Friday, August 29, 2014

Chasing Before by Lenore Appelhans

Title: Chasing Before (The Memory Chronicles #2)
Author: Lenore Appelhans
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 368
Source: ARC provided by publisher

Overall: 3 Stars

Perfect for fans of The Matrix and Inception, Chasing Before follows Felicia as she grapples with a futuristic afterlife in this riveting sequel to The Memory of After.

It’s been four months since Felicia saved Level 2 from the Morati, the corrupted angels who trapped her and her boyfriend, Neil, in the afterlife. Now, she and Neil are finally ready to move on to the mysterious Level 3, an afterlife training facility where humans pick a career to pursue until they supposedly retire to the next level.

Shortly after arriving, Felicia learns some shocking truths about her life that make her question everything. Neil wants to focus on the future, but Felicia insists on looking for answers about her past. Just when Felicia thinks things can’t get any more complicated, deadly explosions begin to rock Level 3, and Julian—her charming former love who might still be aligned with the Morati—reappears.

Felicia has a choice: Will she do everything in her power to expose the Morati and end the destruction of Level 3, even if it means never knowing who she really is? Or will she chase after the desires of her heart and risk losing her past humanity, her present afterlife, and a future with Neil?

My Thoughts:  
After absolutely enjoying Level 2, now renamed as The Memory of After, I couldn't wait to finally read the sequel, but it pains me to write these next words: Lenore Appelhans's Chasing Before disappointed me. It was like being told to expect fireworks and then being handed a sparkler instead. Still nice and fun, but not nearly as exciting.

Felicia frustrated me in Chasing Before. I could understand why she was so driven to recover her lost memories, but what I hated was just how dependent she was on Neil to feel secure about herself. The Morati were threatening the peace and security of Level 3, but Felicia was more upset that she wasn't spending enough time with Neil. Girl, you need to sort out your priorities! Felicia drove me crazy at times in Level 2/The Memory of After as well, but I thought she would have learned from her mistakes by now.

And the romance! Ugh. I was never a Felicia and Neil shipper in the first book and I'm still not. I just feel they have no chemistry together, which was unfortunate because most of the novel is centered around their relationship, which definitely becomes strained in Chasing Before. After learning that the Morati tampered with her memories of the night she died, Felicia is unsure of her past and wants answers, but Neil doesn't feel the same way. He just wants to move on and choose a fulfilling career for their time in Level 3.

After replaying her memories of Neil when Felicia was still alive so often in Level 2, she has placed him on a pedestal. I felt she was more in love with this perfect version of him that she had in her mind than who he really was as a person. Neil doesn't support her decisions in Chasing Before, and he completely shuts her out when she tries to ask him about his past, but I think the real deal-breaker for me was learning he's an utter hypocrite who preaches ideals that he's already broken. 

Neil was so set in his ways and unwilling to compromise that it always made Felicia feel like a bad person for not feeling the same way. And because Felicia was always seeking Neil's approval, it often seemed like she couldn't truly be herself because she didn't really see herself as good enough for him in the first place. I don't mind a little tension to add drama in a novel, but if a girl can't be comfortable around a guy she supposedly loves, then something is obviously not right. And it seemed like Neil didn't even try to understand her! 

That being said, I still really do like the concept for The Memory Chronicles series as a whole. Level 2 was such a futuristic take on the afterlife with the hives and video networks that I couldn't wait to see how Lenore Appelhans had envisioned Level 3. It was very surprising that while Level 2 was so technologically advanced, Level 3 felt rather like a university campus where humans trained for special careers and lived in dorm-like rooms. I just really wish that Felicia's narration had been less centered around Neil because it limited how much readers could learn and explore Level 3.

With the Morati hiding in plain sight and posing as humans, I was definitely suspicious of every new character whom Felicia met. When I wasn't having problems with Felicia, Neil, and their relationship, it was the suspense of learning who was the villain that really drove me to turn the pages of the book with an addictive need. (And, okay, I was so totally on the lookout for any scenes with Julian, too.) I wanted to fall in love with Chasing Before, I really did, but when your expectations don't match the outcome, it hits you harder and this is just one of those times.  

Thanks so much to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing this review copy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cover Reveal: Covering Kendall by Julie Brannagh

I'm so excited to be helping participate in the cover reveal for Julie Brannagh's latest novel in her Love and Football series!

