Red by Liesl Shurtliff | Blog Tour & Giveaway

I am very excited to be part of this blog tour today because, hello, fairytale retellings are life!

Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Books For Young Readers
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Pages: 288 (ARC)
Source: From Publisher For Review
"Red is the most wonder-filled fairy tale of them all!”—Chris Grabenstein, New York Times Bestselling author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.

Red is not afraid of the big bad wolf. She’s not afraid of anything . . . except magic.
But when Red’s granny falls ill, it seems that only magic can save her, and fearless Red is forced to confront her one weakness.

With the help of a blond, porridge-sampling nuisance called Goldie, Red goes on a quest to cure Granny. Her journey takes her through dwarves’ caverns to a haunted well and a beast’s castle. All the while, Red and Goldie are followed by a wolf and a huntsman—two mortal enemies who seek the girls’ help to defeat each other. And one of them just might have the magical solution Red is looking for. . . .

Liesl Shurtliff weaves a spellbinding tale, shining the spotlight on a beloved character from her award-winning debut, Rump. 

~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

I've been sitting here staring at my computer screen trying to write this review for a while. It's been really difficult because of my immense enjoyment of this book. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I found myself enjoying this tale nonetheless. So, I've decided the best course of action is to make a list as to why YOU need to read this book.

1. Red
Red is fiercely independent despite her young age and she's so aware of it she embraces it wholeheartedly. She doesn't allow what other people think to get to her head, and it's truly refreshing because of her youth. She seems wise beyond her years, which makes her easy to root for no matter what age you are as a reader. For a twelve year old she's wildly mature, but I suppose this is something that isn't all that surprising because it is a style of writing I have encountered in other authors--John Green being one off the top of my head.

2. Life lessons and morals galore
I am a fan of important undertones when I read, particularly in middle grades because the age levels that these books are geared towards are impressionable kids who still have so much to learn. This book did not disappoint in this department, which makes me happy! This book is all about being confident in yourself and trusting not only oneself but others, which is super important. Throw in some lessons about friendship and life and death and a few other topics that I do not want to spoil and you've got yourself a solid tale with a weaving of important morals for readers to enjoy and learn from.

3. The gang's all here
There are a ton of characters in this novel that are from some of the prior books in this series, but there are also characters from other fairytales referenced as well. As a lover of fairytales, this makes me happy because each character is given complexities just like Red that truly allow them to be brought to life. Rump and Goldie, I am looking forward to reading more about both of you in particular. I have to pick up the other books in this series now that I am hooked!

4. Plot twists are twisty
The plot twists in this book were fabulous! I didn't see most of them coming which is always refreshing. It's not like they were crazy and ridiculous and came out of left field. No, they were done just right and kept the flow of this awesome world. I was heavily focused on this book because of the flow and the world-building, but it helps when the author keeps readers on their toes begging for more!

5. It is a retelling!
Way to state the obvious, Lili. But I love retellings, and I loved the retelling behind this book. It stays true to the story that we know and love, but it adds certain key details and twists that take us on a journey that isn't automatically predictable because of our prior knowledge of Little Red's tale. I love the magical elements and the storytelling thought processes exhibited in this retelling are marvelous. I definitely want to pick up Shurtliff's past works after reading this one!

FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for this honest review.

~*~Links~*~

Giveaway

This is a US only giveaway provided by the lovely folks at Penguin Random House.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
 
Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor! 

Stacking the Shelves #110

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews.

I promised myself I would limit myself to the amount of books I accumulate here in the UK because I'll want to bring them all home, but I am struggling because ALL OF THE BOOKS. I fail so hard.

Faber Book Event
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley- I cannot express my excitement at receiving this book. I cannot wait to jump in and see what happens.
The Smell of Other Peoples Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock- I was immediately intrigued the second I heard that it takes place in Alaska. Talk about being unique!
Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery- A middle grade about an alien that eats everything in sight but the main character can't get over its cuteness instead of recognizing its danger? Yeah, I kind of love the sound of this.
 
Some of my lovely blogger friends here in the UK helped me get invited to Faber's Spring blogger preview which was so much fun! I learned about some awesome new titles and met a lot of cool people on top of leaving with a goodie bag full of AMAZING BOOKS! <3 Thank you Faber for the goodies, and thank you Hannah for allowing this American to crash your British party.


