Young Adult Book Review + Giveaway – Forever Blue by Abby Wilder

Forever Blue Blog Tour

Forever Blue by Abby Wilder

Forever Blue by Abby Wilder

4.0 Stars

Synopsis
I never thought it would end like this.
I never thought it would end at all.
But not all stories get a happy ending.

When Lennon Donnelly moves back to the quiet town of Puruwai, she never dreams that a chance meeting with a boy sitting at the cemetery will change her life. Her best friend warns her about Judah Mitchell. There are rumours that he killed his brother. But as Lennon is drawn deeper into the mysterious boy’s life, the events of his past unravel until she finds herself driving over the edge of a cliff and into the depths of the lake below.

Spanning over two years and starting at the end, this compelling novel tells of the intertwining relationships of Lennon, Ruben, Judah, and Cara. Told from the different perspectives of before and after, the story unfolds like a puzzle and reveals secrets that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

“Devourable” – YA Books Central

“An unforgettable experience” – Readers’ Favorite

This story contains mild use of strong language and references to underage drinking and smoking..

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My Review
A week after finishing Forever Blue I’m still not sure how I feel about it, and that’s the hallmark of good storytelling. I knew going in that there would be no happy endings. I can tell you that without spoiling anything because that’s right there on the very first page. Readers know from the get-go it’s not going to be a happily ever after kind of tale, but I still don’t think I was fully prepared for the way it ended. Forever Blue is the story of Lennon, new to town after her parents split. She hangs out with her cousin who is completely opposite of Lennon. Lennon is wallflower material, her cousin is the life of the party, the girl everyone wants to be around. No one really notices Lennon or pays much attention to her until Judah. Somehow this tortured boy with a tragic past really sees her. The two begin a strange romance that only gets stranger as the past and the present collide.

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Plot
The plot centers around the romance between Lennon and Judah and the mystery of what happened the year before. Judah knows what happened, but no one believes him, except Lennon. But as she learns more of the truth, she’s shocked in a way she never dreamed possible and everything she thought she knew is turned upside down.

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The author slowly reveals the backstory through multiple points of view, finally giving us what we want to know in the closing chapters. The pacing is a little slow at first, but it picks up in the middle and kept me guessing until the very end.

Characters
The characters are interesting, but one thing they lacked was a lot of differentiation. They were all dark, angry, tortured. It makes sense, they all lost someone, but with so many varying first-person POVs, it would have been nice to really delve deeper into each character and find those pieces that set them apart from the others. They all sounded a little too much alike.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The ending.
 I’m still not sure what to make of it. Not everything was resolved and I’m left with just as many new questions as I am answers.

2. Multiple points of view. I understand why the author took this route and the concept works, but as I mentioned above, I would have liked more differentiation of the characters.

What I Enjoyed About Forever Blue
1. The ending.
 Yeah, I know, I loved it and I hated it. What can I say? It’s an enigma which leaves me conflicted.the-row-gif-3

2. Lennon. She’s loyal and generous, two outstanding qualities in a protagonist.

3. The plot. I loved the unusual twists on both the mystery and the romance plot lines.

4. Twins. As the mother of identical twin teenage boys, I found this part of the story particularly intriguing. Especially since the brothers in the story were so different and mine are so alike.

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5. Symbolism. The author uses symbolism throughout in sometimes unique ways that really tied the story together with the themes so well.

Bottom Line
Forever Blue is a dark young adult romance with a paranormal twist, wrapped in a mystery.

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Forever Blue
Author: Abby Wilder
Release Date: June 17, 2016
Pages: 372
Genre: Young Adult Mystery/Paranormal Romance
Rating:
 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Abby Wilder

About the Author
Abby Wilder is an author from the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. She loves stories in all forms; film, photography, music, but it’s the simplicity of written words that she loves the most . . . well, written words and binge watching television series.

Since a love of reading has remained constant in her life, she couldn’t imagine anything better than being a writer so she set out to achieve just that. Abby has one husband, two children, three cats and a dog called Joss.

Girl Behind Glass is her debut novel. Boy in Uniform is a short companion story and Girl Beneath Stars is the final in the Behind Glass Series to follow Willow Stanton..

Where to find Abby Wilder
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Giveaway
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Young Adult Book Review – Chasing Truth (Eleanor Ames) by Julie Cross

Chasing Truth Blog Tour

Chasing Truth (Eleanor Ames #1) by Julie Cross

Chasing Truth (Eleanor Ames #1) by Julie Cross

5 Stars

Synopsis
At Holden Prep, the rich and powerful rule the school—and they’ll do just about anything to keep their dirty little secrets hidden.

When former con artist Eleanor Ames’s homecoming date commits suicide, she’s positive there’s something more going on. The more questions she asks, though, the more she crosses paths with Miles Beckett. He’s sexy, mysterious, arrogant…and he’s asking all the same questions.

Eleanor might not trust him—she doesn’t even like him—but they can’t keep their hands off of each other. Fighting the infuriating attraction is almost as hard as ignoring the fact that Miles isn’t telling her the truth…and that there’s a good chance he thinks she’s the killer.

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My Review
Ellie is a girl with a checkered past. Raised by her con-artist parents, she now lives with her older sister and her sister’s boyfriend who just happens to be a member of the Secret Service. When the sister’s boyfriend pulls some strings, getting Ellie into an exclusive prep school, she only manages to make one good friend who kills himself shortly after dropping Ellie off at home. Devastated, Ellie believes there’s more to the story than a simple suicide. Her friend, Simon, the son of the California Senator, wasn’t depressed.

When hot newbie, Miles, moves in across from Ellie, she fights a physical attraction and an emotional hatred of him. Miles is full of his own secrets and the two torment each other both consciously and subconsciously. Chasing Truth is pure Julie Cross — lots of angst, beautiful character development, and this time around a fun mystery.

Plot
The story centers on Ellie’s pursuit of the truth — what really happened to Simon. With her background, she’s able to follow the clues with relative ease, using her ability to con people to gain information. The only thing really complicating her efforts is Miles. I had Miles pegged from early on, even though the author managed to make me second-guess my conclusion more than a few times. Even so, the back and forth between Ellie and Miles is great — lots of that unresolved sexual tension Julie Cross is famous for.

The Characters
Ellie is fascinating. She had the potential to become annoying, but she never fell into that trap. Her background made her unique, resourceful, loveable. Miles was equally interesting, always one step ahead of Ellie, or so it seems. The rest of the characters are well-rounded and enhance the story. Ellie’s sister, Harper, is great as the nanny to a set of toddler twins of a wealthy couple, and her boyfriend, Aiden, is as sympathetic as he is hot. Some of Ellie’s classmates crossed the line into spoiled rich teen territory, but they all had more depth to them than the stereotype.

Top Five Things I Loved About Chasing Truth
1. The mystery. I love when I spend an entire book trying to figure out what really happened right along with the protagonist.

2. Ellie. She’s feisty, confident, and smart. Three things that make an excellent young adult protagonist.

3. Angst. I loved the romance aspect in this story. She had such control over almost every other aspect of her life, it was fun to watch Ellie squirm.

4. The writing. The pacing is perfect and the writing is tight, making this a fun, fast read.

5. The ending. It wrapped up giving me enough satisfaction while leaving me wanting more of Eleanor Ames and crew!

Bottom Line
Chasing Truth is a fast-paced teen mystery wrapped up in a romance that is hard to put down.

Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Chasing Truth
Series: Eleanor Ames #1
Author: Julie Cross
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: September 27, 2016
Pages: 400
Genre: Young Adult Mystery/Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay | !ndigo | BAM! | Book Depository

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Author Julie Cross

Author Julie Cross

About the Author
Julie Cross is a NYT and USA Today bestselling author of New Adult and Young Adult fiction, including the Tempest series, a young adult science fiction trilogy which includes Tempest, Vortex, Timestorm (St. Martin’s Press). She’s also the author of Letters to Nowhere series, Whatever Life Throws at You, Third Degree, Halfway Perfect, and many more to come!

Julie lives in Central Illinois with her husband and three children. She’s a former gymnast, longtime gymnastics fan, coach, and former Gymnastics Program Director with the YMCA. She’s a lover of books, devouring several novels a week, especially in the young adult and new adult genres.

Outside of her reading and writing credibility’s, Julie Cross is a committed–but not talented–long distance runner, creator of imaginary beach vacations, Midwest bipolar weather survivor, expired CPR certification card holder, as well as a ponytail and gym shoe addict.

Where to Find Julie Cross
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

Young Adult Book Review – The Row by J.R. Johansson

The Row Blog Tour

The Row by J.R. Johansson

The Row by J.R. Johansson

4.0 Stars

Synopsis
A death sentence. A family torn apart. One girl’s hunt for the truth.

Seventeen-year-old Riley Beckett is no stranger to prison. Her father is a convicted serial killer on death row who has always maintained that he was falsely accused. Riley has never missed a single visit with her father. She wholeheartedly believes that he is innocent.

Then, a month before the execution date, Riley’s world is rocked when, in an attempt to help her move on, her father secretly confesses to her that he actually did carry out the murders. He takes it back almost immediately, but she cannot forget what he’s told her. Determined to uncover the truth for her own sake, she discovers something that will forever change everything she’s believed about the family she loves.

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My Review
This was very different from any other young adult book I’ve read. Ever. Seventeen-year-old Riley’s father has been on death row since she was seven for crimes he claims he didn’t commit. Riley’s close relationship with her father is shown through weekly visits where the two hug and play chess. When the last of her father’s appeals run out, Riley must accept that she’s going to lose her father, something she can’t quite bring herself to accept. At least until her father confesses he’s guilty, telling Riley to move on with her life. Riley is devastated and confused, which gets worse when he immediately recants his confession. With the help of her only friend, adorable dark-haired Jordan, Riley decides she needs the truth, whatever that may be.

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Plot
The main plot centers around Riley’s search for the truth and unfolds like a mystery. A secondary plot is the romance between Riley and Jordan. Riley’s family has many secrets and the more Riley learns, the more she begins to question everything, not just her father’s sudden confession and retraction. At times the pacing was slow, but the author throws in a number of twists to keep things interesting.

