Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz

You know, I hadn’t been sick at all in 2016, and then I had to open up my big mouth and brag about that fact. Being sick twice in less than a month is terrible, but it’s also pretty great because I’ve been sitting at home, reading some awesome books. Like the one I get to gush about today, Everything Belongs to Us.

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Title: Everything Belongs to Us (368 pgs)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: February 28, 2017

Summary:
Seoul, 1978. At South Korea’s top university, the nation’s best and brightest compete to join the professional elite of an authoritarian regime. Success could lead to a life of rarefied privilege and wealth; failure means being left irrevocably behind.

For childhood friends Jisun and Namin, the stakes couldn’t be more different. Jisun, the daughter of a powerful business mogul, grew up on a mountainside estate with lush gardens and a dedicated chauffeur. Namin’s parents run a tented food cart from dawn to curfew. Her sister works in a shoe factory. Now Jisun wants as little to do with her father’s world as possible, abandoning her schoolwork in favor of the underground activist movement, while Namin studies tirelessly in the service of one goal: to launch herself and her family out of poverty.

But everything changes when Jisun and Namin meet an ambitious, charming student named Sunam, whose need to please his family has led him to a prestigious club: the Circle. Under the influence of his mentor, Juno, a manipulative social climber, Sunam becomes entangled with both women, as they all make choices that will change their lives forever.

First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: that cover. Good lord, that cover is so gorgeous that I could stare at it all day. It was actually the reason why I clicked on it on NetGalley, and the summary was what got me to ask for it. Thank goodness I did.

Jisun and Namin have the strangest relationship. From the beginning, I don’t know if I would call them friends, but they are…in a weird, roundabout way. They have each others’ backs when the other needs it, but they are vicious with one another in that subtle way only girls can be. Jisun wants to change the world for those less fortunate, even though she comes from the kind of world that most of us can only dream about. Namin wants to change the world for her family, bring them out of poverty and bring home her only brother who has been caste aside due to his disability. But neither girl has it easy.

Jisun must constantly contend with her father, a man who wants his daughter to take over his business, a daughter who wants nothing to do with him. Namin must succeed in school or else she’s afraid she might go the way of her older sister, Kyungmin, a factory girl who ends up in a worse situation than living in a poor neighborhood.

And yet, there is Sunam.

The twists and turns in this book were enough to make me dizzy. Everyone wants something, and it seems that some care less about who they hurt than others. My sympathy lay with Namin, because she worked the hardest and had the most to lose if she failed. But she didn’t understand help, which would have cemented her friendship with Jisun and would have allowed Sunam a bigger glimpse into her inner workings. You could feel bad for any of the characters, really, because they all have something to lose, but Namin’s world depended on her graduating from college and becoming a doctor. It was heartbreaking to read about her days, especially near the end. You want to reach out and help her, but you know she wouldn’t take it.

My workplace is made up of about 95% Korean children, and listening to them tell me about how important it is to be the best, to be at the top, helps me understand Namin a bit more. It also gives me a peek into Sunam’s life, one where he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents and does what he can to bring them pride. And also Jisun, the girl who fights against her father at every chance, but is more like him than anyone else in the story. It’s a universal tale, one that has so much more impact set in 1978 South Korea.

This is a special book, special in a way that I can’t quite articulate. I felt it in my bones that this is one of those stories that will pop in my head at random times in my life, because everything felt real and scarily close. It’s a story about not disappointing those around you, and figuring out how far you’re willing to go before your realize you have to take care of yourself first.

Like I said, a universal tale.

Grab this book today and read it through the night. You (and your dark circles) will thank me later.

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

Happy Monday! Is that even a thing? Well, it should be, especially today, since I get to blathering on about one of my favorite books of 2017, and I just finished it last week. But I already know that other books are going to have to work hard to get on the level of A Tragic Kind of Wonderful.

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Title: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Genre: YA

Publication date: February 7, 2017

Summary:

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

Okay, there is a lot to unpack in this tiny summary.

So, Mel. Melly Mel Mel. Let’s start at the beginning. Her brother, Nolan, also had bipolar disorder, and he died, but we don’t really know how {at the start of the book}. They were incredibly close and Mel was traumatized by her brother’s death, as we with close siblings would be. In freshman year, she meets Anna, Zumi, and Connor, a trio of friends who bring her into the fold. Quick backstory: Anna appears to be Regina George’s crueler cousin, Zumi stills loves her fiercely, and Connor only wants the best for Zumi. In sophomore year, Mel has a breakdown and she falls out with the group, then Anna moves away to France a year and some months later, leaving Zumi and Connor confused, and Mel, with new friends, trying to help.

