Blog Tour – Review + Giveaway – OFF THE ICE (Juniper Falls) by Julie Cross

OFF THE ICE Blog Tour

OFF THE ICE (Juniper Falls #1) by Julie Cross

OFF THE ICE (Juniper Falls #1) by Julie Cross

4 Stars

Synopsis
The NY Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Whatever Life Throws at You kicks off a brand-new series perfect for fans of Miranda Kennealy and Abbi Glines.

All is fair in love and hockey…

Claire O’Connor is back in Juniper Falls, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be. One semester off, that’s what she promised herself. Just long enough to take care of her father and keep the family business—a hockey bar beside the ice rink—afloat. After that, she’s getting the hell out. Again.

Enter Tate Tanley. What happened between them the night before she left town resurfaces the second they lay eyes on each other. But the guy she remembers has been replaced by a total hottie. When Tate is unexpectedly called in to take over for the hockey team’s star goalie, suddenly he’s in the spotlight and on his way to becoming just another egotistical varsity hockey player. And Claire’s sworn off Juniper Falls hockey players for good.

It’s the absolute worst time to fall in love.

For Tate and Claire, hockey isn’t just a game. And they both might not survive a body check to the heart..

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My Review
Tate Tanley is the starting goalie on his high school hockey team in Minnesota, where hockey is a religion. Claire O’Connor is back in town from Northwestern University after her father is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. When she sees Tate for the first time in over a year, she realizes her best friend’s little brother isn’t so little anymore. Tate has had a massive crush on Claire most of his life, but he’s always been the kid brother. Not anymore. These two dance around attraction mixed-up with a lifelong friendship set against Claire’s dreams for her future and Tate’s goals on and off the ice. It’s a super sweet romance with deeply developed characters.

Plot
The romance is the primary plot, but it’s missing that teen angst that I’ve grown to love in Julie Cross’s stories. What it lacks in that department, it more than makes up for in the supporting plots. Tate’s hockey career, college recruiting, and his relationship with his town-legend father. Claire has her issues with her dad’s health and what she wants to do with her college career, saving her family’s business, and more. Told from dual-points-of-view, there’s a lot of territory covered.

The Characters
No one does characters like Julie Cross. Tate is complex, fascinating, and completely loveable. The author takes usdeep inside his head and I never doubt it’s a guy’s point of view. Unfortunately, Claire fell a little flat for me. I struggled to like her her. I felt for her, I mean, who wouldn’t with everything she was dealing with, but I just didn’t love her the way I do so many of Ms. Cross’s characters (Ellie from Chasing Truth, for example). This was a pretty character-heavy story and I had a tough time keeping some of the hockey players straight in my head, but Tate’s and Claire’s families came across in vivid color.

World Building
There’s a lot of hockey here, something I didn’t know that much about before reading Off the Ice. I feel as if I understand it better now. To me, it’s always been “soccer played on ice with sticks.” And maybe there’s a little bit of that to it still, but it sounds a lot more interesting. I may even try to take in a San Diego Gulls game and watch it live.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The romance. It wasn’t that it didn’t work so much as there wasn’t ever a doubt they might not end up together. The romance lacked much in the way of overt conflict. It’s almost as if these two teens were wise beyond their years when it came to relationships.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About OFF THE ICE
1. The realness. I love that nothing was glossed over. The emotions, and feelings, and events were all written with such intensity, they grabbed me and pulled me into the story.

2. Tate. He’s so deeply drawn, it’s hard not to get such a sense of who he is and I love him all the more for his flaws.

3. Hockey. And not just the games. The practice and politics surrounding high school hockey was fascinating.

4. Cancer. No, I don’t like cancer, but I love that the author didn’t gloss over the ugly effects of this heinous disease.

5. Roger. Tate’s stepfather grows more important in Tate’s life throughout the story, so we catch glimpses of him early on, that grow more frequent as the book progresses until we get to see him for who he really is. Hint: he’s one of the really good guys.

Bottom Line
OFF THE ICE is a sweet small-town high school romance. A Friday Night Lights for the hockey crowd.

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: OFF THE ICE
Series: Juniper Falls #1
Author: Julie Cross
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Pages: 370
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Sports Romance
Rating: 4 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

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Giveaway
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Book Review + Giveaway – GOLD RUSH by Jennifer Comeaux

GOLD RUSH by Jennifer Comeaux

GOLD RUSH by Jennifer Comeaux

3.5 Stars

Synopsis
Liza Petrov’s entire life has been about skating and winning her sport’s top prize – Olympic gold. She’s stayed sheltered inside her bubble, not daring to stray from her destined path.

Until she meets Braden Patrick.

He makes her heart flutter with possibility, and for the first time she gets a taste of a normal teenage life. She longs to have both the boy and the gold, but stepping outside her bubble comes with a price. As Liza begins to question both her future and her past, can she stay focused on the present and realize her ultimate dream?

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My Review
Liza, daughter of Sergei and stepdaughter of Em from LIFE ON THE EDGE, gets her own story. At 18, she’s preparing for the Winter Olympics, her life resembling anything but a typical teen one. Until she meets Braden, a dreamy college freshman from UMass. It took me nearly half of the book to really get into it. The first half is almost completely devoid of any serious conflict, and I couldn’t even really identify the antagonist. But once the skating portion really got going at about the 50% point, the story took off.

Liza decides she can’t risk her Olympic dreams by giving into her feelings for a boy, so she keeps him at arm’s length. That doesn’t keep her from being possessive and jealous, though, when other girls pay attention to him. Braden decides to wait for Liza as she focuses on skating, ignoring the attention from may attractive girls, including his childhood BFF, Sam. Liza attempts to paint Sam as the bad guy, but I just never could see her that way. I found her quite sympathetic. So while the romance didn’t have me swooning, the skating sure did. The story hits the mark when Liza takes the ice in Detroit. Tensions ramp up between Liza and Kathy, one of her coaches.

Plot
While I think the main plot is the romance, the skating is probably a stronger plot. Liza’s grit and determination, her discipline and professionalism are front and center as she works her way through the competitions leading up to the Olympics. There is plenty of drama, conflict, and feels when it comes to this part of the story. The romance doesn’t fall flat by any means, it just wasn’t my favorite part of the story.

Characters
While I needed time to warm up to Liza, once I did, I rooted for her fully. She still had moments where she got on my nerves, but when it came to reaching her skating goals, I was behind her one hundred percent. Braden is definitely likeable enough, but he wasn’t developed to the point that I fully got a sense of him. There were times he came across as flat. The characters that I enjoyed the most, even though I didn’t particularly like them, were Kathy and Liza’s mom. Both were controlling in different ways, but I really felt as if I had a sense of who they were and why they did the things they did.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. Lack of Conflict.
The lack of conflict in the first half of the book made it difficult for me to stick with at times.

2. Braden. I never got a good sense of his character.

3. Liza’s Angst. While pushing Braden away with one hand, she hated on every girl who paid attention to him. It seemed childish for someone of her age and with her level of maturity.

What I Enjoyed About GOLD RUSH
1. Skating.
 I love the competitive skating part of the story. The descriptions are detailed and draw me in.

2. Competitive Liza. When she’s not pining away for a boy she can’t even decide if she wants, she’s a fierce competitive with drive, who knows what she wants and goes after it full bore.

3. Kathy. This was more of a love-hate relationship, but she’s the true antagonist in the story, so I needed her. I would have liked more of her though.

4. Sam. I liked Sam a lot. No, I didn’t want her to end up with Braden, but I didn’t see her as a romantic rival, either. I saw her as a girl who was in love with a boy not in love with her. That’s a sympathetic character no matter which way you look at it.

5. The ending. No spoilers 🙂

Bottom Line
GOLD RUSH has a solid sports storyline that carries the weaker romance across the finish line.

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About the Book
Title: GOLD RUSH
Author: Jennifer Comeaux
Release Date: January 9, 2017
Pages: 338
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Sports Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords

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Author Jennifer Comeaux

Author Jennifer Comeaux

About the Author
Jennifer Comeaux is a tax accountant by day, writer by night. There aren’t any ice rinks near her home in south Louisiana, but she’s a diehard figure skating fan and loves to write stories of romance set in the world of competitive skating. One of her favorite pastimes is travelling to competitions, where she can experience all the glitz and drama that inspire her writing. Jennifer loves to hear from readers! Visit jennifercomeaux.blogspot.com for contact information and to learn more about her books.

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Where to Find Jennifer Comeaux
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

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Giveaway
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Young Adult Book Review – Black Ice (Stark Springs Academy) by Ali Dean

Black Ice (Stark Springs Academy #3) by Ali Dean

Black Ice (Stark Springs Academy #3) by Ali Dean

3.5 Stars

Synopsis
When your enemy dies under strange circumstances? Don’t stop looking over your shoulder.

When secrets of a past scandal are plopped into your lap? Solve a mystery.

And when you’re a member of the National ski team? Don’t get distracted.

Roxie’s senior year at Stark Springs Academy is not what she envisioned. She never intended to be privy to Stark’s biggest secrets, but she’s thrown right into the middle of it, whether she wants to carry that burden or not. As Ryker Black’s girlfriend, nothing is simple or straightforward. A ski racer first and foremost, Roxie can’t let the ghosts of Stark Springs Academy distract her from the race course. Will she be able to pull it off?

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My Review
Ali Dean wraps up Roxie’s story, tying up all loose ends in a satisfying conclusion, but it still lacks that angsty romance angle that she is so famous for. With Roxie and Ryker on solid ground, there wasn’t much in the way of romance. No, “will they or won’t they,” so instead we’re given a nice little mystery that only becomes more mysterious as the story unfolds. There’s a lot more skiing this time around, which makes me happy.

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Plot
TRoxie and Ryker are busy trying to solve a mystery surrounding the death of a major character at the end of book 2, and someone is placing Ryker’s mother’s journals in Roxie’s possession for unknown reasons, although she begins to wonder if all of the crazy behavior is somehow linked. In addition, she has some big career choices to make as graduation looms and her skiing is only getting better.. A lot of information introduced in the first two books finally plays out to conclusion. Ali Dean does a great job with plotting her books, dangling information that seems unimportant at first glance, but never is.

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Because Ryker and Roxie’s relationship is pretty well wrapped up in the first two books, this one focuses little on that aspect, but they do finally seal the deal in a romantic scene that is only the beginning to many more that take place off-page.