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Characters
Riley is intriguing. Having essentially grown up with only her mother and a relationship with her father who is behind bars, her life is anything but normal. The story takes place over summer, so there is little interaction with other kids her age, with the exception of Jordan, whom she meets at a mall an hour away — a place she goes so she won’t be recognized. Being the daughter of a convicted serial killer can’t be easy and I would have loved to explore a little more of this aspect of her life. Riley’s father was an enigma throughout and her mother was complex. Jordan is likeable as the friend and love interest, but he isn’t as deeply developed as he could have been. This is Riley’s story though, and she’s pretty well fleshed out. On the other hand, Mr. Masters, the defense attorney for Riley’s dad, is well developed and a great foil for Riley.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. Parts of the plot.
 I don’t want to give anything away, because there are some great twists, but not all of it works. There were a few things that happened that I thought needed more fleshing out for me to fully embrace them.

2. The cover. I don’t think the cover does the story justice.

3. Jordan. He’s interesting right off the bat, but I never really understood why he was so devoted to Riley from the beginning. They don’t spend all that much time together before he’s dropping everything to help her out, pledging his enduring loyalty.

What I Enjoyed About The Row
1. The chess.
 I love how the author weaves in the game of chess throughout, drawing parallels between the game and the plot.

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2. Riley. She’s sympathetic, smart, determined, and tough. She’s not perfect by any means. There are many times she makes huge mistakes, but it’s easy to forgive her because so much of how she reacts is based on her unorthodox upbringing.

3. The plot. I love both the mystery aspect and the young adult romance. Both are well done and tie together nicely.

4. The law. I love legal thrillers and this almost reads like one from a teen’s point of view.

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5. Mr. Masters. Riley’s dad’s law partner, defense attorney, and Riley’s surrogate father figure is fantastic, driving some of the best parts of the story.

Bottom Line
The Row is a dark tale of a girl seeking truth and justice about and for the father she adores.

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: The Row
Author: J.R. Johansson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult Mystery/Romance
Rating:
 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author J.R. Johansson

Author J.R. Johansson

About the Author
J.R. Johansson’s books have been published in a dozen languages and more than twenty countries worldwide. She has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She credits her abnormal psychology minor with inspiring many of her characters. She lives inUtah with two sons, a wonderful husband, three cats, and a hot tub named Valentino.

She is represented by the stellar Kathleen Rushall of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Where to find J.R. Johansson
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Young Adult Book Review – The Departed by Kristy Cooper

The Departed by Kristy Cooper

The Departed by Kristy Cooper

3.5 Stars

Synopsis
What if someone tried to fake the rapture?

When hundreds of thousands of people disappear in the middle of the night, including sixteen-year-old Gwen’s best friend Lana, no one knows why. Some believe they were taken in the rapture, while others are convinced that it can’t be true. Doomsday prophecies abound that involve horrifying tales of plague, famine, earthquakes, and more.

At first, Gwen doesn’t know what to think. While she is busy mourning Lana, many people around her are getting taken in by the cultish True Believers Temple, including Gwen’s dad and her friend Mindy. It is clear that more and more people are going to be pressured to join this church, as it starts taking over the media and the government, gaining zealous followers all over the world.

Then Gwen starts receiving emails from Lana. She claims to have been forced into hiding with thousands of others in an underground compound. Gwen is convinced the emails are real and the only other person who also believes her is Isaiah, her moody crush. Together they resolve to find out where everyone is hiding and help set Lana free..

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My Review
I love the whole concept behind The Departed. When 300 thousand people disappear overnight without a trace, the world’s Christians believe the Rapture has occurred and they missed the bus. Panic drives people to search for answers, including both religious and scientific. High school sophomore, Gwen, lost her best friend, Lana, in the disappearance. She’s caught between the boy she likes, who’s an atheist, and her other close friend Mindy, who’s trying to convert her to become a True Believer. At home, she’s caught in the middle of a similar battle between her parents.

Plot
The plot is intriguing. The idea of a faked Rapture has so much potential for conflict and author, Kristy Cooper, delivers. The pacing is good and I never found myself skimming. There were a couple of interesting twists to keep the reader hooked.

The Writing
The writing disappointed me. There are paragraphs of exposition that are difficult to get through and far too much telling rather than showing. It’s a good story but could have benefited from the services of a decent editor.

The Characters
I love Gwen. She’s a sweet main character with a healthy dose of skepticism, probably as a result of being raised by a scientist. Isaiah is the potential love interest and self-professed atheist. He comes across as very authentic. And Gwen’s other friend, Mindy, is believable as the teen who turns to religion to find meaning in what’s happened.

The Ending
So the ending didn’t really work for me. It just sort of stopped, nothing really resolved. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger either. In fact, the author includes the first page or two from the next book in the series, and I think it would have been better to end the first book either a few pages earlier, or included the first part of the next book in this story as a cliffhanger ending. I realize that can upset readers, but I think I’d rather be upset than left feeling “meh” after the ending.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About The Departed
1.The story. It’s a great premise and a good plot.

2. Gwen. I love her perseverance when it comes to finding out the truth.

3. Isaiah. He’s one of the truly good guys in young adult fiction.

4. The cultish religion. The author does a great job of creating a plausible reality with power-hungry crazy religious types as well as logical, honorable believers, who truly believe they’ve been chosen by God for their adventure.

5. The plotting. It was really well done and the main plot points were wrapped up by the end.

Bottom Line
The Departed is a great premise with decent plotting and likeable characters.

Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: The Departed
Author: Kristy Cooper
Publisher: Oliver
Release Date: July 6, 2016
Pages: 137
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction/Dystopian Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Kristy Cooper

Author Kristy Cooper

About the Author
Kristy Cooper found herself often contemplating unusual what-if scenarios and knew it was time to start writing them down. She worked as a librarian for years and is now busy raising small children and writing YA novels. Stay up to date with her books at kristycooper.com.
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Where to find Kristy Cooper
Goodreads | Website | Facebook Twitter
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Young Adult Book Review – Valley of the Moon by Bronwyn Archer

Valley of the Moon by Bronwyn Archer

Valley of the Moon by Bronwyn Archer

4 Stars

Synopsis
There’s just one semester left at the Briar School for Girls in Sonoma, CA. But it will take more than straight As for Lana Goodwin to survive . . .

Senior year is not going well for 17-year-old Lana Goodwin. Her father’s vintage car business is about to crash and burn, the nicest (and cutest) teacher at school was fired under a cloud of scandal, and her hot sort-of boyfriend may or may not have something big to hide.

She’s also totally over being the class pauper. It’s bad enough her dad was briefly married to the head of the board—the rich, cruel, impeccably groomed Ramona Crawford. What’s worse is going to school with her vindictive ex-stepsister, who never misses an opportunity to make her life hell. Not ever.

It also happens to be the tenth anniversary of her mother’s suicide. No one knows why Annie Goodwin jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge the day after Christmas. She didn’t leave a note. She wasn’t sick. Even Lana’s father can’t explain it. Ten years later, someone—or something—starts sending her clues about her mother’s past.

Before Lana can escape to college, she finds herself in a life-or-death race to uncover her mother’s long-buried secrets.

Can she claim her birthright before her future and her life are snatched away?

Valley of the Moon is a modern-day fairy tale with some intense themes.

A contemporary YA romantic mystery for ages 16 and up.

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My Review
Valley of the Moon is a young adult page-turning thriller/mystery with a healthy dose of romance and a huge twist I never saw coming. Author Bronwyn Archer creates a stunning tale of a girl caught in the middle of the Russian mafia and a mystery surrounding her mother. There is a thread of the supernatural, but it may not be supernatural at all, that’s part of the mystery. Lana lives with her father, the owner of an exotic car dealership with financial difficulties. She meets and begins dating a hot guy who seems almost too perfect to be true. When her ex-stepmother starts meddling in her life, Lana is sure she’s up to something, but even she couldn’t anticipate how bad that something is.

Plot
The story is well-plotted with lots of suspense. There’s a particularly dark event I never saw coming and couldn’t believe at first, but the more I examined the story in retrospect, the more I realize it’s part of the longer plot, as this is the first book in the series. The author weaves an intricate tale of loss, fear, longing, and revenge with fascinating characters and mind-numbing twists.

The Writing
The writing is fluid and poetic at times. The author does a great job of building tension and interspersing it with lighter moments, allowing the reader to breathe, before building back up again to a breathless conclusion.

The Characters
Lana is one of my favorite young adult heroines. She’s brash, tough, smart, but is still vulnerable enough to make her sympathetic. She’s got a smart mouth and sometimes overuses it, but that’s one of my favorite things about her. The other characters are equally interesting, especially because we never get to really know them except through Lana’s eyes, making them all enigmas that I can’t wait to find out more about in the next book.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. There’s only one thing that rubbed me the wrong way and that’s the ending. It wasn’t a cliffhanger, it just…ended. It was odd and it left me unsettled rather than satisfied or dying to read more. This was the only thing that kept this from being a perfect five stars for me.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Valley of the Moon
1. Lana. She’s an amazing heroine with just enough grit and softness to make her kickass and belivable.

2. Lana’s dad. He’s troubled, but I like him. He puts his daughter’s safety and interests first.

3. The mystery. Trying to figure out what’s going on is half the fun with this gripping tale.

4. The twists. So many things I didn’t see coming kept me turning the page to find out what the heck happened.

5. The cars. Lana has an amazing collection of awesome cars at her disposal. If only the Russian mafia weren’t trying to kill her, she could have really enjoyed them.

Bottom Line
Valley of the Moon is a fast-paced young adult mystery thriller with enough romance and suspense to please nearly any audience.

Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Valley of the Moon
Author: Bronwyn Archer
Publisher: Bronarch Books
Release Date: April 13, 2016
Pages: 285
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance/Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Bronwyn Archer

Author Bronwyn Archer

About the Author
Bronwyn Archer is a young-adult author, digital media copywriter, and mother to several children, last time she counted.

