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Stephanie Parent, Reader and Writer

Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC and attended the Baltimore School for the Arts as a piano major. She moved to Los Angeles because of Francesca Lia Block's WEETZIE BAT books, which might give you some idea of how much books mean to her. She also loves dogs, books about dogs, and sugary coffee drinks both hot and cold.
Here - Eric Marier HERE by Eric Marier was absolutely nothing like I expected...and I'm so glad, because I loved it! Based on the synopsis, I was expecting a creepy, Gothic ghost story/horror story, and I did get that--but not until the last 25% of the book. The majority of the book was actually a quiet, realistic story about ordinary people in their mid-twenties, adjusting to the fact that their adult lives don't always live up to what they'd hoped for. While there were hints of creepiness and mystery surrounding the mansion where Sam is house-sitting, and these little things did pique my interest, they definitely weren't the main focus of the story.While I liked and was interested in the book from the very beginning, I did have a bit of trouble with the first quarter or so, just because I was still expecting the horror element to show up. Marier writes in a taut, economical style reminiscent of thriller writing, and I didn't make much of an effort to connect with the characters at first. After all, I thought this was a horror novel and many of them would die early on! But as the story continued, and the horror didn't come, a funny thing happened... I found that I didn't care, and that I was completely absorbed in the characters Marier had created and their quiet, everyday struggles. I felt so much for the two protagonists, Sam and Michelle, and the way aspects of their childhoods and teenage years continued to hold them back as adults. Marier writes in an emotionally minimalistic style that really works for me, since it allows me to feel the emotion myself rather than have it all laid out for me on the page. And while the writing isn't full of flowery description, there were certain turns of phrase that struck me as elegant and apt.Now in the last quarter, the horror element does come into play a bit, and I thought it was very well done and tied together many threads of the story. I really liked the way the story ended and found it appropriate to the tone of the story as a whole--there was hope, but no false happily-ever-afters. Like the rest of the book, the ending was REAL, and that's why I liked it so much.
Untellable - Suzanne Lilly Books like Untellable by Suzanne Lilly are exactly why I started joining blog tours. While this book sounded interesting, I probably wouldn’t have made the time to read it on my own…and I ended up loving it, so I’m so glad I joined the blog tour and read it!My favorite thing about Untellable was definitely Suzanne Lilly’s writing style. She just had such an easy, smooth way with words that made reading the whole book a very pleasant experience, even when the subject matter was heavy. I loved her descriptions of the small country town setting (and the town’s name, Honey Creek, was great too!), and I especially liked the way she depicted Aspen’s love for swimming and the way she felt in the water. I liked all the characters too—Aspen was strong and resilient, Colton was such a great guy, and I really enjoyed minor characters like Linda too. The only character who got on my nerves a bit was Elise, but I think the author did a good job of showing that Elise’s mistakes were due to naiveté and lack of thought rather than any real malice. (As for Aspen’s father, there’s definitely some real malice there…but we weren’t supposed to like him!)The plot was fast-paced and kept me interested the entire time, with the danger from Aspen’s past looming over even as she shared sweet, romantic moments with Colton. As a romantic suspense, the plot was quite dramatic at points, and stretched the limits of credibility a few times, but I expect that in this type of story and didn’t really mind. The romance also developed very quickly, and was heightened by the dangerous situations that Aspen and Colton found themselves in. Again, since I enjoyed the story and really liked the characters, I wasn’t too bothered by the fact that their relationship might not be completely realistic.I am definitely a fan of Suzanne Lilly, and I was excited to see that her previous novel, Shades of the Future, also takes place in Honey Creek and features characters who make a brief appearance in Untellable. I will be picking up Shades of the Future soon, and I look forward to whatever Suzanne Lilly writes in the future!