Covering Kendall sounds like a perfect addition to this adult contemporary romance series. I've really enjoyed the previous novels, especially Catching Cameron, so I absolutely can't wait to read Julie Brannagh's new book! If you're a sports romance fan, I'd recommend checking out the Love and Football series. They're sweet and fun to read.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the cover!

  Release Date: October 21, 2014
Publisher: Avon Impulse

Summary (from HarperCollins): 
Kendall Tracy, General Manager of the San Francisco Miners, is not one for rash decisions or one-night stands. But when she finds herself alone in a hotel room with a heart-stoppingly gorgeous manwho looks oddly familiarKendall throws her own rules out the window…and they blow right back into her face. Drew McCoy should look familiar, he’s a star player for her team’s archrival the Seattle Sharks. Which would basically make Drew and Kendall the Romeo and Juliet of professional football…well, without all the dying. Not that it’s an issue. They agree to pretend their encounter never happened. Nothing good can come from it anyway, right? Drew’s not so sure. Kendall may be all wrong, but he can’t stop thinking about her and he finds that some risks are worth taking. Because the stakes are always highest when you’re playing for keeps.  


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Recap: Advance Screening of Showcase's Outlander

Earlier this week, on Tuesday evening, I was thrilled and honoured to be invited by Shaw Media to attend an advanced screening of Showcase's Outlander, a new TV show based on Diana Galbadon's bestselling historical romance novel. Outlander premiered earlier in the month in the U.S. on Starz, but us Canadians have had a longer wait to watch it. The TV series will be premiering in Canada on Sunday, August 24 (later tonight!!) on Showcase at 10pm!

The Scottish-themed preview party took place at a lovely pub called The Caledonian in Toronto where guests were greeted by the sight of a man playing the bagpipes outside. Once inside, three very attractive men in kilts made quite the sight for a photo opportunity and we got a mini-lesson on the different regions of Scotland that make whisky from the owner, even sampling some of them. There was also plenty of delicious appetizers like Scottish eggs, fish and chips, haggis, and more to eat. I even tried a deep-friend Mars bar and it was like an explosion of chocolate goodness in my mouth. So. Good.

Any event is always better when you're among friends, and it was great to chat and catch up with Michele, Christa and Lindsey, and meet Chatelaine books editor Laurie and Jaclyn, another fellow blogger! Excitement was definitely in the air as we took our seats to watch the very first episode of Outlander. Half of the room had read the book before and the other half hadn't, but what everyone had in common was that we all couldn't wait to watch the show.

I'll admit, I've never read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series despite its popularity, but the premise of a historical romance with a time travel twist sure had me hooked from the start! I've read similarly themed books to Outlander such as Karen Marie Moning's Highlander series and a couple of books in Lynn Kurland's MacLeod series, not to mention I'm a huge historical romance fan in general, so I thought it would be the perfect TV show for me to watch. And I was so right!

In case you didn't know, Outlander is about WWII combat nurse Claire Randall (played by Caitriona Balfe) who's on a second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland with her husband, Frank, after the war ends. She mysteriously finds herself catapulted back through time to the year 1743 after placing her hands on a spiritual stone circle. Now she must find a way to survive and get back to her own time period while also struggling with her growing feelings for a certain highlander named Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan).

After only a few minutes of watching Outlander, I was already completely addicted. I don't know how I'll be able to wait a week for each new episode! The music, the gorgeous cinematography, the acting, the costumes, the storyline—everything draws you in. I love how Claire is presented to us as very resourceful, intelligent, and feisty. And the chemistry between Claire and Jamie is so utterly intense! The way he stares at her in one particular scene in the first episode and threatens to throw her over his shoulder? Totally made me want to swoon. How can anyone resist a dreamy and strong highlander? Answer: You. Can't.

While Claire very obviously loves her husband back in her own time, Jamie and her share an attraction to one another that cannot be denied. I can't wait to see how Claire's complicated feelings for the two very different men will be further explored in the series and if/how she'll find her way back home. And while the romance is certainly important, I can't wait to see how Claire, an independent, take charge sort of woman, deals with some of the social issues of 18th century Scotland, especially in a time when women had few rights and men held all the power. I'm definitely convinced I need to read the book, but I think I'm going to wait until the season is further in because I'm loving watching the show with fresh eyes!

I'm very glad to hear that Outlander has already been approved for a second season, because if the direction of the first episode is any indication, one season definitely wouldn't be enough!

Before we left, each guest was give an Outlander tote bag with goodies inside. We received a copy of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander (thanks Random House Canada!), a t-shirt, shot glass, bookmark, and a cute pocket Jamie!

Outlander is definitely a must-watch TV show this fall season! If you don't get Showcase, you'll also be able to view full episodes online on Showcase's Outlander page on their website after they've aired the next day. Don't forget, Outlander will be airing Sunday's at 10pm in Canada beginning on August 24!

Thanks so much to Shaw Media, Showcase, Sony Pictures Television, and the staff at The Caledonian for a fantastic Scottish-themed evening!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recap: Gayle Forman & Jamie Blackley Signing in Toronto!

Last Friday, August 15, I was able to attend Gayle Forman's book signing in Toronto promoting the movie If I Stay, which is based on her heartbreaking novel of the same name. The event took place in the evening at Indigo Yonge & Eglinton and Gayle was also joined by actor Jamie Blackley, who plays Adam in the film!

The event kicked off shortly after 7pm to loud applause and cheers when Gayle Forman and Jamie Blackley made their appearance on stage. Chandra from Indigo Teen moderated the event and asked the pair questions about themselves and If I Stay. I recorded the event, so here's a transcript of the Q&A portion before the book signing began:

Indigo Teen: One of the things I found when I was reading about the movie was that you had played guitar before but hadn't been in a band and then you recorded the songs? 

Jamie: Yeah, I mean I've played the guitar since I was about 12, but kind of never seriously. I had some lessons back home in London and then we did a bunch of band rehearsals when we got to Vancouver [where If I Stay was filmed].

Indigo Teen: If you had a musical patron saint... I know Gayle talks about it in the back of book about hers, but do you have one?

Jamie: Probably Ian Curtis from Joy Division.

Indigo Teen: That's an excellent choice. And Gayle, do you want to share your musical patron saint?

Gayle: Jonathon Richman. The Modern Lovers. Go look it up. Listen to some old songs. 

Indigo Teen: What was it like filming the movie? What drew you to the character? Was it the story? What made you sort of go, "I really want to be in this movie!"

Jamie: I was out of work for a very long time back home and then I got sent

Indigo Teen: [jokes] So you were desperate...

Jamie: Well, no. You got to let me finish the story. [audience laughs] I got sent the script and ignored it, thinking there's no point and I'm not going to get it anyway. And then, eventually, I did do it and I met Chloe, and it just felt like it would be really fun to do with a really cool bunch of people.

Indigo Teen: Gayle, how involved have you been with everything?

Gayle: I'm somewhat involved. I was executive producer, which could mean absolutely nothing, but in this case, because R.J. Cutler, the director, is really open to collaboration—he had his own amazing vision— I would get drafts of the script and he would call me with questions, like "What should Mia's house look like?", and I would send him pictures or ideas. I was also on set for a couple of weeks, and yeah, it was an experience.

Indigo Teen: We always hear when books are adapted that authors won't be choosing casts, that they don't have any control over anything, so I think it's sometimes a little comforting to hear that the director called you [with questions]. I know when it's your favourite book, you want it to be done right, and authors and actors, of course, want the story to be the best it can be. Was there anything particularly challenging?

Jamie: Making the love story real and palpable, I guess, and making sure people leave the theater with the same feeling they had when they finished the book.

Indigo Teen: On that note, how many boxes of tissues should we be bringing to the theater?

Gayle: I mean, do you cry at TV commercials? That time of the month? [audience laughs] It depends on your threshold. It depends on a lot of things... But definitely no eye makeup. When I watched the movie for the first time next to the director, I had to stuff my whole fist into my mouth to muffle the sobs.

Indigo Teen: So we should take a friend to hold their hand and lean on their shoulder, that kind of thing. Is there anything you'd like to say to those who came and waited to meet you?

Jamie: Thanks for waiting. Yeah, it's really nice of you.

Gayle: And I want to say thanks for waiting today, but also thanks for waiting these six years, because I know a lot you have been fans for a really long time, and you guys, believe it or not, you made this movie happen. They look at how many readers there are reading that book, and so, you can be happy to know this movie has happened because of you.

Indigo Teen: Alright, best fans, you're going to ask questions now. 

Fan Question: Was there any difficult qualities to portray on the screeen about Adam?

Jamie: I don't know about a characteristic, but maybe, the stuff in the ICU is probably quite difficult. It's not nice being in hospitals anyways. Yeah, that was difficult.

Fan Question: Was it hard to do an American accent?

Gayle: Can you answer that question in an American accent for us?

Jamie: Absolutely not, I can't.

Gayle: C'mon... [audience laughs] I've been trying to get him to switch accents.

Jamie: It's not something I really have to think about anymore. I used to have to think about it all the time but, I mean, it's an accent I hear all the time back home. Now I just kind of practice it in my room...

Indigo Teen: Gayle, actually, has an excellent British accent...

Gayle: We'll have to switch accents. We'll do a Freaky Friday moment when you guys are coming up and we're signing... 

Fan Question: My question is for Gayle. What inspired you to write the story?

Gayle: It was a lot of things. Part of it was sort of a true story. A personal tragedy, where friends of ours were killed in an accident a lot like that and one of them was a child. He lived longer, and so, I always was kind of tormented by him alone and this image of him alone on a helicopter being evacuated. I wondered if he knew what happened to his family and did he choose to go with them? And that was like seven years before I wrote the book, and one morning, I kind of woke up and there was this character in my head and she was a seventeen-year-old cello player, which was news to me because I had like nothing to do with the cello at that time. I'm not a musician and wasn't a fan of classical music, but she was a cellist. And I just knew when I woke up that she was going to answer that question as it pertained to her, so I sat down and started writing.

Indigo Teen: [Jamie], you were in The Fifth Estate and we know you're in If I Stay. Do you have any plans for the future you could let us know about?

Jamie: I've just finished Woody Allen's next film and then I don't know what's next after that.

Indigo Teen: Maybe a band?

Jamie: Never a band. Can't do it. Can't write music.

Fan Question: Jamie, I want to know how it felt to work with Chloe Grace Moretz?

Jamie: I was so nervous at first. I was really scared. I was so starstruck. But once I got over that, she's just a normal girl and it was really fun. She's so easy to work with and we had a really great time. It was really nice.

Indigo Teen: Do you have someone you dream to work with, like a dream director or dream cast?

Jamie: Everyone!

Indigo Teen: Gayle, is there someone you dream about collaborating with? It sounds like you had a really time with the director, but is there anyone else you'd like to work with?

Gayle: I'm not really in that world. You never know until you know. Had you given me the name R.J. Cutler before, I never would have guessed because, first of all, he comes from a documentary background and when I looked him up, I saw that his big documentaries were The War Room, which is a fantastic documentary about the Clinton campaign which I loved, a documentary called The September Issue about Vogue magazine, and one about Dick Cheney. And my first thought was, "Wow, anyone could face down Dick Cheney and Anna Wintour, who's like the very scary editor of American Vogue, the man's got, you know, balls." So, I was really intrigued and, of course, he also did Nashville, so I understood he knew music, but it was never a name that had been swirling in my head. He was the perfect person to make the film.   

Indigo Teen: Did it feel like everything right came together? 

Gayle: It totally did. I know that some fans know there have been some false starts, but it felt like it was all meant to be so that we could have this director and this cast. They're so perfect.

Fan Question: Jamie, do you have a favourite line from the movie?

Jamie: I say the same one every time... What is it again? Me and Chloe both say it. Does everyone know it? "Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you." And I think that's true. That's why I love it. You know, choices mold who you are as a person.

Fan Question: I was just wondering if the scenes where Chloe is there but not there, if that was really difficult not to react to her emotions and how dramatically she's acting?

Jamie: Yeah, it was so weird, because I was looking at her double line on the bit but I'd know she was there out of the corner of her mind and I kind of didn't know where to look. It was just confusing, because visually, I just didn't know where to look.

Fan Question: There are a lot of different messages that people can take away from the story and I wanted to know, as you were writing, what you were thinking of?

Gayle: I wasn't thinking of any message. If I had, it would have been like an after school special and would have been terrible. Did you guys have that? I'm dating myself... My favourite books and my favourite movies are the ones where you kind of feel like a slightly different person when you finish than you did when you started, where you have an emotional experience or an intellectual experience, and it just makes you see the world a little bit differently. And then your take away from that is completely individual, but just something happens, like a little earthquake. That's what I hope. I did have a lot of emotional experiences while writing the book.

Indigo Teen: A little earthquake, that's a great way to put it. What's the best book you guys have read recently? I know maybe you didn't have a lot of time to read while filming. Or maybe the best band you've seen, if you want to go that way?

Gayle: So for YA, have you guys read E. Lockhart's We Were Liars? Amazing. Jandy Nelson has a book coming out called I'll Give You the Sun. Also fantastic. You should read that. Those were two fantastic books. Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam Trilogy is one of my favourite three books, like, ever.

Jamie: Best bands to see live? The 1975. Game Over. 

Indigo Teen: One last question from the audience. It has to be the best question...

Fan Question: I just wanted to know from both of you if you're enjoying Toronto so far and if you'd like to come back  in the future? 

Jamie: Definitely. We haven't really seen a lot of Toronto, but yeah, I'd love to see more of it.

Gayle: I'll be coming back in November.

Indigo Teen: Thank you so much for coming. Everybody, big round of applause for them! 

After the Q&A was finished, each person waited for their group number to be announced to help make sure the line for getting books signed was moving efficiently. While I waited for my turn, internally, I was freaking out because my mind was completely drawing a blank thinking of what to possibly say to Gayle and Jamie. They were both really kind and friendly, and I'm pretty sure I mumbled something about hoping they would do some Canadian things while visiting Toronto...

Thanks so much to Gayle Forman and Jamie Blackley for visiting Toronto and meeting some of your Canadian fans! Also, thanks to Penguin Canada, Indigo Yonge & Eglinton, and Chapters/Indigo to organizing and hosting the event! If I Stay is out in theaters on August 22 (today!!) and I absolutely can't wait to watch it soon!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Through to You by Lauren Barnholdt

Title: Through to You
Author: Lauren Barnholdt
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 288
Source: Bought

Overall: 3.5 Stars

Opposites attract—and then complicate—in this romantic, relatable novel from the author of Two-way Street and Sometimes It Happens.

It starts with a scribbled note in class: I like your sparkle. Harper had casually threaded a piece of blue and silver tinsel through her ponytail in honor of school spirit day. And that carefree, corny gesture is what grabs Penn Mattingly’s eye. Penn—resident heartbreaker of the senior class. Reliably unreliable. Trouble with a capital “T.” And okay, smolderingly sexy.

Harper’s surprised by Penn’s attention—and so is Penn. The last thing he needs is a girlfriend. Or even a friend-with-benefits. The note is not supposed to lead to anything.

Oh, but it does. They hang out. They have fun. They talk. They make out. And after a while, it seems like they just click. But Penn and Harper have very different ideas about what relationships look like, in no small part because of their very different family backgrounds. Of course they could talk about these differences—if Penn knew how to talk about feelings.

Harper and Penn understand their attraction is illogical, yet something keeps pulling them together. It’s like a crazy roller coaster—exhilarating, terrifying, and amazing all at once. And neither knows how to stop the ride… 
My Thoughts: 
After years of reading Lauren Barnholdt's novels, I'm always hit with a rush of familiarity when I turn the first few pages. It's rather like greeting an old friend, and Lauren Barnholdt's latest YA book is no exception. Through to You has all the classic traits of a Lauren Barnholdt novel: an over-dramatic heroine, a love interest who doesn't mind breaking the rules, and a high school setting that adds further complications, especially when the two protagonists come from different backgrounds.

When Penn Mattingly leaves a scribbled note on Harper's desk with a single sentence—I like your sparkle.— it sets in motion an unlikely relationship. Honestly, if the book had only been told from Harper's perspective, I wouldn't necessarily understand Penn's appeal because he didn't stand out as a particularly great boyfriend. Sure, Penn is attractive, a good kisser, and certainly has his charming moments, but he was also quick to shut out Harper when she tried to be more personally involved with him. He could really be a jerk at times and Harper didn't deserve it.

It was the alternating chapters revealing Penn's side of the story that convinced me to give him a second chance. While Harper seemed to have her life in order with a steady job at her mother's dance studio and a goal to someday become a professional choreographer, Penn's future was very uncertain and he took it out on others to avoid the issue. A serious shoulder injury could ruin his plans to play baseball and he's tired of his family pretending everything is fine at home when it really isn't. 

Through to You will appeal to Lauren Barnholdt and YA contemporary romance fans alike. While the ending seemed a little rushed, the book is an addictive and fast-paced read, offering a few hours of entertainment on a summer afternoon. Harper and Penn's relationship may be bumpy at times, but you can't help rooting for them to be together in the end.
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