At her all-girls high school, Bronwyn discovered a love of writing and the importance of a good fake ID. The only sport she was good at was boogie-boarding, but she decided to hang up her board after a terrifying close encounter with a seven-foot blue shark in the Santa Monica Bay.

She still gets nervous in black-bottomed swimming pools.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in English and Art History, she moved to Paris, where she edited a magazine for expatriates. After failing to become the next Hemingway—despite putting in many hours at the Ritz Hotel’s Hemingway Bar—she moved back to the States, where she developed a semi-successful career in New York and Los Angeles as a copywriter for ad agencies and companies like HBO and Disney.

Now Bronwyn writes fiction and raises children. She’s up to two rescue mutts and four kids, which makes her a semi-freak in this neck of the woods, but she’s learned that once you decide to live your life your way, everything else gets a little easier.

Besides writing and expertly avoiding baskets of laundry that need folding, Bronwyn loves movies from the 80s, comedy, Disneyland (sorry WDW), the paintings of Winslow Homer and Maxfield Parrish, coffee, Paris, Oscar Wilde, hot sauce, the Christmas season, Thai street food, making things with felt, and the smell of freshly printed books.

She is still searching for her own “signature fragrance,” which she’ll know when she finds it. .

Where to Find Bronwyn Archer
Goodreads | Website  | Twitter
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Young Adult Book Review + Giveaway – Holding Court by K.C. Held

Holding Court Blog Tour

Holding Court by K.C. Held

Holding Court by K.C. Held

4.5 Stars

Synopsis
Sixteen-year-old Jules Verity knows exactly what’s in store at her new job at castle-turned-dinner-theater Tudor Times. Some extra cash, wearing a fancy-pants dress, and plenty of time to secretly drool over the ever-so-tasty–and completely unavailable–Grayson Chandler. Except that it’s not quite what she imagined.

For one, the costume Jules has to wear is awful. Then there’s the dead body she finds that just kind of…well, disappears. Oh, and there’s the small issue of Jules and her episodes of what her best friend calls “Psychic Tourette’s Syndrome”–spontaneous and uncontrollable outbursts of seemingly absurd prophecies.

The only bright side? This whole dead body thing seems to have gotten Grayson’s attention. Except that the more Jules investigates, the more she discovers that Grayson’s interest might not be as courtly as she thought. In fact, it’s starting to look suspicious…

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My Review
Reading Holding Court was an absolute blast. The characters are quirky and adorable, the story is hysterical, and the mystery is just good plain fun. Jules has a strange gift that her best friend calls psychic Tourette’s syndrome or PTS. She blurts out things that seem to not make any sense, labeling her the weird kid at school. But her ability makes her perfect to play the Mad Maid of Kent in the Tudor Times dinner theater where she pretends to be a psychic and her blurting disorder is just right for the part.

Her long-term crush and his perfect-in-every-way girlfriend also work there, forcing her to spend more time than she’d like with the happy couple. And she can’t even hate the girlfriend because she’s one of the few people at school who hasn’t ostracised Jules for her PTS. But when bodies begin to pile up in the castle, Jules doesn’t know who to trust and the race is on to find out who’s offing the staff.

Plot
The plot centers around the mysterious disappearing body in the castle, but there is a romantic subplot involving Jules pining for Grayson who has a flawless girlfriend, Bree. The mystery definitely takes center stage, but the romance is cute and sweet and definitely adds to the story.

Characters
The characters are easily the best part of the book. They’re so entertaining. Jules is particularly likeable as the insecure blurting psychic with the crush on the unattainable boy. Her whole family is just as unusual and adorable, as is her best friend, Cami, the only person outside her family who seems to really get her. The colorful characters at Tudor Times rounds out the cast in delightful fashion, making it nearly impossible to figure out whodunit, because they’re all a bit wacky.

Writing
The writing is a blast. Debut novelist, K.C. Held, has a way of storytelling that is engaging and hysterical. Her main character is witty and charming, whether she’s blurting or trying to process the latest calamity to befall her.

Ending
There were a few surprising twists, one that I never saw coming!

What I Loved About Holding Court
1. The humor. There were many laugh out loud moments.
2. The characters. They were all unique and amusing, even the seedy ones.
3. The mystery. The disappearing body added a fun twist to this teen murder mystery.
4. The romance. While subtle, it was threaded throughout the story and kept me wanting to know what would happen.
5. Gran. She was a breath of fresh air as Jules’ temporary guardian while Jules’ mother is overseas on business.

Bottom Line
A delightful teen murder/mystery, filled with zany characters and laced with a sweet romance.

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Holding Court
Author: K.C. Held
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Pages: 352
Category: Young Adult Mystery/Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo | Entangled

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Author K.C. Held

Author K.C. Held

About the Author
K.C. HELD was born and raised in California with stopovers in Honduras, Mexico, and France. Married to her high school sweetheart, and mom to two avid bookworms, she holds an MFA in costume design and is an accomplished seamstress with a background in opera, theater, film, and television. Although she once spent a summer working in a castle, there were no dead bodies involved.

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Where to find K.C. Held
Goodreads | WebsiteFacebook Twitter | Tumblr

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Giveaway
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Book Review + Giveaway – Dog Collar Knockoff (Lucie Rizzo Mystery) by Adrienne Giordano

Dog Collar Knockoff (Lucie Rizzo Mystery #2) by Adrienne Giordano

Dog Collar Knockoff (Lucie Rizzo Mystery #2) by Adrienne Giordano

4 Stars

Synopsis
Catering to the pampered paws set took Lucie Rizzo from unemployed to entrepreneur. With her dog walking/chic pet accessory business on the verge of success, Lucie’s ready to make a name for herself. One not tarnished by her dad’s mobster rep.

When an art deal she brokered between clients turns suspicious, it’s up to Lucie to sniff out the truth. She might not know the difference between Monet and Manet, but Rizzos are no strangers to jail time—and Lucie refuses to be someone’s prison bitch.

Unless that someone is a tall, blond and Irish cop. Detective Tim O’Brien certainly knows how to get Lucie hot under the rhinestone collar. And with her on-again-off-again relationship with Frankie Falcone currently off, O’Brien isn’t shy about making her feel wanted, mafia ties and all. Even joining her crack—or crackpot—team on the trail of two paintings with equally shady origins.

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My Review
The second book in the Lucie Rizzo mystery series picks up not long after the end of the first one, but a lot has happened in that time. Lucie and Frankie are broken up, this time at Frankie’s insistence. Lucie’s budding business of dog walking and high-end pet accessories is taking off, so much so, she’s hired an assistant. Her young apprentice is an art major and notices some famous paintings hanging in the homes of Lucie’s clients, raising concerns about their authenticity. Most of the book centers around this mystery, especially with her on-again-off-again relationship with Frankie in the off position. But the young, hot detective who helped her out in the first book is still hanging around, and his interest in Lucie might not be one-sided.

Plot
The mystery is the main plot and it moves much faster than in the first novel. And while the author lets on pretty early what’s going on, there were a couple of really good unexpected twists. Lucie’s love triangle is a strong subplot and particularly well done. I neither love nor hate love triangles as a whole, but I do loathe poorly executed ones. Luckily that’s not the case here. Both guys have merit and both are easy to love. Lucie’s conundrum is wholly believable.

Characters
I love that both Lucie and Frankie went through some character development in this book. In a lot of mystery series’ the characters are stagnant, but not with this series. The cast is still a lovable bunch of colorful goofballs, but they’re more meaty than stereotypical. Lucie is introspective and knows she has a bunch of stuff to figure out, and it’s great that she doesn’t take the easy way out. Of anything.

Ending
I didn’t seen the ending coming and I’m happy with the way this chapter of Lucie’s life is wrapped up. I’m fully onboard with the Lucie Rizzo Mysteries now and looking forward to the next one.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. Lack of grippiness.
 If that’s even a word. I never really felt like Lucie was ever in any danger. It’s a fun read, but a little more edge-of-your-seat moments would have made this a real page-turner.

What I Enjoyed About Dog Collar Knockoff
1. The pacing.
 This second book in the series moved at a faster clip than the first, which made it a fun, fast read.
2. Chemistry. As much as I loved the Lucie/Frankie chemistry in the first book, I can’t deny she and Tim have their own sizzle. Adrienne Giordano writes a really believable love triangle.
3. The dogs. In the first book, I almost thought there were too many dogs. I mean, she’s a dog walker, but I still felt like I spent an inordinate amount of time reading about dogs taking a dump. This time, I actually looked forward to Lucie’s time with them. They’ve grown on me the way my own four-legged friend has. The one we got for the kids who has decided I’m his person and I’ve reluctantly accepted that.
4. Ro and Joey. These two will either kill each other or wind up together. If Joey was taking bets on his own life, the odds would be 50/50.
5. The mystery. The mystery was very different than the first one, and was well executed, which isn’t always easy to do.

Bottom Line
The second book in the series is even better than the first and I’m looking forward to the release of the third.

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Dog Collar Knockoff
Series: Lucie Rizzo Mystery #2
Author: Adrienne Giordano
Publisher: SilverHart Publishing
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Pages: 221
Genre: Cozy Mystery/New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooksKobo

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Author Adrienne Giordano

Author Adrienne Giordano

About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery. 

She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier).

She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. 

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Where to Find Adrienne Giordano
Goodreads | Website | Newsletter | Street TeamFacebook | Twitter

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Giveaway
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Month in Review – December 2015

Two weeks late, but you know, the holidays… Also, some front yard landscaping, and Aussie exchange student for eleven days, and final edits and publishing of The Uprising (which comes out on Tuesday!). Better late than never. Here are the books I read and reviewed in December, 2015.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Story: 4 Stars
Audiobook: 5 Stars

Title: Gone Girl
Author: 
Gillian Flynn
Release Date: 
May 24, 2012
Publisher:
Random House Audible
Narrators:
Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne
Length:
19 Hours 11 Minutes
Genre:
 Contemporary Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
Story Rating: 
4 out of 5 Stars
Audio Production Rating:
 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AudibleAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.

Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Bottom Line
Gone Girl is a disturbing tale, beautifully written, and the audiobook version is one of the best produced I’ve ever listened to.