Book Launches
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury

I went to two book launches while I have been here and I've been fortunate enough to grab two signed books from two awesome ladies! I will be doing a travel diary comparing book events soon! REBEL OF THE SANDS is one of my favorite reads of the year, so I can't wait for it to be released in the US this week!

Have you read any of these books? What do you think? Do any of them excite you? I'd love to hear your thoughts below!

Waiting on Wednesday #64

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

My pick of the week is...
Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Reading Level: Young Adult
Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.

Why I Am Waiting

I am fortunate enough to call someone as awesome as Paula a friend. I remember when this book was still in its drafting stages and was being referred to as BAD LUCK CHARM. To see how far it has come is so exciting for me, especially because I can relate to Maguire's bad luck though I am thankful to say mine is not that bad. I think this book promises an amazing story that'll leave me laughing but walking away with a lot on my mind. What more do you want out of a solid contemporary? Plus, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't head over heels in love with that cover.

Are you equally as excited for this book as me? Is there another book you are even more excited about? Please share your thoughts with me below!

Lili's Travel Diary #11: 20 more pieces of culture shock I've experienced since coming here


1. Remember the whole water tasting funny thing? Well it tastes different everywhere you go in the UK. Definitely not what I was expecting. Rumor has it that it also tastes different depending on your destination in Europe. This is still to be discovered for myself, but I'll get back to you on that.

2. Music isn't a thing here. I mean, it is, but I've begun to stop wearing my ear buds while walking to class or on the tube because it is so rare to see someone else listening to music while going about mundane activities like walking to class, walking to lunch, taking the tube to or from a destination. In NYC you stand out if you don't have ear buds in. Here you stand out if you do.

3. Strikes are a thing here. I mean, we have them in the US, but they're way more common here to the point that the tubes were nearly shut down on a Saturday night. Worst thing you can ever imagine, especially when you're celebrating someone's birthday! At least in the US they don't really disrupt anything more than, say, traffic and streets are often shut down in advance to help avoid conflict.

4. Grilled cheese is rare to find if you're not making it. Here it is called a toastie, but to find a general cheese toastie is rare because most toasties are like intense sandwiches or at its simplest they are ham and cheese or cheese and tomato (yuck!). Girl's gotta hunt down a good grilled cheese every now and then, dang.

5. British pancakes are more like crepes than anything else. Certain brunch spots will serve "American style" pancakes, but they're still not the same.

6. Amazon is not as big of a thing here in the UK. I suppose that is not at all surprising when they have crazy awesome bookshops like Waterstones and Foyles. US bookshops can't stand up to these bad boys, and for regular Londoners that do not count conversion rates the way I do, the prices of said books are really great.

7. Speaking of books, there are very few hardcovers here. I suppose I always knew that in the back of my mind, but being a hardcover snob back home I am learning to adapt to the paperbacks here. Hardcovers can be so expensive here and hard to lug around, so whenever I do see one it is typically for a mega-hyped mainstream title and I know I should be scared to see the price on the back. The one I've spotted the most is for the gender-swap Twilight.

8. Ordering food at pubs or certain chains like Nandos is very different than in the states. You go up to the bar and order your food. They'll ask for your table number and will often bring it to you, but sometimes you wait for your number to be called and bring it back. The only thing you bring back immediately upon ordering from the bar is your own drinks. This isn't because the pub does not want to hire a waitstaff, but because they want to respect your privacy. I kind of like this way of thinking, but still find it strange not to have a waiter/waitress at times. I am adjusting!

9. Tipping is very uncommon here. There are mandatory service fees at a lot of places which may take the place of a tip in instances where one would typically leave a tip. I am used to tipping for nearly everything back in the US, so to come to a country where tipping is rare or not necessarily expected is strange. It's led to a lot of awkward pauses and looking around to observe what others are doing as well as furious last-minute googling about when tipping is and is not appropriate.

10. I just noticed this, but British people say "zed" to take the place of the letter "z" and I found myself asking "what are you saying?" a few times before I caught that. Oops.

11. Root beer. I cannot find a proper root beer anywhere. British root beer is weird and herby and, ugh, root beer, wherefore art thou?