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Characters
Both Ryker and Roxie experienced serious character growth, as do several secondary characters. The one thing that really bothered me throughout the book was the way Roxie spoke for both Ryker and herself when it came to thoughts and feelings, as if she was inside his head as well as her own.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. Lack of angst.
 Yeah, it’s my favorite teen romantic trope, and one of the things I usually love best about Ali Dean’s books, but was completely missing this time around.
2. The Roxie/Ryker dynamic. Throughout the book, Roxie talks about “we” when it comes to feeling confused or wondering something, as if she and Ryker are a single entity. Because she knew what he was thinking all the time, there wouldn’t have been any angst anyway.

What I Enjoyed About Black Ice
1. The skiing.
 So excited for this aspect of the series to be front and center in the final book. Ali Dean delivers scene after scene that are intense and realistic.

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2. The mystery. There are actually several mysterious elements threaded throughout the book and all were well done with a couple of real surprises.

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3. The ending. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the series.

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4. Ryker and Roxie. They are super cute and sweet and I’m thrilled to see them get their HEA.

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5. Redemption. A couple of characters we’d come to love to hate have their own transformation, turning them into people I could actually like.

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Bottom Line
Double Ice is a satisfying conclusion of the Stark Springs Academy series, although it lacks some of that famous Ali Dean angst I’ve come to love.

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About the Book
Title: Black Ice
Series: Stark Springs Academy #3
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: August 31, 2016
Pages: 185
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary/Sports Romance
Rating:
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Ali Dean

Author Ali Dean

About the Author
Ali Dean lives in Colorado with her husband, twin babies, and golden retriever. In addition to reading and writing, she loves the outdoors- everything from marathon training and biking to snowboarding and skiing.

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Where to Find Ali Dean
Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon
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Young Adult Book Review – Double Black (Stark Springs Academy) by Ali Dean

Double Black (Stark Springs Academy #2) by Ali Dean

Double Black (Stark Springs Academy #2) by Ali Dean

3.5 Stars

Synopsis
* This is the second book in the Stark Springs Academy series, which should be read in order. You should read Black Diamond before reading the description below. *

If you don’t like the rules, make new ones. If you want to the best, show no fear. And if Ryker Black is your boyfriend, you better be ready to fight. On and off the slopes.

Overnight, Roxie Slade went from an outsider at Stark Springs Academy, to a ruler at the prestigious boarding school for elite winter athletes. But Roxie doesn’t know if she wants that power, and she definitely isn’t sure about sharing it with Ryker Black, who came from a different world and lives by a different set of morals. Ryker may have decided to trust her, but can she trust him?

Roxie only cared about her rising position in the ski rankings, but now her status at Stark and within the winter sports community is skyrocketing, whether she asked for it or not. Can she handle both while attempting a real relationship with Ryker Black?

Roxie once believed that her sole purpose was proving herself on the slopes, but she’s done that once, and she’s far from satisfied. She has so much more to prove.

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My Review
After the intense, angsty beginning to this series in Black Diamond, the sequel didn’t quite live up to my expectations. There is some conflict between Ryker and Roxie, but it centered more on the secrets that Ryker is keeping. Secrets that put distance between them, but not a lot of drama. These secrets aren’t revealed until the final chapter, but I never felt like they were building to a boiling point and if they weren’t released, an explosion would occur. There’s also a lack of competitive skiing that really drove more of the first book. There’s time spent traveling to and hanging out at various competitive ski locales, but not nearly as much time training for or competing in these events.

Plot
The plot primarily centers around Ryker and Roxie’s relationship. They’re moving closer, but the secret keeps a wedge between them.There is some competitive skiing, but not as much as I would have liked, and it’s not a major part of the plot.

Characters
The characters are further developed in this second installment. We learn more about what makes Ryker tick, but not until late in the story. It does explain a lot about him, but I felt like maybe we could have had some of the secrets spread out more through the story, to keep the plot moving.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The pacing.
 It was a lot slower than the first book, and therefore, it took me quite a bit longer to get through it.
2. Not enough skiing. I would have liked more of the competitive skiing, had it be more of the main plot similar to the Pepper Jones series.

What I Enjoyed About Double Black
1. The ending.
 Never saw that coming and it was so surprising, it really redeemed the book for me.
2. The settings. The author does a wonderful job of painting colorful pictures of her settings.
3. Ryker and Roxie. Although they need to learn to communicate better, I’m still pulling for them and can’t wait to see what happens in the final book in the series.
4. Twists. There were a couple of twists I didn’t see coming. I always love when an author can really surprise me.
5. Roxie’s family. We finally get to spend some time with Roxie’s family back east and it helps shape her more fully, seeing the well-rounded loving parents she grew up with.

Bottom Line
Double Black is is missing some of the angst-ridden romance of its predecessor, but it’s still a good read.

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About the Book
Title: Double Black
Series: Stark Springs Academy #2
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: April 4, 2016
Pages: 185
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary/Sports Romance
Rating:
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Ali Dean

Author Ali Dean

About the Author
Ali Dean lives in Colorado with her husband, twin babies, and golden retriever. In addition to reading and writing, she loves the outdoors- everything from marathon training and biking to snowboarding and skiing.

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Where to Find Ali Dean
Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon
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Book Review – Lexington and 42nd (Off Field Series) by Kim Carmody

Lexington and 42nd (Off Field #1) by Kim Carmody

Lexington and 42nd (Off Field #1) by Kim Carmody

4 Stars

Synopsis
It was meant to be the job opportunity of a lifetime.

It turned out to be so much more…

At the age of twenty five, Emma Lexington takes off to New York on a once in a life time twelve-month job exchange with the New York Warriors. Determined to make the most of the opportunity, she prepares herself for life in the big apple—fast paced, exciting and a whole lot of fun. What she hasn’t prepared for though, is meeting him.

The charming Will Jensen is in the prime of his playing career. As the star quarterback for the Warriors, his carefree, football centric life is thrown into disarray when he meets Emma, the beautiful, easy going Australian girl who joins the Warriors staff.

Unwilling to throw her professional reputation away on a fling with the playboy quarterback, Emma turns down Will’s advances, even though she can’t deny the attraction she feels for him. Their pull toward one another grows, but it takes a near disaster for Emma to finally give Will a chance.

Getting together might have been hard, but figuring out how to stay together will prove even more challenging as Emma must decide between conflicting loyalties.

Lexington and 42nd is a fun, sexy romance, set in the exciting world of the NFL in the fabulous city of New York..

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My Review
Lexington and 42nd is an engaging contemporary romance with likeable characters and a believable plot. The heroine is a strong, independent female, and her hero is an alpha male at the height of his NFL career. It has all of the elements for the genre: the meet, the instant attraction, the slow and steady build to acting on that attraction, the inevitable break-up, and the ultimate HEA. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but if you want a sexy, fun read, pick this one up.

Plot
Emma Lexington is on loan to the New York Warriors NFL team for the season as part of a program involving her organization in Australia. Will Jensen is the Warriors’ star quarterback and completely off limits to Emma. And Emma is off limits to Will, which of course makes both of them irresistible to each other. There’s so much room for conflict with this tale of forbidden romance and the author does a compelling job with it.

Characters
Both Emma and Will are very endearing and it’s clear early on they belong together. They’re both fairly well-developed, but lack extreme depth. Neither has any life-altering backstories. They’re both pretty emotionally healthy and just have different priorities and communication issues they need to overcome in order to get that HEA.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The story took a little while to develop. At 444 pages, it’s on the longish side for a contemporary romance, and some of it could have been cut early on to keep the story moving at a faster pace.
2. This is just a personal thing, but Will’s number is 42. Quarterbacks in the NFL are usually under number 20 with running backs and D-backs in the 40s. Now Will could have had a reason for having that number, and teams are pretty accommodating when it comes to their star players, but without an explanation on why he had that number, it bugged me throughout the book.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Lexington and 42nd
1. Emma’s Australia-ness. After hosting two Aussie exchange students, there is just something so charming about an Aussie and it came across in Emma’s personality in spades.
2. Football. I’m an 18-year season-ticket holder with the San Diego Chargers and we almost never miss a home game. I loved reading about the football side of things. Other than Will’s jersey number, it came across as spot on.
3. Angsty romance. The angst didn’t really kick in until near the end, but that’s my favorite kind of romance and it made up for the slow start.
4. New York City. One of my favorite places to visit. Don’t think I could live there, but I never get tired of visiting.
5. The ending. Nice wrap up.

Bottom Line
An engaging contemporary romance with adorable characters in a big city setting with NFL players.

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: Lexington and 42nd
Series: Off the Field #1
Author: Kim Carmody
Pages: 444
Category: Contemporary Sports Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | !ndigo | Powell’s | BAM!

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Author Kim Carmody

Author Kim Carmody

About the Author
Kim Carmody lives in a beach side suburb of Melbourne, Australia. She trained as a classical dancer, yet somehow ended up working in the sports industry, where she met her now husband.

Lexington and 42nd is her first novel.

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Where to find Kim Carmody
Goodreads | Website | NewsletterFacebook
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Book Review – Winging It (Corrigan Falls Raiders) by Cate Cameron

Winging It Blog Tour

Winging It (Corrigan Falls Raiders #3) by cate Cameron

Winging It (Corrigan Falls Raiders #3) by cate Cameron

4.5 Stars

Synopsis
Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains adult language, ice-melting kisses, and a swoon-worthy hero. This fake relationship romance will have you wishing for a hockey player of your own…

Natalie West and Toby Cooper were best friends growing up, on and off the ice. But when Toby’s hockey career took off, their friendship was left behind. Now Natalie has a crazy plan to land her crush—Toby’s biggest rival—and she needs Toby’s help to pull it off.

When Nat asks Toby to be her fake boyfriend, he can’t say no. Not when it means getting his best friend back. But Natalie is all grown up now, and spending time with her—even when it’s just playing hockey together—stirs up a lot of feelings, old and new. Suddenly pretending to be interested in her isn’t hard at all…if only she wanted him and not his enemy.

Hockey tore them apart. Can it put them back together?

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My Review
Winging It is my favorite book in the series so far. I’m a big fan of friends-to-more stories, Toby is utterly adorable, and I love Nat. She isn’t just interested in a hockey player, she IS one. Nat and Toby were best friends on and off the ice when they were younger, but after puberty and boys and girls no longer played on the same team, their friendship drifted into acquaintance territory. At least until Nat sees a chance to enlist Toby’s help to attract the attention of Toby’s uber-hot cousin, Scott, who just moved back to town. Scott has a thing for Toby’s girlfriends, so by pretending to date Toby, Nat hopes to snare Scott. But being with Toby again, their friendship always so easy, Nat feels conflicted for a variety of reasons. Maybe she feels something more for Toby than just friendship. And just maybe he does, too.

Plot
I loved the plot. Not just the love triangle, which was a little different than some others I’ve read recently, but the hockey subplot. I absolutely adore that Natalie was an athlete with her own hopes and dreams. Being a girl in a hockey town where boys’ hockey is revered and girls’ hockey is a hobby, only made it that much more delicious. I enjoyed how author, Cate Cameron, wove everything together as Toby genuinely wants to help Nat with her game skills, even though he knows she’s just using him to get to his jerk of a cousin. So much angst in this story, and I so love my teen angst.

Characters
Toby is my favorite Corrigan Falls Raider. There I said it. Yep, he may not be the most talented, but he’s the most adorable. And Nat may not be petite and girlie, but I love her even more for her shin pads and hockey stick. The only thing about Nat that really bothered me was the fact that she was so obsessed with someone like Scott. I know teens can be shallow at times, but it seemed a bit out of character for her, but then again, who isn’t at some point drawn to the jerk just because he has a pretty face?

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. A little more kissing would have been nice, but that’s about all I can complain about.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Winging It
1. Toby. He’s sweet, charming, and funny without being perfect.
2. Nat. I love her hockey-playing bad self.
3. Dawn. Toby’s ex-girlfriend was really more of a friend, doing her best to set up Toby and Nat. While an ex trying to set up her ex seems weird on the surface, it made sense to me in the context of these characters.
4. Friends to more than friends. One of my favorite tropes.
5. The hockey. I loved seeing it from both sides this time.

Bottom Line
My favorite book in the series so far with fantastic characters and fun plot that moves along at a steady pace.

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: Winging It
Series: Corrigan Falls Raiders #3
Author: Cate Cameron
Publisher: Entangled Crush
Pages: 162
Category: Young Adult Contemporary/Sports Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo | Entangled

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About the Author
Cate Cameron grew up in the city but moved to the country in her mid-twenties and isn’t looking back. Most of her writing deals with people living and loving in small towns or right out in the sticks—when there aren’t entertainment options on every corner, other people get a lot more  interesting!

She likes to write stories about real people struggling with real issues. YA, NA, or contemporary  romance, her books are connected by their emphasis on subtle humor and characters who are trying to do the right thing, even when it would be a lot easier to do something wrong.

Where to find Cate Cameron
Goodreads | Website | BlogFacebook Twitter
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Young Adult Book Review – Playing Defense (Corrigan Falls Raiders) by Cate Cameron

Playing Defense Blog Tour

Playing Defense (Corrigan Falls Raiders #2) by Cate Cameron

Playing Defense (Corrigan Falls Raiders #2) by Cate Cameron

4.0 Stars

Synopsis
Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains adult language, swoon-worthy kisses, and sexy hockey players. It may cause you to watch a hockey game…or ten.

Sixteen-year-old Claudia Waring has never kissed a boy. Never been popular. Never been to a hockey game. All that’s about to change. Assigned to tutor Chris Winslow, a prank-loving, gorgeous hockey player, Claudia’s perfectly planned life immediately veers off course. And she kind of likes it. But as fun as Chris is, she knows she’ll never fit in his world.

After his latest prank lands him in hot water, Chris has to get serious about school or lose hockey. Not an easy thing for someone as carefree as the defenseman. The biggest problem, though, is how much he wants to help his cute, buttoned-up tutor loosen up a little. But while confidence has never been a problem for him, around Claudia, Chris is all nerves. Why would a girl as smart as her ever fall for a jock like him?

Corrigan Falls Raiders Book 1: Center Ice (Can be read out of order)

Corrigan Falls Raiders Book 2: Playing Defense (Can be read out of order)

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My Review
Claudia is shy, reserved, and doesn’t have time for rowdy hockey teams and their obnoxious groupies. Loud prankster, Chris, doesn’t have time for school. It only gets in the way of hockey, and in this small Canadian town, everyone knows hockey is Chris’s future. Or is it? With his grades struggling, he doesn’t really have a plan B and doesn’t give his all to the game the way he knows he should. He flounders until his counselor suggests tutoring, something Chris sees as a waste of his time, but feels he owes it to his mother to at least try.

Chris and his new tutor, Claudia, embark on a fragile friendship that soon blossoms into something more. When Claudia’s poetry teachers suggests that poems are more than just words on a page, Claudia and a few friends take that suggestion to heart and create a secret sisterhood of awesomeness where each member encourages the others to do random acts of awesome. For Claudia, it’s attending her first ever hockey game and attempting to enjoy herself. For Chris, it’s studying for himself rather than for others. But when tragedy strikes, Claudia and Chris will have to find a way forward in the manner that means the most to them.

Plot
This is essentially a teenage romance, but I love the awesome challenges that are woven through it, making it feel like something a little bit more than just a standard romance. The push-and-pull of the two romantic leads’ very different backgrounds provides the conflict necessary to drive the love story, but it’s the secret club that brings them and other unlikely characters together, giving them a purpose bigger than themselves.

Characters
I found both Chris and Claudia to be likeable and I rooted for them, but the rest of the characters fell flat for me, with the exception of the teacher. Both Claudia’s and Chris’s friends, other students, even parents were mostly props, Claudia’s mom was a bit stereotypical, but she served a purpose to drive conflict, which she did quite well.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Playing Defense
1. The hockey. I thoroughly enjoy sports romances and the hockey was a nice change from the football and baseball I’ve been reading lately.
2. The characters. Claudia and Chris came across as real, flawed, and easy to relate to.
3. The sisterhood. I loved the idea the kids (both boys and girls) came up with to challenge and support one another.
4. The romance. It was refreshing to read a sweet romance with an alpha male.
5. The lessons. It might not be cool to say it, but hard work pays off!

Bottom Line
A fun teen romance wrapped in hockey, with complex contemporary characters.

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: Playing Defense
Series: Corrigan Falls Raiders #2
Author: Cate Cameron
Publisher: Entangled Crush
Pages: 178
Category: Young Adult Contemporary/Sports Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo | Entangled

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About the Author
Cate Cameron grew up in the city but moved to the country in her mid-twenties and isn’t looking back. Most of her writing deals with people living and loving in small towns or right out in the sticks—when there aren’t entertainment options on every corner, other people get a lot more  interesting!

She likes to write stories about real people struggling with real issues. YA, NA, or contemporary  romance, her books are connected by their emphasis on subtle humor and characters who are trying to do the right thing, even when it would be a lot easier to do something wrong.

Where to find Cate Cameron
Goodreads | Website | BlogFacebook Twitter
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Young Adult Book Review – Black Diamond (Stark Springs Academy) by Ali Dean

Black Diamond (Stark Springs Academy #1) by Ali Dean

Black Diamond (Stark Springs Academy #1) by Ali Dean

5 Stars

Synopsis
It’s not a place for the weak.
No one here tolerates wimps.
If you can’t handle it, leave.

Welcome to Stark Springs, Colorado, home to the most talented young athletes in the world.

When Roxie Slade snaps into a pair of skis, there’s no one on Sugarville Mountain in Vermont who can keep up with her. Not even the boys. Still, Roxie was shocked when she received a scholarship to Stark Springs Academy, a boarding school that churns out Olympians in each graduating class. Entering as a high school junior, Roxie can’t wait to learn from renowned coaches and train with the fastest ski racers from all over the globe.  But upon arrival, Roxie discovers that Stark Springs lives under its own set of rules, and it appears one boy plays dictator.

Ryker Black is not friendly and Roxie cannot fathom why everyone wants to be his friend. Sure, he’s gorgeous and rides a snowboard like it’s his fifth limb, but he’s cold, ruthless, and holds way too much power over the Stark Springs population. Roxie won’t put up with it. She’s here to train, and she doesn’t care about impressing anyone off the slopes. The only problem? Ryker Black doesn’t permit defiance. Not without consequences.

My Review
I was excited to start the next series by young adult/new adult author, Ali Dean. I adored her Pepper Jones series, the way she writes strong females who excel in sports with a heavy dose of angsty romance, and Black Diamond fits that formula to a T. Roxie Slade is a determined skier and a force to be reckoned with in her small Vermont town, but when she has an opportunity to train with the best of the best at the Stark Springs Academy in Colorado, she’ll be put to the test. And not just in the way she thought. She knew she’d have to train hard, that’s what she’s there for, but the egos and competitiveness of elite athletes both on and off the snow and ice is more than she bargained for. While the book isn’t perfect, it’s the first one in awhile that has been impossible for me to put down, earning it a full five out of five stars from me.

Plot
Because this is a sports romance, the plot is is two-fold. Roxie works to fit in as a high school junior where most of the kids arrived in seventh or eighth grade. Joining at her age is nearly unheard of and rumors abound over why she’s there at all. She know she has a lot to prove, but understanding the odd dynamics of the school and the way one student in particular, Ryker Black, seems to be in charge, is just one of the many mysteries surrounding the Academy. Ryker Black isn’t just an alpha male, he’s an alpha, wrapped in attitude, and a temper to match. Yet Roxie sees something more beneath the facade, a vulnerability that draws her to him, even as she knows she should stay far, far away. Everyone’s warned her as much, including Ryker Black himself.

Both plots are intricately woven and well done. About my only complaint about the plot is that I would have liked more of the sports aspect. With the Pepper Jones series, we really got into Pepper’s head during each of her big runs, but in Black Diamond, the actual ski racing is less detailed than the training leading up to it.

Characters
Roxie has a lot in common with Pepper. In fact, in some ways they’re nearly the same character, which is okay with me, because I love Pepper Jone so much. But Ryker Black is no Jace Wilder. There are shades of similarity between some of the other characters as well, but none of that is bad because the story is different enough, I got lost in that and soon forgot the characters felt familiar.

Roxie is fantastic, the type of heroine you can’t help rooting for. Her head’s in the right place, most of the time, and she’s above the pettiness surrounding many of her fellow athletes. At times she comes across mature for her age, other times, she’s a typical teen.

