Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

By BloodFrom Goodreads: For 17-year-old Emma Wong, spending a summer in England should be a dream come true. Gorgeous scenery? Check. Lots of hot guys with accents? Yes, please.

Throw in an estranged mom, annoying new stepdad, and drooling baby half-brother, and it’s a disaster even her favorite cherry red leather jacket can’t fix. Even worse, there’s (hot) live-in research assistant Josh to contend with. The only thing more embarrassing than drunk-kissing him hours after they meet? Knowing he’ll be witness to her family’s dysfunction all. summer. long.

But when Emma meets a mysterious girl who happens to be a Druid, her vacation suddenly promises to be far more intriguing than she anticipated. Powerful rituals, new friends, an intoxicating sense of freedom…and Simon, the sexy foreign stranger she was hoping for. It’s all a perfect distraction from dirty diapers and awkward family dinners.

Trouble is, intriguing doesn’t often mean simple. And Emma is about to discover just how not simple her life really is.

By Blood is a novel about the ways that blood can bind us to others – or tear us apart.


I went into this novel with high expectations, and while there were some aspects of it that I enjoyed, there were a lot more aspects of it that I didn’t care for.  For one, I found the pacing to be off kilter for me as a reader—it was a bit slow in places, and too fast in others.  In the beginning, Banghart takes her time developing the story, and I tend to like that as it allows me to really get to know the characters, but in this instance, I felt like too little was happening in the beginning, and the intro itself was too drawn out.  Perhaps had I found Emma more endearing, this wouldn’t have been an issue for me, but as it stands, Emma grated on my nerves throughout much of the novel.  At times I felt like I was wading through a story about teenage angst, focusing on Emma’s extreme dislike of her family and her yearning to be a part of something different. And then, while her instant attraction to the males in the novel, both Josh and Simon, was realistic in nature, their “romance” wasn’t. Suddenly there is a spark, and my interest was definitely piqued, but Banghart sort of glosses over the romantic aspect, making it more of an insta-attraction and keeping it so, as opposed to really fleshing it out and making it believable.  With the addition of the Druids and the mystery behind them and their actions, I had high hopes for the romance and story to take off, but again, I feel like this was glossed over, focusing once more on all Emma’s angst at home.  Granted, she does learn some pretty heavy things about her family as the novel progresses, but her antics just didn’t impress me.  I just felt like Emma was extremely immature.

As the novel progressed, I was definitely interested in the Druids, and I had an ever present bad feeling plaguing me as I read, but the ending was, unfortunately, less than believable for me. Emma continuously ignores her inner self as it tries to warn her, and by the time the story was finished, I just really didn’t care for her one way or another, and I was kind of upset that she behaved so badly and still got the guy in the end. But even so, I did like learning about the Druids, and though a cult, I liked that aspect of the story, believable or not. Had this novel been a little more fleshed out, with more action and less teenage angst, I think I would have really liked it; as is, it just wasn’t really for me.  Two stars.

2 stars

I received this novel from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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17378990From Goodreads: Cassandra fears rocking the family boat. Instead, she sinks it. Assigned by her English teacher to write a poem that reveals her true self, Cassandra Randall is stuck. Her family’s religion is so overbearing, she can NEVER write about who she truly is. So Cass does what any self-respecting high school girl would do: she secretly begins writing a tarot-inspired advice blog. When Drew Godfrey, an awkward outcast with unwashed hair, writes to her, the situation spirals into what the school calls “a cyberbullying crisis” and what the church calls “sorcery.” Cass wants to be the kind of person who sticks up for the persecuted, who protects the victims the way she tries to protect her brother from the homophobes in her church. But what if she’s just another bully? What will it take for her to step up and tell the truth?


I really enjoyed this novel, and I actually found it much more interesting that the synopsis itself makes it out to be.  Not only is it about bullying, a hot topic in the nation right now, but it also  deals with over zealous religion (borderline cult), intolerance and homosexual relations, advice columns, and the philosophical question of right and wrong.  Honestly, I think this novel is extremely well written and while I wasn’t sure if I would really like it going in, I came out of it absolutely in love with Hoole’s writing style and characterization.

The novel begins with Cassandra attempting to take a survey during which time she realizes she’s completely boring.  She has no great answers to any of the questions, not like her friends or even her sister, and so she struggles to make herself stand out.  As the novel unfolds, each chapter is titled with one of the questions from the survey, launching into what Cassandra does in order to be different, and in my opinion, this technique really worked well.

Cassandra Randall has spent much of her life as part of an extreme religion/cult society within her small town, thanks to her overzealous parents.  But, as her church and its members only make-up about half the town’s population, and as Cassandra continues to witness the vast differences between her life and those of others outside the church, she decides it’s time to put her foot down and rebel.  After all, Cassandra doesn’t tend to believe anything her church is spouting, at least, she hasn’t for a while now, anyway.  I once knew someone who had a family similar to Cassandra’s, and it’s a bit scary to think about.  The extreme strictness and labeling of everything outside the Bible as evil is a bit much, in my opinion, and having actually known someone in a situation similar to Cassandra’s made it easy for me to connect with her.  I understand her mindset and the need to rebel, which is ultimately what Cassandra is doing through her tarot reading and blogging, and while that may seem a bit extreme, it is indeed the perfect rebellion, even if she doesn’t actually tell her parents about it…

What I really loved, from the very beginning, was the characterization and voice of Cassandra.  She is extremely unique and, like all high school students, struggles to find her identity.  And while aspects of the novel may be far-fetched, I still really liked the overall message, especially as it isn’t neatly tied up with a bow at the end.  Cassandra still has to grapple with her actions, her parents, her beliefs; and she has to own up to her actions, but in the end, it’s an extremely engaging story that I highly enjoyed and definitely recommend.  Five stars.

5 stars

Flux books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an this recent release, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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