I think that’s a good starting point.

What really brought me into this book was the writing and how Eric Lindstrom brought Mel’s moods into words. This story is told from Mel’s point of view, and it was heartbreaking to read the chapters where she was down or totally flying. Those latter chapters involved one long sentence paragraphs that made little to no sense and bounced around from topic to topic. It was like being in Mel’s head, and while it was terrifying, it was so sad. You want to reach out and take her hand, try to calm her down, but there’s nothing you can do. You have to wait it out, like she has to, and you’re both riding the manic wave until she crashes.

The twists and turns of Mel’s friendships were also pretty interesting. At the beginning, we know that Mel has fallen out with Anna, Zumi, and Connor, but we don’t really know why. She says that she had a breakdown right before they stopped being friends, and you almost want to believe that it’s as simple as that, but it’s not. When the truth comes to light, my heart broke in a thousand pieces, and not just for Mel. I hurt for the people that she had hurt, for the people that had taken advantage of her, and for the fact that she wanted so bad to not hurt anyone.

But not all is completely bleak! There are people around Mel that make sure she stays on track and try to keep her smiling. Mel works at a nursing home, and there are plenty of characters there that keep Mel ticking. There’s Mr. Terrance Knight, a retired reverend who likes Mel to sing because he thinks it makes her happy. Also, Ms. Li, a newcomer to the scene who also brings in her grandson, David, the one boy that wants to see Mel as everything she is. Finally, there’s Dr. Piers Jordan, a retired psychiatrist who was friends with Mel’s grandmother and knows about Mel’s bipolar disorder. The nursing home seems to be where Mel feels most at home, or maybe it’s with HJ, Hurricane Joan, Mel’s aunt. Joan, who also has bipolar disorder, understands Mel, but doesn’t quite understand why she insists on taking medication, believing that the medicine weighs Mel down and makes her not herself.

Did I skip over David? Because I shouldn’t have. He’s basically perfect and does whatever he can to help Mel, but he doesn’t push her. He lets her unfold, because he does want to know 100% of her. He just doesn’t know how to go about it when her darkest side is revealed.

To sum this up, A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautiful, tragic story of a girl who wants to have a normal life, but doesn’t understand that normal means nothing. Mel is one of those characters that’s going to stick to you, even after you turn the last page.

Blinded by Lyz Kelley

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Happy happy Wednesday! I’m so excited to be on this blog tour because this is one of those books that started off with me wondering how the heck it was going to work and then ended with me so disappointed that there wasn’t more! So let’s dive right into it!

 

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Title: Blinded by Lyz Kelley

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Release Date: 7th February 2017

Synopsis:

A small town murder. A second chance at love.

Somebody killed Joey Gaccione’s brother. After a ten-year absence, the big city detective returns home to Colorado for the funeral knowing he will be pressured to find Sheriff Sam’s killer. Joey’s instincts say whoever murdered his brother is part of something more sinister than the Elkridge deputies can handle.

Mara Dijocomo’s dreams died the night a drunk driver killed her parents and sister, and left her permanently wounded. After months of therapy, she’s finally adjusting to her new reality while working to save her mother’s floral business. When the first boy she ever loved walks back into her life, she wonders if she and Joey are getting a second chance to find love.

As Joey and Mara’s love blooms, the evidence becomes clear the local deputies are either ill-equipped to comprehend what’s happening, or someone’s covering up a crime. Joey and Mara fight to balance between their careers, family, and their renewed love until the FBI contacts Joey ultimately tipping the scales.

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If you like a steamy romance, deep emotional topics, a thread of mystery, and a cozy happy ending then BLINDED is for you. The first book in the ELKRIDGE SERIES debuts a quirky cast of characters and begins introducing evidence to solve Sheriff Sam murder.

BLINDED: Amazon Purchase Link: http://geni.us/LyzKelleyBLINDEDbnw

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Review:

Once I picked up this book, I really couldn’t put it down. It’s one of those where you tell yourself that you’re going to read one more chapter, and then that chapter has a cliffhanger of an ending, so of course you have to read the next chapter, and then that leads to less and less sleep, and that’s okay, really. Luckily, I started it on a weekend and got cozy under a blanket, and I didn’t move for hours.

Mara is the best: determined to do things her own way, yet she doesn’t mind Joey – her crush since high school – occasionally helping her. She’s stubborn – something I can completely relate to – and she speaks her mind, never hesitating to tell people what’s right. Joey complements her perfectly, never pushing or pulling to help, but putting a suggestion of help out there and seeing if she takes it. Without her knowing it, he’s been in love with her since high school, too, but, sigh, big brothers often get in the way of these things. Trust me, I know this.

But their love, like most, is a rollercoaster, and they have to navigate the waters of dead family members, a town that seems more sinister than a town should be, inept local cops, long-distance love, and Mara’s condition. You’re cheering for them through the whole book, and each bump in the road sends you into near tears. Like I said before, the only downside of this book is that there’s an ending, when really you just want it to continue forever.

 

Meet the Author

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Award-winning, contemporary romance author Lyz Kelley lives in a small community in Colorado with her husband and several four-legged family members. Lyz writes about brave women who have faced extraordinary challenges, and the honorable men who have an enormous capacity to love, even if they may not know it.

A healing love is at the heart of her book series. Creating wounded yet amazing characters—discovering what drives them, frightens them, heals them, makes them laugh—is what gives her joy. Lyz is pleased to share that joy through her masterfully written stories.

To keep tabs on her award-winning novels, connect with Lyz by signing up for her newsletter at LyzKelley.com. Also visit LyzKelleysHeroes.com to join Kelley’s Heroes, Lyz’s VIP club. Members receive an exclusive copy of A Soldier’s Wife, learn about thoughtful giveaways, and get a sneak peek at upcoming releases. Members may even get the opportunity to receive advanced reader copies. Check out LyzKelley.com for more information.
Website: www.LyzKelley.com

Perpetual Giveaway Link: http://geni.us/LyzKelleyGiveaways

Newsletter Sign Up: www.LyzKelley.com

Kelley’s Heroes (VIP Club) Sign Up: www.LyzKelleysHeroes.com

https://www.facebook.com/LyzKelley

https://twitter.com/LyzKelley

https://www.pinterest.com/lyzkelley/

Why would readers enjoy this book?

My Elkridge Series is a puzzle. In book 1, BLINDED, Sheriff Sam is murdered. It will take 6-books to solve the crime. Word of caution: There are some red herrings throughout the series. Solving the crime will not be easy, and you don’t have to wait long. All books will be launched in 2017. If you like sensual romances, with deep emotional topics, threads of suspense, and a happy-ever-after then BLINDED, a stand-alone love story in the Elkridge Series, is for you. Let the mystery begin. ~Lyz Kelley~

Giveaway

http://geni.us/LyzKelleyGiveaways

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? How old were you when you decided to pursue writing professionally?

When I was eight, I began writing a story, first in my head, and later in my diary. The world I dreamed about was big and complex; filled with interesting creatures. When I turned 40, I tried to translate the story I’d lived with all those years to the page…and couldn’t. So I sought help. Romance Writers of America was the only group that said, “Come on in. We’ll help.” So, I started exploring the craft of writing. One day, when I’ve learned enough to write such a complicated story, I will write about the world that exists in my head.

Why do you write about honorable men, brave women, and a healing love?

I used to think I wrote about strong men and women. After all, some of the men in my stories are modeled after my husband, a former military guy, and the strongest man I know. But then I realized I write about characters that are healed by love. The characters I write about aren’t just mentally or physically strong, but brave and honorable and willing to do what’s right, even if loving someone involves a sacrifice.

What is your writing process?

Over the years my writing process has changed.  When I first started, I plotted and plotted, making massive spreadsheets of every little detail. I knew everything I could about my characters and story before I began, but my books turned out stiff and emotionless. Now, I write my first draft, focusing on story structure and let my characters do what is natural. After I get the bones of the book down, I review and edit to deepen the emotions and add flavor. Typically,  I’ve done at least four passes of the book before it goes to an editor. After that, I work with a content editor, a line editor, and a proofreader to make sure I’m putting out the best book possible.

Have you won writing awards?

Yes, I’ve won several awards for three of my books: Blinded, Abandoned, and Shattered. There are four other books also sitting in the archives of my computer. These, I call my practice books, and will remain in a folder to be looked at when I need to reflect on how far I’ve come on this writing journey.

How do you develop your characters?

I start with what the character fears the most, and then move onto the false belief that character has created to cope with that fear. Then I start building a growth arc to help that character resolve their fear through a healing love. After that, secondary characters are used to entice main characters to reflect, either by mirroring bad behavior or “calling out,” essentially creating a catalyst for change.

How do you come up with character names?

Don’t laugh…I usually Google professional model names, or use an app called Name Dice. Name selection is difficult.  In Orphaned, I had a Rachelle and a Michelle, but beta readers kept getting confused so I changed Michelle’s name to Caitlyn.

If you couldn’t read or write for a day, how would you spend your time?

I love spending time chatting with friends on Facebook or Twitter, or researching new words for my Word Wednesday posts. I also enjoy designing notes for my quotes and sharing them on Pinterest. If my husband isn’t traveling for his job, I like spending time with him, playing with my four-legged fur babies, or exercising. Several times a year, I like to get away to explore, usually to international destinations. I enjoy experiencing new cultures, visiting museums, or studying the city architecture or landscapes. My favorite trips so far have been to Machu Picchu and Prague.

How do I sign up to become a beta reader or one of your advanced readers?

You sign up on the website http://www.LyzKelleysHeroes.com.  All the information is available. I’ve created a VIP Club for those special members who provide feedback or leave reviews. In return, this special group is the first to see my covers, hear release news, and receive freebies. If readers have additional questions, they can always email me. I enjoy hearing from readers.

If you wrote a book about your life, what would it be called?

I love one-word titles for my books, so I would believe the book title would be Determined. My husband says I’m the most determined person he’s ever met.

What do you find the hardest about writing?

I think it’s the mental anguish that goes into the writing process. Each word, each sentence is a struggle to get right. Every day I push, push, push to get better, and then I get edits back or read a review that rips my heart out. . Even so, I do appreciate feedback because it helps evolve my writing and I’ve developed a tougher skin.  For me, no actor, singer, artist, photographer, or anyone who is brave enough to share their creation with the world, will get a negative thought from me. I know what it takes to put myself out there. It’s hard, but there’s something in all creative types that compel artists to keep reaching for their nirvana.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about writing or life?

The best advice I’ve received was from my great-grandmother. She said, “Set your goals high. If you don’t, you will never know what you might have been capable of achieving.”  And boy, did I set my goals high. When I first started writing, I figured it would take me two, maybe three years to write my book. Ten years later, I have my first viable project. Most writers will tell you that publishing is a marathon, not a sprint—a very accurate description.

If you could go back and change one thing about your writing journey, what would it be?

I wouldn’t change a thing.   I’ve learned from each mistake..

What advice do you wish someone would have given you before you started writing your first book?

Find your tribe. Find the people who will help you achieve your dream. Writing is a community effort. You need people who give you constructive feedback and help you figure out  if the story in your head has translated well onto the page. You also need people who can make you laugh or who will pull you from the cliff’s when something happens. Friends provide the perspective and support you need to keep writing.

How would you describe your writing style?

I  loved writing poems when I was young. I loved the struggle to find the right word that rhymed, and the beat of each line. Maybe, that’s why it takes me so long to write my novels. I still love using the English language to its fullest, and finding that perfect word to communicate exactly what the character is feeling. It’s what makes writing exciting, exhausting, and euphorically fun.

 

BLINDED: Frequently Asked Questions: (FAQ)

Why did you develop Elkridge, your small-town series?

Both my mom and dad grew up in small towns and I loved the idea of a microenvironment for the setting of my series. Since childhood, I heard many fun stories about small-town life. I lived in a fairly small town growing up, so I figured why not create a town in Colorado? Elkridge was pulled from many different elements of nearby mountain towns to create a unique place. Don’t go looking for Elkridge, it doesn’t exist, but have fun visiting through my new series.

You mention in your author notes working with an FBI Special Agent.

Yes, Special Agent Michael Bantner came to speak to our writing group when I lived in Philadelphia. Years later, when I started plotting the Elkridge series, he helped with the technical aspects of the plot. He loved my story idea, and said it was one of the most realistic plots he’d heard. I was very excited. To get some of the local details correct, I also interviewed one of my high school friends, who worked in the local sheriff’s department. I love research, so it was a lot of fun.

Are any characters in BLINDED based on real people in your life?

The character that is most real to me is Sam. My brother, Sam, was always going head first into life. Always wanting to be the hero, he often didn’t listen to other people’s advice. Don’t get me wrong—we were best friends, and I loved him dearly. When he died just before I graduated high school, I was devastated. I can relate to how both Mara and Joey feel about people they love being snatched from their lives. Those feelings are real, and even after all this time, I still can feel the chasm my brother’s absence has left on my heart.

When Joey first shows up in Elkridge, he has no intention of searching for his brother’s killer. Why?

My technical experts suggested a brother wanting to investigate his brother’s murder, in another jurisdiction, would not be feasible. Sure, romance books are based on fantasy, and there is nothing better than an alpha male charging in to save the day. However, I wanted to write a more emotional book. When my brother died, we were very close. While writing the book,  I started asking myself , what if Joey wasn’t close with his brother? What if he had regrets? What if he could investigate the most horrific crimes, but couldn’t stomach investigating his brother’s homicide?

Mara is such an unusual heroine. How did you develop her character?

Mara was developed out of an exercise at a writing retreat. C.J. Lyons, a New York Times best-selling author, was giving a lecture on the use of senses in writing. Most authors use sight as the primary go-to sense, and we were exploring the use of other senses to add flavor to our writing. I really struggled with the exercise. Like anything, I knew that conquering a problem takes practice. So, I wrote a novella. Then a friend talked me into writing a full-length book—thus BLINDED was created.

Where did you get the idea for Kym’s quirky character?

Kym (WHO IS KYM?) was a lot of fun to write. Mara, the heroine, is so serious and a bit like me that I thought she needed someone who tilted her world a bit. There were times when writing Kym, I had to laugh. The humorous funeral scene actually happened to a friend of mine. She and her family were at a funeral and her uncle started cracking jokes to lighten the heaviness of the situation. Since I couldn’t find any way around excluding a funeral scene from the book, I decided to adopt the idea to make the scene a bit lighter.

There are so many fun characters in Elkridge. Are you planning to write more books?

Yes, book two is Kym’s book. It’s a 85-page novella. If you want a quick weekend or airplane read, SPURNED is a good book to pick up. The eBook will be available in March.  ABANDONED is a full-length book that introduces new characters and includes characters you met in BLINDED, will be available in April. All books in the 6-book series should be out in 2017.

The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt

Happy February! The last half of January was really a mess, because my boyfriend got a cold, every child in the world had a cold, and that really only lead to one conclusion. I spent a few days in bed and I didn’t even want to read, that’s how tired and miserable I was. But I bounced back {eventually} and now I’m here today with The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt, a book that’s been stewing in my head for awhile now.

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Title: The Good Daughter

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

Summary:

What if you were the worst crime your mother ever committed?

Dahlia Waller’s childhood memories consist of stuffy cars, seedy motels, and a rootless existence traveling the country with her eccentric mother. Now grown, she desperately wants to distance herself from that life. Yet one thing is stopping her from moving forward: she has questions.

In order to understand her past, Dahlia must go back. Back to her mother in the stifling town of Aurora, Texas. Back into the past of a woman on the brink of madness. But after she discovers three grave-like mounds on a neighboring farm, she ll learn that in her mother s world of secrets, not all questions are meant to be answered…

As a child, Dahlia and her mother Memphis were on the road more often than they were in a room. Like a hurricane, Memphis would sweep her tiny daughter out of whatever hotel room they were living in at the time and on to a new locale, even if that meant moving in the middle of the night. Now an adult, Dahlia goes home to get her own life in order, and she ends up running over – quite literally – an almost dead girl.

And then the questions for Memphis start.

Really, this book starts with Dahlia finding the comatose girl in the woods, but that mystery is only the catalyst to the bigger mystery: who is Memphis and why had they been running for more than a decade? It also adds a bit of thriller to the mystery, and allows Dahlia to get closer to her childhood friend Bobby, a policeman in town and the only real friend she has. Honestly, I kind of forgot about Jane Doe for awhile until Dahlia would bring her up again and I was like, oh, right. That chick. She felt like a weird sideshow that no one pays for, but is still advertised. I understood her importance in the story, but Memphis and Dahlia took center stage most of the time.

What I truly enjoyed about this book was the fact that we got some of the story before Dahlia, and then the rest of it we got when Memphis told her. It’s told from different perspectives, cycling between Dahlia, Memphis, and Quinn, a young girl who had her own hard life to live through. As the facts begin pouring out of Memphis, the reader begins to piece it all together until you’re sure that you have the right story. Even then, though, you’re constantly doubting yourself.

In one of my book journals, I wrote that I didn’t like a part of the ending, where so-and-so dies {spoilers, sweetie}. It felt really rushed and it wasn’t…satisfying? I don’t think that’s the right word, but I’ll keep it for now. Then I set my Kindle aside and really thought about. Would I have preferred so-and-so to be killed by such-and such {I’m so sorry}? No, because it wouldn’t have made any sense. This way, it made more sense that such-and-such had no hand in so-and-so’s death, because they had loved each other. So it wasn’t disappointing, it was…right. As right as someone’s death can be, I guess.

I’m glad that wasn’t confusing at all!

This is one of those books where you can’t talk much about it or else you’ll give away a major plot point that doesn’t seem like a major plot point, but, oh, boy, it is. Just know that it’s interesting and will keep you guessing until the end. It’s dark and beautiful and bittersweet. There is happiness, but it’s always laced with the sadness that lives in these people’s lives.

It comes out tomorrow, so grab it and then tell me what you think, because I really liked it. 2017 already seems to be a great year for absorbing mysteries, and I think that’s what we all need.