MILLY x LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE SWEEPSTAKES!

   Hi fellow blog readers and fans, you might be interested (more like really excited) about the following giveaway that Simon & Schuster is promoting for Jessica Knoll’s recent bestselling thriller- Luckiest Girl Alive (clicking on this hyperlinked text will take you to our review of this phenomenal book).

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To enter the contest, please be sure to visit the following link, where you’ll find all the pertinent rules, guidelines and other things that will secure you an entry for this contest: http://bit.ly/1MT73mQ.

As provided by our friends at Simon & Schuster, here are some more tantalizing details about this exciting giveaway. Also, any photos/images on this post will also refer you directly to the page, where you can then enter this giveaway.

The giveaway: One grand prize of $1,000 shopping credit to MILLY and a signed copy of LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE, as well as four first-place prizes of a signed copy of the book each

Winners: Five (5)

Dates: Open through TOMORROW, 11:50pm Wednesday, September 2.

Feel free to tag:

Twitter

@jessmknoll, @millybymichelle, and @simonbooks

Instagram

@simonbooks, @millybymichelle, and @jmknoll83
Facebook

@simonandschuster, @millyny, and @jessicaknoll

**Winners will be announced this coming Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 at 10am. Eastern for a live chat with both Jessica Knolls (author of Luckiest Girl Alive) along with Michelle Smith, founder of MILLY. To RSVP for this event, click here

Thanks everyone for entering (and for Simon Schuster foremost for sharing this exciting giveaway with us). Tomorrow, we have a new review from our prolific blog contributor Jessica C., and on Friday, we’ll have a new giveaway/ review for the newest Kim Harrison thriller. 

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Review of “A Window Opens,” By: Elisabeth Egan

Simon Schuster/Barnes & Nobles/ Kobo/Indiebound/Books-A-Million

Book Synopsis (Taken from Simon and Schuster Product Detail Page)

Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It and Where’d You Go, Bernadette will cheer at this “fresh, funny take on the age-old struggle to have it all” (People) about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want? – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/A-Window-Opens/Elisabeth-Egan/9781501105432#sthash.4aRu1rHM.dpuf

Review:

In lieu of the recent controversy as to the questionable nature of Amazon’s employment practices,  the main premise behind Elisabeth Egan’s funny, sometimes irreverent, though poignant new novel A Window Opens seems strangely timely, as it concerns a mother of three working for a company that demands such an obscene number of things for her during a normal work-week, making it nigh impossible for her to balance both  her family and professional life in a satisfying, healthy way. Essentially,this book deals with a myriad number of various issues, all while telling a very familiar story of one working mother’s struggle to strike the difficult balance between the life of being a dutiful mother and hard-working, adept employee for a monopolistic online store company in the story that is trying to develop hybrid book-stores that are a fusion of Starbucks and Barnes & Nobles without the book shelves. These are the most salient parts of this story, for the overriding purpose behind this key narrative is to subtly critique the overreach and monopolistic propensity of Amazon’s business practices, along with the rather impersonal nature of the way they treat their employees. Given that this book was probably written long before the New York Time’s blistering article on Amazon’s employment practices, it almost unwittingly serves to add credence to many of the accounts within that story, as Elisabeth Egan is allegedly writing from what she knows and experienced when working for Amazon Publishing. Of course, many elements of her story are purely fictitious, including the main character’s dilemmas, and the other side plots that are included within this story, some of which are not as fascinating as other plots.

Yet the core of the story, the thing that really tugs at our heartstrings, and is written with an expert balance between moments of levity/raw emotion is the core plot, surrounding the main character Alice Pearse and her dogged determination to be hired for a full-time job, after her husband loses his lawyer job. I almost immediately sympathized with Alice’s character, between her wry,level-headed observations about different things she encounters in her daily life, along with her almost idiosyncratic love and appreciation for books. Anyone that is an inveterate bookworm can identify the pathos that Alice has for stories of all shapes and sizes, along with her deep love/respect for the indie bookstore,owned by a friend of hers, that is located in close vicinity to their own home.

Upon taking the job at the monopolistic book company Scroll, her whole life radically changes to where everything about it is almost excessively consumed with attaining perfection within the professional life. The focus of her life thus becomes myopically fixated upon her job, and the family being the center of her emotional attention now takes secondary place. Now before you assume that this story uses this plot-line to thus imply that these are the grave consequences for women that try to be both successful at their jobs and also be an excellent, responsible parent in similitude would be sorely mistaken. Elisabeth Esther is actually using this plot-line to illustrate the real hardships that women that are raising families face within the professional realm these days. Moreover, Alice’s husband is also given solid development, which shows that no one should have the onerous responsibility of being a complete caretaker, while neglecting the other duty entirely. When your marriage has a more egalitarian structure to it, it tends to provide both spouses (regardless of gender) the potential really live deeper, more fulfilling lives apart from societal  strictures and roles. When a woman takes up a career, society almost seeks to punish them in a sense, especially when employers will curtail things like maternity, or abolish it altogether, as if to vengefully make a point that woman that take a full-time career should then have to face the bitter repercussions of their counter-cultural disposition. Again, the character of Alice is never judged through any cheap contrivances that in some stories serve the role of punishing a mother that decided to neglect her duty of being a parent, in hopes of attaining a career. In reality, this story portrays Alice as fierce, courageous, and compassionate. Her character is so endearing and wonderful; she has flaws many of us have. She’s very realistic, and I think she’ll again appeal to all those who are book-lovers at heart.