Ryker Black is an enigma. He’s dark, controlling, and yet there’s something there. Something Roxie shows us through her eyes, that allowed me to see more to him than just a stereotype. The boy is complicated and Ali Dean has only scratched that surface so far. I can’t wait to see how his character develops throughout the series.

Ending
The ending was exactly what I was hoping for, satisfying in so many ways.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. Not enough skiing.
 As I said above, I would have liked more skiing. The book is short at less than two hundred pages, and I think it could have been a little longer to bring us more skiing from Roxie’s point of view.
2. Stereotypes. The mean girls were relatively stereotypical. They served their purpose, but it would have been nice to see them a little more well-rounded and complex. Especially as elite athletes. There’s a lot of reasons for them to be the way they are, I just would have liked to see a little of that.

What I Loved About Black Diamond
1. Roxie Slade.
 A believable badass both on and off the slopes, she’s got integrity, a strong worth ethic, and a winning spirit.
2. Skiing. I love picturing the snow, the mountains, feeling the cold air. Ali Dean does a great job of scene setting, making the environment come alive.
3. Competitive sports. Another thing the author really does is bring us deep inside the world of competitive sports so that we can almost taste the desire to win.
4. True friends. While Roxie struggles to make friends at Stark Springs, her Vermont friends are true blue, and I love them.
5. Ryker Black. I’m still not sure I’m totally on board with a Roxyer romancer or is that Rykie? In any case, the jury is still out on how I feel about them together, but I can’t deny he is an absolutely fascinating character.

Bottom Line
Black Diamond is a fun, fast read with plenty of drama, angst-ridden romance, and lots and lots of snow.

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: Black Diamond
Series: Stark Springs Academy #1
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: January 14, 2016
Pages: 185
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary/Sports Romance
Rating: 
5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Ali Dean

Author Ali Dean

About the Author
Ali Dean lives in Colorado with her husband, twin babies, and golden retriever.

In addition to reading and writing, she loves the outdoors- everything from marathon training and biking to snowboarding and skiing.

Where to Find Ali Dean
Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon
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Month in Review – November 2015

Since I decided to give NaNoWriMo another go this year, I didn’t get as much reading done as I normally would. Still, sixteen hours in a car, travelling to Northern California and back, provided some much-needed reading time last week. Here are the books I reviewed in November:

Return Once More by Trisha Leigh

Return Once More (The Historians #1) by Trisha Leigh

Return Once More (The Historians #1) by Trisha Leigh

4 Stars

About the Book
Title
: Return Once More
Series: The Historians #1
Author: Trisha Leigh
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Pages: 289
Category: Young Adult SciFi/Time Travel/Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes and Noble | Bloomsbury

Synopsis
If you could learn the identity of your one true love—even though you will never meet— would you?

Years have passed since refugees from a ruined earth took to space, eventually settling a new system of planets. Science has not only made the leaps necessary to allow time travel, but the process engineered a strange side effect—predicting your one true love.

If you could save your one true love from an untimely death, would you be able to resist?

Sixteen-year-old Kaia Vespasian is an apprentice to the Historians—a group charged with using time travel to document the triumphs and failures of the past—and she can’t resist a peek at her long-dead soul mate in Ancient Egypt. Before she knows it, she’s broken every rule in the book, and the consequences of getting caught could destroymore than just her new romance.

Or would you have the strength to watch him die?

But when Kaia notices a fellow classmate snooping around in a time where he doesn’t belong, she suspects he has a secret of his own—and the conspiracy she uncovers could threaten the entire universe. If her experience has taught her anything, to changing history means facing the consequences. The Historians trained her to observe and record the past, but Kaia never guessed she might have to protect it— in a race across time to save her only chance at a future.

Bottom Line
Return Once More is an engaging time travel scifi romance with an intricate plot and intriguing characters.

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Rival Love (Rival Love Series) by Natalie Decker

Rival Love (Rival Love #1) by Natalie Decker

Rival Love (Rival Love #1) by Natalie Decker

4 Stars

Title: Rival Love
Series:
Rival Love #1
Author: 
Natalie Decker
Publisher:
 Swoon Romance
Release Date: 
August 26, 2014
Pages:
286
Genre: 
Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 
4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis
Skylar Fletcher is a proud Harris Academy Bulldog! She has everything she’s ever wanted: a perfect boyfriend, great friends, and her dream college waiting for her in the fall. But nothing lasts forever. Skylar’s world shatters when her mom decides it’s time to move and drags Skylar, kicking and screaming, into Bobcat territory.

At Delmont High School, home of the Bobcats, Skylar has no friends and is often bullied. To make matters worse, her home life sucks thanks to all-star quarterback Caleb Morgan, nephew of her mom’s live-in boyfriend.

At first, Skylar and Caleb want nothing to do with one another. But they soon discover they’re not that different after all–and each is harboring a secret attraction to the other. But can a Bulldog and a Bobcat ever really be more than friends? And are Skylar and Caleb willing to risk everything to find out?

Rival Love is a debut young adult contemporary romance from Natalie Decker.

Bottom Line
Rival Love is an contemporary teen romance with themes of bullying, belonging, and finding love and acceptance for who you are.

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Never Trust a Happy Song by Natalie Bina

Never Trust a Happy Song by Natalie Bina

Never Trust a Happy Song by Natalie Bina

3.5 Stars

Title: Never Trust a Happy Song
Author: 
Natalie Bina
Release Date: March 14, 2015
Pages: 180
Genre: 
Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis
When Cassidy Diamond is admitted to a prestigious summer program at Stanford University, she looks forward to being surrounded by people just like herself: smart, studious, and antisocial.

But when Cassidy is assigned to stay with the Harper family and meets their vivacious and uninhibited daughter Grace, the two girls clash at first sight.

Cassidy is determined to not let Grace distract her from her studies, while Grace wants to show Cassidy that maybe her grades aren’t all she has going for her, and that life might be about more than building the perfect resume.

Bottom Line
Never Trust a Happy Song is a realistic contemporary teen story about learning to let go in order to find yourself.

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

The Revolution of Ivy (Book of Ivy #2) by Amy Engel

The Revolution of Ivy (Book of Ivy #2) by Amy Engel

5 Stars

Title: The Revolution of Ivy
Series: The Book of Ivy #2
Author: Amy Engel
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Pages: 400
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboGoogle Books

Synopsis
**WARNING: Contains spoilers if you haven’t read book one**

Ivy Westfall is beyond the fence and she is alone. Abandoned by her family and separated from Bishop Lattimer, Ivy must find a way to survive on her own in a land filled with countless dangers, both human and natural. She has traded a more civilized type of cruelty–forced marriages and murder plots–for the bare-knuckled brutality required to survive outside Westfall’s borders.

But there is hope beyond the fence, as well. And when Bishop reappears in Ivy’s life, she must decide if returning to Westfall to take a final stand for what she believes is right is worth losing everything she’s fought for.

 Bottom Line
The Revolution of Ivy moves away from familiar territory, raising the stakes, and finishing the series on a high note.

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Get Yourself Organized for Christmas by Kathi Lipp

Get Yourself Organized for Christmas by Kathi Lipp

Get Yourself Organized for Christmas by Kathi Lipp

2 Stars

Title: Get Yourself Organized for Christmas
Author: Kathi Lipp
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Pages: 144
Genre: Organizing/Holidays
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AmazonBarnes & Noble

Synopsis
Have you lost your Christmas joy? Does the thought of jam-packed malls, maxed-out credit cards, overcrowded supermarkets, and endless to-do lists give you the feeling that maybe Scrooge was on to something?

In Get Yourself Organized for Christmas, Kathi Lipp provides easy-to-follow steps to reduce the stress of the holiday season, including tactics for how to

put together a holiday binder you’ll use year after year determine a budget that won’t break the bank gather your elf supplies get your gift list together (including ideas for various ages and relationships) collect your recipes and prep your kitchen

By putting into practice Kathi’s tricks and tips, you’ll finally be able to fully enjoy this most wonderful time of the year.

Bottom Line
A good book for someone who is really disorganized. If you’re looking for something revolutionary, it’s not here.

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Abby and the Cute One (Backstage Pass) by Erin Butler

Abby and the Cute One (Backstage Pass #5) by Erin Butler

Abby and the Cute One (Backstage Pass #5) by Erin Butler

4 Stars

Title: Abby and the Cute One
Series: Backstage Pass #5
Author: Erin Butler
Publisher: Entangled Crush
Release Date: November 16, 2015
Pages: 172
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
He’s cute. He’s famous. And he could ruin everything…

Every member of Seconds to Juliet has a girlfriend-except for Nathan Strong. Now the band’s manager is leaning hard on “The Cute One” to play the role of the band’s heartthrob. With the band’s sales in decline, it’s up to Nathan to keep the fans’ fantasy alive.

The plan is to stage a fake relationship and a fake breakup, and then let the fans fight to be the one to mend Nathan’s broken heart. Just one problem. There’s another girl in the picture-one Nathan can’t stay away from. In private, Nathan’s stealing kisses with the band’s new opening act, Abby Curtis.

If they’re caught, no one wins. Abby will be fired, and the band might not recover the success they need to survive. But even with the pressure mounting, Nathan and Abby can’t stop themselves from stealing one more touch, one more kiss. And it’s only a matter of time before it all falls apart.

This Entangled Teen Crush book is as forbidden as the secret romance it contains! It has hot kisses, graphic language, and extreme misbehaving. DO NOT GET CAUGHT WITH THIS BOOK…unless you want everyone to know you believe in true love.

Bottom Line
Abby and the Cute One is a lighthearted contemporary romance that’s as adorable as the characters themselves.

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Mirror X (The Van Winkle Project) by Karri Thompson

Mirror X (The Van Winkle Project #1) by Karri Thompson

Mirror X (The Van Winkle Project #1) by Karri Thompson

4 Stars

Title: Mirror X
Series: The Van Winkle Project #1
Author: 
Kerri Thompson
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: June 30, 2014
Pages: 360
Genre: 
Young Adult SciFi/Dystopian Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Synopsis
I was born more than a thousand years ago. Put into a cryogenic tube at age seventeen, forgotten during a holocaust that decimated the world, I’ve finally been awakened to a more serene and peaceful future.

But things at the hospital are new and strange. And it’s starting to scare me.

Everyone is young. Everyone is banded and tracked. And everyone is keeping secrets.

The cute geneticist Michael Bennett might be the only good thing in this crazy new world where “life is precious” but no one seems free to live it. The problem is, I don’t think he’s being totally honest with me, either.

When I’m told only I can save the human race from extinction, it’s clear my freeze didn’t avoid a dreadful fate. It only delayed the horror…

Bottom Line
Mirror X is an interesting scifi/dystopian adventure with some unique aspects. I’m interested to see where this series goes.

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Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme by Martha Alderson and Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Writing Deep Scenes - Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme by Martha Alderson and Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Writing Deep Scenes – Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme by Martha Alderson and Jordan E. Rosenfeld

3 Stars

Title: Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme
Authors: Martha Alderson and Jordan E. Rosenfeld
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Publication Date: October 2, 2015
Pages: 248
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis
Take a Deep Dive into Plot and Scene and Improve Your Writing

Whether you’re planning your first novel or have already written a first draft, you need to master the concepts of plot and scene to truly realize your story’s potential. “Writing Deep Scenes” teaches you how to write strong, layered, and engaging scenes–the secret to memorable, page-turning plots. It’s filled with practical tools for building layers and nuance into your scenes, employing the right scene types at the right junctures, and developing a profound understanding of how plot and scene intertwine.

Inside you’ll learn: How scenes are comprised of three key layers: action, emotion, and theme.How to recognize each layer and weave them seamlessly into a scene.How to develop an intricate relationship between the action and emotion in every scene.How thematic imagery embedded in scenes increases a story’s tension and contributes to the story’s meaning.Using contemporary examples from a variety of genres, “Writing Deep Scenes” provides an effective method for plotting at the scene level. Use these techniques and enrich your fiction and memoirs with page-turning suspense and pathos, and explore new depths in every story you write.

Bottom Line
Writing Deep Scenes presents solid techniques for developing your plot and creating layered scenes, but the terminology takes a little getting used to.

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Young Adult Book Review – Rival Love (Rival Love Series) by Natalie Decker

Rival Love (Rival Love #1) by Natalie Decker

Rival Love (Rival Love #1) by Natalie Decker

4 Stars

Synopsis
Skylar Fletcher is a proud Harris Academy Bulldog! She has everything she’s ever wanted: a perfect boyfriend, great friends, and her dream college waiting for her in the fall. But nothing lasts forever. Skylar’s world shatters when her mom decides it’s time to move and drags Skylar, kicking and screaming, into Bobcat territory.

At Delmont High School, home of the Bobcats, Skylar has no friends and is often bullied. To make matters worse, her home life sucks thanks to all-star quarterback Caleb Morgan, nephew of her mom’s live-in boyfriend.

At first, Skylar and Caleb want nothing to do with one another. But they soon discover they’re not that different after all–and each is harboring a secret attraction to the other. But can a Bulldog and a Bobcat ever really be more than friends? And are Skylar and Caleb willing to risk everything to find out?

Rival Love is a debut young adult contemporary romance from Natalie Decker.

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My Review
A special thanks to fellow YA author, Jennifer DiGiovanni, for suggesting this book to me. She knows I love my teen sports romances and the angstier the drama the better. Rival Love by Natalie Decker is packed with both. Skylar Fletcher is entering her senior year of high school with a plan. A plan that is completely derailed when her mom moves them in with her boyfriend across town, forcing Skyler to attend her school’s arch nemesis. We’re talking a school rivalry that would put Michigan State and OSU to shame. These students hate each other. So much so that when Skylar, who through no fault of her own, becomes a Bobcat, her boyfriend of two years dumps her and her best friend since childhood stops speaking to her.

Skylar struggles with accepting her new life, but she’s’ not going to try and fit in with the enemy, leaving her with no friends. Except her mom’s boyfriend’s teenage nephew, who moved in with his uncle after his parents’ tragic death. The pair are more frenemies than friends because Caleb isn’t about to be caught fraternizing with the enemy. Even if she is really pretty and smells like a goddess.

Plot
This is primarily a romance as Caleb and Skylar realize their mutual loathing is giving way to something more, each convinced the other still holds strong feelings of animosity. Watching their feelings thaw, turn into friendship, and something more is a treat. Strong subplots include Skylar’s relationship with her father, stepmother and half sister, her plans for the future now that she’s not participating in school sports, her survival at school full of kids who hate her, and her relationships with her ex-boyfriend and former best friend. All are woven into the main plot seamlessly.

Characters
Skylar is a bundle of attitude and I love her. The way she won’t back down from a fight, doesn’t cringe away from her bullies, and works to get even makes her a protagonist to root for. Her negative attitude is hard to take at times, but it’s really easy to understand why she has it. Caleb is equally intriguing in his own way. The way he tries to hide Skylar’s identity from his friends is both infuriating and understandable, especially with her attitude.

Ending
The ending was abrupt, surprising, and not entirely organic. I didn’t feel like it was a logical outcome that flowed out of the preceding events. I’m hoping the second book will rectify that, though, because other than the ending, I really loved the book.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed about Rival Love:
1. Skylar. She’s tough, witty, vulnerable, determined, unsure, funny, and guarded all rolled into one. She’s one of the most complex teen characters I’ve read in awhile and I just love her.

2. Caleb. He’s got his own issues, but he’s a lot more straightforward than Skylar and I love that about him.

3. Getting even. The way Skylar and Caleb go tit for tat with pranks provide some of the best moments in the book.

4. Family drama. The dynamic between Skylar and her family drives some great angst-ridden conflict.

5. Forbidden love. Living in the same house makes anything other than friendship between Caleb and Skylar verboten, which only adds to the inevitability that they’ll get together.

Bottom Line
Rival Love is an contemporary teen romance with themes of bullying, belonging, and finding love and acceptance for who you are.

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About the Book
Title: 
Rival Love
Series: Rival Love #1
Author: 
Natalie Decker
Publisher: 
Swoon Romance
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Pages: 286
Genre: 
Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Natalie Decker

Author Natalie Decker

About the Author
Natalie Decker is the Author of Rival Love. She loves oceans, sunsets, sand between her toes, and carefree days. Her imagination is always going, which some find odd. But she believes in seeing the world in a different light at all times. Her first passion for writing started at age twelve when she had to write a poem for English class. However, seventh grade wasn’t her favorite time and books were her source of comfort.

She took all college prep classes in High school, and attended the University of Akron. Although she studied Mathematics she never lost her passion for writing or her comfort in books. She’s a mean cook in the kitchen, loves her family and friends and her awesome dog infinity times infinity.

If she’s not writing, reading, traveling, hanging out with her family and friends, then she’s off having an adventure. Because Natalie believes in a saying: Your life is your own journey, so make it amazing!

Where to find Natalie Decker
Goodreads Website | Facebook Twitter

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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 – Pepped Up Forever (Pepper Jones Series) by Ali Dean

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

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

4.5 Stars

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.

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My Review
I had bittersweet feelings diving into this one, knowing it was the last book in Pepper’s saga. The story picks up more than a year after the end of Pep Talks. Pepper and Jace are still apart, but otherwise, life in Brockton has settled into normal, well a new normal. One where Pepper’s friends are in stable relationships while she is still single and focused on running and her future. While she can tell Jace has changed, she’s too afraid of his ability to break her to let him back in. Jace is reeling from the biggest mistake he ever made and at a loss for how to fix things with Pepper.

This book is relatively short at only 180 pages and I would have liked more. The story itself is fine, building to an intense climax and wrapping up loose ends before rolling into a satisfying conclusion. But there are elements that are shared in summary form after they happen and would have been great to have been shown in real time. Other than that, I like the character development, the overall arc, and the emotions this story evoked.

Plot
There’s a lot going on in this installment. Primarily, it’s the story of Pepper and Jace and how they navigate the ever changing waters of their lifelong relationship. Both so clearly love the other, but Pepper is understandably gun-shy. Pepper is being pursued by Clayton Dennison and that drives some obvious conflict between Jace and Pepper. It’s also the story of what happens with the rest of their lives. With Jace entering his last year of college, an NFL draft might be in his future, and Pepper needs to determine if her future lies in professional running. All plot points are addressed in a believable manner, but as I said, I did want more for some of them. I would have loved to see more struggles with some of the decisions that are made and more of Pepper’s running.

Characters
The characters are still wonderful, fully-developed, and complex. I love the changes that both Pepper and Jace go through as they mature, and I love that Bunny is still Bunny, Pepper’s wild, pot-smoking gran.

Writing
Other than including more exposition than I wanted, we get inside Pepper’s head the way we always do, and I still love her thought processes.

Ending
I loved the ending. This is a satisfying conclusion to the series. Yes, I’ll miss all the characters, but closure is good, too.

Top Five Things I love about Pepped Up Forever:
1. Buns. Everything about Pepper’s fun-loving crazy grandmother is amped up in this finale.

2. Jace. He’s got his issues, but his love for his family and friends is never in doubt — only how he deals with his issues.

3. Pepper. She’s still tenacious even if a bit unsure, but watching her process everything the way she does is always a treat.

4. Wes and Zoe. They’re incredibly cute. I’d love a series with these two starring in it.

5. The ending. So perfect. And yeah, I still want more, but I’m finally okay with letting go.

Bottom Line
A worthy ending to a great series.

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: 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

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About the Author
Ali Dean lives in Colorado with her husband, twin babies, and golden retriever. In addition to reading and writing, she loves the outdoors- everything from marathon training and biking to snowboarding and skiing.

Where to Find Ali Dean
Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon
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Young Adult Book Review – For the Game (Playing for Keeps) by Amber Garza

For the Game (Playing for Keeps #2) by Amber Garza

For the Game (Playing for Keeps #2) by Amber Garza

3 Stars

Synopsis
London Miller is a survivor. She’s suffered through more than her share of heartache and struggles, but with Cooper in her life, she feels strong enough to overcome anything. Even with him away at college, she knows he is in her heart – and her life – for the long haul.

Cooper Montgomery is a winner. Losing has never been an option for him. Not in baseball, not in school, not in life. He’s worked hard to gain a spot on the Fallbrook Falcon’s baseball team and it should be the best time of his life. He’s living his dream and now that he has London, his life finally feels complete.

When unexpected obstacles arise, both London and Cooper are faced with new challenges that threaten to tear them apart. They’ve fought so hard to be together. Can London survive what fate throws her way? And can Cooper win when there is more at stake than just the game?

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My Review
For the Game is the second and final book in the Playing for Keeps series by Amber Garza. It picks up after For the Win, with Cooper away at college and London still recovering from cancer. This installment seemed to lack much of the angst that I loved in the first book. There’s very little conflict and the conflict that does exist is resolved too quickly to really build into something tense. I missed that this time around, although it was nice to see how both Cooper and London are adjusting to life apart. I just would have like a little more, okay a lot more, conflict.

Plot
The main plot is still about Cooper and London’s relationship. Living so far apart, they both have doubts to deal with — London has the uncertainty of her health, and Cooper has to prove himself as a pitcher on the college level, adjust to life on campus, and accept he’s no longer top dog. There is a sweet subplot involving London’s dad, and surprising one involving the plane crash that took Cooper’s parents.

Characters
It was interesting to see Cooper go from being this cocky high school phenom to just another pitcher at the college level plagued by self-doubt. I thought his journey was authentic and it showed us another side of him that helped make him more three-dimensional. I didn’t like how London went from being tough and independent to needy and unsure, though. I mean, I get why she changed the way she did, but I didn’t like her nearly as much as I did in the first book.

World Building
Living just 20 miles south of Fallbrook, California, I’m really hoping that the Fallbrook Falcon’s are a fictional college team based there. The transition from the Bay Area to a small college town was well done. The campus, the dorms, the parties, it all came across in vivid detail.

Ending
I thought the ending was okay. Everything was wrapped up, but as I said above, the conflict was resolved too easily for my tastes.

Top Five Things I enjoyed about For the Game:
1. Baseball. The details of Cooper’s struggles with the game on the next level, his insecurities, and the way his mental state impacted his play, were some of the best parts of this story.

2. Parker. Cooper’s college catcher is what friends should be and I loved his loyalty.

3. Skyler. London’s next door neighbor and defacto best friend gets a little more page time, but I’d still have loved to have seen more of her.

4. Ace. A fascinating character that could really have driven a lot more conflict.

5. Charlotte. Another interesting character that could have been used to create a lot more conflict and tension.

Bottom Line
For the Game was a sweet continuation of London’s and Cooper’s story, but there was far too many sweet moments and not a lot of drama to take the story from good to riveting.

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About the Book
Title: For the Game
Series:  Playing for Keeps #2
Author: Amber Garza
Release Date: February 15, 2015
Pages: 189
Genre: Young/New Adult Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Amber Garza

Author Amber Garza

About the Author
Amber Garza lives in California with her amazing husband and two hilarious children who provide her with enough material to keep her writing for years.

Where to Find Amber Garza
Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook

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Release + Review – Pep Talks (Pepper Jones Series) by Ali Dean

Pep Talks Release Day
Today is release day for Pep Talks, the fourth book in Ali Dean’s young adult/new adult contemporary cross-over series, Pepper Jones. See below for information on the book, buy links, and my review.

Pep Talks (Pepper Jones #4) by Ali Dean

Pep Talks (Pepper Jones #4) by Ali Dean

5 Stars

Synopsis
(This is the fourth book in the Pepper Jones series, which should be read in order. The first three books in the series may be purchased as a box set for a discounted price, under the title “The Pepper Jones Collection.”)

Pepper’s freshman year at college is a harder transition than she anticipated. Uncertain of her coach’s expectations or her place amongst her new teammates, she struggles to redefine her running goals and identity on the cross country team.

Pepper’s steady relationship with Jace should be a source of comfort as she navigates the college social environment, but an unexpected event throws everything between them off track.

Also, hear from Jace’s point of view for the first time EVER. Growing up is hard, and when you’re Pepper Jones, running may be the only way to help you get through it.

*This book contains mature content.*

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My Review
I feel like the story I fell in love with is back. The third book didn’t grip me the way the first two did, but this fourth installment as riveting as I’ve come to expect from Pepper Jones and Ali Dean. Our little Pepper is all grown up and a freshman at CU, where Jace is the star quarterback in his sophomore year. Pepper learns that running among the elite in high school, with back-to-back national championships, didn’t prepare her for the grueling world of college cross country. As Pepper navigates college with Jace by her side, while not easy, life is manageable. When an unexpected event turns Jace’s world upside down, Pepper struggles with how to support him without losing herself.

This time around we get to hear from Jace, and he sounds exactly as I expected him to. The conflict and tension are at an all-time high, reminding me what it is about these stories I love so much. I read it in less than a day, something I haven’t done with a book in a long time.

Plot
There’s a lot going on plotwise. Pepper is learning the ins and outs of college life, running competitive cross country on a whole new level, one that doesn’t have her head and shoulders above everyone else, her relationship with Jace is tested in a way it never has before, and she must learn how to really be her own person for the first time.

Characters
This is probably the most character development we’ve seen so far. Both main characters go through tremendous changes, and in the end, they will discover things about themselves and each other that challenges everything they know. I love Pepper’s arc the most. It’s heartbreaking and inspiring. She grows so much and I just love seeing the independent streak she develops. I adore Pepper Jones, she’s one of my favorite young adult (now new adult) contemporary characters, and seeing her blossom is really rewarding.

World Building
Pepper’s world is very different as she moves out of Gran’s apartment and into a dorm on campus. Ali Dean does an excellent job of showing how this dramatic change influences Pepper’s world. The lighthearted ease of high school is gone and Pepper is thrust into a world of parties and independence where not everyone makes the best choices. This is college life at it’s core!

Ending
The ending is gut-wrenching and yet beautifully done. I know some people won’t be happy with it, but to me it was necessary. I won’t give anything away, but the more time that’s passed, the more I realize how perfect the ending is and how excited I am to read the next book in the series. Although rumor has it, I’ll need to wait until early 2016 to get my hands on it.

Top Five Things I love about Pep Talks:
1. Pepper’s new friends. Pepper’s roommates and teammates make for some fun and interesting new characters.

2. Jace. Getting inside his messy beautiful head was like extra thick frosting on my favorite birthday cake.

3. The running. I love how we get to see how the world of college running compares to high school. I thought this was one of the more fascinating aspects of the book.

4. Pepper’s growth. Watching her mature is rewarding. Yes she still makes mistakes, but she’s owning them like the fierce young woman she’s becoming.

5. Wes. He doesn’t have quite the presence he did in earlier books, but I love that he comes home from his Ivy League school for a visit and in the end, Wes is always just Wes.

Bottom Line
Pep Talks is a return to the world of Pepper Jones that I love — lots of angst, running, and oh yeah, Jace Wilder.

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: Pep Talks
Series:  Pepper Jones #4
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: July 30, 2015
Pages: 176
Genre: Young Adult/New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author
Ali Dean lives in Colorado with her husband, twin babies, and golden retriever. In addition to reading and writing, she loves the outdoors- everything from marathon training and biking to snowboarding and skiing.

Where to Find Ali Dean
Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon
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Young Adult Book Review – For the Win (Playing for Keeps) by Amber Garza

For the Win (Playing for Keeps #1) by Amber Garza

For the Win (Playing for Keeps #1) by Amber Garza

4 Stars

Synopsis
London Miller has one best friend.

Words.

She lives in the pages of the books she reads, preferring the safety of fictional worlds over the dark and scary reality of her own life. Books aren’t her escape…they’re her salvation.

Cooper Montgomery has one true love.

Baseball.

When he’s on the mound, throwing a pitch, the darkness of his world fades away. The game is something he can control, something he can count on.

A twist of fate brings London and Cooper together, a curve ball that forces them both outside of their comfort zones. As they spend time together, a relationship begins to blossom and both of them start to believe that there just might be something bright and beautiful in their lives.

However, the game changes when your heart is on the line. You have to play with everything you have for the win.

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My Review
This started off as a sweet story of two teens, each resistant romantic relationships because of tragedy in their pasts. Cooper, a baseball phenom, is the quintessential player, although he hates that label. The death of his parents at a young age make him afraid to get close to anyone again. London is the shy girl with journalism on her mind who has suffered such a tragic loss that she tries to hide herself from the world. But London’s ambitions throw her into Cooper’s path when she’s assigned to interview him for the school paper.

A quick interview and follow-up turns into something more when each sees something in the other they never expected to — understanding. Their individual losses allow them to relate to each other in a way no one has before, and before long, both are breaking all their own rules about relationships. Life throws them a curve ball, though and what should be the happiest time of their lives is suddenly marred by uncertainty, and they’ll have to find out if they have what it takes to win.

Plot
The main plot centers on the romance between London and Cooper, but there is a subplot I won’t spoil that is well done. I thought the romance was stronger earlier in the book. Lots of angst, but it quickly resolved when the subplot came into play. I would have liked more of that throughout the story, but all-in-all, the plot worked.

Characters
The two main characters were really well developed, as was London’s father. I didn’t get much of a sense of the other characters, though.

Writing
The author seems to have done her homework on all points. The dual first-person points of view are balanced and don’t recover the same territory from different perspectives, keeping the story flowing.

Ending
The ending was a logical conclusion to the story, but it did leave me wanting more, so it’s a good thing there’s another book in the series.

Top Five Things I enjoyed about For the Win:
1. London. She has such a sense of who she is, but still manages to come across as an authentic teen.

2. Cooper. He may be a player, but he’s not a jerk about it. He’s open and honest about what he wants and what he doesn’t want from girls.

3. London and Cooper. They are beyond adorable together.

4. Dexter. London’s dad is great as the single father trying to raise a teen daughter. There’s appropriate awkward discomfort over female stuff and just general doting-dad thing that makes him one of my favorite fictional fathers.

5. Baseball Caps. Cooper’s feelings about his caps and who he lets wear them lays the groundwork for one of the book’s sweetest moments.

Bottom Line
For the Win is a sweet teen romance starring a couple of flawed but really likable characters.

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About the Book
Title: For the Win
Series:  Playing for Keeps #1
Author: Amber Garza
Release Date: November 14, 2014
Pages: 276
Genre: Young Adult Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Amber Garza

Author Amber Garza

About the Author
Amber Garza lives in California with her amazing husband and two hilarious children who provide her with enough material to keep her writing for years.

Where to Find Amber Garza
Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook

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Young Adult Book Review – Pepped Up and Ready (Pepper Jones Series) by Ali Dean

Pepped Up and Ready (Pepper Jones #3) by Ali Dean

Pepped Up and Ready (Pepper Jones #3) by Ali Dean

4 Stars

Synopsis
This is the third book in the Pepper Jones series. The following description contains spoilers for Pepped Up and All Pepped Up. It is highly recommended that you read the books in order.)

Pepper is finally a senior, and she’s determined to defend her national cross-country title. Although Jace is busy with the demands of college football, he’s still at Pepper’s side, supporting her goals. But is she taking her renewed enthusiasm for training too far?

As Jace and Pepper focus on their athletic ambitions, they discover that Jace’s social status has followed him to college, despite his attempt to keep a low profile. With her boyfriend as an idol on campus, Pepper discovers that she might just be a target to those who find Jace threatening.

Are Jace and Pepper strong enough to withstand the pressure from those who want something from them? It won’t be easy fighting for her title and her boyfriend, but nothing easy is worth winning… or keeping.

*This book contains mature content.*

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My Review
I’m a huge fan of Pepper Jones and her creator, Ali Dean. This third book in the Pepper Jones series is a departure from the other two. Still focused on Pepper’s running career and her relationship with Jace, there’s less angst and more drama in other areas of Pepper’s life. Pepper has a lot to prove as the defending girls’ cross-country national champion, so she’s training harder than she ever has in her life. Wes is heading to an Ivy-league school soon, and Jace has moved to the dorms on campus, proving that the only constant is change.

What this iteration lacks in dripping teen angst now that Jace and Pepper seem to be on solid footing relationship-wise, it makes up for with uncertainty surrounding Pepper’s ability to compete with an injury and a mystery stalker that has Pepper living in fear.

Plot
The main plot is definitely about running. Whether or not Pepper will recover in time to compete, and if her recovery will be enough to allow her to qualify for regionals and nationals again. A solid sub-plot involves the mysterious stalker who is either trying to ruin Pepper’s chances at a repeat nationals title or to come between her and Jace. Where the story really excels is with Pepper’s running. Her inner turmoil is palpable. I could feel her fear, her drive, her panic over her future, over her identity, because if she’s not a runner, who is she?

There wasn’t nearly enough Jace/Pepper time though, but I think that was deliberate. With Jace in college and Pepper still in high school, their haphazard time together was authentic. They were always trying to squeeze in time for each other while juggling the rest of their busy lives, and the choppy nature of their time together was mirrored in the writing. I felt as unsettled and rushed reading about those stolen moments as the characters were feeling, experiencing them.

Characters
I love all the character growth in this latest installment. Pepper is maturing, learning to stand up for herself. Jace is settling down, giving up his partying ways, and even Zoe is coming out of her over-protective-parenting shell and hanging with the party crowd. Even little Jenny Mendoza, now a sophomore, is finding her voice. But better still, they all stay true to themselves. Even though they’re growing up, they’re still the same characters we know and love.

Writing
There is a more mature tone to the writing in this book than in the previous two and I think that reflects the maturation of the characters between the pages. Pepper spends a lot more time inside her head, processing. There are a few times this introspection slows the pacing, but not horribly so. The one thing I would have liked a little different is a particularly long-awaited moment between Pepper and Jace. It would have been nice to be inside Pepper’s head a little more, got a deeper understanding of how much it meant to her. We’d been building up to it for two books and I almost felt it was rushed.

Ending
The ending was satisfying, wrapping up the main plot points from this story, but still left me excited to find out what’s next for Pepper Jones.

Top Five Things I love about Pepped Up and Ready to Go:
1. Pepper’s Determination. Her commitment to her sport, her grit and determination, are role-model-worthy.

2. Buns. Once again, Pepper’s pot-smoking, cartoon-character-slipper-wearing grandmother steals the show.

3. Jace’s Loyalty. He’d do anything for Pepper and that is evident in everything he says and does. Sure, he has a storied past, but it’s all in the past. He’s stepped up and becomes the boyfriend Pepper deserves.

4. The Running. Reading about Pepper out there pounding the pavement, getting lost inside herself, has me itching to lace up my running shoes again.

5. Ryan. Still a big fan of the boy Pepper let go to be with Jace. I’d love for him to find his happy-ever-after.

Bottom Line
Pepped Up and Ready to Go reunites my favorite young adult characters in a story that challenges them in new, and in some cases, more intense ways.

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: Pepped Up and Ready
Series:  Pepper Jones #3
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: May 28, 2015
Pages: 203
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author
Ali Dean lives in Colorado with her husband, twin babies, and golden retriever. In addition to reading and writing, she loves the outdoors- everything from marathon training and biking to snowboarding and skiing.

Where to Find Ali Dean
Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon
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Book Review – The Game Changer (The Perfect Game) by J. Sterling

The Game Changer (The Perfect Game #2) by J. Sterling

The Game Changer (The Perfect Game #2) by J. Sterling

3 Stars

Synopsis
Jack appeared at my door last night after six months of no communication wearing a Mets jersey and holding a dozen red roses. He told me he was sorry, that he loved me, and that he would earn my trust again. It took everything in me to not fall apart at the mere sight of him. I wanted to take him back into my life, but I needed to know that this time it would be forever…

In J. Sterling’s highly anticipated follow-up to her USA Today bestselling novel The Perfect Game, Jack and Cassie quickly realize that their new lifestyle can often be cruel and unforgiving. Their happiness is put to the test as the past is never truly far behind.

How do you stay together when the world’s trying to tear you apart?

My Review
Once again, I found myself both loving this book and being ambivalent toward it. The first third is a recap of the end of the first book, but from Jack’s point of view. We hear how things went down with Chrystal, what he was feeling when he made the big romantic gesture, and what really went on down in the lobby. But it’s all revealed through dialogue — Jack telling Cassie what happened. I think the story would have been better without this. Bits and pieces could have been shared either in flashback or through conversation, but I felt it delayed getting to what THIS book was about. And what this book was about is how Jack and Cassie cope with Jack’s stardom.

The book really shines as it tackles the issues surrounding being a successful athlete in a big city, how the public feels they own you, and how cruel strangers can be, tearing a public figure down in online forums. Cassie’s heartbreak at being the subject of such ridicule was believable and extremely well done. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get there.

Plot
Now that Cassie and Jack are back together, the story revolves around outside pressures threatening to tear them apart. The story takes place during the time between the end of the first book and the epilogue, which kind of made me wish I hadn’t read the epilogue, since I knew how it was going to end. The conflict is well done, but it takes too long to get there. I almost felt as if there were  too many happy moments.

World Building
There was less baseball this time around and more life in New York, which I thought was believable. J. Sterling captures the essence of what it’s like to be a Southern Californian in the Big City — the cultural differences, the awe, the food!

Characters
I’m still a fan of Melissa and Dean, although I like Cassie and Jack more this time around. However, the “kitten” nickname is beginning to get on my nerves. Almost anything else would be better.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About The Game Changer
1. The conflict that drives a wedge between Cassie and Jack. It’s well-done, believable, and leads to some sweet moments.

2. The scene between Cassie and Chrystal. I won’t give it away, but it was awesome.

3. New York. It takes a starring role and every location comes across as authentic

4. Dean and Melissa. They still belong together, and I still love them.

5. Cassie’s boss. She’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind working for her.

Bottom Line
The Game Changer spends too much time covering the same territory, but once we get past that, it ramps up the tension in a satisfying way.

About the Book
Title
: The Game Changer
Series: The Perfect Game #2
Author: J. Sterling
Release Date: June 25, 2013
Pages: 322
Category: New Adult Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon

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Author J. Sterling

Author J. Sterling

 About the Author
I got fired from my last job. It’s true. I know you’re sitting there thinking “Jenn, how could anyone in their right mind fire someone as amazing and awesome as you???” And i’d love to give you a good reason, but the truth is- being this awesome is clearly very scary to other less awesome people.

So I said screw them and started writing my first book. And you know what I realized? Writing books that mean something to me is a million times better than working for my ass off for someone who doesn’t really care about anything other than the bottom line.

My soul feels more satisfied.

My heart, more full.

So thank you for reading, loving and recommending the stories I write. I appreciate it more than you know. 🙂

Where to Find J. Sterling
Goodreads | WebsiteFacebook | Twitter | Amazon

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YA Book Review – Penalty Kick by Terence O’Leary

Penalty Kick by Terence O'Leary

Penalty Kick by Terence O’Leary

3 Stars

Synopsis

Josh lives for soccer until the day of the accident.

Brooke knows what it is like to wake up in a hospital bed with your whole life shattered.

Inspired by true events, Penalty Kick is a poignant love story about a teenage girl who tries to help a fifteen-year-old boy overcome devastating loss.

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My Review
I’m a little torn on Penalty Kick. On the one hand, it’s got some really awesome themes and great characters. But it reads more like non-fiction than fiction. It’s a good story, but it’s lacking the raw, powerful emotions that fiction lends itself to, drawing the reader in, making us feel. I understood the emotions involved, but I didn’t feel them.

Penalty Kick is the story of fifteen-year-old Josh reeling from the loss of his mother in a car accident while he was behind the wheel. It’s also the story of Brooke, a sixteen-year-old cancer survivor who recognizes the pain and fear in Josh’s eyes. And it’s about Alan and Jessie, Josh’s father and nine-year-old sister, who are also dealing with the loss of Josh’s mom in their own ways.

It’s the story of love, loss, and redemption. Learning  how to forgive. About second chances. It’s not really a romance though, so if that’s what you’re expecting, you won’t get much. There is a romantic subplot, but it’s tertiary.

Plot
This is one area I feel is lacking. As I said, it reads more like non-fiction than fiction. Even so, there is a main plot involving Josh recovering from the accident on an emotional level. Following the accident, he gives up playing soccer because he blames soccer for the accident. They were driving home from the game when it happened. There are also some subplots involving Josh’s relationship with Brooke as well as with his father. It’s a compelling story, but I never felt sucked in, getting lost in the pages.

World Building
There is very little world building, although we do get a pretty in-depth view into the game of soccer. Many scenes involve technical descriptions of practice, technique, or the game itself. What world building there is centers around the world of soccer.

Characters
Josh is a complex kid with deep wounds, both physical and emotional. It’s easy to understand his pain even if I never felt it. Brooke is his love interest, but she’s really so much more. She’s an anchor and a friend. Someone who won’t give up on Josh, even if he wants to give up on himself. The character development is pretty good as Josh and his family work their way through grief.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Penalty Kick
1. The Soccer Metaphor. Penalty Kick is described as a second chance and that’s really what the story is about — second chances.

