Month: June 2015

Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

underthelights I was given the opportunity to read Under the Lights, the second book in the Daylight Falls series, thanks to NetGalley and Spencer Hill Contemporary.

Dahlia Adler’s Under the Lights is set to release on June 30th, and it’s a must-read for contemporary fans who are looking for something a little different.

I should note that I did not read the first Daylight Falls novel, Behind the Scenes, but I had no trouble at all following the plot or feeling a connection to the characters. I do plan on reading the first novel, because I’d love some more time with Ally, and Liam, and Vanessa.

Where Behind the Scenes follows Ally and Liam’s story, Under the Lights focuses more on Hollywood bad boy Josh Chester and TV actress Vanessa Park (Ally’s best friend). The chapters alternate between Josh’s and Vanessa’s points of view.  Their voices were distinct, and their chapters played off very well against each other.

Josh is sarcastic, too handsome for his own good, and incredibly spoiled. When his mother threatens to take his beach house away from him unless he signs up to be on her new reality show, Josh must reevaluate his life choices and determine what’s really “worth it.”

Vanessa Park has a role on the popular teen show, Daylight Falls, but the cards are stacked against her as far as Hollywood’s concerned: she is an Asian American actor, and starring roles are often limited for women of color. Vanessa, like Josh, also struggles with her parents’ wishes; they want her to give up her dreams of being an actor and prepare for a more “stable” future.

Although Josh and Vanessa become close after Ally, their common link, leaves to go to school in New York City, I should mention right away that this is not a male/female romance-centric novel. In fact, you can tell from the cover: this is a F/F love story!

How exciting is that? Adler has given a main character role to a character who so often is only supporting, and as a reader I was truly able to understand the struggles Vanessa goes through in the course of the novel.

The romance aspect is incredibly sweet and sexy, but also very believable. So often in romantic plots, I feel like I have to suspend my disbelief in order to accept that certain characters can “defy the odds” and be together.. But these characters? They’re meant to be. I sort of wish they were real people, so I could fangirl over their “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us!” paparazzi shots in the gossip magazines.

The dynamic between Josh and Vanessa is great, too; they have the great kind of sarcastic, bitchy banter that ultimately makes for a killer friendship. It’s nice to see how these characters change as individuals as the story moves forward, but it’s also nice to see how they change together, too.

Under the Lights is very much a book about identity and making choices. Whether it’s dealing with race, or sexuality, or general coming-of-age feelings, Adler presents each facet of the puzzle that is growing up with grace. Under the Lights is a celebration of the underdog, and it’s exciting to see under-represented characters stealing the spotlight.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Cover Reveal: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

I’m pleased to announce that BiblioSmiles is taking part in the cover reveal for Leah Raeder’s third novel, Cam Girl! Raeder’s writing is very near and dear to my heart (did you read my piece on her book, Unteachable, being my book soul mate? How about my review of Black Iris?), and I’m happy to have the opportunity to spread the word on her newest novel!  Cam Girl is set to publish on November 3, 2015, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Read about it below and check out the gorgeous, colorful cover!

Raeder_Cam Girl cover final

Vada Bergen is broke, the black sheep of her family, and moving a thousand miles away from home for grad school, but she’s got the two things she loves most: her art, and her best friend and soulmate, Ellis Carraway. Elle and Vada have a friendship so consuming it’s hard to tell where one girl ends and the other begins. It’s intense. It’s a little codependent. And nothing can tear them apart.

Until an accident on an icy winter road changes everything.

Vada is left deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically. Her once-promising art career is cut short. And Ellis pulls away, unwilling to talk about that night. Everything Vada loved is gone.

She’s got nothing left to lose.

So when she meets a smooth-talking lothario who offers to set her up as a cam girl, she can’t say no. All Vada has to do is spend a couple hours each night taking off her clothes on webcam, and the “tips” come pouring in.

It’s all just kinky fun till a client gets serious. “Blue” is mysterious, alluring, and more interested in Vada’s life than her body. Online, they open up to each other intimately. Blue helps her heal. And he pays well, but he wants her all to himself. No more cam shows. She agrees, because she’s starting to fall for him. And when he asks to meet, she says yes. Because she’s dying to know the real man behind the keyboard.

Even if one of his conditions is to bring Ellis. The girl who wants nothing to do with her anymore.

Now Vada must confront the past she’s been running from. A past full of devastating secrets—those of others, and those she’s been keeping from herself…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Leah Raeder is a writer and unabashed nerd. Aside from reading her brains out, she enjoys graphic design, video games, fine whiskey, and the art of self-deprecation. She lives with her very own manic pixie dream boy in Chicago. Visit her at LeahRaeder.com.

PRE-ORDER LINKS:

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UK PRE-ORDER LINKS:

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AUS PRE-ORDER LINKS:

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Will you be picking up Leah Raeder’s Cam Girl? What do you think of that description? So compelling! And isn’t the cover just beautiful?

Many thanks to Atria Books for allowing me the opportunity to help spread the word!

Summer Book Challenge 2015

Oh look, it’s summer! Is it totally silly that I still feel like there might be a snowstorm somewhere around the corner here in the Northeast, like Mother Nature is waiting on one more prank?

Last year, I wrote up a summer book challenge reminiscent of the ones I used to do at my town library when I was little. Back then, reading books under the summer sun let me rack up points to earn knickknacks like erasers shaped like ice cream cones and posters of kittens hanging onto trees. Quality stuff for a kid.

I challenged us all to read 10 books last summer, and this summer, I’m going to attempt it again! That’s 3.3 books a month. I believe in you, BiblioSmilers. I managed nine of the books last year, and to be honest, The Brothers Karamazov by Doystoyvesky was a lofty goal.

So here are my rules for the Summer Book-It List of 2015. I hope you’re inspired to join me. Or check out the summer challenge from last year for those parameters. Have fun!

1. A guilty pleasure book
We all need beach reads. Pure enjoyable fluff to entertain our minds and let all the other stresses drift away as we thumb through pages. So go on, even pick up Fifty Shades of Grey. I won’t tell.

2. A book written by a woman
But please do a little something more literary for this category than Fifty Shades of Grey. I think during my middle school and high school education, we read three (THREE!) books by women. Let’s have some love for lady authors. (Editor’s Note: I recommend Jhumpa Lahiri, Alison Bechdel, or Margaret Atwood!)

3. A banned book
Books get banned for all sorts of silly reasons–Charlotte’s Web was once banned, because the idea of talking animals was clearly blasphemous. Check here for some frequently challenged books, or here or books banned by entire governments.

4. A book you own but never read
We all have them. Back when Borders was my second home, my shelves were filled with books I couldn’t keep up with. And even know, because of my love of BookBub, the books have been piling up again.

5. A book that won a prize of merit
Look at what smart people think are are worth reading. National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, and the Man Booker Prize are good places to start. I mean, I’ll probably be using the Newbery Award or the Hugo Awards to choose mine, because nerd life forever.

6. A book by someone from a different culture than yours
It can be written by someone in a foreign country, or by a different culture within your own and anything goes – authored by someone of a different ethnic background, different class, a book in LGBT culture if you’re not, etcetera. 

7. A collection of something
Whether it’s poetry, short stories, or one-act plays. There’s something lovely about the way flash fiction captures emotion in such a short span of words. As Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit. 

8. A book that takes you through time
Whether it was written in 1850, or just takes place then, read a book that lets you time travel. And don’t limit yourself to historical fiction. You can go forward in time too. Read some crazy space adventures. 

9. A book that you would’ve picked out as a kid
Not going to lie, I definitely judged books by their covers as a kid. Find a book that gets you excited, that you would’ve loved to grab when you were little. It can be about magic and fairy godmothers, like a fairytale retelling. Or superheroes or the wild, wild west. Hey, maybe it’s even a comic book. It’s summer. Enjoy it.

10. A book someone picks for you
This was on the list last year, but I love it as a category. The books that resonate with people are revealing. Ask someone with different tastes than you, or your best friend. The recommendation may surprise you. 

11. Bonus! A book about where you’re vacationing this summer (or where you wish you could go!)
Because we should all be on a beach this summer. Or scaling Mt. Everest, or wrestling big cats in South Africa, or drinking tea in a busy Istanbul market. Take a vacation with the written word. 

So there’s the list! Do you think you’ll read with us this summer? Let us know what your choices are.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Review: New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 by Shelly Oria

newyork1 One of my favorite parts about living in New York City is attending readings and book events. If you search hard enough, there’s probably something different you can do each night, if you wanted to. One Wednesday a few months ago I was at Cakeshop on Ludlow for the MIXER Reading Series. The series is co-hosted by one of my favorite writing professors from undergrad, Melissa Febos.  At this particular MIXER, I had the privilege of hearing Shelly Oria read some of her short stories.  I knew I had to pick up her collection.

New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 pulls you in from the get-go with its brightly colored cover. The stories in these pages are short, but they are full of substance.  They are beautiful and unexpected in a myriad of ways.  The characters struggle with their identities, and with their hearts, and with beeps of undetermined origins.

(You’ll have to read to find out.)

I found myself most compelled by the characters of Israeli descent, who saw themselves becoming totally different people in New York City.  To see the juxtaposition of these two different cultures in these unconventional stories had me looking at everything in a new way. In “Phonetic Masterpieces of Absurdity,” Nadine falls in love with Mia, a photographer who came to New York to work after serving her time in the Israeli army. Nadine is surprised when she learns all young people in Israel must serve in the military. Because of that surprise, Mia sees her own life through a fresh lens.

In “The Disneyland of Albany,” an Israeli father moves to New York to pursue an art career.  When he brings his smart, young daughter on a business trip, he’s forced to reflect on her upbringing, his own life in Israel, and what is expected of him as an artist.

Through her characterization and simple storytelling, Oria makes a story about a couple who can stop time as acceptable as a story about a couple having a quarrel. She makes a story about a man donating all of his organs to those less fortunate as understandable as any act of heroism (or any act of guilt). The scenarios may be surreal, but the feelings are very human, and very accessible.

If you’re new to reading short stories, I think this collection is a great place to start. The beauty of a short story collection is you can pick it up and read when and where you like, in any order. I loved teleporting from a Hell’s Kitchen apartment to a fitting room in “Fully Zipped.” Oria’s writing is breezy, and smart, and addictive.

Are you a fan of short stories?

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Rainbow Rowell at BookCon: On Movies, Her New Book, and Writing

So. I’ve proclaimed my love for Rainbow Rowell before. She’s one of my author crushes and she is just magnificent. I mean, her name is actually Rainbow, and she’s from Nebraska. And she’s just so unabashedly genuine and funny, she could be a character from her own novels.

Danielle, Alyson, Sara, and I attended her panel at BookCon (and later got her to say hi to us as she was escorted into the ladies’ room—I promise we didn’t hassle her, just you know, proclaimed our love).

Plus, how could we not be excited? Rainbow has a new book coming out this year, Carry On, which is the book alluded to in much of Fangirl. The main character of Fangirl, Cath, is obsessed with writing fanfiction about two of the characters in Carry On… essentially, it’s Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy fanfiction. Now we’ll get to see what really happens in Carry On, and if there are actually any sparks there between Simon Snow and Baz.

rainbow rowell tumblr interview at bookcon

Aside from squealing about the new book, here are some awesome things we learned about Rainbow and her writing during her interview with Tumblr’s Rachel Fershleiser.

  • She has fabulous fashion sense. She came to BookCon in a birdcage-print dress, with a sparkly lizard necklace, green nail polish, and of course, her fantastically curly hair was on point.
  • When she was little, she used to play pretend-Star Wars with her best friend. But Rainbow wasn’t allowed to be Princess Leia; she had to be the cheap-knockoff Princess Leah, because Rainbow only had a stick, and her friend had an actual nice lightsaber. Her friend always told her she could be Leia next time. There was never a next time.
  • What happened to this friend? She ended up marrying Rainbow’s brother.
  • Her tips on writing: “Write something pleasing to you, and rewarding, and that you feel.” After working for fifteen years in newspapers and advertising, writing for other people, she started to write Attachments so that she was writing something she herself enjoyed and that made her laugh.
  • Her advice to teen girls: To look at media and remember “people don’t look like that; that’s not what human beings look like. I used to believe that was what people looked like and that I was a troll. Nothing about me matched, not even my cuticles. When you’re thirteen, you internalize the standard. …There’s nothing you can do but hate yourself and buy whatever they’re selling.”
  • On the three words in Eleanor and Park:
    Rainbow didn’t feel like she needed to say what the three word were. “It could be ‘I love you’. But has Eleanor told him that ever and would she say it in a postcard? Everything you need to know is right there in the book.”
  • Who’s not one of her devoted readers? Her mother. Rainbow sees this as all the freedom in the world to put her mother in her writing.
  • On writing characters kissing: “Once you write one kiss you can’t write that same kiss again,” says Rainbow, “And I write sort of pathetic, nervous people, who aren’t good at kissing.”
  • Speaking of her writing, Rainbow’s working on the screenplay for Eleanor and Park. Her experience with the process? “It’s taking something that’s alive as a dog, and killing it and bringing it to life as a cat.”
  • But she says, the movie “doesn’t replace the book. The book will always be there.”
  • Rainbow has a dream cast for some of her characters. Tom Felton as Levi, Daniel Radcliffe as Nick. Christina Hendricks for Eleanor’s mother, Chris Pratt as either Park’s dad or Lincoln. And Mark Ruffalo as absolutely anyone. He could play Neal in Landline or even Cath’s dad. And if he does that, then Rainbow promises to write a novel about Cath’s dad.

Suffice to say, we were charmed by Rainbow, from her “marvelous superhero newspaper name” as she put it, to her quips, and general advice. Meeting one of my favorite authors is always like meeting a personal hero, and I think Rainbow would be a brilliant superhero.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Who Is Donna Tartt?

Who is Donna Tartt? This question has haunted readers for over three decades, since her debut novel, The Secret History, was published in 1992. Little is known about the author other than that she was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, she studied at Bennington College from 1982 through 1986, and she is the author of three novels, the most recent of which – The Goldfinch – was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014.

secrethistory The Secret History begins with a murder. It is also a mystery, though the reader finds out “whodunit” in the first few pages. The book’s real mysteries are its characters, a cast so expertly crafted that they almost seem to rise up off the pages. They are as full of idealism and contradictions, and their morals are as murky and distorted, as those of any living, breathing human.

The star of The Secret History is its protagonist, Richard Papen, a young Californian who escapes a dreary youth to attend Hampden College in Vermont, where he studies classics with a charismatic professor named Julien. From the very start, Richard acknowledges his fatal flaw: he sees the world in an idealistic way. Through Richard’s eyes, we are able to see the students he meets in college as the fascinating, elusive enigmas just as he does. We are thrilled when they allow us into their inner circle, and we devour their secrets and treasure their trust.

This perception continues to pervade the story even after we learn that students perform Satanic rituals and walk away with blood on their hands. It persists until Richard, and the reader, are pulled in far too deep. Because we see the story through Richard’s eyes, we understand why he stands by his friends. He is enchanted by the hazy beauty of the twins Camilla and Charles; he is spellbound by the prodigal brilliance of the unstable Henry; and the reader is, too.

Tartt’s greatest talents lie in her ability to bend the readers’ viewpoints, to distort images, and to craft brutality into spellbinding beauty. She draws from a truly magnificent palette of colors and metaphors, and describes darkness so alluringly that, when as readers, we finally put the novel down and step away, only then can we see the fatal flaws in our own nature that allow us to care so deeply for characters made of print and ink, regardless of their corruption or actions. The novel shows us how blind love makes us, and it shimmers like a prism that refracts and distorts the mind with stunning ease. Loaded with astounding factual knowledge, The Secret History is a novel with the scope of a Greek tragedy set on the small scale of a college campus.

goldfinch Tartt’s return to glory came with The Goldfinch, a novel published in 2014 that approaches 800 pages. It follows the story of Theo Decker, a boy who is 13 at the start of the novel when his mother dies in an accident at a New York art museum. In the chaos that ensues, Theo steals the painting, The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritus. Throughout his life, as Theo’s innocence is torn from him and he is cast off into first a gauzy, drug-smeared world of Las Vegas and then into the gritty streets of New York, he carries the painting with him in secret. It is a symbol of purity, and a symbol of his dead mother’s love that grows to have tremendous significance throughout the novel.

The Goldfinch houses one of modern literature’s best characters in its Las Vegas section: Boris, a charismatic spirit who introduces Theo to a world of drugs, but also of books, black and white movies, and the verve necessary to live in the kind of world Theo has been thrust into. Theo and Boris’s relationship is drawn out in threadlike anecdotes strewn between scenes of brutality from Theo’s father and the world around them.

Then Theo returns to New York City and begins to work in an antique shop. His love of an unattainable woman, his drug use, his adoration for replicas of old things, and the lingering reverberations of the painting, The Goldfinch, craft a deeply melancholy, darkly thrilling tale of adult life.

Many reviewers have accused The Goldfinch of being extensively long or too worn-out by cliches to be called a modern classic. As a reader, I not only bought into the cliches, but I devoured them.

The book ends with this message: beautiful art is what remains, long after we have turned to dust. If this is cliched, then it is because this is the truth. This is what I see in books, and this is why I read and pursue art. Reality is full of darkness and coldness, but as readers and artists we can see the world through a filter – we can see the world as it looks refracted in a raindrop. We can see beauty, and history, and art threaded throughout all we do.

We may not know much about Donna Tartt’s life, but these two novels provide intimate detail into the way Tartt views the world – with eyes unusually sensitive to the distortions that human emotion can create. They are narrated by characters that are alienated from society, lonely and melancholy people clinging to distant ideals, who anyone who has ever felt like they do not belong can relate to. The books are texturized by masterful metaphors that make seemingly indescribable sensations tangible. The art Donna Tartt crafts will continue to burn in my mind, and will exist and be read, for many days to come.

Eden Arielle Gordon lives in New York City, and she has a tendency to fall in love with every book she reads. She also loves to read and write both poetry and prose, and she is passionate about music as well. You can check out her writing here and her music here.

Literary Dream Homes

Books give us an escape into another world. Whether it’s another time, place, or even the same time and place, but just someone else’s story. We carry these iconic worlds with us, as if they were real. We all know The Hundred Acre Wood from Winnie the Pooh, Oz from The Wizard of Oz, and the wonders of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Sometimes I wish I could disappear into some of these worlds for a while. I think I could happily live in some of the places I’ve read about in books. Here are ten of my favorites that come to mind!

1. Miss Honey’s Cottage from Matilda by Roald Dahl
The kind teacher from Matilda lives in a tiny red brick house in the woods, surrounded by the bounties of nature: golden sunlight, tall towering trees, “hawthorn berries ripening scarlet for the birds”. After Matilda’s unhappy home life, the cottage is a haven, like something out of a fairy tale.

2. The Shire from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
I would love to be a hobbit. Seriously, sign me up. Fun fact, is that the hobbit was based on JRR Tolkien’s idea of what a modern-day Englishman hero would be like, as opposed to the noble Beowulf. I think hobbits get the better deal with their cozy hobbit holes, plethora of daily meals, and lazy days gardening or smoking pipes.

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A place of magic and whimsy, the Night Circus is a series of ever-changing, breathtaking, unbelievable acts, balanced on the tremulous rivalry between two young magicians. I could spend a lifetime in the different tents, from the ice garden sculpted entirely from ice crystals down to the last rose, to the Cloud Maze where you climb a never-ending tower of clouds, to the Scented Jars, where each opened jar brings back an idyllic memory.

Hogwarts_Gif

4. Hogwarts from Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
I would be a dishonor to my generation if I didn’t mention Hogwarts. Who wouldn’t want to explore the castle, learn magic, and fly around on broomsticks? I mean, it’d probably be better to attend there after Harry Potter did, so I didn’t have a heightened chance of dying each year or the school being blown up or something.

5. X-Mansion from the X-Men series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Can comic books count? If yes, then the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning is another place I would love to have received my education. Superpowers? Yes, please.

6. The Heart of Gold Spaceship from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Aside from the fact that it can’t brew a good cup of tea, this spaceship can take you anywhere in the universe, thanks to its power source that runs on improbable things happening. 

7. Camp Half-Blood from Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
Where demigods learn to fight, Camp Half-Blood is located on Long Island and is a summer camp mixed with a  Greek hero training ground. I’d totally want to be a child of Hades, though Hecate is acceptable too.

original

8. Neverland from Peter Pan by JM Barrie
I always wanted to be one of the mischievous mermaids from Neverland, chilling in my lagoon, combing my long hair, and doing absolutely nothing useful. 

9. London Below from Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The London Underground is home to everything that has fallen through the cracks of London throughout time, and then some. This is where the homeless people, the insane nutters, the addicts end up. There are earls and fiefs here, and a giant floating Market. London Below has rules entirely of its own. It’s dangerous, but the danger is part of the intrigue. 

10. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare
It would be so fun to be in the fairy’s court, causing mischief to those who wander through our forest. Fairies were originally not the nice creatures of Disney lore, after all. I’d love to be a part of their revelries, just so long as I stay out of the Fairy King’s path. I don’t want to be made to fall in love with someone with a donkey’s head. 

Where would you want to live? There are definitely places I’d try to avoid. I think I’d come to an unfortunate demise in Westeros (A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin), and as quaint and cozy as the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are, I think I wouldn’t enjoy waking up at 5 a.m. to milk the cows!

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.