   A Window Opens has a much more nuanced, well-shaped story-line that transcends any preconceived notions you’d otherwise have about stories like this. Most important, the commentary about Amazon’s monopolistic power and shortcomings when it comes to their rather harsh/demeaning method of dealing with their employees is extremely pertinent. When you’re in the midst of reading a very humorous story with heartrending emotional travails of one woman’s increasingly busy lifestyle, you also are given some rather sobering truths about the nature of the rapid progression of the Amazon machine. You begin to wonder whether Amazon’s hegemonic hold over the book market is starting to leech the wonder and social potential of reading.  And all of this again is coupled with an even more important story about one woman almost feeling isolated from her “home,” because the professional world basically supplants her home life. When she sees her own kids, she feels detached, as if she is seeing them apart from what she recalls during earlier moments of their lives, when she had a much closer bond.

There is a very neat contrast, in the way which the wife’s over-consuming professional life is meant to almost be a clever gender reversal, for the author, in order to switch the stereotypical roles by having her husband be mostly at home, working on opening his own law firm and taking care of the kids when their hired help isn’t. At one point, the husband sinks away into the subconscious of the house itself, and I won’t comment further, but the Robert Frost/Edgar Allen Poe esque symbolism here that played an important feature in constructing the subconscious as a palpable feature in literature is a very interesting one. As the wife’s heart and emotions become more estranged from the home, her husband seems almost to sink into the very house itself. This rich, subtle use of complex imagery really is a commendable feature for this story. It really adds levels of depth, where you wouldn’t expect to find them. It makes certain sections seem to really glisten with meaning.

Sometimes, moments of overwriting trips this up (and I’ll mention this down below), the story gets bogged down in almost too many different strands that don’t always quite come together right. There almost too many things at play, to the point where it feels a little aimless in terms of plot direction just at a few intervals. Sometimes, I wanted a little more insight in some areas as to just how others within Scroll, for example, truly function beyond their assigned professional role. But since this story’s focus is squarely on Alice, and the onerous nature of the job/versus her declining role in her family life, it does make sense that not everything would be quite as developed to an extent I thought it might be.

Returning back to the subtlety of the story’s deeper elements at play, A Window Open subtly alludes to these issues and more without any digressive moments of tedious diatribes, relaying the same thoughts readers will form about these things within the larger scheme of a story about one woman’s struggle to hold her whole complex, frenetic-paced life together. A lot of the thoughts above are just things the book prompts people to question, but does not necessarily imply; that shows a true mastery of language on Elisabeth Egan’s side, as it’s hard to carry deep messages that can tackled with by people in a variety of ways.

As mentioned previously, there were some things I was not too sure worked quite well with the story. One of those things had to do with some subplots that didn’t cohere well with larger subplots, thematically-speaking. And sometimes the writing was not always completely absorbing, sometimes it got caught up in long-winded points that just didn’t translate very well to writing that proves to have a clear rhythm and purpose. Yet I think the stronger elements of the story very much outshine those things, including the very engrossing core story, the subtly-detailed criticisms about Amazon, along with the very clever, wry humor that provides needed moments of levity during more difficult patches of a story that really packs quite a number of fairly interesting subplots, along with a story that I think both men and women can both equally enjoy, and derive some insight from.  I definitely look forward to reading more from Elisabeth Egan in the future.Elisabeth Egan’s A Window Opens is that uncanny type of novel that is funny, clever, and also humbling, sobering, and heartrending, sometimes all on the same page. I love reading about the unique challenges that working parents face these days; it’s just such an interesting facet to this story that I think is done tremendously well in a humorous, entertaining fashion. Someday, I’ll be sure to revisit this story once more, as it is indeed one of my bigger favorites of the year.

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Review of Awake by Natasha Preston

Barnes & Nobles/IndieBound/Kobo/Books-A-Million/Sourcebooks

Review Written by: Jessica C.

Since my review of White as Snow  by Salla Simukka I have noticed a new abundance of novels and stories cropping up that include cults in the story line. Cults are unto themselves fascinating and twisted fixtures in fiction as much as reality, so to have a story involve a cult as a protagonist has been that which piques my interest.

Needless to say, the cult presence in Awake was what first intrigued me to opt in to reviewing this novel. In Awake the reader meets Scarlett, a teenage girl that has no recollection of her memories before the age of five. All she knows and all she has been told she accepts without conflict or question. However, the appearance of Noah in her life and a car crash, change everything in Scarlett’s life.

For Scarlett, the car accident is what causes her memories to be awakened and she begins to question everything save for Noah. This is really a shame because Noah really is one that she should be worried over. After all he is part of the cult that believes that Scarlett is the “Light.” The “Light” to the cult that calls themselves Eternal Light is pretty much their gateway to salvation by sacrifice. Hooray for human sacrifice. Yes boys and girls that is sarcasm.

Awake had promise but it did nothing to keep me ‘awake.’ In fact at times I wanted to put it down and invest in sleep. Here’s my thing to the authors and readers out there alike… if you are going to have a female character be the center of your novel universe give her some balls. Scarlett despite her colorful dictionary of profanity was tepid at most even in her hot tempered moments. Yawn. I almost wanted the cult to kill her by the time I was half way through the book.

Scarlett was weak, far too blindly reliant on Noah, and an utmost moron when it came to her puppy love faith in a boy that lied to her repeatedly. I’m sorry but I think the whole I’m taking you back to a cult to use you as a human sacrifice is something of a deal breaker for me. Maybe I’m wrong ladies, but who knows… that’s just not my cup of tea.

If there is a sequel… as I do have a smidge of curiousity over this missing sister bit in the story…my feedback to the author is if you plan on using a cult in a story… give the cult their story. Eternal Light was nothing more than a ghost cult in my opinion. There was no meat and bones to really anything in this book. So that’s what this story is lacking… meat, balls, and bones. Easy enough eh? Right.

All I can say folks is take it or leave it. It’s up to you. It wasn’t the best out there but certainly not the worst. Until next time readers… don’t fall for the next door neighbor… especially if they belong to a cult… Happy reading!

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Tea Time at Reverie: Miss Elizabeth Black Tea from Bingley’s Teas

Bingleys logo

“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well.  The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.”
– Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

Out of all of Jane Austen’s heroines, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice has resonated most with readers over the years. She’s intelligent, witty, and virtuous, she converses easily with others and never resorts to the (*ahem*) embarrassing behaviors of other women in her family, especially her mother and her youngest sister Lydia. Lizzie, however, is fond of her sharp tongue and her ability to read people. That pride triggers her character arc – and a good deal of Pride and Prejudice’s plot – as she searches for marriage based on love, not on social status or economic security.

It’s no surprise that Bingley’s Teas (named after one of the families featured in Pride and Prejudice) has crafted a tea inspired by this whip-smart young lady. Miss Elizabeth, one of the vendor’s best-sellers, is a blend of black tea, fruit, and a shower of flower petals. Let’s see how this offering from Bingley’s Jane Austen Tea Series brews up, shall we?

The Basics

Miss Elizabeth 1

Photo courtesy of Bingley’s Teas

Bingley’s Description: A black tea for her strong character, sassy cranberry, and blue mallow for her fine eyes, tempered with a sweetness and more as our heroine is unlike any other and most deserving of a very special blend!”

Ingredients: Ceylon black tea leaves, dried cranberries, blue mallow blossoms, assorted flower petals, and artificial flavoring

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 tsp of tea for every 8 oz of water. Heat water to boiling (205 – 208 degrees Fahrenheit / 96 – 98 degrees Celsius) and steep for 4 to 5 minutes.

Multiple Brews?: No

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf

Caffeine Level: High

The Experience

Miss Elizabeth 2

Photo courtesy of Bingley’s Teas

For starters, Miss Elizabeth is a very pretty tea when dry. Bright blue and fire-orange flower petals pepper the black tea base. The blues are obviously from the advertised blue mallow, while the orange looks a lot like safflower. Dark red chunks of dried cranberries hide amongst the leaves as well. They’re fairy small, though; not quite the size of dried cranberries you can buy in stores. Altogether, the mixture reminds me of a tiny flower garden, bursting with color and summertime spirit.

Speaking of smell, Miss Elizabeth’s surprises me a little. It’s mild in comparison to other flavored black teas, yet very sweet and with a hint of cranberry tang. It’s not like the blast of fruitiness you get when opening a bag of dried cranberries. This is more subtle. Apart from that, it’s hard to say what else the fragrance brings to mind. Maybe vanilla? I guess I’ll have to see if I detect anything more specific when I drink it.

My first cup of Miss Elizabeth steeps for 4 minutes. The chestnut-colored infusion still gives off a mellow, fruity aroma. When I take my first sip, my mouth puckers from the slight tartness. Hmmmmm… I don’t taste much cranberry, but definitely something sweet. I’m not sure what kind of sweetness, though. It’s not sugary, chocolaty, or marzipan-y. I really don’t know how to describe it, other than light in body and delicately balanced.

Steep #2 of Miss Elizabeth sits for 5 minutes, and isn’t much different from the first steep. Its color is still a dark brown tinged with red, and its personality still levels tartness with sweetness. Very little black tea flavor creeps through at all. Maybe there’s a trace of tannins, but there’s no bitterness or astringency. If I had to guess, I’d say Miss Elizabeth has a Ceylon black base, brighter and crisper than a more robust Assam black tea.

I also tried a separate 5-minute steep of Miss Elizabeth with a splash of milk. It gives the light-bodied tea a nuanced creamy texture, but doesn’t enhance the flavor that much. I wouldn’t recommend adding sugar or honey, since this tea is already sweet enough on its own.

The Aftertaste

Bingley’s Miss Elizabeth is ideal for tea drinkers looking for a black tea that’s sweet and lightly fruity but not too strong. Its mellow flavor profile could benefit from more tartness to be a true reflection of Elizabeth Bennet, but its current recipe tastes fine. I personally prefer black teas with more body and flavor (Elinor’s Heart from Bingley’s is a wonderful example). However, if you enjoy Ceylons or sweet black teas, Miss Elizabeth might be worth a try.

Grade: 7.5 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like fruity or sweet black teas
  • Time of Day and Year: Late morning or early afternoon in the summer
  • Possible Book Pairings: Apart from Pride and Prejudice, try a cup of Miss Elizabeth with stories led by heroines who either embody Lizzie’s spirit or evolve into a braver, more assertive self. Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet (starting with Alanna: The First Adventure), Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, or Kristen Cashore’s Bitterblue are good places to start.

You can purchase Miss Elizabeth Black Tea directly from Bingley’s Teas here.

*       *      *

In addition to being a tea enthusiast, Sara Letourneau is an avid reader and a writer who… well, enjoys writing! Currently she’s working on a novel, and she writes book reviews and articles on the craft of writing. She’s also a published poet with works available in various print and online publications. Visit Sara at her personal blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

If you’re a tea seller and would like to have one of your products reviewed here, please visit the Contributors page for contact information.

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“Never Always Sometimes,” By: Adi Alsaid Tuesday Blog Feature

GIVEAWAY ALERT:Be sure to look for details towards the end of this post about how to win your own hardcover copy of Adi Alsaid’s newest YA novel Never Always Sometimes.

NAS-cover

Harlequin Teen/Indiebound/Kobo/BooksAMillion/Barnes&Nobles

Book Synopsis (Taken from Harlequin website):
Never date your best friend
Always be original

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never die your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

Interview with Adi Alsaid (Author of Never Always Sometimes and Let’s Get Lost)

Author Photo, credit: Peter Ross

Author Photo, credit: Peter Ross

Initial Key: BR=Bibliophile’s Reverie; AA=Adi Alsaid

1). BR: Even though this is a bit of a conventional question, what sparked the idea for this story?

AA:Well, it began specifically with the Nevers list itself, but the bigger idea that I wanted to write about was two friends who have distanced themselves from everyone else in high school putting themselves in a place where they start to re-evaluate things. Late in your teens, you really start to wonder not just who you are, but what your place in the world is too. I wanted to write a story that dealt with the above, and with loving someone quietly, and was funny.
2)BR: Is the process of writing a sequel any different than writing your first novel, are there any new challenges along the way?

AA:Well, I don’t exactly know about a sequel per se, since both mine are stand alones. But the easy answer for me here is that the big difference between book one and two was the deadline. LGL was more relaxed and longer compared to NAS’s six-week first draft deadline. There’s also a bunch of doubts you have about whether people will like it as much as your first, whether there are themes or characters that are too similar, whether people will think that you can only write one kind of book. But those doubts kind of exist all the time for writers, in one iteration or another.
3). BR:Your first novel Let’s Get Lost, a big favorite of mine, involved different smaller stories with one unifying theme? While the way of telling this story is different, did this different structure come naturally with the story?

AA: Thanks! Yeah, I really loved the idea of telling a road trip story from the point of view of those who are stationary. That was there from the beginning, partially because I loved how it turned my main character into a mystery, and partially because I love multiple perspectives and thought a road trip was particularly well-suited to delve into several points of view.
4. BR:What type of research, if any, was involved with Never Always Sometimes?

AA:I coach basketball at a high school here in Mexico, so I took advantage of having teachers for friends and sat in on a bunch of classes. I knew NAS was going to be significantly more high school-y than LGL (which had practically zero high school scenes), so I wanted to remind myself what it felt like to be in a classroom, wanted to see how teens really act.


5. BR:Who would you love to pick as a director for a film adaptation for either of your books?
AA:Ooh, good question. If it was in my complete control (which it would never be), I’d probably choose a friend. I have several friends who attended film school and work in TV and Film in LA, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t choose the directors among them. Jeremy Cloe comes to mind, whose great feature-length debut Liars Fires and Bears is out on DVD and you should all buy it.

6. BR:What are you working on next?

AA:I can’t quite announce anything yet, sorry! Soon, though, I hope.


7.BR:Do you have a message for the devoted readers of this blog, A Bibliophile’s Reverie?

AA: How about this quote from the story Light of Lucy by Jane Mcafferty: “One life, he wanted to call to her, you got one life and this is one night in that one life, and your nights are numbered. Do you care? Do you not grasp that life could be more like the movies if only you got out of your stupid car and opened your heart, not wide, not with any degree of trust, or, hell, even interest, but rather like you open the front door for the cat, just enough for the animal to slink through into the open air?”

  Thanks so much Adi Alsaid for your thoughtful answers to the questions above! Read further on, for my thoughts on the book, along with details as to a special giveaway.

Review:

In YA fiction, the teen tone is a hard one to capture, there is a certain unmeasured combination of irreverence, caprice, and melodrama, tempered with a serious desire to explore those new things in life that you’ve always longed to experience for yourself. It’s not an easy tone to capture at all, and sometimes, this artificial, contrived quality is caught on by teen readers themselves first, and most adult fans of YA fiction (for which I consider myself among many) as feeling suspect, or sycophantic. Well, the first thing that struck me about author Adi Alsaid’s first book, Let’s Get Lost, was his ability to accurately capture the teen tone with just the right degree of apathy, earnestness, mixed with subversive humor. The book was a fantastic, compulsively readable book that I probably should have written a review for, but time got the best of me, and for some reason, I never got around to writing a review of it.

Well, I am fortunate that I was offered his second release Never Always Sometimes then for review, and I knew before even reading it, I was in for a very engrossing, clever read with just the right degree of bantering, well-formulated teen drama, and accurate insight into the uncanny world of the teen vantage. This book swept me into that world of my own- the many strange memories I have of being a teen, and all the momentous emotional experiences, along with the bizarre, irreverence that accompanies all that everyone does as a teen. Adi Alsaid writes with a great eye on the world, as seen through the teen vantage in this new story, featuring two very different perspectives; that of the lead characters of the more introverted, cautious character of Davealong with his best friend Julia, who is conversely more outspoken, impetuous, and sometimes immoderately rebellious. Their dynamic is rich, and it is what keeps the novel fresh, interesting, and vibrant for a good course of the novel. Another thing that I really appreciated was that their perspectives could clearly be differentiated from another in terms of writing style and tone, Julia had a much more acerbic, cynical tone about life, whereas Dave was striving to work against that cynical tone that his life has been beset with, due to his long friendship with Julia, and he tries instead to see the depth of the supposed cliches that define everyone else, but him and Julia.

If you were ever a teen, you know that the deep insecurities really do paint the world outside of yourself in a superficial sepia tone, so I really appreciated that this large element of the story’s internal conflict for both characters was again very familiar, as someone that can recollect pretty clearly about things remembered from being a teen. And that’s the reason adult readers really shouldn’t be abashed fans of YA fiction, for YA fiction can be a very meaningful, interesting experience for us, it helps make us more aware, less insular, as to those seemingly forgotten memories of our past days. This was the element I really thought was strongly present throughout this novel, the fact that Adi Alsaid is a writer that never has to contrive, or create an artificial teen tone and world, for the world he creates is starkly realistic, and as flawed and sometimes as potently irreverent as the world seen through the lenses of a teen.

All novels has some flaws, and there were certain things that I found detracted a bit from the story’s flow as a whole. Sometimes, there were certain plot points that felt perhaps too silly and absurd to be realistic. I especially found the parts, concerning Julia jokingly hitting on an older Math teacher, just to be a bit unrealistic, and I’m not sure these moments really fit well with the rest of the novel. Other things that I found lacking concerns Dave’s character, in that sometimes there isn’t enough depth and intrigue behind his character, as compared with that of Julia. I found Julia to be the most strongly-written character in the whole novel, in that the author really captures a very spunky, complex female character, who has an awesome, richly funny snarky tone from her perspective. Her dialogue was the richest as well, and perhaps that is intentional, as she is a very different sort of personality than the more introspective character of Dave. The contrast was great, it was good to have more characters that were strikingly different from Julia, who were more on the side of preserving normalcy. Beyond that, sometimes the plot sags a bit at times due to certain scenes that aren’t executed as well as others. Most of the time, the writing, though, has prose that is appropriately minimalist, while still being very appealing. The perspective of second-person is frankly a pretty difficult, sometimes awkward perspective choice, which I’ll admit sometimes detracts a bit from the otherwise smooth flow of the narrative. Nonetheless, it stays fairly smooth throughout, and most of the time, you don’t realize the type of perspective it is using for a good portion of the novel because it’s done well enough to create for a seamless reading experience.

Really, the strengths of this book outweighed the few setbacks, as the writing is clear, descriptive, and creates for a very compulsively readable novel. In terms of YA fiction, it really adds more depth to certain elements and tropes that sometimes aren’t used as wisely in other YA novels. The novel commendably really has a strong grasp on the teen tone, which is exceedingly hard for any writer, even the experienced writer, to really grasp. YA fiction is a misunderstood genre, and it’s certainly not one of the easiest genres to write. Another thing I really appreciated was the fact that Julia’s two fathers were presented in the novel as completely normal, which shows how far we’ve come in terms of presenting gay characters in fiction. I loved that there is no dour, pitiable tone to presenting them; no self-loathing; no Will/Grace type over-the-top stereotypes. They are simply normal parents, struggling with raising a teenage child, who goes through the same mood shifts and patterns as any other teen. In 2015, it is always really nice to realize that gay characters within novels are becoming a perfectly natural feature in YA fiction, where there is no insidious implications that it’s an aberration of sorts.  They face the same struggles as every other parent within the book, and I loved also the equality in terms of the type of feelings both male and female teen characters experience over romance. Both can equally pine for one another in their own unique ways, not entirely defined or restricted by their gender. That’s what I normally love about this type of fiction when done right, in that male and female characters can be shown to have the same potential for melodramatic, stormy emotions, as we are wired to be that way, especially when you’re a teenager.

For the most part, the novel was very enjoyable, very funny at times, and it was really a trip down memory lane at points, remembering the funny, irreverence of the teen years, along with the melodrama. Adi Alsaid reminds me why Young-Adult fiction is such a fun, entertaining, sometimes intelligent genre that really is often misunderstood by many within the book world. If you’re looking for an enjoyable read for end-of-the-summer that will be equally entertaining to both adult fans/teen fans of YA fiction, then you should definitely check out Adi Alsaid’s newest YA fiction novel, Never Always Sometimes.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: A large element of Never Always Sometimes plot was the fact that both Dave and Julia were trying to complete certain strange, bizarre acts that completely defy the laws of civility, when you’re a teenager. They made the list in their freshman year- a list of “dares,” that they thought they would never do, until the last pair of weeks before the end of their senior year.

        To enter to win a hardcover copy of Never Always Sometimes (a contest open only to those in the US, unfortunately), leave a comment below, saying something you could have envisioned yourself daring to do in your teen years that would have realistically be labeled a “never” on your never list.  The contest will end at 11:59pm. this Saturday, August 29, 2015. At that time, I’ll be sure to email the winner, informing them that they have won. Best of luck to all the readers of this blog, planning to enter.   

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Bibliophile’s Reverie Pulling Support For Amazon

For nearly six years or so, my blog posts, along with the countless blog posts written by the many skilled contributors that write for this blog,  have been replete with mentions of Amazon, or links to Amazon.

Henceforth,this will be no more. Unless an indie writer’s book is only available exclusively on Amazon or the book is published by Amazon Publishing, no links to Amazon will be featured anymore on any future posts on this blog.  This means that any future books will be linked to the following sites: Kobo, Books-A-Million, Indiebound, and Barnes and Nobles.

I actually pulled support from Goodreads several weeks back for their intolerable infestation of trolls/vile reviews by the dozens that I was finding the page to be a very suffocating, disheartening experience for the most part. So it is actually a fateful decision in many ways that predicted the events of today. Goodreads is actually owned by Amazon, so it only makes sense for this blog to not feature links to books on either site.

If you have not read the rather scathing, fairly critical article about conditions for workers in management and also within the various warehouses that Amazon owns, you may want to read either of these articles: the article about management from the NYTimes, along with the warehouse worker story from Mother Jones.

Please do not see this as an exhortation for you to boycott Amazon by any means. As this blog only fosters and encourages the message of independent thinking/free-will, that decision is ultimately up to you. I don’t want anyone to feel personally villified by anything in this blog for continuing to support Amazon. This is mainly a decision about implicit endorsement, meaning any and all links to Amazon gives the impression of express/insinuated support for them.

I want to be transparent about the reasons, though,so no one wonders as to why the Amazon links on reviews posted here are suddenly missing.

Thanks again so much for continuing to actively read this blog, respond to different pieces, share articles/reviews all over social media!

Most important, thank you for taking the time to read the above, and coming to your own conclusions!
Justin Boyer- lead admin/writer for A Bibliophile’s Reverie

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Review of “For Such a Time,” by Kate Breslin


Amazon/Barnes & Nobles/ Indiebound

First of all, let me disclose the fact that I am agnostic, meaning that I am not within this book’s targeted audience whatsoever. That targeted audience is primarily those that are Evangelical Christians. When reviewing this work, I will primarily take that into consideration, as it is always fair and judicious to work that perspective into any analysis of a published novel. Also, I will not comment, or evaluate, any insinuations or implications of an author’s viewpoints based upon material within the story, as that would be grossly unfair and illogical, to extrapolate such things from a fictional work, including multiple characters with contrasting viewpoints and life experiences. Any comments on this review that are uncivil, vulgar, or gossip-ridden in nature will not be approved, on the basis that I don’t think they’re very substantive and hardly pertinent to a discussion about the content of the book.

My overall impressions of Kate Breslin, as an author, is that she most definitely did some thorough research about the ghetto that serves as the story’s setting. Also, the prose itself is exacting, descriptive ( even while being a tad too superfluous at times), fairly measured/rhythmic, even though again a few parts showed moments of uninspired, hackneyed qualities. While others suffered from perhaps too much histrionics of emotions, meaning that some of the romance sequences were a tad too melodramatic and too “expediently developed.” Nonetheless, these tender romance scenes, taken within the context of the genre Kate Breslin is writing within, would not contain any of the qualities for readers that are far more use to the stylistic choices made with this type of writer.

Tone-wise, the story was written with a nice balance of light, headier moments (hinting on the possibility of edification) within some of the most morose, miserable, soul-crushing type of conditions possible, that being a ghetto  (or transit camp, formally called in the midst of World War II. Stella, the main protagonist, for the most part, reads convincingly, as a fairly clever, quick-witted, and brave female protagonist. And Aric Von Schmidt, the Nazi SS colonel she pines after, and eventually falls in love with, comes across as a domineering male love interest (another trope, typical of the romance genre), who is experiencing doubt about his actions, taking under the auspices of loyally following the rule of Hitler. The story dabbles into his past, and his youthful ambitions and naive zeal for Hitler and the Nazi regime during the early portions of the 1930’s, right around the time when Hitler seized power over Germany. The story sometimes presents this stuff in an allusive way, almost discrete fashion, in that we never get a full portrait of his backstory, only very faint traces of some conceptual picture of just what impelled Aric to become part of the Nazi Army without the reservations he displays now, sometimes beyond his full consciousness of all of them.

And the romance between Stella (her Jewish name is “Hadassah”) and him again is competently developed, for the most part. Many reviewers had concerns about the relationship being one that was indicative of Stockholm Syndrome. To some extent, this does make sense, considering that Aric does seem to imply that without her consenting to his advances, she’d essentially be doomed, and there is most definitely a strong implication that the reason she agrees to his advances is the fear of losing her chance for salvation, or being spared the grim fate shared by her people. Yet there is also some strong evidence too that she develops these feelings for him- the hope that she can help him redeem himself, experience contrition for his past actions and wrongs committed against her people.

Much of the internet controversy really is borne out of writing that sometimes doesn’t fill in enough blanks,and perhaps leaves things up to the reader to make certain insinuations, whenever the writer doesn’t clearly develop them. Most, if not all, the alleged antisemitic content is due mainly to a lack of any crucial insights and details as to the Jewish faith. I will say that the criticisms of some readers about this story’s absence of meaningful details, as to details about the distinctive beliefs of the Jewish people, were very much lacking. Sometimes, there were questionable moments where certain Christianized concepts were used in place of authentic Jewish beliefs. Certain words,phrases, and concepts used by the two Jewish characters, including Joseph and Uncle Morty for example, felt a bit unrealistic for this reason. There was just not enough sufficient details about the Jewish people in this story, and Stella/Hadassah never really comments too much on her religious upbringing, there are never really any details as to just what type of religious or spiritual perception she had.

Again, I am not certain this would warrant “antisemitism,” I think much of this lack of any meaningful details, as to the Jewish faith, is derived from general ignorance of Judaism as a religion, distinctive from Christianity, with its own very rich history. Scholar Karen Armstrong once commented in an interview with Bill Moyers that “up until that point, my religious life had been very parochial, been very Catholic, and I’d never thought of Judaism as anything but the kind of prelude to Christianity, and I’d never thought about Islam at all.”  I can attest to this same ignorance about the two other very comprehensive, rich monotheistic traditions, as a former Christian. I knew very little, if anything, about Judaism when I was a Christian. I thought that their celebrations of Hanukkah and Passover, in place of conventional Christian holidays around this same time, were the only real marked differences of either religion. It took me till the age of 21, after becoming Agnostic, to first read Karen Armstrong’s dense, seminal nonfiction work: History of God. Before that, I knew very little of it, and my ignorance was limited to the strange, unquestioned belief in the concept of hell, being somewhere where everyone else that was markedly different from myself, in terms of religion, were consigned to this eternal scheme of a holocaust without a chance for salvation or recourse. As to why heaven lacks a real sophisticated judicial system, I can only comment that heaven’s hierarchy, seems to be much more of a monarchical, perhaps oligarchical religion, and is very rarely democratic. Obviously these are just anthropomorphic notions we have, not reflecting anything authentic about places no one even know exists, let alone have witnessed to be able to provide a coherent account (there’s the agnostic in me speaking..).

I really don’t think the antisemitism was intentional, or something done in an injurious way. Yes, I do think it is there, but I think it quite honestly is fairly innocuous, and again, borne out of Evangelical ignorance, as to other religions. Or perhaps, there wasn’t much space in the narrative to really elaborate on these details. Again as a former Christian, I would probably have not seen it, unless I knew anything about Judaism outside of my Christian experience. The story itself is really not all that offensive, in isolation, because many more offensive works have been written, making all this controversy seem a bit overwrought. I mean, this book reads quite effectively as a “parable,” as a hypothetical “What if?” type of historical fiction story, geared for Evangelical Christian readers. For them, this is a work that will probably leave them feeling enraptured, fulfilled. Kate Breslin’s ability to weave a powerful, emotionally-drive story is definitely commendable, her pacing is impeccable

But the contrivances, as to the conversion or the spiritual insights as to the characters, feel very anemic. Not only is Judaism not presented as a distinctive, complex religion, apart from Christianity, Christianity is even lacking in any sophistication within this story, in that Stella/Hadassah’s struggles don’t feel realistic, as they lack any real depth, with respects to the trauma she is experiencing. Maybe, the lack comes from Kate Breslin’s excellent poetic prose serve to allegorically point to deeper depths, as to her internal spiritual struggles, but I felt much of it was largely contrived in nature, feeling like a certain “magic bible” was inserted at certain pivotal moments to act as a substitute for any intense, meaningful reflection on the part of Hadassah, as to her conversion. You just never get a strong, or convincing enough feeling that she and other Jewish characters are authentically Jewish, which again I think where people are insinuating that there is erasure of Jewish culture and identity going on. Perhaps, that is what you can call it, to be fair, the evidence is clearly there, but my own conclusions drawn about the reasons for this is again innocuous/ignorant antisemitism, just general lack of knowledge among some Evangelical Christians about the uniqueness and complexity of other religions apart from their own. And maybe, that’s just the way we’re seeing it as outside observers, my own bias might stem from my own misgivings about a certain form of Christianity. Again, I encourage people to come to their own judgments on the material. I think it’s a book well worth reading, even to discuss the different takes, or diverse ways historical fiction can be written.

Does the novel succeed in erasure of the true grisly trauma and horror of the Holocaust? Not exactly. The author actually does incorporate some clear, sometimes visceral details of the human rights violations, and truly morally unconscionable crimes of the Nazis during the Holocaust. Aric comes across as someone, reluctant to do any of it, but his fate is sealed by the machinery of warfare that I think locks/entraps the consciences of many sensitive, moral people to a type of machine of relentless immorality. Meaning, there is neither justice, morality, or elements of either noble quality within the true amorality of warfare. So I never really felt there was total “erasure” of the holocaust whatsoever. The story is written as a romantic take on the story, and it follows the conventional structure of romances as they were originally structured by Shakespeare, as a story that is resolved in a way that the events lead to enlightenment, optimism, and happiness. And again, the story was also inspired by the Esther story, so you know that liberties with history were going to be taken, to provide an entirely fictitious, hypothetical outcome, opposite to the more brutal, grim outcome for this story in reality. It’s only erasure if you take fiction stories far too literally. I think people pointing this out are being exaggerated in their claims, at least with respects to this; I don’t think any sane, intelligent reader will suddenly take this story as “actual history.” It’s a romance, set during the Holocaust, and if it is following the Shakespearean code/structure for romances, it will have an ending that is one of optimism and hope.

The ending felt a bit rushed and a tad too Hollywoodized for me. For the most part, I don’t quite understand or comprehend the intensity of people’s reactions. Perhaps, much of the stuff they’re discussing is stuff I mostly find typical of the Evangelical Christian community. I don’t see it as something as monstrously egregious, as they do, because it seems really commonplace within the Evangelical Christian community. Perhaps though, this discussion could constructively promote more meaningful education for Evangelical Christians and others, as to Jewish history, culture, and the complexity of Judaism’s history as a religion with an understated rich history of its own. (I’ve been a big proponent for more in-depth religious studies (all religions) in our schools for that reason.)

Much of the problems with this story stems more from routine problems that I think most first novels, from any novelist faces. I look forward to reading another Kate Breslin story, mostly because I really like her descriptive prose for the most part. I think much of the divisive issues are caused perhaps by too much dependence on romance genre tropes (often seen by critics as romanticizing “Stockholm syndrome”) and inevitable omission of any crucial details or insights into the Judaic religion, or Jewish culture, which is mostly contributing to people’s very emotional responses to the controversial elements of this story. Again, I think some of it may has been overstated just a bit for my tastes, though I do understand the passion lurking beneath the emotional responses. I understand how hard it is for not just the writer, but also the reader,to read stories dealing with such a profoundly difficult event like the holocaust.

For the most part, the book is solidly written, with some very poignant, well-written moments, and a rich edifying message of hope/redemption in times of grave misery/crushing hopelessness. There are again some strong problems with too many plot contrivances (for my liking), dependence on hackneyed romance genre tropes, and a lack of any real, crucial insights as to the Jewish community/ Judaic religion within the story (specially as it relates to the character’s spiritual/religious struggle).

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