Friday, June 28, 2013

REDESIGNED (Off the Subject #2) by Denise Grover Swank

An Advance Release Copy of this book was provided by the author, Denise Grover Swank, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Denise!

AUTHOR: Denise Grover Swank -- Twitter | Website
PUBLISHED: Self-published June 9, 2013
GENRE: New Adult, Romance
PAGES: 294
SOURCE: ARC from author
BUY IT: Barnes and Noble | Amazon
Find it on Goodreads

*May not be suitable for audiences under 18.*

While fashion design major Caroline Hunter may have been born economically unlucky, in college, she’s been lucky in love. Until her senior year at Southern University. She’s gone from a serious long term boyfriend to a string of crappy dates.

Then she meets mathematics grad student Reed Pendergraft.

Reed is everything she’s not looking for. Serious. Headed for a low paying university job. Boring. Caroline spent the first eighteen years of her life wondering where her next meal was coming from. She sure wasn’t getting trapped in that life again with a man living on a professor’s salary.

An encounter with Reed in a club proves she might have pegged him wrong. He brings out a lusty side she never knew she had. But just when she’s about to give in to her hormones, Reed makes a fool out of her. 

When she shows up for the first committee meeting for Southern University’s Fall fashion show, a fundraiser for underprivileged kids, Caroline’s horrified to discover the insufferable Reed is the committee chairman. While she refuses to tolerate his totalitarian rule of the committee, she’s not sure she’ll survive the month with her heart—and her pride—intact. Just when she thinks she has everything figured out, she finds that her entire life has been redesigned, thanks to Reed Pendergraft.

When After Math, the first book in Denise Grover Swank's New Adult series, Off the Subject, ended, I was skeptical about the book focusing on another character in the fictional confines of Southern University. I'd grown so attached to Tucker and Scarlett and didn't want to see them fade into the background.

But once again, Swank's beautiful writing and well-crafted story line lured me in. Redesigned exceeded all my expectations.

Within the first two minutes of reading Redesigned, I was absolutely obsessed. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. For two days, it was my purse book. I refused to leave home without it. Whenever I had a few free moments, I was diving in. When it came to the end, I was left wanting more.

Off the Subject's second volume takes place not long after After Math ends. This time around, Caroline Hunter, Scarlett's best friend, is the starlet. Caroline sparkles and shines and is a character so easy to relate to.

Not unlike her best friend, Caroline has pieces of her past that she hides and would rather forget. In fact, the pieces are so big, its nearly her entire history. She is extremely protective of her future and is determined not to live the life that she once did, back when she was Carol Ann Hunter, living in a beat up old mobile home in Shelbeyville, where she felt unsupported by her parents, who were content to live that lifestyle for the remainder of their days and who made Caroline choose between them and college.

But Caroline Hunter drove away from Shelbeyville to Southern University anyway, determined to create a better life for herself, quite literally sewing it together piece by piece as she decided to major in fashion and pursue her dreams.

With senior year moving at the speed of light, Caroline can see the finish line and only has a few things left to achieve -- the most important of those being to secure a spot on the committee for the program's spring fashion show.

Caroline finds herself on the committee but at odds with its chairman -- a man named Reed Pendergraft. Reed, an acquaintance of Scarlett's and a graduate student studying math, does not get along famously with Caroline, who spurned his advances at a party earlier in the semester and then watched as Caroline chose a shallow misogynist with a hefty bank account over him. But despite their constant fighting, Caroline can't help but find herself attracted to Reed.

Over the course of the novel, Caroline fights an internal battle with herself -- to follow her heart and her hormones to Reed Pendergraft or to keep searching for a more suitable mate whose bank account will ensure that she never find herself starving in a trailer park.

When Caroline's precious fashion show receives assistance from the Monroe Foundation, a prestigious, deep-pocketed organization with a focus on philanthropy for needy children, she ends up on a collision course with a past she never wanted to remember, let alone visit.

Caroline is a character whose issues and emotions run deep, and with each new challenge she faces, those depths are explored. With every turn of the page, the reader peels back layer after layer of the onion that is her psyche to uncover those things closest to her heart and soul and those things she fears. This exploration of character along with the passion, heat, intrigue, and intoxicating dynamic between she and Reed creates literary magic.

Swank's newest installment in the Off the Subject series is an incredible read: fast, yet filled to the brim with a plot that never stalls out. It's the perfect summer read, whether you find yourself on the beach, your own front porch, or like me, inside and listening to a thunderstorm. Redesigned is an absolute must read for women young and old this summer.

Swank's third book in the Off the Subject series, Business as Usual, is expected to be released late summer or early fall.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

AFTER MATH (Off the Subject #1) by Denise Grover Swank

An Advance Release Copy of this book was provided by the author, Denise Grover Swank, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Denise!

AUTHOR: Denise Grover Swank -- Twitter | Website
PUBLISHED: Self-published March 12, 2013
GENRE: New Adult, Romance
PAGES: 250
SOURCE: ARC from author
BUY IT: Barnes and Noble | Amazon
Find it on Goodreads

*May not be suitable for audiences under 18.*

Before she agreed to tutor Tucker Price, college junior Scarlett was introvert, struggling with her social anxiety and determined to not end up living in a trailer park like her mother and her younger sister. A mathematics major, she goes to her classes, to her job in the tutoring lab, and then hides in the apartment she shares with her friend, Caroline.

After junior Tucker Price, Southern University’s star soccer player enters the equation, her carefully plotted life is thrown off its axis. Tucker’s failing his required College Algebra class. With his eligibility is at risk, the university chancellor dangles an expensive piece of computer software for the math department if Scarlett agrees to privately tutor him.Tucker’s bad boy, womanizer reputation makes Scarlett wary of any contact, let alone spending several hours a week in close proximity.

But from her first encounter, she realizes Tucker isn’t the person everyone else sees. He carries a mountain of secrets which she suspects hold the reason to his self-destructive behavior. But the deeper she delves into the cause of his pain, the deeper she gets sucked into his chaos. Will Scarlett find the happiness she’s looking for, or will she be caught in Tucker’s aftermath?

I was led to the amazing Denise Grover Swank and her writing by my author friend Trisha Leigh (The Last Year Saga and the upcoming series The Historians) and was finally able to meet her at BEA 2013, where I was so lucky to be able to pick up this autographed copy of After Math.

I'm newer to the New Adult (NA) genre, but even through my limited research, I have found one thing to be true about the genre as a whole: the books are either entire sex-fests with a superficial plot (if that) or those with characters who young adults like me can relate to: yes, they go all the way, but their story lines are about so much more than just sex. After Math happens to be one of those wonderful stories that falls under the latter category.

The book begins with the introduction of the completely captivating Scarlett Goodwin, a mathematics student  and tutor with an obsessive love for solving equations and a general aptitude for all things academic. Scarlett's thirst for knowledge and to help her department obtain critical software leads her to take on a particularly difficult tutoring client: the notorious campus soccer star and playboy, Tucker Price. Tucker is Scarlett's opposite -- reckless, cocky, even rude -- yet he begins to sneak his way into her heart when she realizes that, like her, there is a side of himself he hides from other people.

Behind his arrogant exterior is a young man broken by a troubled family past and the foster care system. He stands behind the conviction that everything he touches, he breaks. The only thing he manages to not screw up is soccer, where the sport comes naturally to him. But intuitive Scarlett soon learns that his heart is no longer in the game.

Against her better judgement and all her reservations, Scarlett opens her life to Tucker, allowing him to see the broken side of her that few people, besides her best friend, Caroline, have ever seen. In turn, he shows her how passionate love can be and how one person can make her feel truly and completely alive in ways she never has before.

Their romance takes roller coaster ride from start to finish, with more than one heartbreaking interlude. But in the end, the two of them find common ground when they each decide to strip away their insecurities and false exteriors in the name of a love that inspires them to move mountains for one another and strengthens their hearts and souls.

Swank's After Math is a solid NA novel with a heartfelt and driving plot that will have you tearing through the book, which is my only reason for giving it a 4.5/5 -- I wanted more.

Turning over a new leaf ...

Welcome to Heather Hearts Books, my newest endeavor!

Late in 2012, I began this blog with a limited audience, just to try and get a feel for the field. It is only now that I have really launched it with the public, to my friends and non-friends, to publishing companies and authors, and to really make it a serious part of my life and help feed into the career I hope to pursue in publishing.

After returning from BEA 2013 with tons of new blogger friends to learn from, I came home with a greater understanding of how my blog should function and what it should be. I've redesigned the look of Heather Hearts Books and though I am a graphic designer and experienced with web design, I wanted to do this overhaul in an easy way that would look clean, crisp, and (just for the moment) speak more to the content than the design. (But in the future, I plan to bring all kinds of pretty design awesomeness to this blog!)

You'll notice I don't have a TON of reviews right now, but I've written several as I've been working on updating the blog and will be releasing them all over the course of this week and plan to cover several more books before the month is up. I'll also be doing a series of posts about my trip to BEA 2013 and New York City (where literary culture is part of the soul of the city) and occasionally popping in with other things I love besides books.

I will primarily blogging about young adult (YA) and new adult books (NA), but occasionally, I'll feature other books as well.

I hope you'll be a frequent visitor.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

THE ELITE (The Selection #2) by Kiera Cass

AUTHOR: Kiera Cass -- Twitter | Website
PUBLISHED: April 23, 2013 by Harper Teen
GENRE: Young Adult, Dystopian, Romance
PAGES: 323
SOURCE: Self purchased
BUY IT: Barnes and Noble | Amazon
Find it on Goodreads

The hotly-anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller The Selection.

Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, and is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending.
Last summer, The Selection was one of my super fast reads. I picked it up on my Nook after seeing the book everywhere, from your traditional bookstores, to my Walmart (which has almost no YA books), to even a grocery store. I figured a book that was showing up everywhere had to be something special.

While I enjoyed the characters and immediately found myself on Team Maxon, I thought the plot was just a little too thin and the language a touch bland. But I loved the idea of the story and found it to be a really interesting dystopian take (which is an achievement in and of itself since the field is over populated right now -- and not in a good way). Despite feeling like it was almost written in the language of more of a middle-grade book, I found myself really excited for the second installment of The Selection Trilogy, if a little hesitant -- I was worried about a potential sophomore slump.

But Kiera Cass's The Elite is anything but disappointing. Immediately, I found myself more engrossed in the book and tearing through the pages, yet trying to savor them. Where The Selection really served as a set-up to the rest of the series, The Elite comes barging in with intriguing plot twists, a love triangle that keeps things interesting, an incredible dynamic between the remaining contestants, a touch of mystery (the true history of Illea), and the emergence of a true villain in Prince Maxon's father.

In this book, we see selection contestant America Singer really blossom as she explores what it would mean for her to be a princess and, eventually, queen. Once uninspired by the role, the more she learns about the state of the world and, with the help of Prince Maxon, discovers that Illea's past is not exactly what she (and its citizens) were led to believe.

A midst constant raids and attacks from the northern and southern rebels, America finds herself growing closer and closer to Maxon, but struggling with her changing feels, especially as Aspen waits impatiently in the wings, unyielding in his devotion to her. By the newly rediscovered holiday of Halloween, America and Maxon appear to be near engagement, but then, in an instant, the landscape in front of her warps and twists into something unimaginable and dark. Marlee, one of America's competitors, but more importantly, her closest friend, is found in a compromising position with one of the palace guards and is publicly caned on television, while America fights to save her.

As a part of the final six girls, America finds herself up against the wall, as King's disapproval of her becomes more and more apparent. The contestants are put to test with challenges that force them to take on some of the responsibilities that they would have, if selected, in a televised presentation. Here, they set forth a charitable effort or plan for the betterment of Illea. However, America uses the opportunity to lash out against kingdom and Maxon, who has grown distant since Halloween and is spending more and more time with the other girls, especially Kriss, who he has decided would be a suitable alternative to America, should she not come to terms with the royal lifestyle soon.

The presentation quite literally rocks the entire kingdom and nation and finds America cast out of the competition. Moments before her departure, she finds herself rescued by Prince Maxon when the castle comes under attack and they are forced into hiding in one of the building's many shelters. It is here that America discovers Maxon's darkest and most crucial secrets and ultimately saves his life, earning a spot back in the competition -- but not without a tongue lashing from the King.

In short, The Elite moves much more quickly and has more surprising and mysterious plot twists than its predecessor -- and it certainly lives up to all the hype.

I gave the book 4.5 hearts because I found myself annoyed with America frequently, who is paranoid and suspicious to a fault. America is often conniving and seeks revenge without knowing the whole story. As a Gossip Girl fan and a worshiper at the altar of Blair Waldorf, I'm all for getting the last word in, but even Blair tries to get her facts straight.

Furthermore, I feel like America wasted too much time on Aspen. In my opinion, America has grown far beyond the person she was when the series began and when Aspen was her one and only. Though Aspen has changed, too, I still find him to be pretty impetuous and also kind of irresponsible with the girl he supposedly loves. After what happened to Marlee, I would've thought he'd be more guarded and wouldn't have agreed to meeting with America secretly, because of the danger that he would've put her in, but he acts selfishly and makes demands of her without realizing that he is not the only one who has changed -- America has evolved and has seen and heard things that have changed her, too. Falling in love with someone else isn't a crime: It's part of growing up.

This, I believe, will come to be one of of the major lessons and themes as the series concludes. There is a comfort in revisiting those people, things, and ideas we loved when we were young, but once we've grown or changed (and this can literally happen in the split second it takes for you to see something that changes your outlook on life, or a month separated from everything you used to know), we don't always fit back into that love -- and that's okay. It doesn't mean we loved that thing any less truly or deeply.

Cass's sophomore book in The Selection Trilogy will leave fans desperate and impatient for the final installment. The One will be released on May 6, 2014.