Book Reviews

The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway – Ashley Schumacher

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“But me? I need to eat a salad. I need to exercise. I need to do something to fix myself before I’ll be worth looking at.”

-Ashley Schumacher, The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway

Book Particulars:

  • Page Count: 320 Pages
  • Publisher: Wednesday Books
  • Edition Read – eBook, thanks to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
  • Expected Release Date: March 14, 2023
  • Dates Read: February 27, 2023 – March 8, 2023

Book Synopsis:
Since her mother’s death, Madeline “Gwen” Hathaway has been determined that nothing in her life will change ever again. That’s why she keeps extensive lists in journals, has had only one friend since childhood, and looks forward to the monotony of working the ren faire circuit with her father. Until she arrives at her mother’s favourite end-of-tour stop to find the faire is under new management and completely changed.

Meeting Arthur, the son of the new owners and an actual lute-playing bard, messes up Maddie’s plans even more. For some reason, he wants to be her friend – and ropes her into becoming Princess of the Faire. Now Maddie is overseeing a faire dramatically changed from what her mother loved and going on road trips vastly different from the routine she used to rely on. Worst of all, she’s kind of having fun.

Ashley Schumacher’s The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway is filled with a wise old magician who sells potion bottles, gallant knights who are afraid of horses and ride camels instead, kings with a fondness for theatrics, a lazy river castle moat with inflatable crocodile floaties, and a plus-sized heroine with a wide-open heart… if only she just admits it.

My Thoughts:
Sometimes you grab a book based on it’s cover, sometimes it’s title, sometimes the author, sometimes the synopsis. For me it was the synopsis. I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading anything by Amy Schumacher before, and now I found myself wanting to go back to read her previous works.

Maddie, or Gwen, is everything I needed in a FMC when I was a teenager, and also what I needed now in my 30s. In my teens (and still) I have been something who struggled with the idea of being plus size. Of being somehow forced into a version of me society had selected because of being plus size. The funny friend of the main character, the best friend of the male lead who helps him get the girl. And many more examples. In another way Maddie is who I needed in my late 20s when my dad died. They way she processes her grief over her mother dying is extremely relateable, in an almost painful way. Watching her process her emotions and feelings mirrored my own first year after my dad died.

Then in comes Arthur. Adorable, geeky, Arthur. Who also is a great example of how men (especially teenage boys) can have all the same body image issues as women. But somehow they are told even more that they are not allowed to have those thoughts and emotions. I loved watching their relationship grow into friends and clearly something more (even when Maddie wouldn’t admit it even to herself). I found it so heartbreaking when Arthur would say things unintentionally hurtful to Maddie about her weight (which were few and far between) because that is real. Nobody (plus size or not) can know what is going to trigger negative thoughts in a plus size person. It was refreshing to see Arthur have these moments and allow them to work through it. Rather than him somehow magically know what he can say and what he cannot say.

Overall, I really loved this book. It was such a surprise, and so refreshing. I can’t wait to read Amy’s previous works, and look forward to what stories she creates in the future.

Book Funsies, Book Reviews

Author Spotlight: Katryn Bury

Hello wonderful readerinos! Today we have a virtual sit down with Katryn! (Technically this sit down happened a few months ago on a drive back to the Bay Area from Disneyland, but that’s beside the point).

Katryn’s a 2022 debut middle grade novelist, who’s first released came out yesterday, March 1st. Her book, Drew Leclair Get’s a Clue, is about a 12 year old murderino, who attempts to solve the crimes at her school via the techniques learned from her Criminal Profiling hero. She navigates the ups and downs of real life (such as your mom running away to live in a yurt with your guidance counselor) by going into her profiling place. It’s such a fun and hilarious read for all ages! But would especially be loved by the young mystery lover in your life.

I’ll have a longer review of Drew later, but thank you Kate for sitting down with me to answer some questions about writing this novel, and what brought you here!

What inspired you to start writing, and what was the first story you wrote?

Um, I’ve been writing stories since I was very little. First story was written a the age of 6 and was called Amy and the Stolen Pumpkin. I wrote my first full length novel at the age of 12. One reason I kept writing was because I felt like I had run out of things to read, so I wrote more so I could read more.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?

Drafting. The reason is that I’m very eager to revise right away. But that can make it harder to get the story down. There’s a quotation from Judy Blume that I love about how first drafts are just awful, and I feel exactly the same way. 

The first draft is a skeleton….just bare bones. The rest of the story comes later with revising.

Judy Blume

Do you write your book in order, or skip around when you figure out how a scene or plot line is going to work?

I write my book in order. I tried to write out of order once and it went very poor me. Some writers are plotters and some are pantsers. I’m right in the middle – really more of plantser. When I write, I often see the story playing out in my head like it’s a movie. It’s always in order, but sometimes it’s a struggle to keep up. 

In your upcoming book Drew Leclair Gets a Clue what moment resonated with you the most?

In the book, Drew has somebody make an embarrassing post about her on Instagram. In many ways this inspired the whole plot due to my own nerves about social media. I’ve always been a person who would rather observe the people around me rather than have those people watching me. And I wanted to bottle what that would feel like to a 12 year old girl who also doesn’t want to be seen. 

How did you come up with/what was your inspiration for Drew’s Story?

I’ve always been fascinated by True Crime and I even got my bachelor’s in Sociolgy/Criminology because I wanted to be a Criminal Profiler. While that did not happen, and I ended up in libraries, it made me wonder about a young girl like I was who was interested in the same thing. Like my main character, I was bullied as a kid and I loved the idea of the kid profiling the bullies at her school. 

Since you were bullied as a kid, do you have any advice for middle grade readers who are dealing with bullies now?

In the book, Drew has a 3-step bully remedy. I would absolutely suggest following it. My favorite point is to take whatever they’re saying to you, and make it seem like no big deal. For example, if somebody says “you’re ugly” you could say “hm, I didn’t brush my hair this morning. Thanks for the feedback, I’ll work on it!” Much like sharks, bullies smell blood in the water, they won’t keep coming after you if you don’t appear affected by it. But ultimately, if a bully simply won’t stop, I would suggest telling an adult you trust as soon as possible. 

Are there any parts of your book that feel autobiographical?

There’s a lot of Drew in me. For example, my whole family is also fascinated by true crime. In the book, it’s just her dad, but I must point out that my mother is much nicer than Drew’s mother. Like I said before I was also bullied as a kid. I also share the same chronic illnesses with Drew and am also Bisexual. In a way I was trying to write a character who was a lot like me at that age, but who has a lot more confidence. 

Do you feel like any of your characters are partially/fully based on people in your life?

Drew’s best friend Shray stuck with her from kindergarten through years of bullying. I also had a best friend who was loyal to me, almost to a fault. The character of Drew’s dad, Sam Leclair, is loosely based on my own dad. Like Drew and Sam, we would regularly, get a baguette, some olive oil and watch some Murder Mysteries. 

Where/what is your favorite setting to write in? Any specific foods or background noise?

I like to write in a comfortable chair with a hot caffinated beverage. Those are really my only needs. 

Where is your favorite place to read a book?

Oh, that’s a good question. I think my favorite spot is curled up on the couch with a blanket. Probably also with a hot caffeine beverage. Perhaps the reason for that is I’m still in the mentality that I’m writing so that I can read.  

What author or book series do you feel inspired you or influenced you the most in your writing style?

I think Meg Cabot’s the Princess Diaries inspired me the most. Thats because she writes secondary characters so richly, in a way that I really love to read. She also infuses humor into every one of her series. To me, a book has to be at least a little bit funny for me to keep reading. 

Are there any Easter Eggs in your book readers should look out for?

Yes. Jervis Bharwal. I have no additional information. 

What Drew you to writing a mystery book? Is that your preferred genre or do you wish you could write something else?

I think I’ve always loved mysteries. The story I wrote at age 6 was a mystery that I made into a series. I devoured Nancy Drew as a kid, and she is Drew’s namesake. While I think mystery is my primary genre, I would also love to write contemporary someday. 

If you could have people know one random fact about you, what would it be?

For a long time I thought the authors Stan and Jan Berenstain, authors of the Berenstain bears were actually bears. I thought they spoke to an authentic bear perspective. Which shows you how much I know about Bears.  

Other than writing or reading, what is your favorite pastime?

Any opportunity to be in the water. When I’m in the water I find I get my best ideas on what to do next in my books.

Any plans for a Drew Book 2?

I certainly hope so. I feel like I have so many more Drew stories to tell.

Thanks Katryn for indulging me with this long deluge of questions! Find Drew anywhere books are sold!

**Disclaimer** Katryn Bury is in fact related to me, so my connection is partially biased. However, that doesn’t change the fact this book is amazing, and I’m so happy that the world can meet Drew, Shray, and Trissa!

Book Reviews

Blogmas Day 5: Top 5 Books from 2021

So, full disclosure, only 3 out of these 5 books actually came out in 2021. Two of them came out in 2019, but I didn’t actually read either until this year. So that still counts right?