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Bad Romance: A Stepbrother Novel by by Jen McLaughlin

Bad Romance A Stepbrother Novel by by Jen McLaughlin

Bad Romance A Stepbrother Novel by by Jen McLaughlin

4 Stars

Title: Bad Romance: A Stepbrother Novel
Author: 
Jen McLauchlin
Publisher: 
Loveswept
Release Date: 
September 15, 2015
Pages:
242
Genre: 
New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 
4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Synopsis
In this explosive novel from New York Times bestselling author Jen McLaughlin, a good girl falls for the ultimate bad boy: her stepbrother. Perfect for fans of Sabrina Paige, Caitlin Daire, and Krista Lakes, Bad Romance proves that passion can be so wrong it’s right.

Seven years in the army will change a guy. But after a shoulder wound ends his career as a sniper, Jackson Worthington finds himself back home, fighting a battle that’s all too familiar: keeping his hands off Lily Hastings. She’s still her rich daddy’s little angel, innocent, impossibly lovely, as squeaky-clean as Jackson is dirty. And she’s still his stepsister—forbidden but not forgotten, not after the soul-melting kiss that got him kicked out of the house at eighteen. He couldn’t resist her then. How the hell can he resist her now?

Lily is about to marry a man she doesn’t love, and commit to a high-stress job she hates, all to please the father who controls every waking moment of her life. On top of everything, her teenage crush is back, with a sleek, chiseled body and a trace of the rebellious boy whose lips sealed her fate. Jackson’s timing couldn’t be worse . . . or better. Because Lily’s all grown up, too. She’s aching for another taste. And for the first time, she’s ready to be a bad girl.

Bottom Line
Bad Romance is a page-turning romance about forbidden love and learning to live your own life.

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Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons

Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons

Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons

4.5 Stars

Title: Royal Marriage Market
Author: Heather Lyons
Publisher: Cerulean Books
Release Date: December 15, 2015
Pages: 335
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
Every decade, the world’s monarchs and their heirs secretly convene to discuss global politics and social issues—and arrange marriages between kingdoms. Elsa may be the Hereditary Princess of Vattenguldia, but she finds the entire situation archaic and unsavory. While she wants what’s best for her country, she isn’t about to jump into an unwanted relationship—let alone a marriage—with a virtual stranger. Of course, her feelings matter little to her parents, whose wheeling and dealings over trade pacts and alliances achieved at her expense begin the moment they set foot in California for the Summit. So when a blindingly handsome royal runs into her, she doesn’t hesitate to tell him there’s no way she’s marrying him.

Christian is all too happy to agree: no marriage. As the Hereditary Grand Duke of Aiboland, his main goal is to get through the summit without a bride being foisted on him. Which is why he suggests they help each other field potential intendeds. As Christian slowly gets to know Elsa, though, he realizes they have a lot more in common than just their feelings about the Royal Marriage Market. Only he can’t fall for her, because royal or not, they’re not meant for each other. Elsa and Christian will have to evaluate matters of the heart verses those of state and crown, and decide whether or not tradition trumps love.

Bottom Line
Royal Marriage Market is a fun twist on the contemporary romance genre with plenty of chemistry and more than a few laughs.

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The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus by Fred White

The Writer's Idea Thesaurus by Fred White

The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus by Fred White

3.5 Stars

Title: The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus: An Interactive Guide for Developing Ideas for Novels and Short Stories
Author: Fred White
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Pages: 320
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis
Endless ideas at your fingertips, and at the turn of a page…

Need an idea for a short story or novel? Look no further than The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus. It’s far more than a collection of simple writing prompts. You’ll find a vast treasury of story ideas inside, organized by subject, theme, and situation categories, and listed alphabetically for easy reference. Author and award-winning writing instructor Fred White shows you how to build out and customize these ideas to create unique plots that reflect your personal storytelling sensibilities, making The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus an invaluable tool for generating creative ideas and vanquishing writer’s block—for good.

Inside you’ll find:
•2,000 unique and dynamic story ideas perfect for novels and short stories of any genre or writing style
•Twenty major idea categories, such as The Invasion of X, The Transformation of X into Y, Escape from X, The Curse of X, and more
•Multiple situations that further refine the major categories, such as The Creation of Artificial Life, The Descent Into Madness, Love in the Workplace, The Journey to a Forgotten Realm, and more
•Invaluable advice on how to customize each idea.

The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus is an interactive story generator that opens the door to thousands of new story arcs and plotlines.

 Bottom Line
The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus lives up to its name as a unique reference guide to aid writers in developing story ideas.

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Next Door to a Star (Star Series) by Krysten Lindsay Hagar

Next Door to a Star by Krysten Lindsay Hagar

Next Door to a Star by Krysten Lindsay Hagar

4 Stars

Title: Next Door to a Star
Series: Star Series #1
Author:
Krysten Lindsay Hagar
Publisher: Limitless Publishing, LLC
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Pages: 185
Genre: 
Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon InternationalBarnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | BAM!

Synopsis
Hadley Daniels is tired of feeling invisible. After Hadley’s best friend moves away and she gets on the bad side of some girls at school, she goes to spend the summer with her grandparents in the Lake Michigan resort town of Grand Haven. Her next door neighbor is none other than teen TV star Simone Hendrickson, who is everything Hadley longs to be—pretty, popular, and famous—and she’s thrilled when Simone treats her like a friend. Being popular is a lot harder than it looks.

It’s fun and flattering when Simone includes her in her circle, though Hadley is puzzled about why her new friend refuses to discuss her former Hollywood life. Caught up with Simone, Hadley finds herself ignoring her quiet, steadfast friend, Charlotte. To make things even more complicated, along comes Nick Jenkins… He’s sweet, good-looking, and Hadley can be herself around him without all the fake drama. However, the mean girls have other ideas and they fill Nick’s head with lies about Hadley, sending him running back to his ex-girlfriend and leaving Hadley heartbroken.

So when her parents decide to relocate to Grand Haven, Hadley hopes things will change when school starts…only to be disappointed once again. Cliques. Back-stabbing. Love gone bad. Is this really what it’s like to live…Next Door To A Star?

Bottom Line
While Next Door to a Star moves slow at times, it’s filled with a colorful cast of young teens who think and act like the kids on the cusp of adulthood they are.
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Book Review – Dog Collar Crime (Lucie Rizzo Mystery) by Adrienne Giordano

Dog Collar Crime (Lucie Rizzo Mystery #1) by Adrienne Giordano

Dog Collar Crime (Lucie Rizzo Mystery #1) by Adrienne Giordano

3.5 Stars

Synopsis
Out of work and down on her luck, Lucie Rizzo is forced to do the one thing she’s long avoided—move home to her nutty, mob-infested family. A move that brings her back into the tempting arms of Frankie Falcone, the ex that never fails to make her heart sit up and beg.

When Lucie parlays her temporary dog-walking gig into a career making fancy dog accessories, Frankie becomes her number one supporter. Life starts to look like a walk in the park…until three of her bling-wearing clients are dogjacked.

Despite help from the on-again, off-again Mr. Fix-It in her life, Lucie is thrown into an investigation that’s more Goodfellas than good doggie. One that could shatter her new life and her second chance at love.

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My Review
There was much to love about Dog Collar Crime. In many ways, it reminded me of a Stephanie Plum novel minus the incompetent protagonist and unrealistically stupid criminals. Lucie Rizzo is out of work and forced to move back home with her mom and brother. Born and raised a mob princess, Lucie longs to break free of her family chains and make her own way in the world. But after getting laid off, she’s right back in the middle of the family drama, including a father in prison. Her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Frankie, would do anything for her, except leave behind his own mob-connected family.

Lucie makes ends meet by walking dogs and making high-end pet accessories, while she waits and hopes a job in banking comes her way. But when the dogs she walks start being targeted by someone, Lucie begins to wonder if she’ll ever be able to escape that world.

Plot
The plot is a mystery with a strong dose of romance. Finding out who is targeting her dogs and why is the main plot, but her relationship with Frankie plays a larger role than in most other books of this genre. The pacing was slow more than a few times. There seemed to be a lot of time spent walking the dogs, which granted is Lucie’s job, but not much else happened. There also seemed to be some repeated elements. Instead of escalating early, the dognappings stayed sort of the same and the back-and-forth with Frankie felt too repetitive at times. But there’s light humor, plenty of chemistry between the characters, and a couple of twists that redeem the story.

Characters
The characters are by far the best part of the story. They’re fun, quirky, well-rounded, and believable. Lucie Rizzo’s desire to be anything but the daughter of a mobster is tangible and relatable, even if your dad isn’t a made man. Frankie is also sympathetic as the loyal son who has managed to break away from the crime family and flourish in a legitimate job. Even the gangster family members transcend stereotype and are well-developed and three-dimensional.

Ending
I was expecting more from the ending. Although a mystery and not a thriller, overall the story lacked a real sense of peril for the characters. I never felt like any of their lives were truly in danger. The climax left me wondering what would happen to the characters’ relationships rather than if they would survive. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I did care about all of them and wanted them to wind up happy.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The pacing.
 The story moved too slow for me at times.
2. Repetition. There were times I felt like we revisited the same issues over and over again, particularly when it came to Lucie’s feelings for, and issues with, Frankie.

What I Enjoyed About Dog Collar Crime
1. The characters.
 All of the characters were well developed, interesting, and avoided stereotypes.
2. Chemistry. There was instant chemistry between Lucie and Frankie, but also a great bromance between Frankie and Lucie’s brother, Joey, between Lucie and her brother, and between Lucie and her mom. These relationships all came across as lovingly authentic.
3. The mystery. The mystery of who was behind the dognappings was well plotted, and kept me guessing.
4. Ro. Best BFF ever.
5. Lucie’s mom. She was so beautifully flawed and yet I never doubted her love for her children.

Bottom Line
Dog Collar Crime is a lighthearted mystery with compelling characters and a touch of humor.

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Dog Collar Crime
Series: Lucie Rizzo Mystery #1
Author: Adrienne Giordano
Release Date: August 4, 2013
Pages: 256
Genre: Cozy Mystery/New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

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Author Adrienne Giordano

Author Adrienne Giordano

About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery. 