The Art of Love

The Art of Love - Anne  Whitney Anne Whitney’s Art of Love is an incredibly original and refreshing addition to the New Adult genre! Our narrator Marina, a twenty-one-year-old from a very sheltered and abusive background, arrives in New York City and through a chance encounter, finds herself befriending and, in one case (well, eventually two), shacking up with a group of edgy, eccentric artists. Fitz, the man who takes Marina in, is a performance artist specializing in nude pieces. So, basically, he’s the complete opposite of everything Marina’s experienced so far in her life. Fitz’s friend Viridian, a painter and a bit of a fashionista, and his brother Derek, a drag queen and also a bit of a fashionista, also get to know and befriend Marina. Marina is clearly a fish out of water in this situation—and Whitney makes the most of her promising premise.Marina comes to NYC because she’s fleeing an abusive situation at home which, despite being over eighteen, she hasn’t yet managed to escape. Once in New York, Marina finds her past quickly catching up to her as her father mounts a police search for her. Marina has to become “Mary Fenton,” a chic, confident young artist, Fitz’s assistant and eventually his girlfriend, and she begins to thrive in her new role—but at the same time, she struggles with the question of what’s real and what’s performance. I really appreciated how the author used Marina’s struggle to address complex issues of identity, of how others perceive us and whether we can really change the person we are inside. This neatly dovetails with the questions of identity that Fitz explores in his performance art, and in his personal life.One of my favorite parts of the book was the incorporation of the modern art scene, especially performance art, a subject the author is obviously knowledgeable in. I liked that we saw the art through the eyes of an outsider, Marina, who remained skeptical of some of the more “out there” parts of modern art. Since I don’t completely understand modern art myself, this helped make the book much more approachable for me.Even more than the art, though, something I really appreciated about the book was that the characters were far from perfect. Marina is completely frank about the fact that both Fitz and his art can be, well, very pretentious. As for Marina herself, her unwillingness to stand up for herself and move outside her victim role causes conflict throughout much of the novel. Finally, I really loved that for at least one of the characters, The Art of Love was a journey-toward-love story rather than a happily-ever-after. This made it so much more believable for me.All in all, if you’re looking for a different new adult novel that explores questions of art and identity, The Art of Love is the book for you! I received a copy of this book from the author as part of the ART OF LOVE blog tour.

Unbreak Me

Unbreak Me - Lexi Ryan Wow! Lexi Ryan’s Unbreak Me was so much more emotional and intense than I was expecting. I’ll admit I was a tiny bit taken aback at the beginning because, while this book is marketed as NA and main character Maggie is twenty-one, it really read to me more like a contemporary romance. Which is fine, and once I adjusted my expectations, I was completely on board. Lexi Ryan’s writing is smooth, well-paced and a pleasure to read, and many of her descriptions and imagery in this novel are really beautiful.Unbreak Me is told from three alternating points-of-view, but the story really belongs to Maggie, who has returned to her small hometown after dropping out of college and breaking off an engagement a year earlier. I really liked the use of all three viewpoints, and I felt that seeing the two male perspectives—one from a character who grew up with Maggie, and another from a man who’s getting to know her for the first time—gave us a more complete picture of Maggie’s character. Maggie judges herself very harshly, and I appreciated the chance to get to know her not only through her own thoughts, but through outside eyes. While some reviewers called the relationship between these three characters a love triangle, it didn’t read that way to me—one character was a part of Maggie’s past, the other her future. So even for readers who normally avoid love triangles, I don’t think the romance in Unbreak Me would prove too bothersome.One of my favorite things about this book was the setting: a small, working-class town that’s also home to an elite private college. The often uncomfortable coexistence of “townies” and wealthy college students added a very interesting dimension to the novel, and I felt it was portrayed quite realistically. I was also impressed by the depth of Maggie’s character development. Due to a traumatic incident at the age of fifteen, Maggie is labeled the town “slut,” a label that haunts her and influences her actions and decisions throughout her life. The author did a great job of illustrating how the roles others try to force us into do have a huge impact, even if we know those labels aren’t true. They still become a part of us, and they still hurt. In a way, they often become a self-fulfilling prophecy.Watching Maggie’s transformation throughout Unbreak Me was satisfying, and the romance was definitely swoon-worthy. Unbreak Me is a good choice for readers who want emotional depth along with their angst and romance—and, of course, a happy ending. I received a review copy of this book from ATOMR Tours.

Escaping Me

Escaping Me - Elizabeth   Lee I love small-town, country romances, and nobody does them like Elizabeth Lee! Escaping Me is the absolute perfect feel-good summertime read (okay, it's a good anytime read!). Cole is an amazing guy with a huge heart, and Whitney is a refreshingly smart and kind heroine. (Well, she's kind unless you're getting in the way of her relationship with Cole...then watch out!) The secondary characters are great too, and I hope to see more of them when Whitney's sister gets her own novel later this year!

Untouched (Cedar Cove, #0.5)

Untouched (Cedar Cove, #0.5) - Melody Grace Lovely writing and story. Melody Grace has a gift for description. Can't wait to read Unbroken now!
Price of a Kiss - Linda Kage Linda Kage’s writing always flows so beautifully and is so much fun to read, with just the right blend of emotion, humor, and charm, and Price of a Kiss is no exception. This is a fairly long book, but the pages just seemed to fly by. The plot is unique for a new adult romance, too: while the main female character, Reese, does have a trauma in her past, it’s really the male character, Mason, who is broken by his past and needs healing. Mason is a gigolo, an occupation he fell into at the age of eighteen when his landlady blackmailed him into providing sexual favors in exchange for back rent. Mason has taken on the role of protector and provider for his family, a somewhat hapless single mom and a younger sister with cerebral palsy, and as a result he feels stuck in his current situation.Kage handles the gigolo plot element with depth and understanding, gradually revealing the depth of Mason’s internal struggles. I loved watching Reese learn to look beyond Mason’s façade and see the hurting, sensitive person inside. I also loved Reese’s relationship with Mason’s younger sister, who really needed someone to treat her as a normal teenager rather than defining her by her cerebral palsy. I also appreciated seeing Reese deal with her own trauma and overcome her fears.I have to mention that as a new adult romance set at a community college, Price of a Kiss actually involved characters doing homework, going to class and study groups, and struggling with assignments. It’s always refreshing to find an NA novel that accurately reflects the college experience rather than focusing only on romance and hooking up. And while the romantic scenes in Price of a Kiss are steamy and will satisfy romance readers, they don’t overwhelm the plot in any way.Price of a Kiss is a unique, sweet, sexy and emotional read that manages to address a number of hard-hitting subjects without becoming melodramatic. This book will appeal both to lovers of the new adult genre, and to those readers who are looking for something different!
His Wicked Games - Ember Casey How to describe His Wicked Games… Imagine the mysterious mansion full of hidden secrets from The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, and all the fairy tales you loved as a kid…add a super-sexy, very grown-up romance…and top it all off with smooth, elegant writing. That’s His Wicked Games in a nutshell.I feel like I can’t say too much about this book without spoiling it…but I will say that the entire time I was reading it, I was thinking, Why didn’t I come up with this idea? But I’m glad Ember Casey was the one to come up with it, not me, because her writing and characterization were spot-on and she did an amazing job. All the little details of Calder’s mansion (which is where our main character Lily gets stranded during a storm, alone with hot young billionaire Calder) were such great modern takes on Gothic conventions, from the hidden passageways to the mysterious artwork to the hedge maze outside. And the plot was so well-constructed, using this elaborate setting perfectly to develop the characters and keep me turning the pages, eager to find out what would happen next. I thought both Lily and Calder were very sympathetic characters, and the author did a great job of giving them both real-life problems outside of the romance. Although this book is definitely erotic, it has a lot more to it than just sex, or even just romance. And by the end of the novel, there’s a twist on the typical billionaire-hero-rescues-average-woman plotline that really made me happy. So even if you’re tired of billionaire stories, I’d definitely still check this one out!

Girl with Guitar: 1 (Kylie Ryans)

Girl with Guitar - Caisey Quinn Move over, rock-star hotties…there’s a new book boyfriend in town, and it’s country-music heartthrob Trace Corbin!Trace is, of course, the love interest in Caisey Quinn’s Girl with Guitar, the story of a talented young country singer-songwriter, Kylie Ryans, trying to make it in the music business. Kylie finds herself performing as the opening act on Trace’s latest tour, and as you might expect, things get very complicated very quickly. Kylie and Trace share both smoking-hot sexual chemistry and a soul-deep love for music…but another thing they have in common is the major skeletons that won’t stay in their closets.I think this book is going to be BIG. Obviously I can’t see the future, but I wouldn’t make that prediction if I didn’t believe it. Girl with Guitar sucks you right in with smooth writing, an endearing heroine, and a just-can’t-stop-reading storyline. It’s a perfect beach read, but at the same time, it manages to express some very dark and painful emotions. Quinn’s character development is very thorough and convincing, and the pacing and plot progression is pretty close to perfect. My only small complaint would be that the drama felt a little too drawn out at the very end, and there was one stupid decision I really, really wish Trace hadn’t made. (It’s not that I want him to be perfect—he’d already done plenty of stupid things by that point.) But the drama is pretty standard for this kind of book, and I don’t think most readers will really mind.I also have to mention that a lot of the writing is really strong on the sentence level. There are these incredibly apt, witty one-liners like this description of a VIP room full of scantily-clad girls: “It was like the seventh circle of hell, if the devil was a porn director.” And then there are beautiful descriptive passages like this one, which I’ll leave you with:She should’ve just thanked the audience, hopped down off the stage, and resumed her regularly scheduled life. But she didn’t. Instead she made the colossal mistake of looking over into hazel eyes that darkened to the color of the sky just before a deadly twister touched down, destroying everything in its path. She was from Oklahoma, and knew a thing or two about storm warnings. Trace Corbin was setting off all the sirens inside of her. Kylie was standing directly in the path of something wild and dangerous and a hell of a lot more powerful than she. Look away, her subconscious screamed at her. But she couldn’t because for the first time since her daddy died, she was alive.
Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible - Suzanne Kamata I knew I would love Gadget Girl from the first page, when the novel’s protagonist and narrator, fourteen-year-old Aiko, tells us she’s named after the indigo plants her father harvests to make blue dye. Aiko has never met her father, who lives on the Japanese island of Shizuko, but she knows all about the indigo plants his family farms, and she’s even trying (not very successfully) to grow her own indigo in Michigan. The loving, careful detail with which Aiko describes the indigo, and its ability to dye fabric “the color of a storm-bruised sky” as well as to possibly cure sicknesses, told me Gadget Girl would be a book rich in culture. And it was, featuring a setting spanning Europe and the U.S., many eclectic details of the art world, and Aiko’s love for modern Japanese culture and her desire to reconnect with that part of her heritage.Aiko was born with cerebral palsy, meaning her left arm and leg don’t always work correctly. She deals with her feelings about her illness, as well as other aspects of her life, in the manga she writes called “Gadget Girl,” which features a very nimble-figured heroine who always saves the day. In real life, Aiko is frustrated by her disability, by her mother’s artwork, much of which is actually inspired by Aiko and her illness, and by the fact that her father doesn’t know about her. She dreams of one day going to Japan to connect with her father and perhaps apprentice with a manga artist. However, when her mother wins a Paris art competition, Aiko ends up spending the summer in Frances instead of Japan…For some reason, I tend to get really tired of books set in Paris, so I was really happy to find that Gadget Girl took a more eclectic approach to the city than most novels I’ve read. My favorite part was the description of a Japanese-inspired garden designed by Isamu Noguchi, which made me want to visit Paris more than countless depictions of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower ever have! I was also fascinated by Aiko’s trip to Lourdes, a place known for its sacred healing waters.However, Aiko’s trip is most important not for the places she goes, but for the people she meets and the truths she learns about her own family…I won’t say too much about that, only that certain moments of the book really made me emotional, and that I loved the way the author tied everything together in the end.Gadget Girl is told in the realistic voice of a fourteen to fifteen-year-old girl, which means that, in a publishing climate where the YA voice keeps getting older and older, this voice is definitely on the younger side of YA, and could be characterized as middle-grade as well. I think middle and high-school readers would really, really respond to this book, and I hope it gets into as many hands as possible. And it’s also sure to please many adult readers, including myself!
Arrow of the Mist - Christina Mercer I loved Arrow of the Mist, and I wish I could go back in time and give it to my preteen self, because I would have loved it then even more! I was immediately attracted to this novel by the synopsis, since I’ve always been fascinated by herbal medicine and magic, and by Celtic lore. Many of my all-time favorite childhood reads had to do with these subjects, and Arrows of the Mist brought me back to the magic of books like Wise Child and Juniper by Monica Furlong, The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson, and, with its epic quest structure, the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander.I was sucked into Arrow of the Mist right away by the vivid, detailed world the author created, with the mystery of Brume and its ominous mists. I liked the heroine, Lia, immediately because of her knowledge of plants used for healing and her deep appreciation for the natural world around her. The author obviously did a lot of research into the uses and symbolism of plants, and she incorporated it throughout the story in a really interesting way. I especially loved the growing bond between Lia and the various trees, all identified by their Celtic names and symbolic meanings. (I actually would have liked a glossary for these, too—although they were all defined in the book, it would have been nice to have this.) And the idea of a villainous plant, as it’s described in the book, is truly terrifying!I also loved the various magical creatures that inhabited Brume, particularly the fae and unicorns…and I knew there was something unusual about Lia’s dog from the very beginning! The plot was fast-paced and exciting, with Lia and her companions constantly facing new dangers. Some reviews of this book have noted that it’s more plot rather than character-driven, and I guess I’d agree with that, but it didn’t really bother me. I definitely saw character growth in Lia throughout the novel, and I also felt like the various landscapes of Brume were, in their own way, characters that added depth to the novel. This would certainly have been a different book if Lia’s romantic interest had been given a larger role, and I might have liked that book too…but I really just enjoyed this story for what it was. Also, the ending leaves us with plenty of possibilities for a sequel, and I can see how the author might develop the romance in a second book.My one nitpicky issue with the book was that, while most of the dialogue was written in a deliberately old-fashioned way, the occasional “yeah” and “gonna” appeared and threw me out of the story. This is a small issue, though, and I hope the author does write a sequel to this book, because I will definitely read it!

Picture Perfect (Picturing Perfect #1)

Picture Perfect (Picturing Perfect #1) - Alessandra Thomas Warning: this is as much a little essay about body image and new adult as a review... :DI loved this book and thought the concept was a really great, original and relevant one for the new adult genre. Yes, we need books that address body-image issues for and about ALL age groups (well, maybe not toddlers, but ya know what I mean...) but I actually think this topic dovetails really well with other new adult concerns. It may seem superficial, but, as this book shows us, the way you look and feel in your physical skin has a lot to do with how you perceive yourself on a deeper level and how you choose to live your life.So what does this have to do with new adult? Well, I can't speak for boys as much, but for girls, the college years (or age, even if you're not in college) are a time when your body can change as much as every other aspect of your life. In Picture Perfect, Cat undergoes a dramatic change after a horseback riding accident, steroids, and weight gain; but smaller and more gradual changes can also have a big impact. We joke about the "Freshman 15," but the truth is that many older teenage girls are still developing into their adult body type, and with all the other changes going on in college--physical and emotional stress, new routines, more or less exercise--your body can go through a lot. For me personally, I was really into dance, and in high school I found that by exercising a lot and watching my diet, I could stay very thin without too much effort. In college puberty finally caught up to me, and the increased dancing and other exercise I did didn't keep me thin as much as it caused me to build more muscle. As someone who'd always thought of myself as a very *small* person, it was hard for me to adjust to my body changing on top of everything else. Really, it became one more thing I had to accept that I didn't have ultimate control over, just like so many things in my college years. So based on my own experience and that of others I'd know, I'd say that dealing with body image is both an important part of the new adult experience in itself, and a metaphor for other adjustments we have to make at this stage in life.To get back to the book...Picture Perfect did a great job of looking at body image as part of being a new adult, of figuring out and accepting yourself for who you are, even when "who you are" changes or doesn't fit the mold you've imagined for yourself. I LOVED Cat's boyfriend Nate, and I thought it was especially smart of the author to have Nate dealing with body image issues himself as well. Nate was a complex, flawed character with a lot of backstory, and I loved him more because of that, though I also got really pissed at him! I also liked the fact that Nate studied architecture, Cat studied fashion design, and the author was able to integrate the ideas of form, balance, and structural beauty so essential to these two subjects in many ways throughout the book.

Unbreakable (Unbreakable, #1)

Unbreakable (Unbreakable, #1) - Rebecca Shea Unbreakable is a unique, beautiful, and emotional debut novel from Rebecca Shea. Shea does something very unusual and risky here, and she pulls it off amazingly well: she starts her novel with what seems like a happily-ever-after situation, the kind we usually get at the end of a book. Our two point of view characters, Jess and Gabe, have lived across the street from each other their entire lives, and Gabe’s parents are like surrogate parents for Jess as well. As Jess and Gabe have grown older, their friendship has blossomed into something more, and they get together very quickly at the beginning of Unbreakable. It’s clear that Jess and Gabe have a strong, once-in-a-lifetime connection, and while they do face some struggles—Jess’s dad has always chosen work over his daughter, and Gabe seems to be heading in the same direction, though he does have a good reason—their relationship is a pretty idyllic one. This should make for painfully dull reading—after all, it’s conflict that keeps us turning pages—but instead I found this beginning sweet and sexy, yes, but also unbearably suspenseful, because I just knew the other shoe was going to drop.And when it did, it was so much worse than I expected. The author did an amazing job of depicting a terrible trauma and the way it can totally change a person, and his or her world, overnight. The trauma in Unbreakable was treated with depth, seriousness and responsibility, and was never just a plot device. The way post-trauma Jess couldn’t help but sabotage herself and the people she loves was heartbreakingly realistic.The author also adds a third point of view in the second half of the novel, and while this character is someone readers should dislike or at least be distrustful of, Shea manages to make him more likeable and layered as the story goes on. This character is getting his own story, Undone, and now that I’ve read Jess and Gabe’s story, I can’t wait to read Landon’s story next!
Him - Carey Heywood This book grabbed me from the first chapter and never let go! It was funny and sweet, sad and emotional, and most of all, romantic. I absolutely loved Sarah and Will and was rooting for them to work things out, and I loved the secondary characters too. One of my favorite things about the book was the way every other chapter alternated between "past," when Will and Sarah were in high school, and "present," when 25-year-old Sarah is returning to her hometown for her brother's wedding, and finds that she can't avoid Will any longer. I thought the alternating timelines were handled so well, with each chapter ending in just the right place to keep you racing through the book, eager to learn what happens in both timelines and how the past and present intersect. The voices of high-school and twenty-something Sarah were distinct, yet both felt like they belonged to the same person. I loved getting to read about the innocence of the high-school love story as well as the more mature relationship developing between Will and Sarah in the present.I really liked that Will was a genuinely sweet, good guy, instead of the cocky bad boy who's so popular at the moment. And I loved that Sarah was successful in her career and that the author actually took the time to describe what she does in detail. I hope we'll get to learn just as much about Will's career, and his struggles in the seven years he spent without Sarah, in the sequel/companion novel HER!
No Attachments - Tiffany King This book was the perfect combination of sweet and sexy, an absolute pleasure to read. I loved the small-town setting, the humor, the secondary characters (especially Fran and even Wilma!), and the romantic scenes, particularly the snow angels!
Four Summers - Nyrae Dawn I didn't realize how much I needed to read a book like Four Summers, until I started it! I have been reading a lot of NA and older YA--this is likely because most of the popular YA titles right now seem to have an older tone to them--and Four Summers reminded me why I love real, pure YA. I love reading books about the characters' firsts--first love, first kisses, first struggles, first heartbreaks. And Four Summers absolutely delivered. I loved that Nyrae Dawn allowed her characters to be real teenagers: young, confused, vulnerable and innocent. Descriptions like the characters' fingers brushing, "like little fairy wings are brushing my skin", might not work in an older YA, but they felt so right and poignant in the first section of this novel. Since the book does take place over four consecutive summers, the characters do get older, but both protagonists are still very much works in progress when the book ends. The characters' emotions throughout the entire book rang very true, developing gradually over time to reflect the passing years and the characters' maturation. This was my first read by Nyrae Dawn, and it definitely won't be my last!