I really loved all of these books. I’m realizing now that I only gave A Court of Silver Flames a 4/5, but that was because of some side stuff in the book that pissed me off, whereas I loved the book as a whole. Aurora’s End I just read in the last month and it was the perfect end to a beloved trilogy. Chain of Iron reminded me why I try to stick to my rule of not reading trilogies as they come out, only when they’re done. Did I do that with Cass’s Last Hours trilogy? Of course not! So now I’m stuck waiting some more for Chain of Thorns.

A Curse so Dark and Lovely was one where I did stick to my rule, and binged the whole trilogy in about 2 or 3 days when on vacation in the woods. In a way, that book represents the whole trilogy. But if I had to choose just one, it would be the first one. And Supernova was the last book in it’s trilogy, but I didn’t get around to reading it until earlier this year. The second book in the series was a little more of a slog to get through for some reason, but I LOVED Supernova.

What were ya’ll’s favorite books of 2021?? Any of them match mine?

Book Funsies, Face-Off Friday

Blogmas Day 3: Friday Face-Off

Discovered a new Friday theme this morning that I really am liking! The meme was originally created by Books by Proxy and is being continued by Lynn’s Books. The premise is that you choose a cover of a book you like (read or unread, doesn’t matter, it’s the cover you’re going for) based on a set theme, and then comparing all the different covers for that title, at the end choosing which one you like best.

This weeks theme was “Windswept – the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way.”

It took me a little while to find a book I wanted to use, all the original ones I was feeling like the hair wasn’t “windswept” enough! I think I was being far too picky to be fair, haha. But then I remembered how much I loved the cover of The Siren by Kiera Cass. Here is the original to me cover:

The Siren by Kiera Cass

I friggin love this cover. I know it’s very similar to her Selection Series covers and that might turn some people off, but I think it’s gorgeous. And who wouldn’t want those waves for a hairstyle!?

These are the alternate covers. I actually really love the sketched cover on the bottom right ( I think it’s the Indonesian cover, but please correct me if I’m wrong!). If I wasn’t so in love with the cover I knew best, I could easily choose that one as my favorite. The style is just so pretty!

Book Funsies, Tags

Blogmas Day 2: Tag Thursday – NetGalley Tag!

auto Approved
Who’s one author whose books you automatically want to read, regardless of what they’re about?

Meg Cabot

I will legit buy and read anything Meg Cabot writes. They are all insta buys for me the day they come out. I’ve been reading her since early Princess Diaries days, and love both her YA and Adult works. If she’s written it, I’ve read it. I also have multiple copies of a good number of her books because my sister and I will both buy them, lose one, and buy a replacement. Leaving us with 2 or 3 copies. We definitely have 3 copies of the first Mediator book…

Other authors I would insta buy/request:

  • Sarah J Maas
  • Cassandra Clare
  • Mary Pearson
  • Ashley Poston
  • Maria V Snyder
  • Rachel Hawkins
  • Marissa Meyer
  • ….ok I should stop now…this is why I have so many books

What makes you want to request a book that you see on NetGalley?

It can depend on a few things. First, if it’s an author I’ve read and enjoyed I’ll typically request it without even needing to give the synopsis a once over. If the title or cover grabs me then I’ll read the synopsis to see if it’s something I’ll like. The other thing that will push a book over the edge is if it’s a debut author. Thanks to my sister being an author, I understand how much early reviews and feedback is for a debut author, so I like to grab those when I can.

Feedback Ratio
Do you review every book you read? If not, how do you decide what books to review?

I know I should, but I don’t. My ratio percentage was a respectable 91% recently, but I just was approved for a wave of books so I’m down to 57%. Sometimes if a book really doesn’t gel with me story wise I won’t review it because that’s not really the fault of the author. I don’t really give negative reviews unless the writing or editing was particularly bad. But if I don’t vibe with a storyline, I won’t review a book usually. At least on NetGalley. Sometimes I’ll still do reviews on goodreads.

If you could create your own badge to display on your blog, what would it be for?

I wish I could have a badge that says how many pages I have read in my history of NetGalley and/or Goodreads. That would make me feel far more powerful than I normally would (or need to).

Wish for It
What’s one book that you are absolutely dying to read?

Can I only choose one? Because, like, there’s a lot of books I’m insanely looking forward to. As of right now, it’s probably Chain of Thorns by Cassandra Clare. Might seem like an easy answer, but man, that cliffhanger killed me. The other one that I have been waiting to get approved for is the next Tirzah Price book Sense and Second Degree Murder. Tirzah, if you’re reading this, tell your publisher to let me in!

NetGalley Challenge
What was the last book that you received as an ARC that you reviewed? If you’ve never received an ARC, what’s the last book you reviewed?

When You Get The Chance by Emma Lord. I loved her book. Her review is up on my blog from earlier this week I think. She is another author that is, at this point an insta buy.