She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier).

She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. 

Where to Find Adrienne Giordano
Goodreads | Website | Newsletter | Street TeamFacebook | Twitter

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Audiobook Review – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Story: 4 Stars
Audiobook: 5 Stars

Synopsis
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary.

Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.

Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior.

Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

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My Review
I got the unabridged version of this book from Audible. All 19 hours and 11 minutes worth. At times, I loved the story and took the long way to and from my destination, or lapped the block one more time to continue listening. Other times, I hated it, chose music over audiobooks for months at a time. It took me nearly ten months to finish it. What I can’t deny is that Gillian Flynn is a hell of a writer. The story is intriguing, captivating, unnerving. The audiobook production is among the best I’ve ever listened to, and I listen to a lot of audiobooks. The narrators are talented and brought the characters to life. And what characters they are. Complex, deep, fully three-dimensional, and unfortunately, utterly loathsome.

I absolutely salivated over the brilliant writing of Gillian Flynn, took notes, wished I could write like that. The story was engaging at times, difficult to read at others. The pacing was slow in spots, and those were the times I felt myself less inclined to listen for awhile. At other times, it was fast, riveting. At no point did I figure out what was going to happen next. The plot twists are inspired. So with all of this going for it, why couldn’t I give it five stars? The book left me unsettled, and not in the way a good thriller does. It left me feeling ambivalent toward all the characters, as in I don’t really care what happens to them. In some ways, I wish I’d never read about them. And the ending was flat, not living up to the expectations the author set with her amazing plotting throughout.

Plot
The plotting was fantastic. There were so many twists and turns and unexpected surprises. Gillian Flynn is a master of pre-shadowing. Everything that happens has a purpose that may not become clear until a long time later, but her method of storytelling ensures even the smallest detail is memorable.

Characters
The characters are well developed, believable, stunningly crafted. Even the smallest character was thoroughly developed. I just didn’t care for any of them. Didn’t care what happened to them, and still don’t. But they will not soon be forgotten.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The ending. I absolutely despised how it just ended in a way that felt unfinished. Sometimes, I wonder if maybe it went on longer than necessary, other times, I think it stopped too soon. I just know it feels unfinished and not in a “sequel is coming” kind of way.

2. The characters. Man, I hate them all, with the exception of maybe Margo and Boney. I can’t deny the characters are three-dimensional and wholly realistic. The world is full of people who are difficult or impossible to like. But in the end, I had no one to root for in Gone Girl.

What I Enjoyed About Gone Girl
1. The writing. Flawless, beautiful prose underlies a dark mystery with contemptible characters.

2. The plot twists. There were so many of them and they were so perfectly woven in, they were nearly seamless.

3. The narration. Both voice actors were amazing. This is one of the best audiobook productions I’ve ever listened to.

4. The character development. Yes, I loathe them, but they are so well crafted, I have to remind myself they’re fictional.

5. Attention to detail. The vivid writing made the scenes come alive in my mind as I listened. In some ways, I feel as if I watched a movie.

Bottom Line
Gone Girl is a disturbing tale, beautifully written, and the audiobook version is one of the best produced I’ve ever listened to.

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About the Audiobook
Title:
 Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Release Date: May 24, 2012
Publisher: Random House Audible
Narrators: Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne
Length: 19 Hours 11 Minutes
Genre: Contemporary Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
Story Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Audio Production Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AudibleAmazon | Barnes & Noble

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Author Gillian Flynn

Author Gillian Flynn

About the Author
Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.

Her book has received wide praise, including from authors such as Stephen King. The dark plot revolves around a serial killer in a Missouri town, and the reporter who has returned from Chicago to cover the event. Themes include dysfunctional families,violence and self-harm.

In 2007 the novel was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Writer, Crime Writers’ Association Duncan Lawrie, CWA New Blood and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers, winning in the last two categories.

Flynn, who lives in Chicago, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated at the University of Kansas, and qualified for a Master’s degree from Northwestern University.

Where to Find Gillian Flynn
GoodreadsWebsite | Facebook

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Month in Review – October 2015

October is by far my favorite month of the year. I love when the temperatures, sort of, sometimes, get cooler in San Diego, plus Halloween. But mostly it’s all about the pumpkin. Pumpkin spice lattes, This Pumpkin Walked into a Bar, pumpkin pasta, muffins, pie, and more. I also managed to do a little more reading this month than I did earlier in the summer. These are the books I reviewed in October:

Mad Love 2 by Colet Abedi

Mad Love 2 (Mad Love Series #2) by Colete Abedi

4 Stars

Title: Mad Love 2
Series: Mad Love #2
Author: Colet ABedi
Publisher: Bird Street Books
Pages: 262
Category: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis
Heartbroken by the handsome and enigmatic Clayton Astor Sinclair, Sophie Walker has put her whirlwind romance with him in the Maldives behind her and is determined to focus on her career as an artist.

But when her new job in the south of France turns out to be too good to be true, she can’t help but wonder if she is making a mistake. Their passion cannot be denied, but when Clayton shuts her out after a family tragedy, Sophie is determined to fight for what is right. She must defy all odds to find her own happily ever after. 

This book is intended for mature audiences.

Bottom Line
A worthy follow-up to Mad Love, it’s intense, emotional, and delves deeper into the characters we’ve come to know. The jury is still out on whether or not I love them.

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Pepped Up Forever (Pepper Jones Series) by Ali Dean

Pepped Up Forever (Pepper Jones #5) by Ali Dean

4.5 Stars

Title: Pepped Up Forever
Series:  Pepper Jones #5
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: October 1, 2015
Pages: 180
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis
This is the fifth and final book in the Pepper Jones series, and it’s one you don’t want to miss.

Pepper Jones is ready to start breaking some records. She’ll be a junior in college, and if she wants to run professionally when she graduates, it’s time to step things up a notch. This time around, she knows it won’t be accomplished by ramping up her training. While Pepper’s hoping for a race day breakthrough, she wonders if there’s a mental barrier holding her back, and if so, how is she supposed to confront it?

Meanwhile, Jace Wilder wants Pepper back any way he can have her, but he’s reluctant to bulldoze his way into her life having already crushed her once (okay, probably a few more times than that) before. More scenes from Jace’s point of view in the book shed a new perspective into the character Pepper fans love to hate, and hate to love, delving into those layers he’s only given glimpses of in the past.

The Brockton crew is growing up. Zoe and Wes. Jenny and Rollie. Lexi and Brax. Bunny and Wallace. Pepper and ??? It’s time to find out what Pepper’s happily ever after will be.

Bottom Line
A worthy ending to a great series.

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The Rebel by Adrienne Giordano

The Rebel by Adrienne Giordano

4 Stars

Title: The Rebel
Author: Adrienne Giordano
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue
Release Date: October 1, 2015
Pages: 234
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 4 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | GooglePlay | Harlequin

Synopsis
Bad to the bone…in all the right ways

A brilliant civil lawyer, David Hennings has always been the outsider—at odds with his wealthy family, shunning relationships, defying convention as a sexy leather-jacketed biker. Which is why sculptor Amanda LeBlanc agrees to his request to reconstruct a skull from a cold case murder. The instant heat between them is scorching.

But once Amanda takes the job and gets too close to the rebellious attorney, her carefully balanced life is upended by a series of methodical attacks. Someone doesn’t want her to finish the job. Now David will risk everything not to lose the woman he unknowingly put in jeopardy.

Bottom Line
The Rebel is a mystery wrapped in a romantic suspense with a big dose of fully-developed characters.

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How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo

How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo

5 Stars

Title: How to Say I Love You Out Loud
Author: Karole Cozzo
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: August 4, 2015
Pages: 240
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
When Jordyn Michaelson’s autistic brother joins her at her elite school, she’s determined not to let anyone know they’re related. Even if that means closing herself off to all her closest friends, including charming football stud Alex Colby.

But despite her best intentions, she just can’t shake the memory of kissing Alex last summer, and the desire to do it again.

Can Jordyn find the courage to tell Alex how she really feels—and the truth about her family—before he slips away forever?

 Bottom Line
How to Say I Love You Out Loud is an emotional look at finding your own words and the strength to say them out loud.

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How Fiction Works by Oakley Hall

How Fiction Works by Oakley Hall

3.5 Stars

Title: How Fiction Works
Author: Oakley Hall
Publisher: Story Press
Publication Date: January 5, 2001
Pages: 240
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis
In How Fiction Works, Oakley Hall expands upon and broadens the instruction that made The Art and Craft of Novel Writing so successful.

This new book covers all forms and lengths of fiction, probes deeper into every topic, offers new examples and includes exercises and the end of every chapter. He explains the basic and finer points of the fiction-writing process from word choice and imagery to authority and viewpoint.

The book is divided into three sections, beginning with “The Basics.” In this section, Hall explores the micro elements of storytelling, such as details, word choice, images, symbol and metaphor. He then moves on! to “The Elements,” which covers the primary elements of fiction: point of view, characterization and plot. Citing numerous examples from classic and contemporary work, he shows readers how these elements function separately and in concert. Finally, the focus shifts to the specific types of fiction – short shorts, short stories, novellas, and novels – also known as “The Forms.” Each form presents a unique challenge to the writer, and Hall explains how to meet those challenges.

Beginning, as well as more advanced writers, will find much to like about this book.

Bottom Line
How Fiction Works includes sound advice for fiction writers with illustrative examples. It’s definitely worth a read.

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The Book of Ivy (Book of Ivy Series) by Amy Engel

The Book of Ivy (Book of Ivy #1) by Amy Engel

4 Stars

Title: The Book of Ivy
Series: The Book of Ivy #1
Author: Amy Engel
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo BooksiTunesGoogle Books

Bottom Line
The Book of Ivy is a familiar dystopian tale with enough of its own uniqueness to set it apart from the rest.

Synopsis
After a brutal nuclear war, the United States was left decimated. A small group of survivors eventually banded together, but only after more conflict over which family would govern the new nation. The Westfalls lost. Fifty years later, peace and control are maintained by marrying the daughters of the losing side to the sons of the winning group in a yearly ritual.

This year, it is my turn.

My name is Ivy Westfall, and my mission is simple: to kill the president’s son—my soon-to-be husband—and restore the Westfall family to power.

But Bishop Lattimer is either a very skilled actor or he’s not the cruel, heartless boy my family warned me to expect. He might even be the one person in this world who truly understands me. But there is no escape from my fate. I am the only one who can restore the Westfall legacy.

Because Bishop must die. And I must be the one to kill him…

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Review + Giveaway – The Rebel by Adrienne Giordano

The Rebel by Adrienne Giordano

The Rebel by Adrienne Giordano

4 Stars

Synopsis

Bad to the bone…in all the right ways 

A brilliant civil lawyer, David Hennings has always been the outsider—at odds with his wealthy family, shunning relationships, defying convention as a sexy leather-jacketed biker. Which is why sculptor Amanda LeBlanc agrees to his request to reconstruct a skull from a cold case murder. The instant heat between them is scorching. 

But once Amanda takes the job and gets too close to the rebellious attorney, her carefully balanced life is upended by a series of methodical attacks. Someone doesn’t want her to finish the job. Now David will risk everything not to lose the woman he unknowingly put in jeopardy.

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My Review
I love a good mystery. Add romance and instant heat and I’m there. The Rebel pairs pragmatic artist, Amanda, with edgy civil lawyer, David. David comes from a family of lawyers, but he’s the only one to shy away from criminal law, so it’s ironic he’s the one his mother enlists to convince Amanda to reconstruct the identity of a woman only from her skull. Sparks fly upon their first meeting, but they dance around their attraction for more than half the book before anything happens. There was more than enough intrigue, and good juicy mystery, and lots of unresolved sexual tension to keep me invested.

The timeframe is short, so a lot is packed into several fast-paced days, including a red hot romance. Despite that, the pacing of the writing itself is steady rather than intense. It moves, but for me, never reached the I-can’t-put-it-down stage. Not to say that I didn’t find that I wasn’t interested in finishing it, only that I was okay to wait until morning to finish reading. It was a good solid story, though, with interesting characters and an intriguing plot.

Plot
On the surface, it seems the plot is the mystery of the skull found in the prologue, but it’s really the story of David and Amanda’s romance. They’re thrown together because of the mystery, and danger follows them as a result, driving conflict. The romance moves almost too quickly based on the compressed timeframe of only a few days, but in the span of the story itself, it unfolds slowly. But at no time did I doubt these two would end up together.

Characters
The characters are where this story really shines. Adrienne Giordano creates deep, layered characters who are exceedingly likeable as they spew witty banter. The family dynamics of David, his siblings, and his mother are as real as it gets and were at the root of some of the best scenes in the book.

Writing
The author does a great job of setting the scene, getting us inside her character’s heads, and developing those characters. There were a few pacing issues, but nothing major. There was also a pretty good twist I didn’t see coming, even though it was excellently foreshadowed.

Ending
Things wrapped up pretty much the way I expected in a satisfying conclusion.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About The Rebel:
1. The mystery. When a skull is found, the hunt is on for the identity it belongs to, putting everyone in danger.

2. The flirty banter between David and Amanda. Their attraction is instant and it shows.

3. Family dynamics. The sibling rivalry and revelry between David and his brother and sister is palpable.

4. The twist. I won’t give it away, but it was fun to not figure it out ahead of time.

5. Jenna. The smart, tough investigator is a solid supporting character and I’d love to read a whole book from her point of view. Think Kalinda from The Good Wife.

Bottom Line
The Rebel is a mystery wrapped in a romantic suspense with a big dose of fully-developed characters.

Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: The Rebel
Author: Adrienne Giordano
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue
Release Date: October 1, 2015
Pages: 234
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 4 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | GooglePlay | Harlequin

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Author Adrienne Giordano

Author Adrienne Giordano

About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery. 

She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier).

She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. 

Where to Find Adrienne Giordano
Goodreads | Website | Newsletter | Street TeamFacebook | Twitter

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Giveaway
There is a tour-wide giveaway of a $25.00 eGift Card to an online book retailer of winner’s choice and three swag packs.

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YA Book Review + Giveaway – The Weight of Guilt by Jon Ripslinger

The Weight of Guilt by John Ripslinger

The Weight of Guilt by John Ripslinger

4 Stars

Synopsis
Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley. Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal’s daughter, Megan.

Though he’s reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date. The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing. Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.

Charley Cotton, Megan’s best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn’t trust John because of his past. John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley’s death, though—it’s destroying his life.

With Charley’s help, he learns that others in Megan’s life had a motive to keep her quiet. But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murderer with everything to lose.

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My Review
After reading my first young adult mystery a few months ago, I’ve been hooked on the genre, trying to channel a little Veronica Mars, novel-style. The Weight of Guilt delivers. Told from dual points of view, Jon Ripslinger creates believable teen characters who are dealing with a lot. None of his characters have easy, carefree lives. John, one of his main characters, has had more crap in his short life than any kid should have to deal with. Even Charley, who has a decent home life, has to deal with the murder of her best, and really only true, friend.

When John moves to a small Mississippi River town after the death of his girlfriend, Megan, the daughter of the school principal, has her sights set on him. He’s good looking, mysterious, and will piss off her boyfriend, Cole, who she’s pretty much done with. Refusing to take no for an answer, she convinces John to escort her to prom. But when Megan disappears and her body is found four days later, John becomes the prime suspect. He and Charley team up to find out who really killed her, and friendship and maybe something a little more begins to blossom between them. But whoever killed Megan wants John dead, too, putting both of them in danger.

World Building
Small town America comes alive in Jon Ripslinger’s tale. The small tight-knit community, secrets, gossip, and lies all take a starring role.

Plot
The main plot is who killed Megan and it’s a solid teen mystery. Several subplots wind through, all of which include the potential other suspects, and a subtle romance between John and Charley, which is really well done.

Characters
The strongest aspect is the character development. Each character is deep, layered, and complex, adding to the mystery. Even secondary and tertiary characters have depth and in some cases their own story arcs.

The Writing
It took me a little bit to get into the story. It didn’t always read like young adult, but that isn’t a bad thing. There’s very little strong language, and a cast of young characters, but otherwise reads far more like an adult thriller or mystery. And I think that sets it apart from other books in the category. In a good way.

The Ending
Although I kind of figured out who it was before the big reveal, the ending was still well done, and not predictable by any stretch.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About The Weight of Guilt
1. John Hawk. He’s a fascinating character that I could totally get behind from the opening pages.

2. Anne. John’s sister takes him in and worries about him the way a sister should.

3. Charley Cotton. She’s the plain girl, always in the shadow of her bright and shiny best friend, and yet she has no jealousy. She’s fiercely loyal, strong, independent, stubborn, and a complex, fascinating character.

4. The Police. All the detectives and police officers are well-developed. Although stereotypical at times, not in an over-the-top manner, more in a believable, gumshoe kind of way.

5. Megan. There was so much to like about our victim, I was sorry we didn’t get more time with her.

Bottom Line
The Weight of Guilt is a strong young adult mystery with a side of romance that moves from the opening pages.

Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

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About the Book
Title: The Weight of Guilt
Author: Jon Ripslinger
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing, LLC
Release Date: February 27, 2015
Pages: 242
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooksKobo | GooglePlay

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Author Jon Ripslinger

Author Jon Ripslinger

About the Author
After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author. He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens. He has also published numerous short stories in Woman’s World magazine.

Jon and his wife, Collette live in Iowa. They are the proud grandparents of thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing. He waits patiently for the next “big one” to strike.

Where to Find Jon Ripslinger
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | RAP

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Giveaway
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YA Book Review – Never Gonna Tell by Sarah M. Ross

Never Gonna Tell by Sarah M. Ross

Never Gonna Tell by Sarah M. Ross

4 Stars

Synopsis
My name is Reagan Wilcox: high school senior by day, kick-ass investigative journalist by night. I’ve always loved observing people—especially when they think no one is paying attention.I thought I was ready to cover any story. Work any angle.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened that night. I wasn’t ready for what I saw. And I certainly wasn’t ready for him.

I always knew I’d write the headlines. Now, I just might become one.

My Review
I was expecting a teen mystery when I picked this up, but what I got instead was a teen thriller with some elements of a mystery. It’s an intense, exciting, rollercoaster ride of action and emotion that was difficult to put down.

Reagan Wilcox likes to remain outside the limelight. She’s perfectly happy to sit back and observe unnoticed. Her dream of becoming an investigative reporter has her quietly looking for a story among her classmates. The odd behavior of the school’s star quarterback has her digging deeper. And what she finds just might get her killed.

The writing is strong, the characters interesting, and the story is riveting. While it was a bit slow to start, the story picked up quickly and took off at a manic pace, building to a nailbiting climax. This was a welcome change from the young adult novels I’ve been reading lately, and definitely one I’d recommend.

Plot
This is almost entirely plot driven, and it’s a heck of a plot. Sarah M. Ross keeps the story moving, doling out information to keep us hooked without overloading the story. We get the information we need as we needed it, and never before. If young adult thrillers is going to be a new thing, this is the blueprint for them. In the end, I felt as if there were still some unanswered questions, but the big issues were all wrapped up.

World Building
The world building is subtle and sometimes stereotypical, but the author injects enough humor to poke fun at those stereotypes, that it works. Everything from the small town “everyone knows your business” to mob families is built organically, so it never feels like a caricature.

Characters
None of the characters are particularly layered or deep, but I don’t think it’s necessary here. The characters are definitely fun and interesting, and drive the plot, which is what this story is all about. And the main character, Reagan, and her love interest, Marco, are infinitely likable. That’s all I really need in a book like this.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Never Gonna Tell
1. Reagan. Her tenacity is inspiring. I love how this girl who never walks away from a good story, is willing to risk her own life to save the lives of those she cares about.

2. Marco. He defies his family and risks his life for a girl he barely knows.

3. Charlie. He’s got issues up the wazoo, but the kid is as loyal as they come. Everyone should have a best friend like Charlie.

4. The pacing. After getting off to a bit of a slow start, it takes off and kept me on the edge of my seat for the remainder of the story.