2. Brooke. She recognizes a boy in need and is relentless in her desire to help him.

3. Jessie. Josh’s little sister has the ability to see things exactly as they are and saying what she thinks.

4. The Butterfly Metaphor. “Maybe love is like butterflies. You don’t chase butterflies. You wait and If you stand very still they come to you.”

5. Hope. The message of hope threading through the story, that forgiveness is yours for the taking and that grief is a process not a destination, is fluid and authentic.

Bottom Line
Penalty Kick is a raw story of love, loss and healing, but it reads more like non-fiction.

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: Penalty Kick
Author: Terence O’Leary
Publisher: Swan Creek Press
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Pages: 240
Category: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Terence O'Leary

Author Terence O’Leary

About the Author
Terence O’Leary was born in Chicago, Illinois, but has spent his teenage and adult life in Northwest Ohio where the varied seasons and sports provide the background for his three ‘sports as therapy’ young adult novels.

A graduate of the University of Toledo with a degree in Journalism, English and Psychology, O’Leary’s critically acclaimed realistic coming-of-age stories focus on teenagers facing a family crisis.

Where to Find Terence O’Leary
Goodreads | Amazon

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Book Review – The Perfect Game (The Perfect Game) by J. Sterling

The Perfect Game (The Perfect Game #1) by J. Sterling

The Perfect Game (The Perfect Game #1) by J. Sterling

3 Stars

Synopsis
He’s a game she never intended to play. And she’s the game changer he never knew he needed.

The Perfect Game tells the story of college juniors, Cassie Andrews & Jack Carter. When Cassie meets rising baseball hopeful Jack, she is determined to steer clear of him and his typical cocky attitude. But Jack has other things on his mind… like getting Cassie to give him the time of day.

They’re both damaged, filled with mistrust and guarded before they find one another (and themselves) in this emotional journey about love and forgiveness. Strap yourselves for a ride that will not only break your heart, but put it back together.

Sometimes life gets ugly before it gets beautiful…

This is a MATURE YOUNG ADULT/NEW ADULT novel Suitable for ages 17+ Contains strong language, sexual situations and references

My Review
I’m torn on this book. There were parts of it I really loved, including a twist I never saw coming, and I reached a point where I couldn’t put it down. But I also had huge issues with large parts of it. For one, Cassie and Jack, the two main characters, aren’t terribly likable in the beginning. Cassie is a little to into herself and how hot she is, and Jack is too cocky for his own good, so these two belong together, right? In some ways they do, but maybe not for the reasons I originally thought. Both have deep wounds that make them reluctant to commit. At least until they meet one another. And that’s just the first of many cliches.

There’s the hunky player who never sleeps with the same girl twice until he meets “the one.” There’s the girl with the sordid past who won’t let anyone in until she meets the hunky player, who isn’t her type at all, but the wins her over. And there are the mean girls out to sabotage the perfect relationship because if they can’t have Jack, no one can. But for all the cliches, there were some genuinely unique aspects. The sports angle was a nice switch up from the over-the-top romance, and the aforementioned twist. Although once I got to the plot twist, I did accurately predict how it would turn out. Still, it was a bright heaping bowl of angst tossed onto a storyline that was sorely in need of some shaking up. That’s another of my problems with the story, the whole middle was too much happy blissful kissyface, lacking any real conflict.

I also liked that it didn’t immediately wrap up in a nice neat way. I like that the characters had to work at their happily ever after, even beyond when most authors would have tied a bow on it and called it done. So I guess I’m saying if you like messy romances, can deal with some pretty eye-roll-inducing stereotypes, and are willing to slog through some slow sections to get at the good meaty center, you’ll enjoy The Perfect Game.

Plot
The main plot is the romance between Jack and Cassie. Can he get her? Can he keep her? Can he get her back? But where the story really shines, in my opinion, is the sub-plotting of both Jack’s baseball career and Cassie’s photography career.

World Building
The only real world building is that of professional baseball and it’s done really well. But the world of professional photography didn’t really click. I didn’t buy into Cassie landing the perfect internship for a New York magazine with little or no effort on her part and that she was able to afford an apartment in Manhattan. Any budding photographer will tell you that just doesn’t happen.

Characters
I wasn’t a big fan of either Jack or Cassie in the beginning, but both grew on me by the end. And it’s quite possible the author’s intent was to create unlikable characters that become more likable as they grow and develop. Jack’s brother, Dean, and Cassie’s roommate, Melissa, are well rounded supporting characters, but I felt most of the rest of the cast was either stereotypical or flat.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About The Perfect Game
1. The baseball. For me, this was one of the best aspects of the book.

2. The twist. I didn’t see it coming which is the hallmark of an excelled plot twist.

3. The messy aftermath. The author didn’t make things easy on either character and I appreciate that.

4. Dean and Melissa. These two should really be together. I’d have been more interested in reading about them than Jack and Cassie.

5. The quarters. The quarters lead to some of the sweetest moments in the book.

Bottom Line
The Perfect Game is a mix of unique storytelling and some cliches that make it difficult to read at times, but overall, it’s enjoyable.

About the Book
Title
: The Perfect Game
Series: The Perfect Game #1
Author: J. Sterling
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Pages: 336
Category: New Adult Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon

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Author J. Sterling

Author J. Sterling

 About the Author
I got fired from my last job. It’s true. I know you’re sitting there thinking “Jenn, how could anyone in their right mind fire someone as amazing and awesome as you???” And i’d love to give you a good reason, but the truth is- being this awesome is clearly very scary to other less awesome people.

So I said screw them and started writing my first book. And you know what I realized? Writing books that mean something to me is a million times better than working for my ass off for someone who doesn’t really care about anything other than the bottom line.

My soul feels more satisfied.

My heart, more full.

So thank you for reading, loving and recommending the stories I write. I appreciate it more than you know. 🙂

Where to Find J. Sterling
Goodreads | WebsiteFacebook | Twitter | Amazon

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YA Book Review – A Game Worth Watching by Samantha Gudger

A Game Worth Watching by Samantha Gudger

A Game Worth Watching by Samantha Gudger

5 Stars

Synopsis
All her life, people have told 17-year-old tomboy Emma Wrangton that she’s not good enough, smart enough, or strong enough to succeed in life. Somewhere along the way, she started to believe them.

Without the promise of a respectable future after graduation, all Emma wants is to cherish her senior year by playing basketball with the guys and spending as much time as possible with her best friend before he heads off to some fancy university, leaving her behind.

But when the high school basketball coach recruits her to join the team—the girls’ team—Emma discovers life is anything but a slam dunk. How is she supposed to know how to be one of the girls when all she’s ever been is one of the guys?

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My Review
I absolutely loved this book. Emma Wrangton is one of the most complex young adult characters I’ve read in awhile. She’s dealing with so much, including a sucktastic home life, mean girls at school, and a childhood best friend who she believes will be leaving her behind after graduation. What she doesn’t have, is any faith in herself.

She loves basketball, loves playing it, knows she’s good at it, but doesn’t believe she’s good enough. And that feeling isn’t just about her performance. She doesn’t believe she’s capable of anything. And it’s no wonder, her family is worse than abusive, they just don’t care and it’s heartbreaking.

Plot
The primary plot centers around Emma and the girls’ high school basketball team. When the new coach asks her to join the team, Emma not only says no, but ‘hell no and don’t ask me again’. Emma doesn’t do girls. Doesn’t understand them, can’t stand to be around them. Playing sports with them? Nope, not gonna happen. At least until her best friend, Riley, convinces her it’s an opportunity to be seen by scouts, get a college scholarship. Emma doesn’t believe she’ll go to college, or ever leave the garage she calls home. But Riley sees so much in her, and convinces her to try. Nothing goes smoothly. It’s not an easy transition and the girls don’t want Emma anymore than she wants them. She comes close to giving up more than once, but perseveres, and grows as a character as do her teammates.

There are two solid subplots, one involving a romance with Riley and the other centers around her relationship with her family. Both are exceptionally well done and in neither case does the author take the easy way out.

World Building
I don’t know much (anything) about basketball, but author Samantha Gudger so fully immersed me into this world, I felt like I was right there courtside throughout. I still don’t know a whole lot about the sport, but I might actually want to watch a game now. Shocking, I know. If it doesn’t involve a bat or a pigskin, I’m usually not interested, but A Game Worth Watching makes me want to watch. Go figure.

Characters
Emma is so layered, deep, wounded, and I absolutely adore her. I want to open up my spare room and let her live here, show her what a real family looks like. I loved watching her develop throughout the story, coming to terms with the things she can change and those she can’t. And what can I say about Riley? His unwavering love and support for his best friend makes him one of the best of the good guys in young adult fiction.

The rest of the characters are equally well rounded with none slipping into stereotype. The girls on the team grow and develop right along with Emma. Emma’s family is as messed up as it gets, and I do love that Samantha Gudger didn’t feel compelled to wrap that all up in a pretty bow. Sometimes broken families stay that way. Not everything is a happily ever after, but the author leaves us with enough hope, that it’s okay.

Top Five Things I Loved About A Game Worth Watching
1. The Opening Scene. We learn a heck of a lot about Emma and Riley in one really well written opening scene.

2. Riley. He is everything a best friend should be. He’s loyal, fierce, protective, warm, gentle, aggressive, affectionate, and sweet.

3. Ashley. The freshman who pushes her way into Emma’s face and worms her way into her heart is adorkable in the best possible way.

4. Basketball. Even though I didn’t come into the book as a basketball fan, I couldn’t help getting caught up in the game and rooting for the underdogs.

5. Riley’s Family. The way his mom and dad open their home and their hearts to Emma is authentic. This is what well-adjusted families do. I never questioned anything they did because it always just felt real.

Bottom Line
A Game Worth Watching is a book worth reading. Filled with complex characters, a kick-ass sports plot, and layered with themes of friendship, acceptance, and forgiveness.

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Title: A Game Worth Watching
Author: Samantha Gudger
Release Date: January 16, 2013
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance/Sports
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Samantha Gudger

Author Samantha Gudger

About the Author
A former three-sport athlete in high school, Samantha grew up with a ball in one hand and a book in the other. From the moment her first grade teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, Samantha knew she wanted to be an author.

Samantha currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, a ball-obsessed Australian Shepherd, and a cat that can’t get enough cuddle time. Books, writing, sports, music, and marshmallows top her list of favorites.

A Game Worth Watching is her first novel.

Where to Find Samantha Gudger
Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook