Heatherbrae House and begins work, she realizes that she may have underestimated things. And when one of the children dies and the truth about Rowan comes out, she finds herself accused of a murder she swears she didn't commit.

It's basically told as one long letter from Rowan to a lawyer, but it's very easy to forget that you're reading a letter and not just a story. I loved the inclusion of the smart house, and could easily see myself struggling with the advanced technology the way that Rowan did. Ruth Ware is great with creating an environment and atmosphere that sucks you in, and this book was no different. I could easily picture the massive house up in the Scottish Highlands and its surrounding woods. I was also a huge fan of the history of the property that Ware created, and this really added to the ghost potential of Heatherbrae House. 

I loved seeing the different personalities of the children that Rowan was charged with watching, especially the teenage daughter. At no point did I have any idea what was actually going to happen, when I usually have at least one theory or two. This was definitely a creepy read and it sent goosebumps shivering up my arms on more than one occasion. I liked the added elements at the end of the story as well and thought they gave it a good finish. 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Scout Press for an ARC of this read! The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is out TODAY, August 6th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

2 Year Blogiversary!

I can't believe that yesterday was my 2 year blogging anniversary. Honestly, I'm not one to stick it out with things, so I'm pretty impressed that I've not only maintained this hobby for this long, but gotten more and more into it as time progressed! I love being a blogger and am so happy I started this hobby.

I've learned a lot in these last two years. I've figured out my post style, and learned more about stats, keywords, and marketing. I even bought my first boosted Facebook post yesterday! I've definitely stepped up my Instagram game, and hope to continue to grow on that platform as well! I do want to get better about a blogging schedule, vs just throwing posts up when I feel like it. I also want to reevaluate how I rate books and get back to the stricter ratings I devised when I started...I've gotten a little slack and have probably been rating some things a little higher than I should be!

I've rebranded twice (so that's three blog names/URLs total!), but am finally very happy with what I've landed on! I've made 202 posts (including this one!) for an average of 101 posts a year, and according to Goodreads, I've read 210 books since Day 1 of my blog. 

It's hard for me to pick favorite posts, since I like all of them! I did write them, after all. But if I had to narrow it down, these would probably be three of my favorites:

This was great for evaluating my reading year thus far! I haven't done many tags, but enjoyed this one so much I really want to do more!

This was a hard post to write, but it was nice putting some things out there and sharing my experiences. I do lifestyle posts occasionally, and I think this one was a really important one. I'm glad I did it. 

This was my very first post! It's fun to look back on this and see that the style of my reviews hasn't really changed much!

I love seeing how my blog has grown in the last two years. I was recently selected as a Book of the Month YA Affiliate, which is super exciting! I've gotten to partner with a few companies, like Literary Book Gifts, to showcase products. I've worked with tons of wonderful publishers and met some amazing new blogging friends. 

I absolutely can't wait to see what the future holds for Books and Wildflowers, and I hope you all will continue to join me on this journey into books, lifestyle, and inspiration as I embark on year 3 as a blogger!

Book of the Month YA

I chose Hello Girls as my BOTM YA title this month!
I've been getting Book of the Month for quite a while now and really love this subscription. In fact, I have run out of space on my BOTM shelf and have to expand to a second one! I love both YA and adult reads, but BOTM's picks were 99% adult books, so I was incredibly excited when BOTM came out with a YA specific subscription! Even more so, I was over the moon to be chosen as a YA BOTM affiliate. 

Just like the regular Book of the Month subscription, BOTM YA allows you to pick a book from a curated list of 5 new release titles each month. If you don't like any of the choices, you can skip that month! You can also add on more books to your box if you would like more than one choice. You can cancel at any time, so it's great if you're not sure about committing long term. And there's always free shipping!

For those already subscribed to BOTM who want to sub to the YA box also, you still can! Just be sure to sign up for the YA version using a different email address than the one you used for the regular BOTM.

If you'd like more information, or want to sign up, you can do so here. As an affiliate, I do get a small commission when you use my link. And this month, you can use the code FLEX when you sign up to get your first book for $9.99! Be sure to follow @yasofthemonth on Instagram for great bookish content. They are also still looking for affiliates, so let me know if you are interested in applying!

Have you ever subbed to BOTM? What are your favorite book subscription services?