Young Adult Book Review – The Tattered Gloves by J.L. Berg

The Tattered Gloves by J.L. Berg

The Tattered Gloves by J.L. Berg

5 Stars

Synopsis
Head down.
Don’t look up.
Never make eye contact.

Those were the words I lived by growing up, the words that protected me in an unsafe home. But words are only letters and eventually even they couldn’t keep his hands off me.

Hoping to leave behind the shattered life of my past, I find myself in a boring, small town, with an aunt I’ve never met and at a school I loathe.

But soon I learn, not everything in this world is as black and white as I’ve determined. Sometimes those we are so quick to judge often need a second, third or even fourth time to make a first impression.

And often, there are friendships and even love waiting just around the corner, if we are brave enough to take the first step.

Am I brave? Or will I hide behind these tattered gloves of mine forever?..

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My Review
I realized as I sat down to write this review, it’s been a little while since I last gave a book five stars, but The Tattered Gloves pleasantly surprised me. This is the first book I’ve read by J.L. Berg, who traditionally writes adult romances, but if this is any indication of what she’s capable of, it won’t be the last. Willow is the daughter of a prostitute with no idea who her father is. After a horrific event involving Willow and one of her mother’s “clients”, her mother packs her up and sends her off to live with an aunt Willow didn’t even know existed. Constantly wearing a ratty old pair of red gloves, Willow avoids touching and being touched by others, something she can no longer tolerate.

Willow’s Aunt Addy is everything Willow’s mother was not. Through her aunt, Willow learns her own family history, along with some valuable lessons about humanity. Willow may not have won the parent lottery, but family is so much more than just who gave birth to you. In addition, Willow is befriended by Allison, a popular girl with a heart of gold, and Sam, a swoonworthy boy who both infuriates and intrigues Willow.

Plot
The primary plot revolves around Willow coming to terms with her wounds, and she has a lot of them. Not only was she physically abused, but her mother neglected her, resulting in solid, well-founded trust issues. Subplots involve her relationship with Sam, the struggling bookstore Sam runs with his family where Willow works part time, and to a lesser degree, her relationship with her aunt. Nothing is glossed over and there is no easy path. About the only thing I found lacking was the involvement of a therapist in Willow’s journey. The fact that she had to figure it out all on her own was fine, but it felt too fast without someone there helping guide her through some of the tougher issues. Her epiphany was also out of the blue in a way that didn’t feel organic. Those are small criticisms though in an otherwise well plotted and executed story.

Characters
This is more a character-driven tale than a plot-driven one and the characters are outstanding. Willow is believable as the broken girl with the scars no one can see. Her aunt is perfect as the woman thrown unexpectedly into a role she never prepared for. Addy’s unease and fear at doing everything wrong is palpable. At times I found BFF, Allison, to be almost too good to be true, except everyone has had that one friend who doesn’t take no for an answer. Thank God for friends like that! And Sam…there’s so much to love about this broken boy with his own sad story who still manages to see so much more in Willow than she can see in herself.

World Building
Author, J.L. Berg expertly captures small-town life with all it’s good and bad aspects. The tiny Virginia town came to life in a way that allowed it to be the perfect backdrop for Willow’s story.

What I Loved About The Tattered Gloves
1. Willow.
 She’s complex, deep, and incredibly well developed. She’s the sort of girl I’d like to have been friends with as a teen.

2. Sam. He is sweet, loyal, persistent, and yet guarded and wounded. He’s the perfect foil and boyfriend for Willow.

3. Allison. She’s perky and pushy, but in all the right ways.

4. Addy. She takes on her new role with grit and determination and allows Willow to set the boundaries.

5. The ending. I love the way the story wrapped up. It wasn’t this nice, neat little package, but it left me satisfied.

Bottom Line
The Tattered Gloves is a moving young adult read with phenomenal characters.

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About the Book
Title: The Tattered Gloves
Author: J.L. Berg
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Pages: 268
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating:
 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AmazoniBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

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Author J.L. Berg

Author J.L. Berg

About the Author
J.L. Berg is the USA Today bestselling author of the Ready Series, The Walls Duet, and the Lost & Found Duet. She is a California native living in the beautiful state of historic Virginia. Married to her high school sweetheart, they have two beautiful girls that drive them batty on a daily basis. When she’s not writing, you will find her with her nose stuck in a romance novel, in a yoga studio or devouring anything chocolate. J.L. Berg is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.
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Where to find J.L. Berg
Goodreads | Website | NewsletterFacebook | Twitter | Instagram
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Young Adult Book Review – Liberation (Moonchild) by Kate L. Mary

Liberation (Moonchild #2) by Kate L. Mary

Liberation (Moonchild #2) by Kate L. Mary

5 Stars

Synopsis
From two-time award-winning author, Kate L. Mary, comes the sequel to MOONCHILD, “a much needed breath of fresh air in the world of YA fantasy.” After surviving the auction and a near death experience at the hands of Asher’s father, Scarlett Moon is more than ready for life to settle down, and with each passing day she starts to feel more at home in Columbus. Even with Asher ready for more than Scarlett can give, she manages to fall into a routine that almost feels like a normal life.

But one distress call is all it takes to destroy the serenity the group has managed to build.

As far as anyone knew, Paget had moved on with her life after storming out months ago, but the fear in her voice when she calls the warehouse tells a different story. Even though Scarlett never liked Asher’s ex to begin with, she can’t help feeling a little bit responsible for Paget’s situation.

Searching in the seediest part of the city, the group picks up clues as they try to piece together what might have happened. The more Scarlett learns about what the other woman has been through over the last few months, the more concerned she becomes. Even worse: there’s no sign of Paget anywhere in Columbus.

With all the clues pointing in one direction, the group leaves the city and heads for Hocking Hills. Only it seems the danger may have followed them, leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake and putting Paget in more danger than ever before. As Scarlett learns more about the woman who used to hold Asher’s heart, she suddenly finds herself unable to deny how she really feels about him. Only, with Paget in trouble, Scarlett can’t help wondering if Asher might still have feelings for his ex.

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My Review
I freaking love this series! I was delighted to find out that Moonchild was the first book in the series and bought the sequel the day it came out. Book 2 picks up a few months after the end of Moonchild. Scarlett is still convinced she’s bad for Asher and Asher is still convinced she’s wrong. Things have settled into a new normal until Asher’s ex, Paget, sends a distress call. With no idea where she is or where the call came from, the pirates set out to find her and bring her home. While there is no love-loss between Scarlett and Paget, Scarlett knows she must be part of the rescue effort. These are the moments I absolutely adore her. Her sense of duty and right and wrong is so much a part of who she is.

Plot
The plot centers around the search and rescue of Paget, but the romance is still a very strong subplot and incredibly well done! I love the angst and drama surrounding Scarlett and Asher’s relationship. There is so much action in the plot, the story moves at a clipped pace, only pausing long enough to allow us to catch our breath. Once again the story is well-plotted and expertly executed.

Characters
All the characters I fell in love with in the first book are back and a few new ones are added. Scarlett and Asher both undergo a decent amount of development, more so than before. The good news is, there’s still plenty of room for growth, so hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of these two. The author creates so much depth in her characters that there are still many unexplored depths to discover in this installment. We not only learn more about Scarlett and Asher, but Paget really comes into her own.

World Building
The world building continues to be one of the most impressive I’ve read in the past few years. Kate L. Mary’s attention to detail makes her settings come alive in very vibrant and realistic fashion.

What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The editing.
 Once again, both the content and copy editing disappointed me, pulling me out of the story more than a few times.

2. The cover. The cover still doesn’t grab my attention, but I’m so invested in the series now, it could be a plain brown wrapper and I’d still pick up the next book.

What I Loved About Liberation
1. The setting.
 Again the world the author has created just shines. I love everything from the settings to the costumes to the technology.

2. Scarlett. While I was slow to warm to her in the first book, I had no such issues this time around. I was already a big fan. It was great to see some true growth in her. While she’s still a teen and has plenty of angst, she’s starting to mature.

3. The plot. Another perfectly plotted and executed story!

4. Asher. If possible, I love him even more now. We get to see a new side to him, a softer, more vulnerable side and it made him more human.

5. Paget. She’s still the same romantic foil and no fan of Scarlett’s, but she has her own growth in this installment and seeing more of her, hearing more of her story, endeared her to me in a way she hadn’t before.

Bottom Line
Liberation is my favorite book of 2016 and with tighter editing, it would have been damn near perfect!

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About the Book
Title: Liberation
Series: Moonchild #2
Author: Kate L. Mary
Release Date: November 1, 2016
Pages: 280
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian/SciFi/Steampunk Romance
Rating:
 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Kate L. Mary

Author Kate L. Mary

About the Author
Award-winning author of WHEN WE WERE HUMAN and the Amazon best-selling BROKEN WORLD series, Kate L. Mary writes everything from post-apocalyptic tales of the undead to new adult contemporary romance. A mother of four and an Air Force wife, her days are divided between keeping her household in order and creating new worlds for readers to get lost in.

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Where to find Kate L. Mary
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter
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Young Adult Book Review – My Junior Year of Loathing (School Dayz) by Jennifer DiGiovanni

My Junior Year of Loathing (School Dayz #2) by Jennifer DiGiovanni

My Junior Year of Loathing (School Dayz #2) by Jennifer DiGiovanni

5 Stars

Synopsis
Junior year is supposed to be tough. Exams, term papers, homework, college tours, and participation in extra-curricular activities can all add up to non-stop stress. But Melinda Banner has goals to achieve and dreams to make real. This year, she’ll be unstoppable. But even over achievers need a break.

While walking in the woods to take a break from the stress of it all, Melinda meets a boy named Connor. After a few more run-ins, the two settle into an uneasy friendship, if you can even call it that.

But Connor’s closed and mysterious. Whenever Melinda asks too many questions, he suddenly has to go or is no longer interested in talking. When they’re together, she’s torn between wanting him to open up and running away as fast as she can. Still she can’t seem to shake her budding interest in him.

Connor has his own way of looking at the world, and his views often conflict with Melinda’s practical nature. Can you like someone and loathe them at the same time? Is he even worth the emotional tug on her heartstrings or distraction from all things Junior year?

And, as if she needs another project right now, Melinda starts to obsess over the abandoned estate she passes on the way to school each day. Between Connor and the old estate, Melinda’s beginning to think she’s taking on too much.

But Melinda’s smart. She finds a way to indulge her interest in the estate and fulfill her obligations. She will uncover the truth behind the aging edifice for an epic article in the school newspaper.

But when her investigation reveals a connection between Connor and a tragedy long-since forgotten, Melinda has a choice: put off her junior year achievements to save a local landmark and a boy who constantly pushes her away or put them both out of her mind for good and focus on making the grade.

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My Review
The second book in the School Dayz series, this is my favorite so far. Melinda, Sadie’s romantic rival from book one, is a smart, serious girl with goals. When her mom remarries, she moves into a virtual mansion where she’s forced to adjust to a different way of life. Her relocation also puts her squarely in the path of mysterious Connor of the Woods, a boy she meets lurking in the forested area behind her stepfather’s estate. Her best friend, Becca, begins dating Will, who pushes her to double-date his buddy, Ty. Ty is tall, cute, normal. Connor is anything but normal, but Melinda is inescapably drawn to him, setting up a showdown with her emotions. Will she choose Ty and security, or Connor and all the drama that surrounds him?

Plot
There is a bit of a mystery woven into the plot. Well, a couple of mysteries, actually. One being the secret Connor is hiding and the other is what happened behind the big wall of the old Westerly Estate. Some people say the old house is haunted, and Melinda is determined to find out what really happened. But the primary plot is the romance between Melinda, Ty, and Connor. It’s not a traditional love triangle, so if those turn you off, don’t discount this book just yet. It’s a great story, with Jennifer DiGiovanni’s signature quirky, funny characters, and lots of super sweet moments.

Characters
Once again, the author creates a cast of unique characters that are easy to love. Melinda is serious and driven with an incredible soft spot in her heart. Connor is an enigma until we find out his whole story, but he never comes across as anything other than fully developed. Will, Ty, Becca, the estate’s caretaker, Jack, and Melinda’s family all support the story. Jack in particular is an intriguing character who adds a lot to the story.

Top things I LOVED About My Junior Year of Loathing
1. The mystery. It was incorporated really well into the main plot.

2. Jack. The gruff landscaper provides some great moments with both Melinda and Connor.

3. Melinda. I love seeing more of her in this installment. She wasn’t my favorite person in My Senior Year of Awesome, but after getting her story and her point of view, I adore her.

4. Connor. The boy from the woods is strong, mysterious, caring, and more than a little hot.

5. Will. As the arrogant football player dating Melinda’s best friend, he provides some of the best comic moments.

Bottom Line
My favorite book in the series so far, includes great romance, a mystery, and fantastic characters.

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About the Book
Title: My Junior Year of Loathing
Series: School Dayz #2
Author: Jennifer DiGiovanni
Publisher: Swoon Romance
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Pages: 186
Category: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Jennifer DiGiovanni

Author Jennifer DiGiovanni

About the Author
Jennifer DiGiovanni is the author of the School Dayz Series. When she’s not writing or reading, she likes to try new sports and activities from archery to ballroom dancing, with varying degrees of success.

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Where to find Jennifer DiGiovanni
Goodreads | WebsiteFacebook Twitter | Pinterest
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Young Adult Book Review – Chasing Truth (Eleanor Ames) by Julie Cross

Chasing Truth Blog Tour

Chasing Truth (Eleanor Ames #1) by Julie Cross

Chasing Truth (Eleanor Ames #1) by Julie Cross

5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author Julie Cross

Author Julie Cross

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

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

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

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

Young Adult Book Review – The Replacement Crush by Lisa Brown Roberts

The Replacement Crush by Lisa Brown Roberts

The Replacement Crush by Lisa Brown Roberts

5 Stars

Synopsis
True love can’t be strategized.

Romance book blogger Vivian Galdi is a girl with a plan: the Replacement Crush mission. After her longtime crush pretends their secret summer kissing sessions never happened, Vivian creates a list of safe targets, determined to protect her heart and avoid anyone who pings her zing meter. But nerd-hot Dallas, the new guy in town, sends the mission and Vivian’s zing meter into chaos. While designing software for the bookstore where Vivian works, Dallas wages a counter-mission, analyzing his target and taking advantage of the tactical errors in her strategy.

Does Dallas just like a good game of Replacement Crush Battlefield, or is he on his own mission to prove to Vivian that true love isn’t a matter of strategy? And how much collateral damage can they both sustain during the heat of battle?

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My Review
I’m a huge, huge fan of Lisa Brown Roberts and I might have gotten a little swoony when I met her at the RWA conference here in San Diego last month. Obviously I jumped at the chance to read and review The Replacement Crush and I was not disappointed. Vivian Galdi is broken hearted after a hot couple of weeks at the end of summer making out with her long-term crush, Jake, on the beach. But when school starts, popular Jake has already moved on to new surfer girl, Claire leaving Vivian not only devastated, but vowing to never allow that to happen again. How? By only dating boys that she could never have strong feelings for. Along comes hot, yet nerdy, Dallas, a recent transplant to Southern California from Wisconsin. When Viv’s mom hires Dallas to help them take their sleepy seaside bookstore into the 21st century, Vivian and Dallas are forced to work together and the zing cannot be ignored. Which means Dalls is completely undateable.

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I love the book blogging angle so much, it inspired me to use gifs for the first time in a book review. I might be hooked, although it takes longer to find just the right ones.

Plot
The plot centers around the romance between Vivian and Dallas and Vivian’s refusal to even give Dallas a chance because she knows they have serious zing. Something she’s not willing to indulge in again. It’s clear from the beginning the Dallas feels it, too, and he’s determined to get Vivian to change her mind, although his methods are subtle. These two fight a lot, about ridiculous things. Dallas tries to rile her up and Viv fights to keep Dallas at arms’ length, but that only increases the electricity between them.

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There are some cute subplots involving Vivian’s relationship with the son of her mother’s boyfriend, a guy she’s known since kindergarten, a crush by one of her closest friends, and a mysterious visitor in town who may or may not be a famous rock star hiding out from the paparazzi.

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Setting
I loved the sleepy seaside community north of Los Angeles. At times, it felt very much like Encinitas, a town only ten miles north of me. Particularly with the the crunchy, granola, hippy liberal vibe I got while reading about surfing competitions, yoga, smoothies, and more. The author created a town that was as much a character in the story as any of her human characters.

Characters
Speaking of characters, they’re all wonderful. Even Jake the snake, as the bad guy. He never comes off as stereotypical, although the author could have easily gone there without ruining the story. Dallas has depth that I haven’t seen in a love interest in awhile, even though the story is told completely from Viv’s point of view. There are times I wanted to shake some sense into Vivian for being “that girl” but the author even acknowledges that, taking away my ability to roll my eyes are her antics.

Ending
The ending is perfect. I love Viv and Dallas and the big romantic gesture was the perfect way to wind up this tale.

Top Five Things I Loved about The Replacement Crush:
1. Hot nerds. What’s not to love about a gorgeous, smart guy that loves all the geeky things you do?

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2. Toff. Viv’s surfing, sorta brother, is loyal, adorable, and a full of himself, and yet I can’t help loving him. I hope we get a book from his point of view soon.

3. First kisses. Viv and Dallas’s first kiss is one of the hottest teen kisses I’ve ever read, without crossing a line.

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4. Bookstores. Viv’s mom owns a bookstore and many scenes take place there, making me feel as if I’m in my home away from home.

5. The ending. Well done, sweet, funny, and hot. A hard trifecta to achieve.

Bottom Line
The Replacement Crush is full of fun, quirky characters, witty banter, and obvious teen sexual tension that is a delight to read.

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: The Replacement Crush
Author: Lisa Brown Roberts
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Pages: 400
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AmazonAmazon UKAmazon CABarnes & NobleiTunesKoboThe BookDepositoryBooks a Million

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Author Lisa Brown Roberts

Author Lisa Brown Roberts

About the Author
Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn’t recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year.

This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write YA books about navigating life’s painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way.

Her almost forever home is Colorado, though she occasionally pines for the days when she lived within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean. Her house is full of books, boys, several fourlegged prima donnas, and lots of laughter.

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Where to find Lisa Brown Roberts
Goodreads Website | Facebook Twitter
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Young Adult Book Review + Giveaway – How to Keep Rolling After the Fall by Karole Cozzo

How to Keep Rolling After the Fall Blog Tour

How to Keep Rolling After the Fall by Karole Cozzo

How to Keep Rolling After the Fall by Karole Cozzo

5 Stars

Synopsis
After a cyber bullying incident turns her life upside down, a handsome wheelchair rugby player shows a former mean girl that everyone deserves a second chance in this swoonworthy new novel from the author of How to Say I Love You Out Loud.

The party was at her house. The photos were posted to her Facebook account. That’s all the evidence anyone needed to condemn Nikki Baylor for a cyberbullying incident that humiliated a classmate and nearly resulted in the girl’s suicide. Now Nikki’s been expelled from her old school, her friends have abandoned her, and even her own parents can’t look her in the eye. With her plans for the future all but destroyed, Nikki resigns herself to being the girl everyone hates – almost as much as she hates herself. But then Nikki meets Pax, a spirited wheelchair rugby player who knows what it’s like when one mistake completely shatters your life. Refusing to judge her because of her past, he shows her that everyone deserves a second chance… and everyone deserves to be loved.

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My Review
This is such a sweet, moving story. Nikki made one bad choice that seriously damaged the life of another girl, and she’s paying the price. It’s hard to feel sorry for her at first. Until you find out she didn’t act alone, but she’s the only one who’s life has been turned upside down. Nikki accepts her punishment but feels it’s unfair that her co-conspirators basically got off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. She spends a short amount of time feeling sorry for herself before she picks herself up and tries to make the best of her situation.

Part of her sentence includes volunteering at a community rehabilitation center where she meets hot, but wheelchair bound Pax. The two strike up an unlikely friendship that turns into something more. But both have big issues to deal with and a romantic relationship will test them both in different ways. These two teens have a lot to offer each other and the world, so when the going gets tough, the tough find a way to do the right thing.

Plot
Once again, author Karole Cozzo brings us a romance wrapped in deeper issues of cyber bullying, teen driving, life changing moments, and discovering who you are underneath it all. Nikki needs to examine her part in what happened and Pax needs to learn how to let someone into what he views as his personal nightmare of being a paraplegic. Neither has an easy path and Cozzo doesn’t gloss over any of it, giving neither character an easy out.

Characters
I love the characters. Nikki goes from difficult to like to someone I root for, even eliciting a few tears from me, and I’m not much of a crier. Pax is stubborn, loyal, and thoughtful, but he’s got his own baggage that he’s forced to overcome, which he does in an authentic way.

Writing
I love Cozzo’s writing. It’s fresh and youthful, and her characters are vivid and real.

Ending
The ending was well done. It’s not an easy path, but a natural culmination of the events and the characters’ journeys, and left me completely satisfied.

Top Five Things I Loved about How to Keep Rolling After the Fall
1. Nikki’s acceptance of her role in everything. She doesn’t try to deflect the guilt onto others, but owns her part in what happened.
2. Pax’s loyalty. His acceptance of Nikki even after she confesses what she’s done is inspiring.
3. Cyberbullying. Shown both through the eyes of the bully and the bullied (separate incidents), the author brings this issue to center stage in a way that make it impossible to ignore.
4. Natural consequences. Both Nikki and Pax must face the natural consequences of their actions. Both of their lives are forever changed in very different ways.
5. The epilogue. Super cute and sweet.

Bottom Line
How to Keep Rolling After the Fall is a story of self-reflection and redemption.

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: How to Keep Rolling After the Fall
Author: Karole Cozzo
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Pages: 272
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

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Author Karole Cozzo

Author Karole Cozzo

About the Author
KAROLE COZZO is a school psychologist by day, a wife and mother of two by night, and a writer of YA romance in the wee hours of the morning. She loves camping out at Starbucks, breakfast cereal at all hours, and watching every movie made from her favorite YA books. How to Say I Love You Out Loud is her debut novel.

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Where to find Karole Cozzo
Goodreads Website | Facebook Twitter | Instagram

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Giveaway
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Book Review – Plot Perfect – How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene by Paula Munier

Plot Perfect - How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene by Paula Munier

Plot Perfect – How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene by Paula Munier

5 Stars

Synopsis
Build an Exceptional Plot, One Scene at a Time!

Think of your favorite story–the one that kept you turning pages late into the night, the one with a plot so compelling, so multilayered, so perfect that you couldn’t put it down. How can you make your own plots–in your novels, short stories, memoirs, or screenplays–just as irresistible?

“Plot Perfect” provides the answer. This one-of-a-kind plotting primer reveals the secrets of creating a story structure that works–no matter what your genre. It gives you the strategies you need to build a scene-by-scene blueprint that will help elevate your fiction and earn the attention of agents and editors.

Inside, literary agent, editor, and author Paula Munier shows you how to:
Devise powerful plots and subplots and weave them together seamlessly
Organize your scenes for the greatest impact
Develop captivating protagonists, worthy antagonists, and engaging secondary characters
Use dialogue, setting, tone, and voice to enhance your plot
Layer, refine, and polish your storyline
Define your story in terms of its theme

Filled with writing exercises, plotting templates, and expert advice, “Plot Perfect” helps you dive into the intricacies of plot–and write a compelling story that readers won’t be able to resist.

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My Review
This is one of the best books I’ve read on structuring plot, regardless of genre. Packed with examples, checklists, and exercises, this book explains in plain English how to outline your novel to ensure your plot zings, you’ve built in layers of subplot, and your theme is expertly woven. Plot Perfect covers all aspects of writing fiction, albeit at a high level. It contains the building blocks necessary to create a plot that works with developed characters that reflect your story’s theme. It’s an excellent resource for both planners and pantsers. Even writers who don’t outline will benefit from understanding how story works as they hammer out a first draft by the seat of their pants. I had an outline of a book I was working on, and as I was reading Plot Perfect, I revised my outline after noting several problems with it.

Bottom Line
Plot Perfect is a great resource for novelists of all genres at every stage of their careers.

Title: Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene
Author: Paula Munier
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Publication Date: October 17, 2014
Pages: 281
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Powell’s

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Author Paula Munier

Author Paula Munier

About the Author
My professional evolution mirrors that of publishing itself. From my early days as a reporter to my latest incarnation as all-around content queen and bottle washer, I’ve reinvented myself as the publishing industry has changed–and keeps on changing. The only constant: My love of the written word.

Over my 20-plus years in the business, I’ve conceived, created, produced, and marketed exceptional content in all formats across all markets for such media giants as WGBH, Fidelity, Disney, Gannett, F+W Media, Quarto, Greenspun Media Group, among others. I’ve written my own work as well, including Writing With Quiet Hands: How to Shape Your Writing to Resonate with Readers, Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene, and the acclaimed memoir Fixing Freddie.

In 2012, I joined Talcott Notch LIterary Services as Senior Agent and Content Strategist. I’m always looking for good crime fiction, women’s fiction, mainstream fiction, high-concept YA and SF/Fantasy fiction, as well as nonfiction.

My mission: To tell great stories and sell great stories. Why? Because the world needs them.

Where to find Paula Munier
Goodreads Website | FacebookTwitter
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Young Adult Book Review + Giveaway – Adorkable by Cookie O’Gorman

Adorkable Blog Tour

Adorkable by Cookie O'Gorman

Adorkable by Cookie O’Gorman

5.0 Stars

Synopsis
Adorkable (ah-dor-kuh-bul): Descriptive term meaning to be equal parts dorky and adorable. For reference, see Sally Spitz.

Seventeen-year-old Sally Spitz is done with dating. Or at least, she’s done with the horrible blind dates/hookups/sneak attacks her matchmaking bestie, Hooker, sets her up on. There’s only so much one geek girl and Gryffindor supporter can take.

Her solution: she needs a fake boyfriend. And fast.

Enter Becks, soccer phenom, all-around-hottie, and Sally’s best friend practically since birth. When Sally asks Becks to be her F.B.F. (fake boyfriend), Becks is only too happy to be used. He’d do anything for Sal–even if that means giving her PDA lessons in his bedroom, saying she’s “more than pretty,” and expertly kissing her at parties.

The problem: Sally’s been in love with Becks all her life–and he’s completely clueless.

This book features two best friends, one special edition Yoda snuggie, countless beneath-the-ear kisses and begs the question: Who wants a real boyfriend when faking it is so much more fun?.

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My Review
I absolutely adored this book! It’s basically a friends-to-more story, and there’s  nothing particularly unique about that aspect, but what sets this one apart is the writing and the characters. The author’s voice is fresh, and the characters are completely loveable. Sally Spitz is a nerd in the first order. She loves Star Wars and Harry Potter, and Tombstone is her favorite movie. If she was also a Whovian, she’d be my daughter, so of course I pulled for Sally the whole way. She’s secretly been in love with her best friend, Becks, since forever, but her friendship with him trumps her romantic feelings so she won’t do anything to jeopardize that. Becks is a soccer phenom and one the most popular guy in school. But when Sally’s other best friend, Lillian, conspires with Sally’s mom on one blind date after another, Sally’s had enough and asks Becks to be her fake boyfriend (fbf) to get them to back off. The only problem is, no one believes they’re a real couple, so the two set out to convince everyone they are. The only problem is, Sally’s having a hard time separating her true feelings from the fake romance.

Plot
The plot isn’t ground-breaking, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. The chemistry between Becks and Sally is obvious from the beginning and led to me reading way past my bedtime to find out how their story ends. It’s been awhile since a teen romance had me turning pages late at night. Having married my best friend, I could totally relate to the change from friendship to something more. And Lillian is right, when you’ve been friends for a long time, you already know so much about each other, but she was wrong that there’s nothing left to discover.

Characters
All of the characters are delightful. Sally is a strong female lead with a healthy dose of self-doubt and angst. Becks is adorable as the confident soccer player with a streak of vulnerability when it comes to Sally. These two are among my favorite young adult couples. The rest of the characters have just the right amount of development to make them real and more than background noise.

Top Five Things I Loved About Adorkable
1. Sally. Her beautiful nerdiness and strength mixed with awkwardness makes her a heroine to root for.
2. Becks. He’s hot, talented, caring, and loyal. Do they make a better book boyfriend than that?
3. Friendship. I love how Sally and Beck’s friendship is first for both of them. They put that above just about everything else.
4. Romance. The amount of heat author Cookie O’Gorman was able to generate in a very PG-rated novel was an amazing feat!
5. The ending. It was perfect!

Bottom Line
Adorkable is a fun page-turning teen romance with amazing characters, plenty of angst, and just the right combination of sweet vs. heat.

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: Adorkable
Author: Cookie O’Gorman
Pages: 214
Category: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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Author Cookie O'Gorman

Author Cookie O’Gorman

About the Author
Cookie O’Gorman writes YA romance to give readers a taste of happily-ever-after. Small towns, quirky characters, and the awkward yet beautiful moments in life make up her books. Cookie also has a soft spot for nerds and ninjas. Her debut novel ADORKABLE will be released in 2016.

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Where to find Cookie O’Gorman
Goodreads | Website | Facebook Twitter

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Giveaway
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Young Adult Book Review – My Senior Year of Awesome (School Dayz) by Jennifer DiGiovanni

My Senior Year of Awesome blog Tour

My Senior Year of Awesome by Jennifer DiGiovanni

My Senior Year of Awesome (School Dayz #1) by Jennifer DiGiovanni

5 Stars

Synopsis
A girl desperately tries to avoid the boy she was voted most likely to marry by her senior classmates. To prove senior superlative votes are meaningless, she and her best friend create their own list of awesome high school achievements to be completed by graduation.

It’s the final semester of senior year, and everyone at Harmony High can’t wait to find out the results of the Senior Superlative votes! But the balloon bursts in Sadie’s face when she discovers she’s been voted “Most Likely to Get Married” to Andy – a boy she’s never dated or ever thought of as a potential boyfriend. Completely and utter mortification sets in.

To prove high school means something more than a Senior Superlative award, Sadie and her best friend Jana decide to create their own list of awesome non-academic achievements to be completed before graduation.

Yet, the harder Sadie works to show everyone she’s not the least bit attracted to Andy, the more appealing he becomes. Typical for the girl who can’t seem to achieve anything important, even the completion of one lousy college application.

When senioritis kicks in and the school year dwindles down to mere weeks, Sadie decides to risk her good girl reputation to prove that an Awesome Achievement means much more than any Senior Superlative vote. By the time Sadie realizes her epic screw-up, she just might have lost her chance at the prom date of her dreams.

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My Review
This is such an entertaining story, with charming characters, witty dialogue and fresh plot. Sadie and Jana want to end their high school years with a bang, and realize rather late into their senior year, they haven’t really done much to leave their mark on Harmony High. Two self-described list-a-holics set out to complete the ultimate list of accomplishments before graduation.

Their attempts to letter in a sport, star in the school play, and break a school rule land them in amusing situations. And on top of all of it is the dreaded Senior Superlatives where Sadie, much to her horror, has been voted most likely to marry uber-geek, Andrew Kosolowski. As Sadie tries to prove the voters wrong, that she and Andy are definitely not couple material, she discovers a side of Andy she never noticed before. However, her drive to check off another item on her list could end up ruining the one accomplishment she wants the most.

Plot
Jennifer DiGiovanni has written solid plot that is humorous, sometimes wacky, and just plain fun. I love how Sadie’s top ten lists are sprinkled throughout the book — everything from how annoying Andy is, to how to kill time in detention. The story is peppered with laugh-out-loud moments as Sadie and Jana work their way through their list, revising, refining, and failing, but never giving up.

Characters
All of the characters are wildly original and somehow manage to deliver their lines with both grace and snark. Sadie is loveably antagonistic, Jana is hopeful and spirited. And Andy is adorkably sweet, but that doesn’t mean he’s a pushover. The rest of the characters are distinct, each with their own voice and quirks.

Top Ten things I LOVED About My Senior Year of Awesome
1. A hot guy with an even hotter sports car
2. Swoon-worthy kissing scenes
3. Sadie’s unique view on life and the world around her
4. The Super K’s
5. A dancing man-eating plant
6. Hilarious driving lessons
7. Pig dissections (‘nuf said)
8. The Kosolowski metamorphosis
9. Sadie and Jana’s female bromance (girlmance?)
10. Top Ten lists

Bottom Line
A refreshing high school love story with charm, humor, and oh, those lists.

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: My Senior Year of Awesome
Series: School Dayz #1
Author: Jennifer DiGiovanni
Publisher: Swoon Romance
Pages: 304
Category: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Author Jennifer DiGiovanni

Author Jennifer DiGiovanni

About the Author
Jennifer is a freelance writer and YA author.

When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, working on home design projects, or trying to meet the daily goals on her Fitbit.

My Senior Year of Awesome is her first novel.

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Where to find Jennifer DiGiovanni
Goodreads | WebsiteFacebook Twitter | Pinterest | Tumblr

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Giveaway
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Book Review – Writing Fiction — A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French

Writing Fiction -- A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French

Writing Fiction — A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French

5 Stars

Synopsis
The most widely used and respected text in its field, Writing Fiction, 7e by novelists Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French guides the novice story writer from first inspiration to final revision by providing practical writing techniques and concrete examples. Written in a tone that is personal and non-prescriptive, the text encourages students to develop proficiency through each step of the writing process, offering an abundance of exercises designed to spur writing and creativity.  The text also integrates diverse contemporary short stories in every chapter in the belief that the reading of inspiring fiction goes hand-in-hand with the writing of fresh and exciting stories.

A bestseller through six editions,Writing Fiction by novelists Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French explores the elements of fiction, providing practical writing techniques and concrete examples. Written in a tone that is personal and non-prescriptive, this book encourages writers to develop proficiency through each step of the writing process, offering an abundance of exercises designed to spur writing and creativity. The text Writing Fiction also integrates diverse contemporary short stories in every chapter in the belief that the reading of inspiring fiction goes hand-in-hand with the writing of fresh and exciting stories.

Thorough and practical discussions of all the major fictional elements offer readers a comprehensive guide to the craft of writing stories.  Topics include freewriting, plot, style, characterization, dialogue, time, place, imagery, and point of view.

For novice writers looking to develop proficiency.

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My Review
This is a comprehensive book on craft that starts with the basics and works deeper with solid examples that drive the point home. With detailed chapters on the process of writing, showing vs. telling, and creating three-dimensional characters and settings, this may be the penultimate book for beginning writers. Even intermediate writers will find reminders about all the things we’re doing wrong that we knew were wrong, but forgot we were doing. Filled with vivid examples to illustrate every lesson, the book even has a few things for more seasoned writers.

New writers often have the hardest time grasping the concept of showing vs. telling, and this section in Writing Fiction is one of the best yet I’ve read, teaching the difference between the two with well-written examples perfectly re-written to ensure the lesson is learned. The section on characterization is exceptionally thorough, delving into great detail on what makes good characters and what makes great characters. All stories need good characters, but the best stories have great characters.

With about one-third examples and writing exercises and two-thirds instruction, I firmly believe this is the first book every aspiring fiction writer should pick up and study.

Bottom Line
Writing Fiction is expensive, but worth every penny. This is the textbook every aspiring novelist needs to read.

Title: Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
Authors: Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French
Publisher: Longman
Publication Date: February 2, 2014
Pages: 400
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble

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Author Janet Burroway

Author Janet Burroway

About Janet Burroway
Janet Burroway is the author of seven novels including The Buzzards, Raw Silk (runner up for the national Book award), Opening Nights, and Cutting Stone; a volume of poetry,Material Goods; a collection of essays, Embalming Mom; and two children’s books, The Truck on the Track and The Giant Jam Sandwich. Her most recent plays, Medea With Child, Sweepstakes, Division of Property, and Parts of Speech, have received readings and productions in New York, London, San Francisco, Hollywood, and various regional theatres.

Her Writing Fiction is the most widely used creative writing text in America, and a multi-genre textbook, Imaginative Writing, appeared in 2002. A B.A. from Barnard College and M.A. from Cambridge University, England, she was Yale School of Drama RCA-NBC Fellow 1960-61, and is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita at the Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Where to find Janet Burroway
Goodreads Website | Twitter

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Author Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Author Elizabeth Stuckey-French

About Elizabeth Stuckey-French
Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of a novel, Mermaids on the Moon, a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak Iowa, and, with Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft.

Her new novel, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, is forthcoming from Doubleday in spring 2011. Her short stories have appeared in The Normal School, Narrative Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and The O’Henry Prize Stories 2005.

She was awarded a James Michener Fellowship and has won grants from the Howard Foundation, the Indiana Arts Foundation, and the Florida Arts Foundation. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.

Where to find Elizabeth Stuckey-French
Goodreads Website | Facebook

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Author Ned Stuckey-French

Author Ned Stuckey-French

About Ned Stuckey-French
Ned Stuckey-French teaches at Florida State University and is book review editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction.

He is the author of The American Essay in the American Century (University of Missouri Press, forthcoming May 2011), co-editor (with Carl Klaus) of Essayists on the Essay: Four Centuries of Commentary (University of Iowa Press, forthcoming fall 2011), and coauthor (with Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French) of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Longman, 8th edition).

His articles and essays have appeared in journals and magazines such as In These Times, The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, Walking Magazine, culture front, Pinch, Guernica, and American Literature, and have been listed three times among the notable essays of the year in Best American Essays.

Where to find Ned Stuckey-French
Goodreads Website | Twitter

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Review – Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers

Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers

Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers

5 Stars

Synopsis
A breathtaking debut brings us the unforgettable story of a small-town love, big dreams, and family drama.

Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand-new to town, Silas is different from the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening—and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister—and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.

Truest is a stunning, addictive debut. Romantic, fun, tender, and satisfying, it asks as many questions as it answers. Perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have).

My Review
This is one of my favorite young adult stories of the year. This unique, captivating tale of teens searching for who they are and where they fit into the greater world around them has something nearly everyone can identify with. Westlin Beck is a small-town preacher’s daughter who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. The summer before senior year, her best friend is off working at a summer camp and her long-term boyfriend, Elliot, is working his tail off at the farm to earn enough money to buy a car, leaving West lonely and bored. She has her own car detailing business and when a new family moves to town, including teenage twins Silas and Laurel, West’s dad enlists Silas’s help for the detailing business.

Truest is an honest portrayal of the complexities of teen love. There  are no cliched love triangles here. Only the ebbing and flowing of emotions as two people realize they have more in common with each other than anyone else, even if one of those people is already in a relationship with someone else

Plot
The plot is multi-faceted, taking on a number of topics, from teen love, to mental illness, parental relationships, breaking free, and finding your place in the world. All these pieces are woven together beautifully, with a golden thread of truth binding them. It’s hard to do justice to the plot, because it’s so much more than just a romance, just a coming of age, or just a story of mental illness. It’s about teens grappling with the life they’ve been dealt to the best of their abilities, and searching for meaning in the midst.

Characters
Every character, from West and Silas, to Elliott, Laurel and Whit, are thoroughly developed and come alive between the pages. Not one character comes across as cliche’d, not even Westlin as the rebellious preacher’s daughter, because there is so much more to her than that. She doesn’t rebel for attention or for the sake of rebellion, but as a way to find herself in the only way she knows how. Elliott, as the scorned boyfriend, is far more three-dimensional than is necessary for his character, but that just adds to the realism of the story as a whole.

Writing
The writing is magnificent and fluid, pulling me along on a wandering journey, making me want to lie back and see where the current takes me.

Ending
I wasn’t sure about the ending at first, but the more time and distance between finishing the book and writing the review, the more I realize it was the absolute perfect ending to fit the themes of the story.

What I Loved About Truest
1. Attention to detail.
 The author spends a great deal of time bringing us into the story and not just through scene setting, but by getting us into her character’s. Although the story is told through West’s point of view, I never felt as if the other characters were just there to support West’s story — they all serve a purpose.
2. Organic growth. The honest portrayal of teens is a slice of fresh air. Teens rarely fall in love for life with the person they’re dating in high school, regardless of how popular much of young adult fiction makes it seem otherwise. When West began developing feelings for Silas, they came naturally and felt real, not forced to fulfil a plot point, nor did I lose respect for her. She struggled the way an ordinary teen in a similar situation did without over-dramatization.
3. The reality of mental illness. I’d never heard of solipsism before reading Truest, and my guess is most people haven’t either. The honesty with which this illness is treated is one of the best parts of the story. It’s an unusual disease that won’t make sense to many people, but the fact that so many characters in the book showed their ignorance rather than abject acceptance brought yet another breadth of realism to the story.
4. Lack of easy answers. It would have been too easy for the author to wrap everything up in a fitting denouement that left us breathless, but that’s not life and would not have been true to the themes she introduced us to.
5. Symbolism. While we don’t get a nice neat package at the end, we get symbolism throughout and an opportunity to see for ourselves what the answers are, or what we believe they should be.

Bottom Line
Truest is a stunning young adult contemporary story of loving, longing, and finding yourself.

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: Truest
Author: Jackie Lea Sommers
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | BAM! | Book Depository | IndieBound | Powell’s | Fishpond | HarperCollins

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Author Jackie Lea Sommers

Author Jackie Lea Sommers

About the Author
Jackie Lea Sommers lives and loves and writes in Minnesota, where the people are nice and the Os are long.

She is the 2013 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize.

She dislikes OCD, horcruxes, and Minnesota winters. She likes book boyfriends, cranky teenagers, and Minnesota springs.

Truest is her first novel.

Where to Find Jackie Lea Sommers
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Tumblr
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Month in Review – December 2015

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

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Story: 4 Stars
Audiobook: 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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Bad Romance: A Stepbrother Novel by by Jen McLaughlin

Bad Romance A Stepbrother Novel by by Jen McLaughlin

Bad Romance A Stepbrother Novel by by Jen McLaughlin

4 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons

Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons

Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons

4.5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus by Fred White

The Writer's Idea Thesaurus by Fred White

The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus by Fred White

3.5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Door to a Star by Krysten Lindsay Hagar

Next Door to a Star by Krysten Lindsay Hagar

4 Stars

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line
While Next Door to a Star moves slow at times, it’s filled with a colorful cast of young teens who think and act like the kids on the cusp of adulthood they are.
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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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Young Adult Book Review + Giveaway – 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

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.

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My Review
The Revolution of Ivy is even better than the first book. It starts off strong and keeps building. Everything in the first book that kept it from being a full five stars for me were non-issues in this one. The action is intense, the characters grow and develop in organic, realistic ways, and the plot twists are unexpected and jarring.

Ivy’s been put outside the fence for conspiring to kill her husband, Bishop, son of the President of Westfall. She has no survival skills, but a strong survival instinct, which keeps her alive until she meets up with other survivors. Ivy befriends two of them and these relationship, tenuous and complex, are one of the best aspects of the book. When Bishop shows up looking for her, Ivy’s conflicted. This is the one part of the story that didn’t seem authentic. I never really understood why she struggled with his presence, but I was able to easily overlook that because the rest of the story moved so quickly.

Plot
The plot is fantastic. Ivy needs to decide what her future holds, and because she’s never had a choice, it’s not as easy as it should be. She tries to make peace with the way her family failed her, with the way they let her take the fall for their failed plot to wrest control of Westfall from President Lattimer, even though her punishment was certain death. But more than that, Ivy needs to figure out who she is when she’s not Bishop’s wife or her father’s daughter or even Callie’s sister. She has secrets that pose a danger to herself and others, and a big decision to make that could destroy everyone she loves.

Characters
Both Ivy and Bishop grow so much over this book. There’s far more character growth than in The Book of Ivy. The addition of of Caleb and Ash bring out different sides of their personalities and give them an opportunity to explore themselves in the context of life outside Westfall. This installment does a masterful job of wrapping up all the loose ends, and most of those have to do with the characters themselves. We finally understand Ivy’s dad and sister as well as Bishop’s father and mother. Every action in both stories finally makes sense in the context of who these complex characters are.

Ending
I loved the ending. I think author, Amy Engel, wraps up the story beautifully, but not in a nice, neat, easy package. There’s gut-wrenching emotion and tough choices, but it’s all so perfect for the characters, the setting, and the story.

Top Five Things I Loved about The Revolution of Ivy:
1. The dystopian aspect. This was far more dystopic and the first book. More action, drama, fear, survival. I loved it!

2. Bishop Lattimer. Once again, Bishop is the perfect guy, without being too perfect.

3. Caleb and Ash. I love these two. I would kill for a book about them!

4. Tough choices. Amy Engle raised the stakes, forcing Ivy into an impossible situation. Watching her wrestle with her decision was pure page-turning delight.

5. Starting over. The ending wraps up the story nicely but the future is wide open for the characters, leaving me completely satisfied with the conclusion, but hopeful for what’s next. The hallmark of a good ending to a dystopian series.

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

Disclaimer
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influences my review.

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About the Book
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

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Author Amy Engel

Author Amy Engel

About the Author
Amy Engel was born in Kansas and after a childhood spent bouncing between countries (Iran, Taiwan) and states (Kansas; California; Missouri; Washington, D.C.), she settled in Kansas City, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and two kids.

Before devoting herself full-time to motherhood and writing, she was a criminal defense attorney, which is not quite as exciting as it looks on TV.

When she has a free moment, she can usually be found reading, running, or shoe shopping. The Book of Ivy is her debut YA novel. Find her online at http://amyengel.net/ or @aengelwrites.

Where to Find Amy Engel
GoodreadsWebsite | Twitter

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Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Young Adult Book Review – How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo

How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo

How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo

5 Stars

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?

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My Review
I read an earlier version of this manuscript over on the Swoon Reads website and fell in love with Jordyn and Alex, so when the final published version was available, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It’s as good as I remembered and then some. Jordyn’s story is one I think a lot of teens can relate to, particularly teens with a special-needs sibling. It’s not always easy to like Jordyn, but it’s easy to understand her. Being the new girl in high school is hard enough without being the new girl with the “weird” brother.

Jordyn struggles with her friendship with Alex, keeping her relationship to Phillip a secret, and just trying to get through the next sixty days until Phillip is moved to a different school and life can return to normal. But of course things don’t go according to play and how Jordyn steps up and becomes the girl we all know she can be is really what this story is about.

Plot
On the surface, it seems to be just a story about a girl who loves a boy she can’t have, but it soon becomes clear it’s so much more than that. Jordyn struggles with a loving a younger brother who doesn’t seem to be able to reciprocate. Being the older sister of an autistic sibling is challenging enough, but when his attendance at her school threatens Jordyn’s social status, she’ll need to decide where her loyalties really lie. And it’s in this subtext where the plot really unfolds.

Characters
Yes, Jordyn is selfish at times, worried about what others think of her, terrified of being bullied, or worse, excluded, but show me a teenager who isn’t. She’s incredibly authentic and her growth through the story is honest, painfully so at times. This is Jordyn’s story and she’s well-crafted, deep, and yes, flawed. I get why people might not love her, but I love her for her faults, for being who she is, warts and all. Watching her development over the course of the story was incredibly rewarding. Alex, the love interest, is adorable, and Leighton, the antagonist, is just bitchy enough without succumbing to a stereotype. None of the other characters have anywhere near Jordyn’s depth, though. This is a character-driven story, and it’s all about Jordyn. We spend a lot of time in her head, so it’s a good thing she’s got so much going on in there!

Writing
Author, Karole Cozzo, has done her homework, bringing to vivid life what it’s like to live with an autistic family member — the lows, the highs, and everything in between — with heart and more than a few tears.

Ending
Jordyn completes her journey as she should, showing us that life isn’t black and white, and sometimes it’s hard to say what you need to out loud, but so rewarding when you finally do.

Top Five Things I Loved about How to Say I Love You Out Loud:
1. Jordyn’s speech. It comes at about the 75% mark, but everything that happens before, leads up to this emotional moment that brought tears to my eyes every time I read it.

2. Jordyn’s surprise for Alex. This sweet moment between the two of them signals a shift in their friendship.

3. Alex Colby. What’s not to love about a boy scout who uses his spare time to build a playground for handicapped kids? Seriously, he may be the perfect book boyfriend.

4. Autism awareness. This book does such a great job of helping readers understand not only what life is like for family members of kids with autism, but what life is like for an autistic child.

5. Closets. Seriously, some of the best moments in the book take place in closets.

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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About the Book
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

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Author Karole Cozzo

Author Karole Cozzo

About the Author
Karole lives outside of Philadelphia, PA with her loving husband, exuberant little girl, and smiley little boy.

She adores YA Romance, because it would be awesome if life in general had a requisite feel-good happy ending rule.

Vices include obscene Haribo gummy consumption, addiction to Starbucks NF vanilla lattes, and tendency to hoard Bath and Body Works 3-wick candles.

Where to find Karole Cozzo
Goodreads Website | Facebook Twitter | Instagram
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Young Adult Book Review – Playing the Player by Lisa Brown Roberts

Playing the Player Blog Tour

Playing the Player by Lisa Brown Roberts

Playing the Player by Lisa Brown Roberts

5 Stars

Synopsis
Trina Clemons needed the money. Why else would she—the most organized, prepared student in school—spend the summer as a nanny and partner with the biggest slacker ever? Now she’s ready to tackle nannyhood with her big binder of research and schedules. Just don’t ask her about the secret job of “fixing” the bad habits of a certain high school player…

Slade Edmunds prefers easy hook-ups, and Trina is definitely not his type. She’s all structure and rules, while Slade wants to just have fun. Fortunately, Trina has no idea about the bet Slade made with his best friend that he can totally get her to unwind by the end of summer…

Then the weirdest thing happens. There’s chemistry. A lot of it.

But nothing gets between a boy and a girl like a big, fat secret…

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My Review
There is so much to love about this book! Anyone who follows my reviews knows I like my teen romances on the angsty side, and this book has plenty of it. The kind of angst that made me laugh and tear up a bit.

Trina is a spitfire of girl, who needs order and predictability more than she needs a partner. Slade is a total player who refuses to let any girl get close enough to break his heart again. Trina is uptight, serious. Slade is easy-going, rolls with the punches. These two were created to ignite sparks. And that they do.

I adored Trina and Slade so much, and pulled for them throughout the book — both as individuals and as a couple. They’re both were really well developed and immensely likeable, even with their flaws. What I love most about them, though is how they bring out the best in each other. This is the way couples should be — both real and imaginary.

Plot
The plot is fun and moves quickly, the banter is playful and witty, and there are some really great moments involving the kids they nanny that provide some of the best of the lighter moments. There are some dark parts, too, as we learn about Trina’s past, discover why she is the way she is. But mostly, this is the story of Slade and Trina, two opposites that attract, and how their differences both connect them and drive a fair amount of conflict.

Characters
In addition to adoring Slade and Trina, Gilly and Max, their five-year-old charges, are a breath of fresh air. Trina’s mom and Slade’s parents come across as typical parents without being two-dimensional. But it’s Desi and Alex, Trina’s and Slade’s respective best friends, that really round out the story. Both are well-developed and authentic. I’d love to see future stories from either of their points of view. Or better yet, both.

Ending
One of the better endings to a young adult romance I’ve read this year. Can’t wait to get my hands on the next Lisa Brown Roberts novel!

Top Five Things I Loved about Playing the Player:
1. Trina’s binder. Her organizational tool of choice leads to some of the funniest moments in the book.

2. Alex and Tim. Seriously, such an adorable couple. I could read a whole book about them.

3. Desi. She’s one of the best friends a teen girl could hope to have — fierce, loyal, sweet, and funny.

4. Gilly. OMG! She’s like a redheaded nightmare and the sweetest thing ever, all rolled into one. There’s a scene with her at an indoor climbing wall that made me laugh out loud.

5. Trina and Slade. Their romance was really well done, believable, and likely to stick with me for awhile. Not easy to do in a sea of teen romances.

Bottom Line
Playing the Player is a fun, fast, read with likeable characters, lots of humor, angst, and incredibly sweet moments.

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 the Player
Author: Lisa Brown Roberts
Publisher: Entangled Crush
Release Date: September 14, 2015
Pages: 400
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

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Author Lisa Brown Roberts

Author Lisa Brown Roberts

About the Author
Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn’t recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year.

This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write YA books about navigating life’s painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way.

Her almost forever home is Colorado, though she occasionally pines for the days when she lived within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean. Her house is full of books, boys, several fourlegged prima donnas, and lots of laughter.

Where to find Lisa Brown Roberts
Goodreads Website | Facebook Twitter

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Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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YA Book Review – Defective (The Institute Series) by Kayla Howarth

Defective (The Institute #3) by Kayla Howarth

Defective (The Institute #3) by Kayla Howarth

5 Stars

Synopsis
Eighteen months has passed since the Institute was liberated.

For Allira Daniels, she’s still trying to live with the consequences of her actions. The Defective are free, but are their lives truly any better? Attacks on Defectives are on the rise, and Allira has to wonder if she’s directly responsible.

Keeping busy to escape her guilt, Allira is trying to move on, but how can she when her past is always haunting her?

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My Review
I had bittersweet feelings about starting this book, knowing it was the last in the series. It exceeded my expectations and is easily my favorite. Allira is having a tough time coming to terms with the loss of Chad, and she reluctantly agrees to pose as presidential candidate, Paxton James’s girlfriend. While she cares for Paxton, she’s not in love with him, but acting as his date for political functions helps her focus on something other than her grief and guilt for a short period of time.

When she meets Jayce, a cute boy who stirs something she hasn’t felt since Chad died, her sham relationship is just one obstacle to living her own life. And that’s only the beginning. When someone begins to stalk her, she has more than a handful of suspects, and more questions than answers.

Plot
This third installment is action-packed, between Paxton’s campaign, the maybe, sorta, could be romance with Jayce, mysterious packages that raise her suspicions, and a strained relationship with her family. Kayla Howarth throws in more than a few unexpected twists that are expertly foreshadowed and  left me screaming, “no way!” at my Kindle.  I can’t say much more without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say it was one nail-biting rollercoaster ride.

World Building
The primary world is created in the first two books, and further elaborated upon here. With the end of the the Institute’s imprisoning of defectives, the new world Allira inhabits is different than the other books, but it’s familiar enough I never felt untethered from the series.

Characters
The new characters introduced are as well developed as I’ve come to expect from Howarth. And Allira’s character arc is deep and emotional, but utterly satisfying. I love how Drew has evolved as well. Ebb, is still Ebb, but she didn’t really have as far to come as the others.

The Ending
The series wraps up with a satisfying conclusion along with another fun surprise.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About Defective
1. The twists and turns. Dang, all I can say is that it’s been awhile since I’ve had my jaw slam into my chest like that. It takes a lot to throw me, but yeah, never saw THAT coming.

2. Drew. Still love him. Yeah, I like Jayce, but Drew earned a place in my heart.

3. Nuka. Paxton’s daughter is an adorable bundle of defective fun.

4. The ending. I felt like everything was wrapped up in a satisfying series conclusion, something that seems to be harder to find these days.

5. Jayce. The boy is sweet, patient, and everything Allira needs.

Bottom Line
Defective is full of unexpected twists, fascinating characters, and nail-biting action.

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: Defective
Series: The Institute #3
Author: Kayla Howarth
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Pages: 385
Genre: Young Adult/New Adult Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon

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Author Kayla Howarth

Author Kayla Howarth

About the Author
Kayla was born and raised on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. She still resides there with her husband and son, working part time for a medical pathology lab while working on her writing.

Her love of reading and movies inspired her to start something she never dreamed possible: Writing her first novel.

When she’s not working, looking after her son, or writing, you’ll most likely find her hosting her own dance party in the kitchen while she does the dishes. (Where her husband will argue that more dancing is achieved than clean plates.)

Where to find Kayla Howarth
Goodreads Website | Facebook Twitter
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Review + Giveaway – Impossible Promise (Unchecked Series) by Sybil Bartel

Impossible Promise Blog Tour

I discovered Sybil Bartel’s edgy characters and dark romances with No Apologies last summer. I did a little dance when I found out she’d written a new book and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. And I was not disappointed. There is no sophomore slump with Impossible Promise. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for information on the book, buy links, and details on Sybil’s giveaway.

Impossible Promise (Unchecked #1) by Sybil Bartel

Impossible Promise (Unchecked #1) by Sybil Bartel

5 Stars

Synopsis
Three years ago, Layna Blair listened in horror over a telephone line as her parents were murdered. When the killer said she was next, Layna panicked and made a deadly deal—his secret in exchange for her life. She’s paid the price every day since, becoming a prisoner in plain sight.

Marine Sergeant Blaze Johnson offers Layna a way out—her freedom, his rules, no questions asked—and she takes it, despite knowing what her keepers do to people who get too close. She doesn’t know Blaze is fighting his own demons or that beneath his warrior façade is a man on the verge of breaking.

Embarking on a wild revenge mission with Blaze and his smooth-talking best friend, Talon, is not what Layna signed on for. But attempting to run when Blaze has made no secret he intends to make her his is a reckless mistake. With the killer closing in, it’s up to Blaze to save them all—and to Layna to realize that she’s risked the one thing she can’t afford to lose.

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My Review
I was immediately sucked into Layna’s story. It begins in a church where she escapes to find a moment of solitude — something she desperately needs because she’s constantly being watched, followed, and threatened, by the mysterious Miami. Blaze Johnson is the marine in the pew next to her — a trained soldier who knows when someone is in need of help. The problem is, everyone who tries to help Layna winds up dead.

The book is fast-paced full of sexual as well as other tension, and builds to astronomical heights. It’s been awhile since I’ve stayed up way too late reading, but Impossible Promise not only kept me up late, but also kept me from working on my own manuscript because I just flat-out couldn’t put it down!

Fair warning, it does have a love triangle, so if you loathe those, be forewarned. However, this is no Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle. This is intense, completely believable, and utterly angst-ridden. This is romantic suspense at it’s best. Blaze will do whatever it takes to keep Layna safe, even though she never asked him to, and her feelings for him make him being involved dangerous for both of them. The guilt she feels at putting him in danger drives some of her more stupid moves, but it’s also understandable.

Blaze takes her to his best friend, Talon, to help him guard Layna while he simultaneously deals with his dying mother. The animosity-turned-witty-banter between Talon and Layna provides some of the best lines in the book, and it’s easy to see why she confuses her friendship with him something more.

Plot
The main plot is probably the romance, but it could equally be the mystery surrounding Layna’s parents’ death as well the identity of Miami and what he really wants from her. Regardless of the main plot, all of it is really well done. The author teases us with information, with sexual chemistry, with danger, only to start over again, with another bit of information, another intense moment of unresolved sexual tension, and more dangerous events. See, this is why I couldn’t stop reading!

Characters
Every character is intriguing. Layna is a walking post-traumatic-stressball, having been the sole witness to her parents’ brutal murder. Blaze has his own demons that drive everything he does, and Talon, well, let’s just say there’s gotta be something dark behind that smart mouth of his. And when all three of them get together, it’s explosive in the good best-4th-of-July-fireworks kind of way.

World Building
Set in south Florida, the setting is almost as important as the characters and Sybil Bartel does an excellent job of painting a very three-dimensional picture of her locales.

Ending
I enjoyed the ending, but it left me craving more, so I’m happy to know the second book will be out soon. It’s not a cliffhanger, but it’s definitely a “I need MORE” kind of ending.

Top Five Things I loved about Impossible Promise:
1. Talon. Everything about this bronzed surfer is fascinating. He’s so much more than a cliche and I’m hoping the next book will give me more insights into one of the most complex characters I’ve encountered since Sawyer from LOST.

2. Layna. She’s a hot mess and cries more than any protagonist I’ve read in awhile, but considering her young age and what she’s been through, it fits her character. And as much as she cries, she’s one tough cookie.

3. Blaze. He’s the strong, silent, scary type, and he does it well. His feelings for Layna humanize him in a way that makes him both sympathetic and admirable.

4. Sexual tension. This is some of the best I’ve ever read.

5. The writing. The author creates the perfect blend of ingredients to hook me, and keep me hooked page after page after page.

Bottom Line
Once again, Sybil Bartel created a character that annoyed the heck out of me only to suck me in and make me root for her by the end.

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: Impossible Promise
Series: Unchecked Series #1
Author: Sybil Bartel
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: March 23, 2015
Pages: 276
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Author
I grew up in Northern California with my head in a book and my feet in the sand. I dreamt of becoming a painter but the heady scent of libraries with their shelves full of books drew me into the world of storytelling. I love the New Adult genre, but really, any story about a love so desperately wrong and impossibly beautiful makes me swoon.

I now live in Southern Florida and while I don’t get to read as much as I like, I still bury my toes in the sand. If I’m not writing or fighting to contain the banana plantation in my backyard, you can find me spending time with my handsomely tattooed husband, my brilliantly practical son and a mischievous miniature boxer…

But Seriously?

Here are ten things you really want to know about me.

I grew up a faculty brat. I can swear like a sailor. I love men in uniform. I hate being told what to do. I can do your taxes (but don’t ask). The Bird Market in Hong Kong freaks me out. My favorite word is desperate…or dirty, or both—I can’t decide. I have a thing for muscle cars. But never rely on me for driving directions, ever. And I have a new book boyfriend every week—don’t tell my husband

Where to Find Sybil Bartel
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

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Giveaway
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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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Review + Giveaway – Black Dawn (Titan Series) by Cristin Harber

Black Dawn Blog Tour

Yay, the Titan boys are back! This time around it’s all about Parker. There is something so wickedly hot about a smart guy. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for information on the book, buy links, and details on Cristin’s giveaway.

Black Dawn (Titan Series #6) by Cristin Harber

Black Dawn (Titan Series #6) by Cristin Harber

5 Stars

Synopsis
What happens when nothing is as it seems?

Lexi Dare is on a one-woman mission to stay alive. Both at home and at work. Because how did she end up with a ring on her finger and an abuser in bed as she readies to hit the high point in her career? Everything should be perfect. Amazing job. Handsome fiancé. It’s all a disaster.

Parker Black is the brains behind Titan Group, an elite security firm. In his world, everything is ordered and controlled, except what he feels for his buddy’s girl. Something in her eye screams for help, but he has no idea what.

When Lexi disappears, Parker realizes what he should have known. The lines blur between friendships and work, and they must find each other to survive a terror attack that only Lexi can stop.

Black Dawn can be read as a standalone and does not have a cliffhanger.

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My Review
The Titan Series is my guilty pleasure. Imagine your favorite thriller with a steamy romance as a co-plot? That’s what you get with the Titan Series, and Black Dawn is no exception. Lexi is an elite hacker, involved in an abusive relationship. She’s created a unique software program and selling it to the highest bidder. Parker Black is Titan, with a head for analysis and an eye for Lexi. When things in Lexi’s private life take a dangerous turn, Parker steps in, and gets caught up in the middle of a potentially international incident, with Lexi’s software at the center.

Plot
There are two solid plots — the romance between Parker and Lexi, and the mystery and intrigue surrounding Monarch, Lexi’s software. Both are exceptionally well done. Cristin Harber builds suspense and heat, weaving them together, like no other single author I can think of.

Characters
Parker’s my second-favorite Titan, Cash still holds that top spot. Parker’s tough, smart, and his inability to explain his feelings makes him endearing. Lexi is about as complex as they come. She was all over the place and at times I felt she was so out of character, but that double-sided, lost-and-found Lexi was such a part of her identity, part of her growth and development as the story unfolded. Some of the Titan cast made cameos but not nearly enough for me. A few new characters that were introduced were interesting, especially Shadow, and even Matt, as much as I loathed him.

World Building
The world building is Titan at it’s best –black ops, high-tech goodies, armored vehicles, and total badassery.

Ending
Harber has a way of building up the suspense, taking us to a pinnacle of danger and action, and Black Dawn is exactly what I was hoping it would be.

Top Five Things I loved about Black Dawn:
1. Bacon Byte. Come on, a little wrinkly snoring pudge of a pug named Bacon is about as cute as it gets.

2. Parker. He’s hot, tough, smart, really the trifecta of male perfection.

3. Hacking. Never has computer hacking been so sexy.

4. Office sex. ‘Nuf said.

5. Shadow. Lexi’s colleague is the father figure every girl should have.

Bottom Line
The latest in the Titan Series delivers danger, adventure, and steamy romance as only Cristin Harber can.

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 Dawn
Series: Titan Series #6
Author: Cristin Harber
Publisher: Mill Creek Press
Release Date: June 14, 2015
Pages: 279
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Kobo

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Author Cristin Harber

Author Cristin Harber

About the Author
Cristin Harber is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling romance author. She writes sexy, steamy romantic suspense and military romance.

Readers voted her onto Amazon’s Top Picks for Debut Romance Authors in 2013, and her debut Titan series was both a #1 romantic suspense and #1 military romance bestseller.

She lives outside Washington, DC with her family and English Bulldog.

Where to Find Cristin Harber
Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Titan Team

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Giveaway
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