5. The uncertainty. Because this book was anything but formulaic, there were no guarantees. No one was safe, which made the story that much more compelling.

Bottom Line
Never Gonna Tell is a solid young adult thriller with lots of action, danger, and a sweet romance. I’d definitely read more by this author.

Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

About the Book
Title: Never Gonna Tell
Author: Sarah M. Ross
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Pages: 202
Category: Young Adult Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Sarah M. Ross

Author Sarah M. Ross

About the Author
Sarah started her obsession with reading at an early age, often sneaking BabySitter Club and Nancy Drew books into math class. She would read any book she could get her hands on. Her love of reading quickly evolved into a love of writing and stories began to pour out of her.

She grew up in Pittsburgh, graduated from The University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English, and taught 8th graders to love reading as much as she does for several years. Sarah will always be a proud member of the Steelers’ Nation, but couldn’t take the cold and moved her frozen tush to Florida where she now lives with her family and two cats. You will find her now with her trusty Kindle in hand and toes in the sand!

Sarah’s debut novel, AWAKEN, released in January, 2012. Other novels include AVENGE, ATONE, ECHO OF AN EARTH ANGEL, and INHALE EXHALE.

Where to Sarah M. Ross
Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook

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Giveaway
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YA Book Review – Sudden Secrets by C. Lee McKenzie

Sudden Secrets by C. Lee McKenzie

Sudden Secrets by C. Lee McKenzie

4 Stars

Synopsis
One Secret

Cleo has struggled to heal after her baby sister’s death, but the flashbacks to the accident won’t go away. With the move, she vows to keep her tragedy a secret and avoid pitying looks.

One Mystery

Something’s strange about the abandoned house across the street-flashes of light late at night and small flickers of movement that only someone looking for them would see.

Everyone says the house is deserted, but Cleo is sure it isn’t, and she’s sure whoever is inside is watching her.

Another Secret

In one night, Belleza’s life changes forever. So famous, her only choice is to hide her secret from the world so she can silence small town bigotry.

Then Cleo happens.

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My Review
Sudden Secrets is a well-written, emotional tale of teen, Cleo, whose family has suffered the tragic loss of Aziza, her four-year-old sister. In an attempt to heal, they relocate to a small northern California town that has its own secrets. Cleo’s life is shattered not only by the loss of her sister, but also as the fracturing of her family in the aftermath. Her mom disappears into herself while her father disappears to Afghanistan on an archeological expedition. Even her grandfather withdraws, becoming a shell of his former self. And if that isn’t bad enough, Cleo blames herself for the accident that took her sister’s life.

Cleo’s mom sees the relocation as a chance to heal, Cleo sees it as an opportunity to start over, even if she’s not sure that can happen. Cleo runs to escape her pain and when she runs to the nearby high school and meets super-hot Ethan, things are looking up. At least until she meets Ethan’s equally hot girlfriend, Stacey.

Cleo manages to begin rebuilding her life, making friends with Stacey, Ethan, and eternally boisterous Rudy. When she notices some odd activity in the supposedly vacant house across the street, the four of them embark on solving the  mystery that dates back more than five decades and may or may not involve a local hero.

Plot
The plot is multi-pronged with the main plot centering on pain surrounding Cleo and her family, but a strong subplot is the mystery of Belleza and the house across the street. The romance is a minor subplot, which works fine in this case. My only real complaint with the plot is that the romance seems almost irrelevant to the story. It would have been nice if it was intertwined more, not necessarily a bigger part, just more of a factor.

World Building
What there is, is subtle, but the setting isn’t terribly important. It’s small town Northern California and the author does a good job of evoking that misty, foggy Bay Area atmosphere enough to set the scenes.

Characters
This is almost entirely a character-driven story and that’s where it really shines. Each character is well-developed, even the secondary and tertiary ones. They all have rich and deep back stories that fit the plot and are never extraneous nor feel forced upon us. We learn about the characters at exactly the right time, when the information is crucial to the story.

The character development is really well done, too. Everyone from Cleo to her family and Belleza across the street grow and develop through the story in very believable, authentic, organic ways.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Sudden Secrets
1. The Mystery. I love when an author can pique my interest, keep it, then let that interest bloom and grow by revealing bits and pieces of the secret. C. Lee McKenzie has done a masterful job of this in Sudden Secrets.

2. The Romance. No, it’s not the main plot or even a strong subplot, and I did mention that I wished it’d been more integral to the story, but what I enjoyed about it was that it was anything BUT formulaic.

3. Belleza. She’s complex, complicated, deep, emotional, loyal, mysterious, and one hundred percent awesome!

4. Cleo. She’s extremely likeable, even though she’s flawed. She does things that made me shake my head, but I always knew her heart was in the right place. She was a refreshing change from the typical young adult protagonist.

5. Rudy. There is something so infectious about him, that just reading about him made me smile.

Bottom Line
Sudden Secrets is an intriguing story with complex characters that worm their way into your heart.

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Sudden Secrets
Author: C. Lee McKenzie
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Release Date: December 19, 2014
Pages: 201
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Author C. Lee McKenzie

Author C. Lee McKenzie

About the Author
In my other life–the one before I began writing for teens and younger readers–I was a teacher and administrator at California State University, San Jose. My field of Linguistics and Inter-cultural Communication has carried me to a lot of places in the world to explore different cultures and languages. I can say, “Where’s the toilet?” and “I’m lost!” in at least five languages and two dialects. Go ahead. Pat me on the back.

My idea of a perfect day is one or all of the following: starting a new novel, finishing writing a blockbuster novel, hiking on a misty morning trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains, saying Namaste after a great yoga practice, sipping a cappuccino topped at a bustling café, reading in front of a fire with snow outside, swimming in an ocean someplace.

I’ve just set out my perfect life. Day after day after day.

Where to Find C. Lee McKenzie
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter
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Book Review – Two for the Dough (Stephanie Plum) by Janet Evanovich

Two for the Dough (Stephanie Plum #2) by Janet Evanovich

Two for the Dough (Stephanie Plum #2) by Janet Evanovich

5 Stars

Synopsis
Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is still learning the ropes at her cousin Vinnie’s bail bond office, so when she sets out on the trail of Kenny Mancuso–a suspiciously wealthy, working class Trenton boy who has just shot his best friend–the stakes are higher than ever. That Mancuso is distantly related to vice cop Joe Morelli–who is trying to beat Stephanie to the punch–only makes the hunt more thrilling….

Taking pointers from her bounty hunter pal, Ranger, and using her pistol-packing Grandma Mazur as a decoy, Stephanie is soon closing in on her mark. But Morelli and his libido are worthy foes. And a more sinister kind of enemy has made his first move…and his next move might be Stephanie’s last.

My Review
Two for the Dough is even more fun than it’s predecessor. Now that Stephanie has one mystery solved, she feels a little bit more confident about her job as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie. Because the characters and circumstances are already established, this installment focuses more on the adventures surrounding Stephanie’s latest case.

There are more hijinks, goofiness, and laugh-out-loud moments, the best of which occurs when Stephanie invites coworker, Ranger, over for a family dinner and Grandma Mazur opens her mouth. I enjoyed watching Stephanie try and fail over and over, each time with hilarious results. Things are heating up with Joe Morelli, too, but these two still have a long way to go before they approach anything even close to resembling an adult relationship.

Plot
The plot centers around the mystery and finding Kenny Mancuso. But because this is Stephanie Plum, nothing is ever simple. Nothing goes according to plan and everyone and everything, including Stephanie’s own ineptitude, gets in the way. Throw in not one, but two hot guys, and this is a steamy, spirited page-turner that kept me laughing.

World Building
Once again, Evanovich’s depiction of Trenton, New Jersey comes alive with colorful characters and vivid locales in larger than life form. I have no doubt Stephanie’s version of bailbondsmanship isn’t quite the world that Dog the Bounty Hunter inhabits, but there’s just enough realism to keep it from being cartoonish.

Characters
It’s fun to see some actual character development in a light-hearted mystery like this. It’s not a lot. I mean, it’s not like Stephanie suddenly gets responsible and becomes a kick-butt bounty hunter, but there is some growth. Plus we get to see more of some of the more interesting characters, particularly Grandma Mazur. Even Ranger, as tight-lipped as he is, opens up a little this time around more.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Two for the Dough
1. Grandma Mazur. She’s a kick in the pants. You just never know what’s going to come out of her mouth next (and I’m not talking about her dentures.)

2. Stephorelli. Okay, it’s my own “ship” name, but it was either that or Morellanie. Whatever you call them, these two are either perfect for each other or will end up killing one another.

3. Ranger. His one word responses say more than a dozen words strung together. He is the epitome of cool.

4. Trenton, NJ. It might just be a town, but it is somehow also becomes a character in the story.

5. The bad guys. Because even they are about as competent at their badassery as Stephanie is at catching them.

Bottom Line
Two for the Dough is a solid follow up in an entertaining, light-hearted mystery series, and it’s even funnier than its predecessor.

About the Book
Title
: Two for the Dough
Series: Stephanie Plum #2
Author: Janet Evanovich
Release Date: July 15, 1999
Pages: 336
Category: Romance, Mystery, Chic-Lit
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

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Author Janet Evanovich

Author Janet Evanovich

About the Author
Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Trouble Maker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O’Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg.

Where to Find Cindy Ray Hale
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

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Book Review – Heartsick by Caitlin Sinead

Heartsick by Caitlin Sinead

Heartsick by Caitlin Sinead

4 Stars

Synopsis
Quinn is looking forward to her senior year at Poe University. She has big plans to hang out with her best friend, flirt with a certain boy genius, party at her favorite dive bar and figure out what she’s going to do after graduation with her not-so-useful art major. But that’s before she meets Luke, a hot townie who’s moved back home to help take care of his dying sister. And it’s before a weird epidemic sweeps across campus, mysteriously turning people’s eyes purple.

Is it an odd side effect from a new party drug?

Is it a rogue virus developed in a campus lab?

Is it the mark of the devil?

