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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 out of 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 out of 5 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 out of 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 out of 5 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 out of 5 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 out of 5 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 out of 5 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.

——————————————————–

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.

——————————————————–

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 out of 5 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

——————————————————–

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 out of 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?

——————————————————–

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.

——————————————————–

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

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

Pepped Up by Ali Dean

5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis
Pepper Jones is ready for an epic cross country season. She wants to qualify for Nationals, and she’s willing to do anything it takes to make it happen. She can handle long miles and hill sprints, but boys? That’s an entirely different challenge.

Pepper’s never considered revealing her deeper feelings for her longtime friend, Jace Wilder. After all, he’s got the personal magnetism and good looks to hook just about any girl in town — and he has. Their friendship stands apart from high school social circles, and they’re both just fine with that (or at least they pretend to be).

That is, until running star Ryan Harding moves to town.

When it comes to running, Pepper’s goals are clear. But when it comes to Jace and Ryan, it’s nowhere near as simple.

Pepped Up is the first in a series that follows Pepper through high school and into college. All Pepped Up, the second book in the Pepper Jones series, will be released on July 11, 2014.

*This book contains mature content.*

My Review
I absolutely loved this book. Everything about it. It’s dripping with angst, has strong characters, an edge of your seat romance, and a fabulous running subplot. I ran track in high school, although not cross, but I could still identify with the race day jitters, the high of competition, and choices you have to make in your social life during the season. But really, anyone who participated in any high school sport will be able to relate.

There is so much to love about Pepper’s story. She’s deeply, hopelessly in love with the her best childhood friend, Jace, who is the school slut, star football player, and all around big man on campus. He’s the boy all the girls want and most have had, but Pepper’s more like a little sister to him. When reigning boys’ national cross champ, Ryan Harding, arrives in town and sparks fly between him and Pepper, Jace’s actions might be indicative of deeper feelings. Or maybe his overprotectiveness is about something else entirely.

Plot
The story moves along at a clipped pace that would rival any cross country track meet. Unrequited teen love is the hallmark of the genre, and yet author, Ali Dean, manages to kick it up to about a 10-1/2 on the angst scale. Perfectly so. Nothing feels overdone and the twists and turns she throws in kept me reading way past midnight several nights in a row.

Characters
Pepper’s mixed feelings for the two boys in her life could easily make her the kind of girl we all love to bag on. But she’s strong and she grows in such a believably realistic fashion, that we know her heart is always in the right place.

Jace is flawed in every sense of the word and yet we never stop hoping he’ll pull himself together and be the boy that Pepper believes him to be.

Ryan is adorably perfect, and yet we still want Pepper to be with Jace. The rest of the cast all do their part to mix it up and raise the stakes. A few come off as archetypes, but just because the stereotypical mean girl is a young adult staple, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We all knew at least one when we were in high school.

Bottom Line
I adored Pepper’s story, the characters, and the passion this book managed to elicit in me. So much so, that as soon as I finished it, I started All Pepped Up, the second book in the series. This is definitely one of the best pure teen romances I’ve read in awhile.

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

About the Book
Title: Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #1)
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: November 16, 2013
Pages: 322
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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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