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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 out of 5 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 out of 5 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 out of 5 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 out of 5 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 out of 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 out of 5 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 out of 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

HER DARK PLACES (The Sutton Files #1) by Kelly Killarney

HER DARK PLACES (The Sutton Files #1) by Kelly Killarney

5 out of 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