12. There is no true weather guide here. It can be bright and sunny and within an hour be freezing and down-pouring. One thing I am discovering is that it is never very hot, just warmer than it was the day before type thing. It makes me miss the US, but also be thankful that there should be a few more months where sweat is not a daily part of my life.

13. Also, I giggle every time someone says calzone because they pronounce the "e" at the end so it kind of sounds like "cal-zone-knee" to me. The ex-Italian speaker in my scratches her head a bit at that one.


14. I noticed that nobody writes return addresses on letters? This little kid kept pointing to an envelope I had in my hand to send home when I was in the post office asking his mother why I wrote everything wrong, prompting me to look around and compare mine to the ones of those in line next to me. Is this strange to anyone else?

15. Honey mustard. They do not have honey mustard here. *dies a slow, painful death* I asked for it once in McDonalds and I was informed that's a stupid thing only Americans care about.

16. Student discounts are nearly everywhere. It's a nice change to NYC's regular pricing of nearly everything except the occasional show ticket, but because I am so unused to stuff like this I often find myself forgetting to even inquire about their existence. *face palm*

17. I had the hardest time trying to find push pins to stick in my cork board because I am making a memory wall for all the tickets/maps/cards/signatures/boarding passes I am accumulating in my time here. It's a nice way to make my room feel more like a home as opposed to a claustrophobic cell. However, the reason it took me so long to find them was because they are apparently called "drawing pins" here. I just...I don't understand. The Americans have the more straightforward definition with this one, even if British people often scratched their head if I asked where the push pins were.

18. Nearly every uni in the UK has their own student pub/bar. When I found this out I was shocked because while some schools in the states have a bar that most kids often go to (I know my school has one), we don't have one owned by the school with cheap prices just for us.

19. Assignments are given by word count and not page count, meaning they end up being half the length of the ones I typically write in the states which is more stressful than you think and it makes my question why some of my peers freak out at the prospect of a mere 1,200 words. 

20. College and uni aren't the same thing here. In the states, I feel like terms such as "college" and "university" are interchangeable. For example, the school I attend in the US is a university, but I tell my friends I am going to college. Here, college is the last 2 years of our equivalent of high school, called A levels, where you focus on a specific topic that you may pursue as a career and take a lot of tests that you have to pass in order to continue onto uni (which would be regular uni/college) in the states. I often find myself adjusting to simply using the word uni to make matters less complicated.


~*~*~

Have you had any weird experiences similar to these when you came to the UK? Or do the weird traditions of the states throw you off if the US is foreign to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts below!

Lili's Travel Diary #10: Edinburgh, Scotland


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Last weekend I decided to head to Edinburgh. I had met a friend at my summer internship at OUP who transferred from the University of Edinburgh to NYU, and she offered to put me in touch with some friends who would not only house me but also be my tour guide for the weekend. It was an offer I couldn't refuse for the weekend heading into my birthday where I had no definite plans, so I took advantage of it. I had been to Edinburgh once before when I was 12 as part of a student ambassador trip with People to People, but I do not have many memories of my time there and was incredibly homesick as well, so I didn't get to appreciate it the way I wanted to.

I left my Thursday class a half hour early (which is totally fine by me because I have never had a lecturer that is so rude to her students before) and headed to King's Cross. I'll admit, I definitely had my HP moments while sitting on my train, waiting for it to head out of the station while I looked at the pillars lining the rows of trains, but at 4PM on the dot we took off and I enjoyed beautiful views such as this one before it got dark.

My guide and soon to be friend, Ben, met me at the train station at 8:30 and took me to a vegetarian restaurant called Henderson's. If in the area, I recommend checking it out. It's quaint, somewhat affordable, and they have a live band that plays smooth jazz. After having a small bite for a delayed dinner, he showed me around Edinburgh at night and let me take it all in, not arriving back at his place until around 1AM. Once I got there, I learned that one of his roommates actually gave up her room to me. Her boyfriend lives with them too, so she just spent the weekend in his room and gave me a full king size bed! I died and went to sleep heaven after the vinyl monstrosity that I've been sleeping on the past couple weeks.

Day One

National Museum of Scotland
We woke up at 8:30AM the next morning, had a quick breakfast, and were off. First stop was the National Museum of Scotland. Ben had a Friday class, so I ended up spending about 3 hours in here alone and I just lost myself to the history of this country. It's a full 7 stories of history, and I only managed 5 because it is so vast and so interesting. And, let me tell you, this museum is absolutely gorgeous. I never wanted to leave just because it was so pretty.

Arthur's Seat from a land view
After the museum, we set out for Arthur's Seat. This was one of the things I was most excited for despite my bum knee. I wanted to conquer this behemoth and feel like I was on top of the world. The origins of the name "Arthur's Seat" are actually uncertain, which I find totally interesting because my mind immediately goes to King Arthur.

Ben was kind enough to take us the easy trail which was longer than most, but still fun. It had some absolutely breathtaking views that were wonderful to look at while I gasped for air. I never felt so out of shape until we climbed this large hill. But, man, are these views oh so worth every struggling step up there. It had rained the day before, so it was incredibly muddy and the steep top was worrisome to traverse, but we made it. And when we got to the top as I stood there and just looked around, I felt so at peace. These views, the beauty of this city, took my breath away.

In this picture I am a sweat mess, but I have a beautiful view in the background, my new bright blue sneakers that I absolutely adore are on my feet, and if you look closely you can even see a few snowflakes (many of which are prominent in the left part of this picture). That's right, as I whipped out my phone to have Ben take a picture of me after accomplishing this feat, it began to snow right as he snapped the photo. It stopped a few minutes later, which was crazy, and we began to head back down. I don't know what the meaning of this was, but the universe was definitely trying to tell us something.

Some views from the top of Arthur's Seat. Their skies are so blue! <3
After traversing Arthur's Seat, we headed back to Ben's place to relax because we were in desperate need of water (if you do this, seriously bring a water bottle!) and we were simultaneously freezing and cold. It's easy to take your jacket off on the way up because it's such a hot and humid climb, but the second you get to the summit you begin to freeze. It was intense. 

We had a little time left before it got dark, so I wanted to do something else. I asked Ben and his roommates, Chris, Lynne, and Nick for suggestions because Edinburgh is very much a city that sleeps at night. They suggested climbing Blackford Hill to see the sunset. This climb was nowhere near as bad as Arthur's Seat, but doing it within an hour after finishing Arthur's Seat killed me a little bit. The views were gorgeous and there were many dogs running about, and I'd recommend heading up there to picnic or people watch because it is so awesome to enjoy.

We headed back to Ben's place where I had my first ever home-made bagel (yum!!!) and tried vegetarian haggis. I am doing my best to try some delicacies of all places I visit as long as they are vegetarian, so it was shocking to me to learn that vegetarian haggis exists. I enjoyed it, but most of my non-vegetarian friends refer to it as lentil mush. Make of that what you will. I also tried Iron Bru which is kind of like a soda, but not. It's a fizzy drink that is Scottish only that is served in slightly horrifying neon colors. Drinkable but not OMG worthy.

Ben invited his friend Stuart over for the night and we all proceeded to watch this really terrible American movie from Tommy Wiseau called The Room. Oh my gosh, I was dying it was so bad, and it was made even funnier by knowing it has a cult following. Very interesting indeed. I went to bed around 3:30AM and prepared for another 8:30AM day.

Day Two

Day two was the day of Edinburgh Castle! I was so excited! I had been to the castle once before, but didn't remember much of it. One thing I would highly recommend is indulging in the audio guide. I did the castle alone because Ben had done it before and didn't want to spend the 16.50 pounds to do it again, which totally makes sense. I decided to get a guide to learn more about the castle in general and go more in depth about the topics that really interested me since most informational plaques could only be found in one of the several museums inside.

I ended up spending a solid 4 hours in Edinburgh Castle. It was gorgeous, full of history, and of great interest to me. It is one of those places that I could seriously get lost in, though I recognize that not everyone could spend as much time in there as I did.

It actually started properly snowing while I was in there and I saw all my fellow tourists take refuge inside the museums in the castle. I had an umbrella, so for a few moments I stood outside as the snow came down and admired the views because I had my little part of the castle to myself for a solid ten minutes. In the immediate moment it sucked because my fingers were frozen due to how cold it was, but it was such an awesome experience that I won't ever forget.

Snow, y u no leave me alone?!

Part of the reason I spent such a long time in the castle was also because I had very specific plans at 3PM: The Harry Potter tour! I decided to use the free tour offered by The Potter Trail because I didn't think it would be supremely intense and, also, I didn't want to pay for a tour that Ben could have given me himself. He chose to do an official tour just in case there was something he didn't know, but he said there was really only one stop he had no clue about. So, all in all, I am happy I went on this tour and I highly recommend any fellow Potterheads take it if they can fit it into their schedule. It is only about an hour in length, and half of my tour was made up of people who I ran into in the castle. Seems we all had the same idea!

Our tour guide kicking us off in Greyfriars Cemetary
One thing I will say about the tour is that it is a bit childish to appeal to all the tourists and the many kids I am sure take it. The tour guide wears a cape, he gives us all wands (painted chopsticks) in house colors that I absolutely adored (Ben and I grabbed Ravenclaw), he does HP trivia where he rewards house points throughout the tour, and he makes us use fake spells that take time to flow through the air to turn traffic lights red so that we can cross the road. I am not complaining though because a free tour is a free tour.
We started off in Greyfriars Cemetery which actually had several stops of interest. He began by taking us to a grave with a very familiar last name on it, which inspired one of my all-time favorite characters from the series because Professor McGonagall is life.

He then proceeded to point out the school that JK Rowling's kids went to called George Heriot's. This is a school that helped struggling single-parent families put children through school. It is regarded by many as the real life Hogwarts because you are randomly sorted (no sorting hat :( ) into houses with the same house colors as HP. There truly is nothing better than drawing inspiration from real life! 

The best part of the cemetery was definitely Tom Riddle's grave, though it is ridiculously muddy in
that area and one person on my tour actually ruined a pair of trousers over there from a near fall. The name is spelled differently and no, it is not the actual movie grave (like what my friends from home thought it would be) so it may seem underwhelming to some, but it is undoubtedly the most famous part of this cemetery.

Some other stops on the tour worth mentioning but not going into extreme detail because this post is already long enough:
Anyone remember the scene where Dudley and Harry get attacked by dementors?
Spoon Bistro used to be Nicolson's Cafe where JK Rowling wrote since her brother-in-law owned it.

Victoria Lane is the real life Diagon Alley
Balmoral Hotel where JK Rowling finished the last HP book
After the HP tour I briefly toured St Giles Cathedral (no pictures allowed without paying) and took a walk up to Calton Hill. A very easy hill compared to the other two monsters I climbed on this journey, there is an unfinished Parthenon replica at the top because Edinburgh is considered to be the Athens of the West. They ran out of money to build this replica in the 1800s and it has stood there unfinished since.

For dinner, I grabbed a pound (a dollar) pie from The Piemaker at Jess's recommendation. Macaroni and cheese pies are a Scottish only delight, so I knew I had to try one. I fell in love with it so much that I bought two from the tour to smuggle back to England with me...which are now in my stomach thank you very much. If you ever go to Scotland, I'd highly recommend trying a macaroni and cheese pie because seriously, nothing could be bad about it! That night we all went out to a pub because it was my last night in Edinburgh and we had grown close, so we wanted to say our proper goodbyes.

Day Three

Day three was the most relaxed of the days because exhaustion was really setting in for me. I decided to treat myself to a more expensive meal (and by that I mean I only spent 8.45 pounds because Edinburgh is so much cheaper than London!) and head to The Elephant House. This is a cafe that JK Rowling is known to have written many times in. In the back she had views of both Edinburgh Castle and George Heriot's School, so the inspiration was real. On top of being a major tourist attraction, the cafe has decent food and is full of elephants inside, so it's a nice place to go in its own right.

Because it is such a sought after tourist attraction, I ordered a large amount of food so we could spend a solid hour in a half in there. Carrot cake, toast and beans, and a hot chocolate really hit the spot since I knew I wouldn't be eating until my return to London at 11:30PM about 10 hours later. I was super satisfied with everything I ordered and don't think you can go wrong with ordering any of it.

But, the best part about the Elephant House isn't the food. It's the bathroom. Yes, I know, it sounds crazy...but trust me when I say this. The HP fandom graffiti will give you life.

"Words, in my humble opinion, are the most inexhaustible source of magic."
HELLO ROWLING
I, for one, only had a pen on me, so I neatly wrote my name onto the wall because it was so hard to get the ink to come out. But hey, I know my name is there and that's all that really matters. Upon
leaving the cafe, I took a picture with Greyfriars Bobby, their famous dog, whose nose must be rubbed by every tourist for good luck. I spent the rest of the day in museums to enjoy the city before hopping on a 5.5 hour train home that got me back to my residence hall just after midnight. If you are curious about finances or the history of money, I'd recommend checking out the Museum on the Mound. You can spend a solid hour and a half in there. I finished off the day in The Scottish National Gallery where I stayed until closing at five before heading to the train station to catch my 6:30PM train. I am one of those people that is guilty of being able to waste full days in museums.

All in all, this was a magical journey full of history, adventures, beauty, and indulging my inner fandom. I seirously cannot get over that Elephant House bathroom to this day, guys. I highly recommend heading to Edinburgh for a weekend if you ever have the chance, and I would extend the trip into the Scottish Highlands if given the chance because they are beautiful too. Loch Ness, however, is something I do remember from what little time I spent in Scotland at age 12.

Until next time...

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Have you ever been to Scotland or are planning to go soon? What did you think of my trip? Did you enjoy any of my tips and tricks? I look forward to hearing your thoughts as you share in my European adventures with me! <3

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Series: Rebel of the Sands #1
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Viking Children's Books
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 302 (ARC)
Source: New York Comic Con 2015
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him...or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

This book was everything I wanted it to be and more. It is literally a checklist of perfection when it comes to everything I need from a fantasy. Take a look at my ten must's and bask in this book's wondrous glory alongside me.

1. An enticing description? Check.
This is 100% Arabian Nights meets the wild west. Absolute perfection.

2. Characters worth getting behind? Check
HOLY COW! Not only is Amani, the blue-eyed bandit with a gun, an amazing heroine that is easy to support, but so are everyone that surround her. Jin, Shazad, Ahmed, Bahi, and the list goes on and on. Such a diverse cast of characters with diverse personalities.

3. Evil characters that are vile? Check.
I know this is a sucky thing at times, but let's be real. No fantasy is going to do well without evil characters and there are all different kinds of evil in this book. I never realized that there is different levels of evils, but there definitely is in this book.

4. Strong females? Check.
As I mentioned before, Amani is strong and so sure of herself, but look at Shazad! A female general that has earned the respect of men in a land where women are either wed or dead. Amazing. Such a great influence. I love Hamilton for creating her so much.

5. Amazing world-building? Check.
This book takes place in the desert and Hamilton took advantage of this. It wasn't just sand everywhere, but so much more. Hamilton painted an entire empire and enemy empires out of the blue in such a vivid way a map was not needed. Miraji is a scary, scary place, but with such redeeming characters helping along such a well-written world, you can't help but immediately be engrossed.

6. Ridiculously fascinating lore? Check.
I asked Alwyn Hamilton on Twitter how she created this lore and she used basic research combined with a few necessities from her plot (such as iron) to create her own lore. And holy cow, it is enticing and intriguing and I would read an entire book of Djinni legends alone. It is so well done and really paints this world even more vividly than before! I WANT MORE DJINNI'S IN YA!

7. Romance that is a beautiful sub-plot? Check.
This world is dog eat dog and actively seeking out romance is kind of a necessity for women to survive. What makes Amani stand out so much is that she chooses to survive as a woman--and is capable of doing so--without a man at her side. But aside from that, she does not want a man at her side and actively discourages men in her village from approaching her with her wit, unique eyes, and killer gun skills. Thus, this romance kind of sneaks up on readers just as it sneaks up on her. It is a sub-plot, not a huge focus, with just three kisses if I remember correctly, but it was so sweet and satisfying as a reader because it came at just the right time. I am excited for what is to come in book two!

8. Magic? Check.
So, this isn't necessarily magic since it has to deal with the Djinni lore in the book, but I am classifying what happens in this book as magic instead of ruining the lore for people since it is so beautiful it deserves to be read on its own. Instead, I will say that kids that aren't fully human in this time have special powers that manifest in different ways. The concept behind these unique abilities is super interesting, but how these abilities manifest and change lives is also interesting. To see the endless possibilities is awesome as a lover of fantasy, and Hamilton is taking advantage of this cool plot device to the best of her ability. I want her to keep sticking with it and run in book two. I cannot wait!

9. Epic battles that have you on the edge of your seat while you read death, doom, and destruction? Check.
The climax of this story comes near the end of this book and it is so interesting. It is human combat but it is also combat involving things that are other. It had me on the edge of my seat and I almost cursed the train conductor for arriving at my stop instead of allowing me to read straight through. Epic battles are necessary, even if they break your heart at certain times. But if such a thing can have a powerful effect on you, you know it is a good book. And even though I DO NOT LIKE IT WHEN PEOPLE DIE, it made me read even faster to know what happens next.

10. No choice but to make you flip pages at a lightning fast speed? Check.
This is pretty self-explanatory. This is a 400 page story packed into a smaller amount of pages in ARC form, but dang, I could not put it down. I needed it to continue on forever and never stop! I found myself frowning when I flipped the last page, and that says something. I may or may not have even gotten yelled at at work about reading. Oops.

Final verdict: Read this book and you will not regret it. Hamilton is bursting onto the YA scene and she cannot be stopped. Book two needs to be here pronto! A girl who is more gunpowder than girl, a boy with too many secrets, and a desert hiding friends, enemies, and creatures of nightmares, REBEL OF THE SANDS will satisfy any fantasy reader and leave them begging for more as they immerse themselves in her fantastical new world that is part Arabian Nights, part western, and part something that cannot even be described.

5 stars

~*~Links~*~

FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for my honest review.

Lili's Travel Diary #9: Happy 21st Birthday To Me


It's crazy to me that today is my 21st birthday. I just can't believe it? The running joke between my family and all my friends is that I've been 21 since setting foot on British soil on January 10th, but that's beside the point.

The point is that today is my birthday. I don't know how I feel because this is the most conflicting birthday to date.

Last night I called both my parents and talked to them for a solid hour each. I actually ended up ushering in my birthday here in the UK while on the phone with my father, who joked that my birthday really isn't until 10:30AM in the UK to make it 5:30AM in the states--the time of my birth. I had my sister who congratulated me on being OLD, just as she has for my last six birthdays, who then proceeded to bicker with me over her literal and figurative childishness while sending me terrifying pictures of our cats with faces on them. That about sums up that relationship.

Immediately upon the clock striking midnight, I got birthday wishes from around the world. The states, the friends I left behind just two days ago in Scotland, the lifelong friends I made on my birthright in Israel, several of the amazing people now in my life that I would not have met if not for my trip here. Many more are still coming in since people are just beginning to start their days here while my people in the states are still asleep. Again, it's just a lot to wrap my head around.

I suppose the hardest part, though, is missing my people back home. During my 20th birthday I was stuck living in a room with terrible people. I am sure my long-time blog followers remember that time because they often commiserated with me about sucky roommates. But my friends went out of their way to give me a simple birthday worth remembering to take my mind off of the terrors that I lived with--thus instilling in me the confidence to set a plan into motion that resulted in me moving out two weeks later. My friend Carolyn trekked through a blizzard (literally the worst snowstorm of the last year) to get to my other best friend Max's apartment where they proceeded to order me both Italian and Chinese food (because really, who can decide?) and made me cry by giving me a birthday cake. I know it's such a silly thing to cry over, but I hadn't had a birthday cake in so long at that point, and the mere gesture pushed me over the edge because it showed just how much they cared. Dana, she was just the best friend a girl could ask for while we belted lyrics at Ellen's Stardust Diner and she gave me the best gag gift I never knew I wanted. It's been a little hard not being able to talk to her as much while I am here. All my friends went out of their way to just do the little things that would make me smile last year. And all of those people that are so important to me... Dana, Max, Carolyn, Andrew (who better come visit!), Taylor, and several more people that are incomparable to anyone else out there aren't here to celebrate my birthday with me this year.

Nor are my parents, who I went home to visit the week before or week after ALWAYS to be able to see them, especially with the thought looming that if I studied abroad this semester I wouldn't see them for my birthday. Well, that time is here, and I am ridiculously conflicted.

On the one hand, I am going to a Mexican restaurant with nine other people tonight. Nine people who I've known for less than five weeks that want to celebrate my birthday with me because of the bonds that we have forged. That's with more invited that I know just can't come. My international friends and Erasmus folks who live in the halls that are going to go out to my favorite pub with me on Saturday, my Greenwich University friends that I met through Hannah who have adopted me into their friend group and made it so much easier to adapt (I love these people more than I thought possible) will finally get a glimpse into my world on Saturday, my book people who made this transition ten times easier and even invited me into their book club, and the people I am still meeting along the way.

I mean, I've been here for five weeks! It simultaneously feels like I am adjusted to the point of being here longer, but still so non-adjusted that I can remember my arrival and all the conflicting emotions that came with it. And somehow in the past weeks of crazy adventures and emotional storms, I've found this large group of people who call me theirs and want to celebrate my birthday with me. So many people that I simply cannot include them all in any single birthday plan and find myself doing several different things over the next week to celebrate. And it's a wonderful feeling to know this many people care about me, though knowing the people I also care about aren't here to celebrate isn't as wonderful.

This is something I knew I would experience while coming here, but now that it is upon me I don't yet know how to react. It doesn't help that I am also in complete denial that this means I am over 25% of the way through my time here in England. Where has it gone?

I think this is going to be an amazing birthday week full of friends, laughs, and memories, but that doesn't make missing the people who have been in my life for years any easier. 

And because I know no other way to end this post...

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman | Blog Tour & Giveaway

Thank you very much to RockStar book tours for allowing me to finish up this tour!

~*~*~

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: February 9, 2016
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 384 (eARC)
Source: Edelweiss
Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward "Teach" Drummond, son of one of Bristol's richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There's just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents' deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to CuraƧao—where her mother was born—when she's stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

When I saw the synopsis for this book, my immediate reaction was yes. This is a Lili book if I have ever seen one. I love retellings, I love historicals, I love origin stories, and I love forbidden love stories. Sign me up!

BLACKHEARTS follows the life of Edward "Teach" Drummonds who returns from the sea to find he is engaged to a woman he does not want to be engaged to. To put it simply, he is sick of the high society life he was born into and yearns for the sea. And then he meets a maid in his household named Anne, and the rest is just fire. These two were made for each other. So, obviously, at its core this book is a love story. And what a great love story it is! I don't want to spoil anything because the beauty of it is discovering it for yourself, but it is oh so worth discovering, that is, if you throw away practicality and realize a wealthy man would just never fall for a maid.

It is especially poignant because this book is written in third person POV from both Anne and Teach's perspective. Because of this you get some serious feelings coming from both ends of this relationship and you get to understand what truly is going on in this world. Castroman's writing is beautiful and spot-on and does not leave anything to be desired.

But the best part of this story is the characterization. You have the hulking, clever beast that is Teach who yearns for something most people in his position would despise, and then you have complex Anne who is of mixed-heritage in a time where that was incredibly frowned upon. Her white father was an influential men, unknown to everyone but herself, so she is not meant to be in such a lowly position but society deems it so because of her heritage and the disgust she faces. That doesn't bother Teach a bit though, which is a breath of fresh air in a historical sense. They're both struggling for freedom...him to the seas away from the restraints of high society and her to prove herself. Their struggle is powerful.

But, oh gosh, that ending! It is killer. It is definitely one of the rougher ones I have encountered recently, and I can see how it may upset some readers and frustrate many. But one must keep the story of Blackbeard in mind while reading this tale because this is a retelling at its heart.

In the end, I enjoyed this one immensely! Perfect for retelling fans looking for a unique read with a dazzling hero and a heroine that is ready to challenge society's expectations. In other words, this was definitely the Lili book I was hoping it would be.

4 stars

FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for this review.

Giveaway!

This is a US only giveaway for one signed copy of BLACKHEARTS.

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Tour Schedule!
Week One:
2/1/2016- Mundie MomsInterview
2/2/2016- Beauty and the BookshelfReview
2/3/2016- My Friends Are FictionGuest Post
2/4/2016- Brittany's Book RamblesReview
2/5/2016- Two Chicks on BooksInterview

Week Two:
2/8/2016- FiktshunReview
2/9/2016- Dark Faerie TalesGuest Post
2/10/2016- A Reader Under The Sea- Review
2/11/2016- A Perfection Called Books- Interview
2/12/2016- Lili's ReflectionsReview