Month: July 2015

Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Oh my god. This book. This book. I was glued to it. Reading this book, I was like Belle from the opening of Beauty and the Beast, my nose in the book as I navigated the subways and streets of New York City, to read about people in the often forgotten middle states of the country.

So what is Kitchens of the Great Midwest about? To be honest, I expected some sort of sappy chick-lit or some sort of food-study. Instead, we have a story that leads us through decades of life in the midwest, with many characters that are familiar tropes without being stereotypical, and all connecting back to Eva, a young woman whose unique palate leads her to becoming the star chef of the country.

It begins when Eva is a baby, and her father Lars is trying to figure out how to feed her braised pork shoulder, you know, to get her taste for good food going. Her mother Cynthia decides to decides to run off with a wine sommelier and Lars is left on his own to raise their daughter. Eva grows up, learning about food, and each recipe plays a formative chapter in her life.

Each chapter is told by a different character, with a focus on a different dish. Eva’s culinary journey is told in vivid snapshots into these character’s lives—her first boyfriend, her father, her cousin—and the characters are as delectable as the dishes. Not that they’re all good people, but they’re all very real. Which is like the food; not all of it sounds appealing, but it certainly is very Midwest, from the Scandinavian lutefisk to the belt-popping dessert bars.

There is a beautiful convergence of characters in the final chapter, and an especially funny coincidence. The characters who narrate the first and final chapters make for oddly appropriate bookends of the story. Food and how it brings people together, creates memories, identities, and communities within people. It’s a quirky, evocative, and often funny story, that weaves a journey through life and the coincidental connections that happen, and the near-misses too. Without being saccharine, it manages to tell a story of what normal people will do for one another, with some good food along the way.

I was lucky enough to read this book before it came out, and it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s one of those books that is sad to finish, because I missed the characters immediately after. This is J. Ryan Stradal’s debut novel and I’m excited to see what he writes next. (And he’s a native Minnesotan so there’s that note of authenticity!). Do yourself a favor and read this one. It’ll surprise you.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest was published on July 28th by Pamela Dornan Books.

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 her website.

Review: Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

neveralwaysosmetimesI was lucky enough to be included in a very cool project: an ARC Hop for Adi Alsaid’s second novel, Never Always Sometimes! Though Never Always Sometimes is set to release on August 4th by Harlequin Teen, I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of the young adult novel thanks to good old-fashioned snail mail. Alsaid blogged about the idea here. He sent an ARC along to one reader, and then gave that reader the address of the next reader to send the book to. We were asked to keep the book for no longer than two weeks (easy, since I devoured the book in two days). We were also asked to write a high school cliche we were guilty of (or one we wished we’d experienced) inside the book.

Why, you ask?  Never Always Sometimes is all about high school cliches. Rather, it’s about a “Nevers” list: a list of high school cliches best friends Dave and Julia vow to never experience. But when they get bored during their senior year, they decide to shake things up and cross as many “Nevers” off their list as possible. The story that ensues is funny, and touching, and anything but predictable.

The book starts from Dave’s perspective (before switching to Julia’s, and then a dual section), and I found his point of view very easy and comfortable to get behind. He is a sensitive and thoughtful character, preferring to watch the world from the perch of his favorite bench in Morro Bay. He also pines, silently, for his best friend – a “Never” on the Never List if there’s ever been one. After years of practice, Dave has learned to tamp down his feelings, to be content with his extremely close friendship with Julia. It is so obvious how much he cares in the way he notices small details about her, and how he embraces those details, those quirks. And even though this is a “Never,” I found myself rooting for Dave and Julia to become more than friends, because I felt like Dave deserved that shot.

Where Dave is sensitive and quiet, Julia is rather in-your-face and loud. She longs to be like her birth mother, who travels the world meeting fascinating people and doing everything she can not to succumb to a mundane life. It is easy to see why Dave feels the way he does about Julia. She makes ordinary activities, like baking cupcakes, seem new and exciting.

When Dave and Julia decide to cross the items off of their Nevers list, we as readers are taken down a path full of hilarious and exciting moments. Parties are attended and thrown, poetry is slammed, and prom-posals are planned. And even though this book is full of cliches, the path that Dave and Julia felt like anything but. I cared about these characters all the way through the novel’s progression, and I even pined for high school a bit…

Never Always Sometimes is a gem of a second novel from Adi Alsaid. I can’t wait to hear what you all think about it!

A huge thanks to the author for allowing me to take part in the ARC hop! It was a fun experience.

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

Anatomy of a Bookshelf: Alice

(Editor’s Note: As part of the Summer Blogger Promo Tour, I’m so thrilled to introduce Alice from Wonderland Novels, who will be sharing her bookshelf with us today. Be sure to pop on over to her blog to say hello!)

For a long time, I stacked all my books on a table, put them in drawers, and they were everywhere! Then earlier this year, I finally decided to get organized and as I got shelves, I just started getting more and more books as well.

First off, my “favorites” shelf:
Originally, these books were on my normal shelf, but then I came back from BEA and realized there was no way I was going to fit everything on my original bookshelf, so I decided to move my favorite books, currently reading, and to-be-read-soon books onto another smaller shelf to make room for other books.


One of the books on my favorites shelf is The Iron King by Julie Kagawa. This book is quite special as it is what got me into reading Young Adult back in 2010. I love the series! It is also special because Julie Kagawa is also the author of one of my other favorite series, the Blood of Eden trilogy (which is pictured on my favorites shelf). On top of THAT, I discovered my other favorite series, the Study series, from Julie Kagawa. She used to have a page on her website with her favorite books and Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (pictured as well) was on it, so I looked it up, and bam! I also have a few other favorites not pictured on here, namely books by Marissa Meyer, Renee Ahdieh, A.C. Gaughen, etc. So yep, Julie Kagawa, you’re awesome. 😉

And this is my other shelf. I’m completely out of room, so I had to move some books down into our living room shelves, which mainly contain reference books. It’s a nice mixture of ARCs, hardcovers, and paperbacks.


It is organized by size (the largest, Seeker, is on the top left), although the books in the middle row are all pretty much the same size, haha.

On top of my bookshelf are photos and bookish stuff, for example:


On the left, is an Alice in Wonderland mini notebook, which was a Secret Santa gift from Caroline @ The Attic Reviews, who has recently left the blogging sphere. The notebook’s kind of awesome, because my blog, Wonderland Novels, is partly named after Alice in Wonderland (since Alice in Wonderland is a book and when I’m reading, it’s kind of like I’m in my own fantasy world, or my own Wonderland) AND my name is Alice! 😉

On the right is a Supernatural bookmark, also a gift from Caroline. It features Dean’s Impala (“Baby”) and his favorite food ever: Pie. Also in the background is a bookish poster I got from HarperCollins at BookCon 2014.

Thank you for featuring me on your blog! 🙂



Alice (Wonderland Novels) is a New York native and is currently in college, majoring in Business. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and blogging about the books she reads on Wonderland Novels. Although she enjoys a variety of genres, her favorite is YA fantasy. Her twitter is @OnceUponAnAlice.

Review: Paper Towns by John Green

papertowns High school senior Quentin Jacobsen (Q) is coasting through the last few weeks of school. He’s been in love with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, for years. The two were very close when they were younger, but grew apart as the years went on. Now Quentin worships Margo from afar, enchanted by all of the adventures she goes on and the feats she’s achieved. She’s almost mythical in his mind.

After a magical night of prank-pulling (Margo enlists Q as her getaway driver), Quentin hopes things can be different between him and Margo. But the next day? She’s gone. Quentin discovers some small “clues” that he hopes will lead him to Margo, the girl of his dreams. He enlists the help of his best friends, Ben and Radar, in the chase.

Where Quentin is mild-mannered and unassuming, Ben and Radar are larger than life in their personalities. Ben fancies himself a player and calls girls “honeybunnies,” but he doesn’t have much luck in the love department. Radar is incredibly intelligent and quirky, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the most random facts. His parents own “the world’s largest collection of black Santas,” a distinction that embarrasses him to no end. The banter between these friends is chuckle-worthy, and John Green has definitely done his research when it comes to the shit-talking of teenage boys,

(One may even be lead to believe that John Green was, in fact, a teenage boy at one point!)

As Quentin’s investigation intensifies, he’s forced to reconsider Margo and the person he’s always thought of her to be. His relationships with his friends are tested. New relationships blossom with unlikely high school allies. Paper Towns culminates in a sort of epic road trip that brings truth to light while also helping the characters say goodbye to high school and move on to the next chapter in their lives.

While there is romance and mystery in this book, I’d say the larger theme of Paper Towns is identity. Q learns more about himself and the people he calls his friends, as well as those people he never really gave a chance to, in the final weeks of high school. I’m not sure if it even has to be said, but just because the protagonist of Paper Towns is male doesn’t make it a “boy book.” John Green’s stories have universal appeal and include relatable experiences for readers of all stripes, and Paper Towns is no different.

Have you read Paper Towns? Did you get a chance to see the movie yet? Share your thoughts with your fellow bookworms!

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

Review and Blog Tour: Racing the Sun

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Karina Halle’s new novel, Racing the Sun, set to release on July 28th from Atria Books!

racingthesun RACING THE SUN

Karina Halle

From the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Where Sea Meets Sky comes a new adult novel about a young woman who becomes a nanny in Capri and falls for her charges’ bad-boy brother.

When I’m traveling, I feel like the secret to my life, to myself, to really becoming, is one step ahead. It’s in the next destination, the next town I get lost in, the next stranger I talk to. It’s always next but never here . . . 

After six months of backpacking and soul-searching across the world, Amber MacLean is flat broke. There are worse places for a twentysomething to be stuck than the Amalfi Coast, but the only way she can earn enough money for a plane ticket home to California is to teach English to two of the brattiest children she has ever met.

It doesn’t help that the children are under the care of their brooding older brother, ex-motorcycle racer Desiderio Larosa. Darkly handsome and oh-so-mysterious, the young master of the crumbling villa tests Amber’s patience and will at every turn—not to mention her hormones.

When her position turns into a full-time nanny gig, Amber grows dangerously closer to the enigmatic recluse. But can she give up the certainty of home for someone whose closely guarded heart feels a world apart from her own?

My Review:

Karina Halle’s Racing the Sun is a lush and atmospheric romance, not just between two people but between those people and the place they live. The island of Capri is a character in and of itself; it shifts and changes and reflects the moods of the characters as the story progresses. Halle has done her research well – I could see each detail of the island clearly, from its crowded docks to its winding streets. I could smell the hot citrus and the salty sea air, and the scent of garlic wafting out of a restaurant window. I could feel the sun, sometimes oppressive and sometimes sweet. Having traveled to Capri myself last October, Halle’s writing made me ache for the island. She got everything right.

Amber MacLean is an intriguing narrator, and I found her voice to be breezy and oftentimes very funny. Her sarcasm – and her internal monologue about Derio’s hotness – had me laughing on the subway during my morning commute. Amber, like so many twentysomethings, wants to “find herself.” Her wanderings have taken her to Capri, where she accepts a job as a tutor for Desiderio’s twin siblings, Annabella and Alfonso. The task proves harder than it sounds. Annabella and Alfonso clearly affected by their parents’ tragic deaths, are moody and quick to upset. Desiderio (Derio) is short with Amber and prone to dark moods and drinking binges. And Felisa, the no-nonsense nanny, has up and quit.

But Amber can get through anything in two months, right? She just needs to get through two months of working for the Larosas in their villa so she can save up enough money for a plane ticket home, and then she’ll figure out what to do next. But as Amber spends more time with the reclusive Larosa family, she finds herself questioning what the next step in her life should be.

The relationship that blossoms between Amber and Derio is electric and exciting. Halle does an excellent job of drawing these two individuals together and giving us reason as readers to root for them. Derio is tragic and complex, and his physical description does not disappoint. Amber’s giddiness over Derio’s good looks is infectious.

Racing the Sun is not just a sweet summery romance, however. This is a story about broken people, yearning to connect with one another. This is a story about new beginnings, and acceptance, and beauty in all of its forms.

This is my first read by Karina Halle, and I already have plans to read some more of this author’s work. But first, I’ll probably give Racing the Sun another read, because I can’t leave these characters just yet.

(I received an e-galley from Atria Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

RTS blog tour banner


Amazon’s Kindle Store | Apple iBookstore | Barnes & Noble| Blio | Books-a-Million | Google ebookstore | Kobo


Atria Indie Authors and Karina Halle are giving away: (1) grand prize of a $50 AMEX Gift Card + 1 signed copy of RACING THE SUN and 1 copy of WHERE SEA MEETS SKY….PLUS: (6) Runner Up Prizes of 1 signed copy of RACING THE SUN. Enter to win here!

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

Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

(Editor’s Note: Please welcome Amanda to BiblioSmiles! I’m so thrilled she’s decided to contribute a book review.  Please be sure to visit her blog or follow her on Twitter!)

interestings I recently finished reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.

I bought this book at The Strand in Union Square back in December, mainly because I’d read about Meg Wolitzer online, including reviews of her previous works, and how she is a creative writing teacher at SUNY Stonybrook (and also because the cover was colorful and eye catching).

I’d heard good things about her writing– Wolitzer is known for her long term character development, modern style, and topics concerning the relationship between men and women, as well as sexuality and gender. After finishing the book, I recognized that all of these were definitely used in her 2013 novel The Interestings.

The Interestings is about a group of teens who meet at a summer camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods in the 1970s. The summer camp is old-school but meant for diverse teens of many talents, and helps encourage their growth and development as adolescents. The book revolves around the lives of Ethan Figman, an aspiring cartoonist; Goodman Wolf, the charismatic and handsome but misguided brother of Ash Wolf, a beautiful feminist actress and dreamer; Jonah Bay, a quiet but talented musician; Cathy Kiplinger, a curvy and gifted dancer; and most importantly, Jules Jacobson.

Jules comes to the camp on scholarship, not really fitting in at first but finding a place within the group, who name themselves The Interestings. She tries her hand at acting, and finds that she enjoys it. But as she gets older, she finds that it’s not really what she was meant to do in life. While her friends grow creatively, artistically, and financially, Jules becomes a social worker and constantly struggles with feeling ordinary.
The book tells the stories of these teenagers’ lives– as they intertwine and mesh, as they fall apart and fall together. The group of talented teens learn about growing up in different worlds, and growing up to live in different worlds.

Ethan falls in love with Jules, but she spurns his advances. Jules and Ash become best friends, but Jules puts Ash on a sort of jealous pedestal. Jonah stays an unassuming member of the group, but struggles with his identity and his sexuality. Goodman and Cathy’s lives crumble, and then they slowly fall away.

Jules especially struggles with how she grew and ended up in comparison to Ash and Ethan. She spends much of her life (and much of the book) bitter and wistfully dwelling on what could have been, which affects her relationship with her husband Dennis. This can get tiresome to read, but I think it’s because it’s incredibly realistic.

What I didn’t like about this book so much was its length. I’m a fan of long books; however, the plot wasn’t all that stimulating or exciting and it took me longer to read than usual. I feel as if it was meant for an older audience than myself, because I didn’t grow up in the 70’s and didn’t understand all of the cultural/political references. However, it was still relevant because I understand what it is like to be an adolescent and grow up.

What I loved about this book was the extensive character development of each member of The Interestings. The book literally told the story of their lives growing up, specifically from the lens of this group of kids who went to camp together in the 1970s. I loved how realistic each character was– how they each had flaws that made me, as the reader, dislike them, and also qualities that redeemed them. Their story was told with a breathtaking honesty, as well as an admirable patience. It left me with a great sense of sad nostalgia, and was an extremely satisfying read.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy realistic fiction, and who enjoy a strong but flawed female protagonist.

Amanda Livingston is currently a student at Ithaca College majoring in Writing, a teaching/editorial intern at Writopia Lab, and Vice President of Ithaca College Women in Communications. She is also a copy editor for The Ithacan and a contributing writer to Buzzsaw Magazine. She has previously held internships at Random House, The MissInformation, the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, and Westchester Magazine. She is an aspiring children’s book editor, an avid reader, a writer, and a superfan of The Office. You can find her on Twitter: @amandarliving and at

Book Blogging with Anxiety

(Editor’s Note: I’m so pleased to have Zoey from Uncreatively Zoey on BiblioSmiles today as part of the Summer Blogger Promo Tour! Zoey stopped by to share her thoughts on blogging with anxiety, and I think many of us will be able to relate to her thoughts and feelings. Be sure to leave some comments below and stop by Zoey’s blog to say hello!)

zoeyphoto I’m not sure if there’s going to be anything in this post that many of you don’t already know or haven’t already experienced yourself. But for once, I wanted to try and put the magnitude of my anxiety concerning blogging into focus. When I say I can’t send emails or ARC (advanced reader copy) requests, people laugh and say “I used to be the same way! But I got over it.” Or something along those lines.

But I can’t get over it, is the thing. I’m nowhere near deluded enough to think that this is the worst thing in the world. I know there are people who have way worse reactions to having to send emails or talk on the phone than I do. But what it results in, for me, is a lot of avoiding. I read an email and don’t reply for a week because I’m too nervous. I have a phone call I’ve needed to make since the middle of May, and I still haven’t done it. When I was in school, I made one doctor appointment the entire year when I needed to make, like, five. I avoid. I avoid basically everything I’m afraid to do, which is obviously going to bite me in the ass when I’m forced to look for a real job in the big wide real world.

And this problem follows me to blogging, too. I somehow always end up writing 95% of my posts the night before, even though I’ve read countless points that talk about the importance of doing the exact opposite of that. Even though I tell myself basically every day “I’ll write all this week’s posts today.” But I know that’s all just my laziness. I have a lot of it.

The problem comes when I have to interact with people. If you’ve seen me on Twitter, you might know that I talk. A lot. Mostly to myself. Sometimes to a few people, who are usually the ones I’ve talked to regularly. Beyond that? You wouldn’t believe how many tweets I’ve typed up and deleted when trying to respond to someone else. I’m too afraid to tweet authors because I’m afraid they’re going to take what I say the wrong way and assume I’m just after ARCs. I literally freeze up and can feel my heart start to beat faster. And then I walk away and don’t send the tweet and everything’s fine. Sure, sometimes the tweets end up getting sent. But for every one sent, there are probably 100 unsent. I’m so afraid of tweeting other bloggers or publishers because for some reason I think they’ll look at me and go “What does she think she’s doing? This isn’t even a blog” or “Oh God, not ANOTHER blogger.” Which is all ridiculous. But the thoughts circle around in my head and make it so much harder to interact and really feel like I’m a part of the community. This has gotten better. I interact more. But it’s always there, and I’ll be honest, it can make me really miserable. I see everyone else easily interacting and get angry at myself for second-guessing EVERYTHING.

I’m also one of the three people that runs @DeadlyTruthwitchClan. And I’m definitely the least involved of the three of us because I am CONSTANTLY afraid of stepping on people’s toes. I am CONSTANTLY afraid that people think we’re doing it just because we think it will get us a place on the street team or ARCs or any other reason. AND IT STRESSES ME OUT. SO MUCH. I am so afraid, afraid, afraid.

But where anxiety really gets me is in emails. I know plenty of people stress out about them. But I literally can’t send them most of the time. I can’t even start them. If I have a question for an author, a blogger, etc? Nope. I can’t even tell you what this is, besides an overwhelming amount of fear. But of what? I have no idea. Responding to emails is a little different—I still have plenty of anxiety about what I say, but they’ve contacted me, so I know that they at least want to speak to me. And forget about sending an ARC request. Everyone says that the worst that could happen is you don’t get a response and you move on. Logically, I know that’s true. And it’s not really a big deal. But I imagine someone behind a desk reading my email and laughing, and, once again, I freeze up. Whereas my Twitter issues are slightly improving, my email issues are not. I just need a service where I can type up an email weeks or months in advance and schedule it to be sent so I never really have to think about it. (Is this a thing? I need it to be a thing.)

That was more words than I intended. But what it comes down to is this: I love blogging. I love sharing my love for books, I love reading about all the other books people love. But because of my anxiety, I never really feel as if I’m a part of the community. I never really get to say what I want to say. I continue my unhealthy habit of avoiding communications and confrontations. And for once, I wanted to express that it isn’t a “silly little fear.” It’s something entirely unavoidable for me. It’s present as I write this post and imagine people reading it, still thinking it’s just a silly common fear because I couldn’t actually get my point across.


Zoey (Uncreatively Zoey) is an undergrad trying to study zoology but really still holding out hope to end up in an editor’s office. Her favorite things (aside from books) include cats, coffee, and candles. Please send her pictures of your cats.