Soon the town starts blaming the university and the student religious group becomes frighteningly aggressive in their on-campus accusations. Quinn and Luke are caught in the middle—until a tragic accident forces Luke to reveal the one part of himself he’s kept carefully hidden. That he’s so much more than the happy-go-lucky boy next door Quinn had believed him to be isn’t a surprise…but this truth might be too dangerous for her to handle.

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My Review
Although it starts off pretty slow, it picks up about halfway through and turns into a pretty good page-turning mystery. When Quinn’s roommate, Mandy, begins showing strange symptoms, not the least of which is lavender eyes, she finds herself embroiled in the mystery of the century. As more symptoms and victims pile up, the small town of Allen, Virginia finds itself at the center of a media and panic firestorm. Caitlin is torn between brainy Rashid, fellow student at Poe University, and towie, Luke. Each has something to offer, making her inability to choose somewhat understandable. But I had a hard time with understanding the way she bounced back and forth between them, sometimes hour-to-hour or even minute-to-minute.

Plot
The plot centers around the mysterious illness plaguing Poe University students as it spreads from Caitlin’s roommate, Mandy, patient 0, to the broader Allen community. Numerous theories abound, including it being the work of the devil, a side-effect of a new club drug, or a manufactured virus. When another symptom appears to be miraculous healing in those with purple eyes, sick people from everywhere come to Allen hoping to catch the virus, and with it a cure for whatever ails them. The love-triangle subplot is almost thrown in as an afterthought. If you come for the romance, stay for the  mystery, because that’s what really drives this story.

World Building
The author creates a believable world of small town paranoia and life for both locals and students when an exclusive university is the biggest thing around.

Characters
The cast is pretty large, but Caitlin is the main character. She’s not particularly likeable, but she does have her moments and by the end, I found myself rooting for her. Mandy is the most interesting character, with her tragic backstory and her love for a nerd when she could have almost any hot guy she wanted. Luke, one of Caitlin’s love interests, is more rounded and sympathetic than hot, brainy, Rashid. There’s also a whole host of colorful locals and college students to make a tapestry of characters that drives the plot.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed Heartsick
1. The Mystery. I love a good new adult romance wrapped up in a mystery. It might be my new favorite genre.

2. Luke. He’s totally badass with a nice soft underbelly and a big heart.

3. Danny. What’s not to like about the loveable Freshman?

4. Mandy. She’s feisty, spunky, and as loyal as they come. Sometimes I think she deserves a better BFF than Caitlin.

5. Allen, Virginia. This small town has heart and soul and perfectly encomasses a place where everyone knows your name and your business and aren’t afraid to tell you what they think you should do about your life.

Bottom Line
Heartsick is a surprise hit. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it exceeded my nebulous expectations.

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Book
Title: Heartsick
Author: 
Caitlin Sinead
Release Date:
February 16, 2014
Publisher: 
Carina Press
Pages:
224
Genre: 
New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

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Author Caitlin Sinead

Author Caitlin Sinead

About the Author
Caitlin Sinead is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger, Inc. and her debut novel, Heartsick, will be published by Carina Press in 2015.

Her writing has earned accolades from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Glimmer Train, and Writers & Artists, and her stories have appeared in multiple publications, including The AlarmistThe BinnacleCrunchableJersey Devil Pressand Northern Virginia Magazine. She earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.

Where to Find Caitlin Sinead
Goodreads Website | NewsletterTwitter | Facebook

Book Review – One for The Money (Stephanie Plum) by Janet Evanovich

One for the Money (Stephanie Plum #1) by Janet Evanovich

One for the Money (Stephanie Plum #1) by Janet Evanovich

4.5 Stars

Synopsis
Welcome to Trenton, New Jersey, home to wiseguys, average Joes, and Stephanie Plum, who sports a big attitude and even bigger money problems (since losing her job as a lingerie buyer for a department store). Stephanie needs cash–fast–but times are tough, and soon she’s forced to turn to the last resort of the truly desperate: family.

Stephanie lands a gig at her sleazy cousin Vinnie’s bail bonding company. She’s got no experience. But that doesn’t matter. Neither does the fact that the bail jumper in question is local vice cop Joe Morelli.From the time he first looked up her dress to the time he first got into her pants to the time Steph hit him with her father’s Buick, M-o-r-e-l-l-i has spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e. And now the hot guy is in hot water–wanted for murder.

Abject poverty is a great motivator for learning new skills, but being trained in the school of hard knocks by people like psycho prizefighter Benito Ramirez isn’t. Still, if Stephanie can nab Morelli in a week, she’ll make a cool ten grand. All she has to do is become an expert bounty hunter overnight–and keep herself from getting killed before she gets her man.

My Review
I borrowed this book from my mom with no expectations and didn’t even know what it was about. I was immediately absorbed into Stephanie Plum’s wacky world and laughed out loud. The fictionalized version of Trenton, New Jersey Janet Evanovich created is full of quirky characters, colorful villains and some of the most bizarre crimes ever to inflict one small town.

Stephanie Plum, recently unemployed and desperate to not have to move home with her parents and grandmother, resorts to working for her cousin, Vinnie, a bail bondsman. After Stephanie basically blackmails him, Vinnie hires her to catch criminals who have skipped bail. She lives in a small apartment with her pet hamster, Rex, and drives a beat-up car, but it’s hers and she doesn’t want to give up her independence. And after meeting her family, I can see why. They’re loveable, but just a little too much to take for more than a few hours at a time.

Things get interesting when the one fugitive who can help her the most is ex-boyfriend and current vice cop, Joe Morelli. If she can bring him in, she’ll be set financially for a little bit anyway. Stephanie is helped along the way by super-hot professional bounty hunter, Ranger, and a smart-mouthed streetwalker named Lula. Although Joe doesn’t want to be found, Stephanie manages to bumble her way around, locating him, and mucking up his own investigation that he hopes will clear his name. Sparks fly between these two in true love-hate fashion.

Plot
There is a lot going on in One for the Money. Primarily, Stephanie needs to bring in Joe Morelli and collect her finder’s fee. But hunting him brings out several interesting subplots, including her hot and cold relationship with Joe, her ineptitude at tracing skips, the evil boxing champion Benito Ramirez who may or may not be involved in all of this, and a potential witness who could clear Joe, if he didn’t want Stephanie dead. Threading through it all is her crazy family and her slightly dysfunctional relationship with them.

Characters
No one writes snarky, quirky, and wacky characters quite like Janet Evanovich. Everyone from Stephanie right through to Grandma Mazur is a hoot. In fact, Grandma Mazur has some of the best lines in the book. There’s not a heck of a lot of character development because this is largely a plot-driven story, but there is some growth and better yet, room for lots more. Since this is just the first book in at least a 20+ book series, Janet Evanovich has left herself quite a bit to work with over the series.

Bottom Line
One for the Money is a quick read, highly entertaining, and includes several really good twists I never saw coming. The laugh-out-loud dialogue will keep me coming back for more.

About the Book
Title
: One for the Money
Series: Stephanie Plum #1
Author: Janet Evanovich
Pages: 334
Category: Romance, Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

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Author Janet Evanovich

Author Janet Evanovich

About the Author
Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Trouble Maker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O’Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg.

Where to Find Cindy Ray Hale
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

NA Book Review – Her Dark Places (Sutton Files #1) by Kelly Killarney

5 Stars

Synopsis
‘Veronica Mars’ meets ‘Felicity’ in this sexy, snarky, New Adult Romantic Suspense novel.

Jasmine “Jazz” Holloway gets more than she bargained for when she heads to Sutton College for her freshman year. A long-distance relationship with her high-school boyfriend is tough to maintain. Especially when Brennan, the cute boy down the hall, keeps flirting. And after someone starts threatening her roommate, Jazz enlists the help of Sean, a smokin’ hot upperclassman who runs a P.I. agency out of a darkened corner of the library. 

Jazz has to fight her attraction to both guys as she works to uncover the stalker. But as the stakes rise and tension heightens, the hardest part for Jazz will be keeping her own secret…what she’s really doing at Sutton College. And that’s something no one can know.

My Review
I didn’t want this book to end. Not after it kept me up, reading long after I should’ve turned off my iPad and gone to sleep. I solely blame the book and its author for the dark circles under my eyes. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting this book to be what it was based on the title. But I learned a good lesson — not only should you not judge a book by its cover, but don’t even think about judging it by its title.

There is so much to love about this story. The characters, the plot, the phrasing, the way author strings those witty phrases together to keep me turning pages after I promised myself I’d put it down and do something else as soon as I got to the end of the chapter. Yeah, that never happened. About the only thing I can say that I didn’t like was the wrap-up. It jumped ahead too far. I would have liked to have experienced it more immediate, rather than through flashback, but it’s a minor complaint to an otherwise flawless story.

Plot
Her Dark Places is a mystery, wrapped in a thriller, tied up with a messy romance that left me wanting more. I’m thrilled that this is only the first book in the Sutton Files, but promise me, Kelly Killarney, that there will be dozens more! So much is happening in this story from the main plot of who is stalking Jazz’s roommate, Audrey, to the dark secret that Jazz is hiding (I did figure this secret out pretty early on), to the potential love triangle, but it never felt like too much. It was the perfect blending of plot and subplots to keep me hooked in the most delightful sense of the word.

Characters
Kelly Killarney’s characters shine. The main character, Jazz, is my kind of protagonist. She’s in your face, snarky, loyal, and often acts first without thinking. I adore her. Audrey is the roommate everyone would love to have. She’ s sweet, funny, pretty, and likes to party. Private investigator, Sean, is hotness personified with the attitude to match, and yet he’s got enough baggage that find yourself liking him in spit of yourself. And what can I say about Brennan? Except that he is the swooniest of swoonworthy boys. He is definitely in the top ten of my book boyfriends and might even be in the top five. If only real life generated such perfect boys.

Bottom Line
If you like a page-turner with colorful, witty characters that you can’t help rooting for, a spine-tingling plot, and a heart-fluttering romance, pick up Her Dark Places today. TODAY people, today!

Title: Her Dark Places (The Sutton Files #1)
Author: Kelly Killarney
Pages: 175
Category: New Adult Romantic Suspense
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble