Giveaway: Down in the Belly of the Whale

Hello everyone! Today I’m going to be discussing Down in the Belly of the Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles, who writes cozy mystery, young adult, and nonfiction.

This book is a YA contemporary that follows the perspective of Harper, a teenager facing the ubiquitous feeling of not fitting in. She has an inexplicable sense for other people’s ailments, but without any way to decipher her intuitions, there isn’t much she can do with it. Her feelings of helplessness are amplified when her best friend starts acting strange and her mom becomes increasingly worried about her health. Harper must learn how she fits into her own life and what her role is in terms of her family and friends. Keep reading for my review, an interview with Kelley Kay Bowles, and the giveaway itself!

Find it on Goodreads and Amazon.

Synopsis

Harper Southwood is a teenage girl who can sense when people will get sick—but so what? She can’t predict her best friend’s depression or her mother’s impending health crisis. Being helpful is all Harper ever wanted, but she feels helpless in the face of real adversity. Now, she’s got a chance to summon her courage and use her wits to fight for justice. Laugh and cry along with this cute, high-spirited teen in her astonishing journey of self-discovery, as she learns that compassion and internal strength are her real gifts, her true superpower.

Review

I would classify the writing style of this novel as middle-grade, but the content itself was quite mature. This caused a bit of dissonance for me because Harper is somewhat of a naive narrator, and she has some interactions with serious issues including child molestation/rape, chronic illness, homophobia, depression, and suicide. I’m still on the fence about having such a young character facing these sort of topics, especially because Harper seems to know very little about any of them, and she somehow maintains a semblance of innocence throughout it all. I realize that this is a good way to inform a younger audience about issues that they may face in their youth, and I applaud Bowles on her approach to writing about such topics. It was a good story to introduce these kinds of themes while still resolving with something of a “happy” ending, and it definitely presented the possibility of hope and joy even through some really tough situations. I think Harper, despite her simplistic viewpoint, is a wonderful role model for young adults who are just learning about some of the horrible things the world has to offer–through it all, she persists in making her own way when others can’t. She is an incredibly kind and giving soul, and it’s really inspiring to know that people like her are out there, ready to help her family and friends. I think that this may open the eyes of readers who have been afraid or unsure to reach out for help.

Also! This book had a hint of the supernatural (?) when it came to Harper’s “powers”. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book, and I’m excited to see Bowles expand on this type of genre in the future!

Interview

1. You seem to have written yourself into the book in the form of Isabelle. Were there other aspects of the novel that mirrored your own life and experiences?

Haha do you think that was too much of a Mary Sue? Isabelle was so much fun to write because she was diagnosed with MS—like me—and she writes murder mysteries—like me, but she’s EVER So much cooler than I am. That’s the nice thig abut fiction, picking and choosing from ‘non-fictional’ elements and then manipulating them however I want. Most all my characters have elements of me in then somewhere—even the evil ones. And characteristics of everyone I know and see show up in my characters (uh-oh, Lauren—better watch out! 😉)—I just pick little idiosyncracies here and there and use them to flesh out the characters.

2. Are there any books in particular that helped to guide/inspire the direction of Down in the Belly of the Whale?

Ugh. I don’t even know where to begin in answering this question. I read books all the time, am obsessed with books, and because I taught English for 20 years, and because my father owned a bookstore and I’m in a book club, this means I read and have read in many genres and eras too. It all inspires me! But it also means each book I write could take cues from . . . who knows? My favorite YA authors are Lois Duncan, C.S. Lewis and Madeline L’Engle, and they are all heavy on characterization, so I think I take cues from that and am always trying to concentrate on character. As far as the direction the story went . . . nope. Nothing specific, any story or life event or song or movie or myth can interest me and inspire me!

3. What audience is the novel targeted towards? Was there a particular group in your mind while writing it?

I think TO THIS DAY the target audience has been my publisher’s biggest annoyance. Is this a paranormal? Social issues? Suspense? Family? Is it even a YA or should it be more parents reading it to talk to their kids about it? Then I think about all the YA I still read, and I’m almost 50! And not just because I’m a YA writer or high school teacher—I have a gazillion friends who read all the Twilight and Harry Potter and Hunger Games, plus anything by John Green, and they aren’t either of those occupations! So, no. I write stories that I’d like to read, and I hope some other people would enjoy them too. That’s as far as I can go (again, to the chagrin of BOTH of my publishers, because they’d like me to just focus on one genre. Can’t. 😊 )

4. What was your thought process when approaching difficult and serious topics in the novel?

Hm. I guess I just tried to be real with the characters’ reactions to the events they were living or trying to understand how others were living. I researched the topics (I’m living one of them, but…) by talking to people who had actually experienced them, and then using that for characterization. One challenge I felt early on with this book was a review from a reader who had been a ‘cutter’ or maybe was still a cutter, I don’t know. Anyway, this reviewer thought I totally got it wrong, like, ‘I’m a cutter and that’s not how cutters feel.’ And I was angry for a minute, because Cora’s explanation of why she cuts is verbatim from a person I know who used to cut. Word for word. And then I felt sad for the reviewer, because I thought it must be very lonely to feel so isolated in your own problems, you don’t realize that lots of other people have the same problem, they just experience them in a different way. I do hope parents would talk to their kids about the issues raised in this book—my 13 year old is reading it right now, and we had a whole conversation about cutting, and when he’s finished we’ll talk about any questions or reactions he might have..

5. Harper’s best friend Cora must face some incredibly scarring trauma. What made you decide to write the novel from Harper’s perspective rather than Cora’s?

Jeez, Lauren! You do ask the hard-hitting questions,,, 😊 I’ve actually heard this as a negative from a few reviewers as well. They think it should be from Cora’s POV. But I guess I did it from Harper’s for a few reasons, one of which probably comes from my own life experience. Other than the MS diagnosis, I’ve lived this incredibly lucky life, and I’ve always been surrounded by people who love me and tell me they love me, on the reg. But I lost three friends to suicide when I was in the 7th grade, and then I’ve been in an occupation (teaching) or lifestyle (volunteering—4 years at a domestic/sexual abuse hotline, and on an MS Friends hotline since 2012) where my role is to be the helper, not the one suffering the trauma. I guess that bled over to this story. I want the focus to be the way people can get help or be helped or GIVE help, rather than the focus on the traumatic situation. I get that some readers may feel like they can relate to the situation better if their main character is the one experiencing it. But that’s not how I wanted to tell it.

6. Do you have any intention of turning this book into a series?

Nope, this is a standalone for sure. BUT… Pinewood and Pinewood High School is the setting for a trilogy I just started—way more paranormal hijinks are set for this trilogy (like…is Belly really even paranormal? Maybe she’s just an empath, and is THAT even paranormal or just really, really sensitive? That’s up to the reader.) But for this new trilogy, there is no question about the paranormal elements.

7. Do you have any summer reading recommendations?

I just finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and that was really good. Also Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove and anything by Lee Child, Harlan Coben or Stephen King. Any time, any day! As far as YA I’ve read recently, I loved Heartless by Marissa Meyer and Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I also just uploaded Turtles All the Way Down by Jon Green—I’ll let you know!

Giveaway!

There will be three total winners–two people will win e-book copies, and one person will win an audiobook copy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

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Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

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Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Read below for my spoiler-free review

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The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

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  • My rating: 3.9/5 stars (petty, but I don’t want to give it 4 full stars lol)
  • Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • 385 pages
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon
  • TW: rape, sexual assault

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

Read my spoiler-free review and discussion below.

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Underrated Female Heroes Book Tag

Hey everyone! I decided to do this cool tag in between reviews because I’m in a bit of a book slump right now, but I am down to talk about my favorite heroines any time. I got this tag from Thrice Read, so go check out their post! The original tag was created by the lovely Kate at meltingpotsandothercalamities.

1. Name a heroine you like, but whom you feel is always overshadowed by the male characters in the story:

Blue Sargent from The Raven Boys! Granted, the book is named after the boys, and Blue did get plenty of time to shine, but I always wanted more! She is such a lovely and quirky character, and I would have loved more of her and her family.

2. For that matter, name a heroine whom you feel is always overshadowed by the other female characters in the story.

Helene Aquilla from An Ember in the Ashes series, for sure. Most people I talk to dislike her, but she is totally amazing and overshadowed by Laia. I’m glad we’ve gotten a lot more of her perspective, because she is compassionate and loving while also being a bamf.

3. Name a character who had potential but was greatly underutilized in her story.

This one is kind of random because I couldn’t really think of anyone, but Honey Harper from Renegades has a pretty cool superpower. I would have liked to see more of the Anarchists in general, because they had a lot of unexplored backstories.

4. Name a female character who you either find better in her book than her movie, find better in her movie than her book, or whose portrayals you find equal.

ARYA DROTTNING GUYS. ERAGON WAS AN AMAZNG BOOK AND ARYA WAS A TOTAL BADASS. MOVIE-ARYA SUCKS. Well, the whole movie kinda sucked…

5. Name a character who you want more backstory on.

I will have to agree Thrice Read on this one, because I would have loved a more thorough backstory on Nehemia. Sarah, we’re waiting.

6. Name a character with traits you feel are sadly overlooked by everyone.

For this one I’m going to choose Circe from, well, Circe. Although Circe is a well-known Greek goddess, I feel like this retelling in particular rendered the most complete and complex character. The novel is pretty popular, but I really expected there to be more hype. And I’m going to shamelessly self-promote… read my review here.

7. Name a morally grey character. (Villain or anti hero!)

There are so many to choose from for this one, but I’ll have to go with Citra from Scythe. I think she is one of my favorites because we get to see the evolution of her struggles and morally gray decisions. Once again, read my review here.

8. A character you’re stunned isn’t more famous. 

Sydney from Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series. Okay, I know everyone got caught up in the cheesiness of Vampire Academy. And Bloodlines has its fair share of cheesiness too…especially the covers. BUT REMEMBER THE NUMBER ONE LESSON OF READING, GUYS. NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER (only sometimes). This series as a whole is so underrated, and Sydney is an amazing and strong character! We ignore the covers.

9. A character from a piece of fiction you’re amazed isn’t more famous.

Well…this is the same question as #8, so…once again, Sydney from Bloodlines.

I tag:

(Feel free to ignore if you’ve already done this or have no interest in it)

PLUS anyone else who would like to do the tag! Feel free to leave your link in the comments, I would love to check out your list. Do you agree with my choices? Disagree? Let me know 🙂

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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

Read my spoiler-free review below.

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Review for Halayda by Sarah Delena White

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  • My rating: 2 Stars
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon
  • Pages: 438
  • Publisher: Uncommon Universes Press
  • Spoiler-free review

A mortal alchemist. A faerie king. A bond that transcends death.

Betrayed by a trusted mentor, Sylvie Imanthiya hides on the fringes of society, caring for half-fae orphans and trading her alchemical creations on the black market. She lives for the one night each season when she can see her dearest friend—a man whose destiny is far above hers.

King Taylan Ashkalabek knows better than to exchange halayda vows with a mortal. Even their friendship is a risk; love is an impossible dream. Then a brutal alchemical attack poisons his realm, unearthing a dark power within him—and leaving Sylvie with the ancient mark of Faerie’s savior.

Manifesting unpredictable abilities and aided by allies with their own secrets, Sylvie and Taylan journey into the wilds of Faerie to heal the damage and confront Casimir, an invincible star-fae determined to claim the realm as his own. But only their enemy knows Sylvie’s true capabilities—and Taylan’s weaknesses—and how to use them in his vicious schemes.

Her fate is life. His fate is death. With Faerie in the balance, Sylvie and Taylan must stand together before reality as they know it is destroyed. Less

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Review for The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King

Description

As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.

In Emily R. King’s thrilling fantasy debut, an orphan girl blossoms into a warrior, summoning courage and confidence in her fearless quest to upend tradition, overthrow an empire, and reclaim her life as her own.


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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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  • Spoiler-free Review (there may be minor spoilers for the rest of the series)
  • My rating: 4.25/5 stars
  • Series: The Raven Cycle #4
  • Published: Scholastic Press, April 26th 2016
  • Pages: 439, Hardcover
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon
  • Maggie’s Site

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

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The Versatile Blogger Award

Hello everyone. I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Pierina @PierinaReads. Thank you so much, I loved reading your facts!

RULES:

  • Show the award on your blog.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 17.45.07
  • Thank the person that nominated you.
  • Share 7 different facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 9 bloggers of your choosing.
  • Link your nominees and let them know of your nomination.

FACTS:

  1. I cannot for the life of me whistle.
  2. I recently passed my driving test with a whopping 1%.
  3. I (occasionally) actually like math.
  4. My sister bought me a tub of frosting for my birthday because I love it so much.
  5. I value my cat over all else.
  6. I’ve been playing the piano for about 10 years.
  7. I really enjoy drawing.

I TAG:

(If you’ve already been tagged, please feel free to ignore).

Thank you all for reading. Until next time ❤

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

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