Young Adult Book Review – Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

5 Stars

Synopsis
If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

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My Review
I took a few days off after finishing this book to write my review. I wanted to let it settle in and see how I was feeling, and you know what? I still love it just as much as I did the moment I finished. I discovered author, Tamara Ireland Stone, through her time-travelling young adult stories, Time Between Us and Time After Time, so I wasn’t sure if I would love a straight-up contemporary as much. It’s different, but as good, in a very different way.

The book is heavy on themes. Themes of fitting in, finding one’s place, uncertainty, being different, being accepted, finding your voice, finding your words. It’s also a story about a girl and a boy. And secrets. And trust.

Samantha McAllister is part of the Crazy Eights, the most popular girls in her junior class, but she’s hiding a secret from them — she has OCD with an emphasis on obsessive rather than compulsive, making it easier to keep her issues private. In fact, no one in school knows about it. Until she meets Caroline, a nerdy girl who promises Samantha she can change her life. Samantha is a girl with two halves, her public persona as part of the Eights, and the private Summer Sam, who doesn’t try so hard to conceal who she is. Samantha wants to be Sam all the time, and not just during the summer when she’s away from the Eights. Her friendship with Caroline sparks a journey that burns through the pages, as Samantha allows Sam out of her box for longer bits of a time.

Plot
The plot addresses so many things, but at it’s core, it’s about a girl battling OCD and her journey in finding herself. Strong subplots include a romance with the sweet, soulful AJ, her friendships with the Caroline and the other Poets, as well as her evolving relationship with the Eights. Each plot is well done, and woven seamlessly with the others. There were a few good plot twists, and one, shocking, jaw-dropping twist that I wasn’t sure about at first, but ended up loving for its brilliance.

World Building
The author has done her homework and portrays the world of mental health in a raw and realistic manner. Her creation of Poet’s Corner is detailed and vivid. I could picture the room and the kids and the tiny stage, feel the atmosphere, smell the combination of old paper and stale coffee, with a hint of teen body odor. And considering I was born without a sense of smell, that’s saying something!

Characters
Samantha is complex, troubled, and so utterly relatable, it’s impossible not to love her despite her flaws. Sam spends such an inordinate amount of time in her own head, the only other character I truly felt like I got a good sense of was Shrink Sue. It’s not that the other characters are one-dimensional, but that we see the world through Sam’s eyes and she’s just very introspective.

Writing
The pacing is good, never really dragging, the plot twists were adequately foreshadowed, and the author has an interesting voice that is both deep and youthful, fitting this story really well.

Ending
I enjoyed the ending. I thought the main plot points were wrapped up well, but in a believable way, because OCD isn’t something cured. It’s something people are taught to manage, and I think that was authentically portrayed.

Top Five Things I Loved About Every Last Word
1. The Poetry. The poems were deep and meaningful and I love how the author managed to give each poet his or her own voice in their creations.

2. Sam. She’s just so incredibly well developed, and while I have never suffered like she has, I could understand her thought spirals, and relate to how she felt out of control. I think everyone has something about themselves that feels a little beyond their ability to control at times.

3. AJ. He is sweet, thoughtful, and yet not perfect, which made him perfectly believable.

4. Shrink Sue. The way she helps Sam, maintains boundaries, and yet clearly loves her patient is heartwarming.

5. Caroline. She was exactly the friend Sam needed at the time Sam needed her.

Bottom Line
I’m glad I gave this book a try. It surprised me in the very best of ways.

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

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Title: Every Last Word
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Pages: 368
Category: Teen and Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to Purchase: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

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Author Tamara Ireland Stone

Author Tamara Ireland Stone

 About the Author
TAMARA IRELAND STONE is the author of Time After Time and Time Between Us, which has been published in over twenty countries to widespread acclaim, and hailed as “an exciting debut novel” by Booklist and “a warm, time bending romance” by Publishers Weekly. It has been optioned for film by CBS Films.

Her next novel, Every Last Word, is about a teen girl with OCD who’s hiding part of herself from the world, until she discovers a secret poetry club that changes her in unexpected ways. Every Last Word releases on June 16, 2015.

A former Silicon Valley marketing executive, Tamara enjoys skiing, hiking, and spending time with her husband and two children. She lives just outside of San Francisco

Where to Find Tamara Ireland Stone
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | YouTube

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YA Book Review – The Resistance (The Institute Series) by Kayla Howarth

The Resistance (The Institute #2) by Kayla Howarth

The Resistance (The Institute #2) by Kayla Howarth

5 Stars

Synopsis
It’s what every Defective person wants – freedom, liberation from the Institute.

Allira had her chance. Then why is she still working for them?

It has been three months since she first started working as an agent for the Institute. She’s good at her job. She has to be. There’s too much at stake.

After an arrest goes awry, she’s faced with the possibility of escaping again, and an offer too good to refuse.

Things are meant to be different at the Resistance, everything is meant to be better. But when life is about survival, sacrifices must be made. What will Allira sacrifice for her freedom?

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My Review
The Resistance is a solid follow-up to The Institute. We pick up Allira’s story several months after the end of The Institute, where she is working with Drew to round up other “defectives” for the Institute. But as we learned at the end of The Institute, an underground Resistance is doing their own recruiting and they want Allira. The problem is, Shilah and Tate are still at the Institute and her allegiances are pulling her apart. She’d love nothing more than to bring down the Institute, but not at the cost of her brother and best friend.

Plot
The plot is intriguing, drawing me in as I learned more about the mysterious Resistance and who is calling the shots, what the Institute is really up to and who’s behind it, and what Allira’s future has in store for her. There are a lot of layers here, all seamlessly woven in, with more than a couple of twists I never saw coming.

World Building
The author deepens the world building in this second go-round, providing further clues to the underpinnings of both the Resistance and the Institute. The world is a bleak place in her dystopian vision, dark and suffocating at times, but with a peek at blue sky promises, if only they survive long enough to experience it.

Characters
There is more character development in The Resistance  as Allira comes to terms with her fate, uncovers some surprising information about her past, and embraces her feelings for the important people in her life. Drew also goes through a transformation, but I never quite knew where he stands, which makes him still one of my favorite characters in the series.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About The Resistance
1. The Ending. Once again the ending was not what I expected. It caught me off guard and slammed me into a wall, making me gasp for breath and beg for more!

2. Drew. He continues to evade stereotype. He refuses to allow me to either love or hate him. Instead, he pushes me away, only to pull me back in like a co-dependent lover. Can’t wait to see what happens with him in the next book.

3. The Twists. I love when an author can shock me, particularly when the plot twist is a natural evolution of the story.

4. Shate or Tailah. Not sure of the best “ship” name for this couple, but they are adorable.

5. Allira’s Determination. Even when she’s put in the worst situations, she manages to grit her teeth and find a way to persevere.

Bottom Line
The Resistance is a worthy sequel to The Institute, better in almost every way. And The Institute was really good!

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: Resistance
Series: The Institute #2
Author: Kayla Howarth
Release Date: May 14, 2015
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble

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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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Book Tour + Giveaway – The Pepper Jones Series by Ali Dean

Pepped Up Book Tour

Welcome to the Pepped Up Book Tour. The Pepped Up Series follows teen running sensation, Pepper Jones, as she deals with first love, bullies, and the world of competitive running. Pepped Up is the first book in the series, followed by All Pepped Up. Book 3, Pepped Up and Ready, releases on May 28, 2015.

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

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

About Book 3
Title: Pepped Up and Ready (Pepper Jones #3)
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: May 28, 2015
Pages: 203
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

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

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

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

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

*This book contains mature content.*

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Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #1) by Ali Dean

Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #1) by Ali Dean

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

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

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

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

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

*This book contains mature content.*

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Excerpt
I dig my feet into the mud and embrace the burning in my quads. The harder I push, the deeper the pain in my legs and my lungs. But I’m closing the gap with the two girls in front of me, and that makes it worth it.

Just before reaching the top, the girl in the yellow uniform pitches forward and hits the ground. She’s back on her feet already when I pass her, but she’s lost her momentum. It’s not easy to regain on this terrain.

I’m shoulder to shoulder with the girl in the red uniform when we hit the top of the climb. It’s a straight 100 meters to the finish. I can barely make out the finish line through my mud caked lashes, but it doesn’t matter.

I’m not easing up.

I’ve got one shoe on, and I’m soaked in mud from head to toe. Literally. This is my kind of race. The discomfort from the elements is nothing compared to the throbbing in my muscles. I welcome it all as I force my legs into sprint mode.

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All Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #2) by Ali Dean

All Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #2) by Ali Dean

About Book 2
Title: All Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #2)
Author: Ali Dean
Release Date: July 10, 2014
Pages: 187
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
My 5* Review: All Pepped Up
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis
This is the second book in the Pepper Jones series. The following description contains spoilers for Pepped Up, which should be read first.

Pepper Jones knew that being Jace Wilder’s girlfriend wouldn’t be simple. But she didn’t predict just how many complications would arise from his past. Jealous girls? That she expected. Family secrets? Not so much.

At least Pepper can always hit the trails to clear her head… except when it comes to racing. The high expectations from her phenomenal cross country season haunt her, and she can’t seem to get psyched up for track season.

Pepper’s junior year at Brockton Public is full of challenges on and off the track, but she’s not afraid to face them.

*This book contains mature content.*

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Excerpt
“What took us so long to be together, anyway?” I ask.

He smirks at me, and I wiggle in my seat. No one can smirk like Jace Wilder. It’s a huge turn-on. “You weren’t ready for me, Pep.”

I tug my hand away and cross my arms. “What? I think you mean you weren’t ready for me. I didn’t have a single boyfriend until this year and you” – I wave my hand in his direction – “were with girls all the time. Then, as soon as I get my first boyfriend, you decide you’re ready for me. What’s up with that, huh?”

Jace tries to contain his laughter at my outburst but I see through it. My eyes narrow and I shove him in the chest.

“Okay, okay.” He raises his hand in defeat. “I didn’t want to mess things up with you. How many times do I have to tell you? You’re special, Pep. Too good for me, or anyone. I didn’t want to give something a try and fuck it all up and lose you.”

My head tilts to the side as I take this in. And then I smirk right back at him. “You” – I point at his chest – “big bad Jace Wilder. Were afraid of losing me” – I point to myself with a huge grin on my face – “little Pepper Jones, the girl next door?”

He grabs my finger and pulls me toward him so that I’m almost sitting on his lap. “I’m still scared,” he whispers gruffly. Jace’s head dips lower, nuzzling my neck. His warm breath sends goose bumps along my spine as his lips skim my jaw line. “Terrified, actually.”

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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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Giveaway
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Book Review + Giveaway – Life Unaware by Cole Gibsen

Life Unaware Tour Banner

Life Unaware by Cole Gibsen

Life Unaware by Cole Gibsen

5 Stars

Synopsis
Regan Flay has been talking about you.

Regan Flay is on the cusp of achieving her control-freak mother’s “plan” for high school success―cheerleading, student council, the Honor Society—until her life gets turned horribly, horribly upside down. Every bitchy text. Every bitchy email. Every lie, manipulation, and insult she’s ever said have been printed out and taped to all the lockers in school.

Now Regan has gone from popular princess to total pariah.

The only person who even speaks to her is her former best friend’s hot but socially miscreant brother, Nolan Letner. Nolan thinks he knows what Regan’s going through, but whatnobody knows is that Regan isn’t really Little Miss Perfect. In fact, she’s barely holding it together under her mom’s pressure.

But the consequences of Regan’s fall from grace are only just beginning. Once the chain reaction starts, no one will remain untouched…

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My Review
This book is intense! In a good way. I waffled on 4-1/2 or 5 stars, because it’s not perfect and I like to save 5 stars for perfect, but this book has more feels than almost anything else I’ve read lately. And the longer I read it, the more perfect it became. Regan’s journey is so satisfying because I disliked her so much in the beginning. But I was four chapters in and ready to stuff my head in an oven I was so depressed. It went from sucky, to horrific, to oh my god can we please just end the misery, in five short chapters. But then something happened and I found that spark of hope I was looking for. And I’m not talking about the story, I’m talking about Regan’s life. The girl I didn’t care about because she was a self-absorbed narcissist. Except Cole Gibsen makes me care about her when I shouldn’t.

Regan is the queen bee of St. Mary’s, a Catholic high school with more girl drama than Mean Girls and Heathers combined. Having attended not one, but two Catholic high schools, I can attest this is a real thing. And her portrayal was spot on. But Regan’s world comes crashing down around her when an even meaner girl, Amber, decides to make Regan’s life a living hell, the same way Regan has done to countless other girls over the years.

Regan grows and develops so believably through the book, I’m won over. What I love is how the author got me there. Regan is every bitchy mean girl, and yet we’re allowed to see her insecurities, we get a behind-the-scenes look at why she is the way she is and it’s powerful. I rooted for her more because she became the ultimate underdog. Sure, she has her flaws, serious, ugly, heinous flaws, and yet I understand why she did the things she did. I wanted to see her fight back, redeem herself, and better yet, to not be the girl she was before, but better in all the right ways.

World Building
I attended two Catholic high schools, one in Ohio and the other in San Diego. The one in Ohio required the uniforms, conformity, conservative ideology. The one in San Diego, much less so. My high school here was more about status where designer clothes ruled the hallways and the parking lot was crammed with brand new BMWs, gifts for sweet sixteen birthdays. St. Mary’s seems to be a blend of my two schools, but it helped me relate. The one thing I realized both schools have in common is that Catholic students swear, bully, smoke, and get pregnant just like public school kids. And I think Cole Gibsen so perfectly captured that in Life Unaware, I almost felt transported back in time.

Plot
The primary plot revolves around Regan’s fall from grace and ultimate redemption, but her relationship with her best friend, Peyton’s older brother, Nolan is raw and powerful and threads through the main plot like a binding stitch, holding everything loosely together. The story moves from the opening pages, and as difficult as it is to read at times, it packs a solid emotional punch, forcing us to look at the world of bullying through the eyes of the bully as well as the victim. It’s easy to paint the bully as the bad guy, but no one is a two-dimensional cardboard character. Amber, as cruel as she can be, has her own issues and it’s hard not to feel for her, too.

Characters
The characters are incredibly well developed with solid motivations that drive their actions. Regan especially is so incredibly three-dimensional, it’s hard to remember she’s just a figment of Cole Gibsen’s imagination. But even Payton, Amber, Christy, Nolan and her parents have their own arcs and issues that tell us who they are and why the tick the way they do.

The Writing
The author’s voice is fresh and youthful, but what I really loved were her similies and metaphors. Her unique turn of phrase took me deep into the story and rooted me there.

The Ending
I liked the ending, although I don’t know that I loved it. But it was realistic. And emotional. In a good way. I don’t know what I would want to make it better. My first thought was an epilogue, but I’m not sure that fits with what the author was trying to accomplish. The fact that I’m still thinking about the messages and the characters this long after finishing is the sign of a good ending, even if it’s not a perfect one. With more time to mull it over, I may decide it’s a brilliant ending.

Top Five Things I Loved About Life Unaware
1. The Video Apology. The video Regan and Nolan make in his room is so raw and real, it only made me love them both more.

2. Christy. She was so vulnerable, it was hard not to love her.

3. Regan. Watching her go from who she was on page one to who she became was one of the best character journeys I’ve read in a long time.

4. Nolan. Sure, he’s not perfect, but neither is Regan. I love Nolan, warts and all. His heart is in the right place most of the time.

5. Payton. She’s a great best friend. Yeah, again, not perfect, but she was there when it mattered and that’s what counts.

Bottom Line
Life Unaware is an intense young adult tale of redemption and forgiveness with complex characters that are hard not to love. Eventually.

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: Life Unaware
Author: Cole Gibsen
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | BAM! | indieBound | Powell’s

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Author Cole Gibsen

Author Cole Gibsen

About the Author
Cole Gibsen first realized she different when, in high school, she was still reading comic books while the other girls were reading fashion magazines.

It was her love of superheroes that first inspired her to pick up a pen.

Her favorite things to write about are ordinary girls who find themselves in extraordinary situations.

Where to Find Cole Gibsen
Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Giveaway
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Book Review – For Sure and Certain by Anya Monroe

For Sure and Certain by Anya Monroe

For Sure and Certain by Anya Monroe

5 Stars

Synopsis
She knits, cans jam, and lives in the city. He’s an Amish college student, breaking the rules. They’re so right, it’s wrong.

Marigold, a recent high school graduate with a shady past, is looking to redefine herself. She doesn’t know what she wants exactly, but college isn’t it.

When she meets Abel, an Amish guy on Rumspringa, his ‘running around’ time, she doesn’t plan on falling for someone wearing a straw hat and suspenders. But she can’t help it, Abel is the breath of fresh air she’s been waiting for.

Abel, who’s moved to the city for a summer program at Jamestown, never imagined Marigold would be drawn to the life he was trying so hard to avoid. His family expects him to take over the family farm; college parties and dorm life don’t quite fit in with their plans for him.

Opposites attract, but nothing is easy with love. When they trade places for the summer they learn a life together isn’t as for sure and certain as they thought.

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My Review
I loved this story. The characters are fresh and original, the author’s voice is unique, and the tale is a sweet, winding one with several twists. Abel is an Amish boy on Rumspringa, accepted into an elite summer program at Jamestown. Marigold is a privileged teen who’s floundering in her quest to find herself. Yet these two click when they first meet, each seeing something rare and special in the other. But it’s not love at first sight. It’s more like intrigue upon first meeting.

The clash of cultures results in a lot of misunderstandings, and while this is a romance, it’s also a lot more. Both Abel and Marigold go through tremendous growth, making it read more like literary fiction. Even the writing style is very different than most contemporary romances, but it works here. It’s a formal style that still manages to remain youthful.

World Building
The author has done her homework, creating an authentic portrayal of the Amish community interwoven with contemporary college life both on and off campus. The slow-paced Amish lifestyle in humid Lancaster County without air conditioning is palpable, as are their mannerisms, ways of speaking, their daily lives. It’s all beautifully contrasted with the rush and craziness of life in D.C. It’s easy to see what Marigold and Abel see in one another’s worlds and that’s the true brilliance of Anya Monroe’s storytelling. We see both D.C. and Lancaster through the eyes of both characters–  the jaded views of the teen who grew up there, and the wide-eyed wonder of the one who didn’t.

Plot
The main plot is two-pronged. It’s about Marigold’s search for her identity and Abel’s search for where in the world he belongs. The romance is a very strong subplot, and at times it appears to be the main plot, but because what each seeks is their true selves more than anything else, I finally came to the conclusion that it’s not a typical romance. Marigold made a lot of mistakes in her past, searching for where she fit in — at school, in the world, and even within her own family. Always feeling like she never quite fit in at home, she regularly reinvents herself. Now that she finally feels comfortable in her own skin, Abel lands in her life with his Amishness and his dreams, making her question where she belongs.

Abel wants more than life on an Amish farm. Even though he didn’t graduate high school, he aced his SATs, granting him admittance to the Summer Intensive at Jamestown. He’s like a fish out of water with his foul-mouthed, pot-smoking roommate, but what he learns in the program fuels his desire for knowledge and excites him about business in a way he’s never felt before. And although he and Marigold come from two different worlds, they have so much in common, that it almost feels as if they can overcome anything to be together.

The author throws in several twists and the ending is not the one I saw coming, one full of emotion and heart.

Characters
All of the characters are really well done. Even secondary characters have their own complete arcs. Marigold and Abel are particularly well developed and through everything, they stay true to who they are, even though their growth is tremendous. No one comes across as two-dimensional or stereotypical.

Writing
Monroe’s writing is refreshing. Her style sets it apart from other young adult/new adult contemporary fiction.

Ending
The ending was a satisfying conclusion that wraps up all the loose ends, but in a way I didn’t anticipate

Top Five Things I Loved About For Sure and Certain
1. The Authenticity. The way the Amish culture is woven into the story proves the author has done her homework. She neither portrays it is idyllic nor faulty, only real, with good and bad, fitting the lifestyle needs of some, but not everyone.

2. Marigold’s Style. She alters and wears her great grandmother’s clothes, pairing them with leggings and boots in a fun and funky style that’s all her own.

3. Abel’s Straw Hat. Abel never turns his back on where he comes from in order to fit in. His straw hat is as much a part of him as “ja” and “’tis”.

4. Yarn. I love to knit, and reading about all the freshly died wool Marigold has to play with made my fingers itch to make something.

5. The Love Story. It’s a sweet take on two people from different worlds overcoming their differences, miscommunication, and misunderstandings in an unpredictable way.

Bottom Line
For Sure and Certain is a beautiful tale of finding yourself through trial and error and living for yourself and not to please others.

Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of this book by the author. It does not affect my review in any way.

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About the Book
Title: For Sure and Certain
Author: Anya Monroe
Publisher: The Lovely Messy
Release Date: February 5, 2015
Pages: 390
Genre: Young Adult/New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon

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Author Anya Monroe

Author Anya Monroe

About the Author
Anya Monroe likes to write stories and paint words on her walls. She believes in love at first sight and fights for happily-ever-afters. As a wife and mom to six kids, she carves out time to write between carpool pick-ups and date nights because words are her heartbeat. She lives a ferry ride from Seattle and is a total Pacific Northwesterner who drinks chai lattes and wears Birkenstocks and has dreadlocks. She’s a cliché, but doesn’t mind it. Not even a little.

She documents her lovely-messy life on IG @anyamonroe. Find her there!

Where to find Anya Monroe
Goodreads Website | Instagram
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YA Book Review – The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

5 Stars

Synopsis

Sage Czinski is trying really hard to be perfect. If she manages it, people won’t peer beyond the surface, or ask hard questions about her past.

She’s learned to substitute causes for relationships, and it’s working just fine… until Shane Cavendish strolls into her math class.

He’s a little antisocial, a lot beautiful, and everything she never knew she always wanted.

Shane Cavendish just wants to be left alone to play guitar and work on his music. He’s got heartbreak and loneliness in his rearview mirror, and this new school represents his last chance. He doesn’t expect to be happy; he only wants to graduate and move on. He never counted on a girl like Sage.

But love doesn’t mend all broken things, and sometimes life has to fall apart before it can be put back together again…

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My Review
I realize it’s only early April, but I have no doubt this will go down as one of my top ten favorite books of 2015, and possibly in the top five of my favorite young adult books of the year. It’s definitely my favorite so far in any genre. Everything from the plot, to the writing, the the characters is flawless. The story centers around sixteen-year-old Sage, who has more quirks than all of the squinterns from Bones combined, and newcomer Shane, who tries hard to fly under the radar. They each have a dark past and secrets they would rather to keep buried, convinced the other would reject them if their true selves were ever revealed.

The two begin an unlikely friendship that evolves into something more, but there is no easy path to happiness. Between their broken pasts and their uncertain futures, there is a lot standing in their way. Not the least of which is school bully, Dylan, with a reputation to protect, one Sage has threatened.

While on the surface this sounds like a typical teen romance with flawed characters, it’s so more than that. The characters are what really makes this story shine. Every character from Sage and Shane, to Dylan, Shane’s father, Sage’s aunt, and even Dylan’s mom, are fully developed, deep, intriguing characters that transcend every stereotype. There’s so much to love in this book though, I don’t want to say it’s all about the characters, because it’s not. The writing is amazing and the plot is solid. This is the first book I’ve read in awhile, where I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. This is also my first Ann Aguirre novel, but now I feel as if I need to go buy and read everything she’s ever written.

Plot
The plotting is impeccable. The main story centers around Sage and Shane’s relationship, but there is strong subplotting involving Sage’s relationship with her best friend, Ryan, her relationship with her Aunt Gabby, her developing friendships with a broader student population, Sage’s backstory, Shane’s backstory, the Shane/Sage/Dylan dynamic, and more. Although that sounds like a lot, Ann Aguirre weaves it all together seamlessly, driving the main plot.

World Building
Small town middle America is well represented in The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things. I’m sure the town was named, but it doesn’t stick with me, and I don’t think it matters. It could be any midwest farm town. The settings come alive through Sage’s eyes in fluid form.

Characters
The characters are simply amazing. They are three-dimensional in every sense. I can not only picture what they look like, I understand them. They’re living, breathing figments of the author’s imagination, but she allows us to really know them. Sage is complex. She has a bright and shiny exterior, affixing Post-It notes on the lockers of fellow classmates who need an encouraging word (as an employee of 3M, I really love the use of Post-It Notes BTW). As a member of the Green club at school devoted to perfecting the environment, her refusal to ride in a personal vehicle is so endearing. Not many teens (or adults for that matter) would stick by that conviction when convenience is only a car ride away.

Shane is deep, wounded, sweet, caring, loyal, everything a book boyfriend should be. The fact that he’s also beautiful is irrelevant in this case. It wouldn’t matter if his eyes weren’t as blue as a summer sky, because his heart is as big as the midwest plains.

I love that Ryan, the best friend and potential love interest, isn’t the bad guy. Sure he screwed up royally, but I didn’t hate him. There was always a part of me pulling for him to find his own happiness. It’s even hard to truly hate Dylan, the antagonist, once I understood his motivations. There is some seriously messed up stuff going on with that boy, and I hope we learn more about him in a future novel.

Top Five Things I Loved About The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things
1. Post-It Notes. Yeah, I know, my retirement is in part tied up in 3M stock, but even so, just the idea of someone writing words of encouragement on a 3×3 scrap of paper and sticking to a locker is amazing.

2. Aunt Gabby. She’s everything an aunt and a parent should be.

3. Reflector Tape. I love that Sage does what it takes to give her aunt peace of mind, even if she knows she looks ridiculous doing it.

4. Sage’s Tenaciousness. Man, she’s like my dog when he’s got the end of rope. She just won’t let go. She growls, and pulls harder, never giving up, even when it appears there is no way to win.

5. Shane. There is so much to love about him. The way he gets Sage, the way he appreciates her, sacrifices for her, loves her. He’s pretty much the perfect book boyfriend.

Bottom Line
My favorite book so far of 2015, and definitely one of my top ten of all time young adult reads.

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

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About the Book
Title: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things
Author: Ann Aguirre
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Pages: 334
Category: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | KoboBAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

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Author Ann Aguirre

Author Ann Aguirre

About the Author
Ann Aguirre is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author and RITA winner with a degree in English Literature; before she began writing full time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order.

She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. Ann likes books, emo music, action movies, and she writes all kinds of genre fiction for adults and teens, published with Harlequin, Macmillan, and Penguin, among others.

Where to Find Ann Aguirre
Goodreads | Website | Newsletter Signup | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr

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Giveaway
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YA Book Review – Snark and Stage Fright (Snark and Circumstance) by Stephanie Wardrop

Snark and Stage Fright (Snark and Circumstance #5) by Stephanie Wardrop

Snark and Stage Fright (Snark and Circumstance #5) by Stephanie Wardrop

5 Stars

Synopsis
Happily-ever-after isn’t as happy or forever as Jane Austen makes it look. Just something Georgia Barrett learns when her sharp tongue costs her the only guy she’s ever really cared about: Michael Endicott.

Determined to move on, Georgia lands the lead role in the school’s fall musical. But to survive on stage, she’ll need to learn to express herself without her protective shield of snark. She soon discovers being honest with others means being honest with herself, and the truth is she’s still in love with Michael.

But from the looks of Michael’s new girlfriend, Georgia isn’t the only one who tried to move on. Apparently, some people are just better at it than others. And when Michael and his girlfriend join the cast of the fall musical, Georgia finds out that snark and stage fright are the least of her worries…

My Review
I loved this book. It’s easily my favorite in the series, and not just because the couple on the cover finally resembles what Georgia and Michael look like in my head. In some ways, this story is very different than the rest of the series, and in other ways, it’s familiar. Now that Georgia and Michael are in a relationship, things are anything but smooth sailing. When Michael takes Georgia to his family’s beach house on Cape Code for his cousin’s wedding, Georgia feels more out of place in his world than ever. Add a hot neighbor who also happens to be a model with designs on Michael, a disapproving grandmother, and a lecherous literary giant with a roaming tongue, and the waters go from rough to stormy.

What I love most about this book is the level of angst and the way author, Stephanie Wardrop, keeps it fueling the plot without ever threatening to overpower the story. And also maybe because it’s not from the plot of Pride and Prejudice, I didn’t know what was coming, which kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next.

Plot
The plot is almost entirely about Michael and Georgia’s relationship, with almost no subplotting, but it’s so well done, it doesn’t matter. By now, I adore the characters and I’m invested in their story.

Characters
Georgia is her snarktastic self as she tries to fit into Michael’s world, deal with their eventual breakup, and work hard to get over him. The characters, true to themselves, make everything far more difficult by not communicating, making assumptions, and in true Michael/Georgia fashion, wasting time the could be together, not being together.

Top Five Things I Loved About Snark and Stage Fright
1. Georgia. Her vulnerability and wit mix in hilarious fashion, reminding me why I love her so much.

2. Michael. Yeah, there are times I wanted to throttle him, but after he bears his soul in heartbreakingly sweet fashion, he’s completely redeemed.

3. Diana. The girl you love to hate is completely lovable and impossible to hate. I absolutely love this refreshing take on the romantic rival.

4. The kids. All the little von Trapps that Georgia is hired to watch backstage are beyond cute and bring another layer of comic relief.

5. Dave. Georgia’s friend and potential post-Michael love interest is adorable in his awkwardness, and even though I knew Michael and Georgia belonged together, there was a small part of me pulling for Dave.

Bottom Line
My favorite book in the Snark and Circumstance series, it’s full of witty dialogue, endearing characters, and angsty drama that all build to a perfectly satisfying conclusion.

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

About the Book
Title
: Snark and Stage Fright
Series: Snark and Circumstance #5
Author: Stephanie Wardrop
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Pages: 185
Category: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Author Stephanie WardropAbout the Author
Stephanie Wardrop grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, a town mostly famous for being a railroad card in Monopoly. After giving up on her childhood goal of becoming a pirate, she decided to become a writer but took a detour through lots of college and grad school and ended up teaching writing and British and American literature.

She’s the author of the Swoon Romance e-novella series Snark and Circumstance, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and lives in western New England with her husband, kids, cats, and gecko.

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

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

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

5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author Janet Evanovich

Author Janet Evanovich

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

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

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YA Book Review – Because You Exist by Tiffany Truitt

Because You Exist (Light in the Dark #1) by Tiffany Truitt

Because You Exist (Light in the Dark #1) by Tiffany Truitt

5 Stars

Synopsis
Life is good for LOGAN MIDDLETON. He’s quarterback of the Shepherd High football team, nephew of the town’s most successful lawyer, and boyfriend of Jenna Maples, a girl who has finally agreed to take their relationship to the next level. But nothing good lasts forever.

With only a few minutes of last period English left between him and a weekend alone with Jenna, Logan blacks out. When he awakens, he finds himself in a future where Shepherd High lies in ruins, nothing is what it seems, and everyone he loves is dead. Logan is a shifter. Chosen to travel through time, it’s up to him to figure out how to stop the terrible events that claimed his once perfect life.

Of course, all of this might be easier if he wasn’t paired with the one girl who’d rather see him dead than help him, JOSEPHINE. A girl he tormented during childhood. Strong-willed with biting wit, who lives in the shadows. Tough and dark, Jo is Shepherd High’s most notorious outcast and Logan’s opposite in every way. Together the two must overcome their many differences to figure out why they’ve been selected for such an overwhelming task, and who selected them in the first place.

Before it’s too late…

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My Review
Holy freaking awesome! This book is a recipe for everything I love in a story. Time travel – check, angsty teen drama – check, a flawed protagonist that is hard to like, but you pull for anyway – check and check. Logan Middleton discovers he’s a shifter, someone who can time travel, but with no control over any of it. And to make matters worse, he’s teamed with fellow shifter, Scary Carrie, the worst girl in all of Shepherd High. She’s so awful, he’s spent a great deal of his childhood tormenting her, including her horrible nickname. Now he has to rely on her to survive.

Logan’s the big man on campus, quarterback of the football team, poised to take the team to the state championship. Except he keeps shifting into the future, where a plague has wiped out most of mankind unless he and Scary Carrie, aka Josephine, can find a way to stop it. His teammates think his newfound interest in Jo is sexual. Even his uncle has a weird obsession with his relationship with Jo. Only Logan’s perfect, cheerleader girlfriend seems to understand that Logan’s relationship with Jo goes deeper.

Plot
The plot is complex and fascinating. On the surface, it’s about Logan and Jo finding a way to save the world, but it’s more than that. There’s the mystery over what happens in the future and how they can possibly stop it. There’s the questions over why they were chosen to be shifters, and how shifting occurs. Plus there are other shifters as well as a handful of future survivors who want to kill and eat the shifters. And it’s about two damaged kids who develop a true friendship based on a common goal as well as genuine affection for each other.

There is so much going on in this story, but it’s never confusing. Tiffany Truitt weaves in the subplots so expertly, everything is seamless. Tension run high throughout the story, and I found it incredibly hard to put down. While it’s the first book in a series, the ending is well done, wrapping up enough of the story goal to satisfy me, but also leaving me dying for more. This is the first book in awhile that I’ve been this anxious to get my hands on the sequel.

World Building
The world building is intense and thorough with shifting and guides, light and dark shifters, and conductors. And all of it is really well developed. The future as well as the past are just as three-dimensional as the present world Logan and Jo inhabit most of the time, I’m impressed with the level of detail woven in. At no time does the world building feel like anything other than an extension of the plot.

Characters
I love how beautifully crafted the characters are. Jo and Logan, especially, are deep, layered, and intense. Both of them grow and develop so much over the story in natural, believable ways. In fact Because You Exist at times feels like its equal parts character-driven and plot-driven. What it is, is exceptionally well balanced.

Logan is utterly heartbreaking as the kid who leads a charmed life, popular, in love with the girl of his dreams. He tears everything apart trying to be who he thinks he should, only to to finally admit he’s a complete asshole. And he is. At times. And yet, I still want him to do the right thing. I still believe he will.

Jo is damaged beyond what anyone should be. Her story unfolds slowly throughout the novel. With every new piece of information I learn about her, the more I love her. And it only makes me want Logan to do the right thing by her even more. Oh, Logan…please, please pull your shit together in book 2!

Top Five Things I Loved About Because You Exist
1. Time Travel. It is my number one favorite genre, whether it’s books or movies.

2. The Ending. It ripped my heart out and left me craving more.

3. Logan and Jo. Because they are just so cute together, even though they aren’t “together” together.

4. Randall and Ben. Best bromance I’ve read in a long time.

5. 1996. Because it was a very good year and because did I mention I love time travel?

Bottom Line
Because you Exist is a phenomenal time-travelling young adult romance that raises the bar for the genre.

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: Because You Exist
Series: Light in the Dark #1
Author: Tiffany Truitt
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Pages: 294
Genre: Young Adult SciFi/Paranormal
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | AmazonBarnes & NobleLimitless Publishing

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Author Tiffany Truitt

Author Tiffany Truitt

About the Author
Tiffany Truitt received her MA in literature from Old Dominion University.

Her debut Chosen Ones, first in the Lost Souls trilogy, is a searing look at what it means to be other and how we define humanity, as well as a celebration of the dangerously wonderful feeling of falling in love.

Where to Find Tiffany Truitt
Goodreads │ Website | Twitter │ Facebook

YA Book Review – The Institute (The Institute Series) by Kayla Howarth

The Institute (The Institute #1) by Kayla Howarth

The Institute (The Institute #1) by Kayla Howarth

5 Stars

Synopsis
Allira Daniels will do anything to keep her family safe from the Institute. They claim to protect the Defectives, but really the Defectives are trapped and segregated.

Allira’s brother Shilah is not dangerous like everyone assumes all Defectives are. He just sees things before they happen, and Allira knows that if anyone finds out, they will turn on the entire Daniels family. So they live by one simple rule: be invisible. They try to blend in at school, try not to draw unnecessary attention to themselves.

But when Allira witnesses a car accident that critically injures two of her classmates, her family’s rule and her dad’s warnings are tossed aside.

Allira is quick to discover that saving Drew’s life could just be the best and worst thing she’s ever done.

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My Review
Author, Kayla Howarth, paints a terrifying future where a virus wiped out a large percentage of the earth’s population and spawned a genetic mutation, creating a generation of Defective people with superpowers who must be hunted down and contained. Allira’s brother is Defective and she’ll do anything to protect him. But when the Institute sweeps up Kayla and her brother in a massive effort to find all the Defectives, she discovers things are far worse than she ever imagined.

Plot
The main plot centers around the Institute and their role in this dystopian world, how Allira fits into it, and above all else, what she’s willing to do to protect her brother, Shilah. There is a subtle love triangle that seems rushed at first. In fact, it was one of my least favorite aspects of the book. But it all falls into place by the end in an “aha” moment that made me realize how brilliant it was.

World Building
The world building is there, but it’s shallow in some areas, deeper in others. Where it really works, though, is in the development of the Defectives’ abilities and the Institute’s role in pretty much everything. Kayla Howarth does a phenomenal job of foreshadowing. So much so, you don’t necessarily realize that’s what it is at first.

Characters
The story is plot-driven, so the character development is subtle. The characters are interesting enough though, that it doesn’t seem to matter. Allira, particularly, comes across as a typical teen girl, letting her hormones get in the way of what should be her focus a good deal of the time. But her fierce loyalty to her brother always comes first. Chad, one third of the love triangle is an enigma, and I love that about him. I think there’s still a lot to find out about Chad in the rest of the series. The last third is Drew. I’m still on the fence about Drew. Just when I think I’m going to hate him, Howarth draws me back in, reminds me he’s flawed, human, impossible to hate.

Top Five Things I Enjoyed About The Institute
1. The Ending. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the last paragraph of a book with my jaw hanging open.

2. Tate. He’s just awesome. I want to be Tate when I grow up.

3. The Superpowers. Because who doesn’t secretly want a superpower?

4. Allira’s Loyalty. Shilah may not appreciate yet what a great sister he has, but I have no doubt that he will.

5. The Complexity of Drew. The fact that he was developed with endless shades of gray makes him fascinating.

Bottom Line
The Institute is an interesting take on both young adult dystopia and superheros. It melds the two together in a fascinating story that left me wanting more.

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

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About the Book
Title: The Institute
Series: The Institute #1
Author: Kayla Howarth
Release Date: January 7, 2015
Pages: 231
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble

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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

YA Book Review – A Game Worth Watching by Samantha Gudger

A Game Worth Watching by Samantha Gudger

A Game Worth Watching by Samantha Gudger

5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author Samantha Gudger

Author Samantha Gudger

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

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

A Game Worth Watching is her first novel.

Where to Find Samantha Gudger
Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

YA Book Review + Giveaway – Eleven Weeks (Crazy in Love Series) by Lauren K. McKellar

Eleven Weeks Blog Tour

Eleven Weeks (Crazy in Love #2) by Lauren K. McKellar

Eleven Weeks (Crazy in Love #2) by Lauren K. McKellar

5 Stars

Synopsis
Seven shots
Five siblings
Two boys
One heartbeat …

***

Stacey is good at pretending. She pretends that the boy she’s in love with doesn’t exist. She pretends that she’s happy to live and die in this small town.

She pretends that her life is carefree while her best friend’s world crumbles before her very eyes.

But Stacey’s got a secret …

And it’s going to ruin everything.

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My Review
While Eleven Weeks didn’t pack the same emotional punch as The Problem with Crazy, it is still an intensely satisfying, page-turning read. Just in a very different way. Eleven Weeks takes place over the same period as The Problem with Crazy, but from Stacey’s point of view. Because Kate is so wrapped up in her own problems, Stacey’s issues, although foreshadowed, are never revealed. Stacey is crazy about Michael, but a variety of factors keep them apart, including the fact that he’s in a band and about to go on tour, and he’s never really made a play for Stacey even though he’s flirted with her for years. The fact that Stacey is harboring a secret only makes things far more complicated.

Plot
Stacey comes from a family of high achievers. The fact that she’s only average makes her feel as if she’s worthless in the eyes of her parents. And when her mother comes out and tells her she doesn’t expect much of her, that only feeds Stacey’s self-doubt. She’s the easy-going party girl, so when she doesn’t have any plans beyond graduation, she doesn’t disappoint anyone but herself. Michael sees more in her than she does in herself, and Stacey isn’t sure if he’s delusional, or if she really is capable of more than she believes.

Throughout the story, Stacey comes to terms with her secret, fights her growing attraction to Michael, and tries to figure out where she fits in the world. All while trying to support her best friend, Kate, who is dealing with more than any 18-year-old should have to.

World Building
Set in the same small Australian beach town as The Problem with Crazy, we see it through Stacey’s eyes. Where Kate couldn’t wait to leave the stifling town she’s from, we don’t get that same sense from Stacey. She feels less limited by her surroundings and for that reason, we view it differently this time around.

Characters
Stacey is seen as little more than the fun-loving sidekick in The Problem with Crazy, but now we get a view into all of the layers of complexity that make up the real Stacey. There is something about Stacey that I can relate to. As the younger sister of a brother with a genius IQ, I always felt that I could never live up to his accomplishments, so I didn’t apply myself. I didn’t even try to live up to my own potential until I was around Stacey’s age.

We also get to see more of Michael and discover there’s a lot more to him just Dave’s bandmate with a morale center. He’s as confused about Stacey as she is about herself, but he never gives up on her.

Top Five Things I Loved About  Eleven Weeks
1. Stacey’s Growth. The way she goes from rudderless graduate to a girl with a goal is satisfying, even the way she accepts her limitations.

2. Michael. Getting to see more of the Michael I grew to love in The Problem with Crazy was the icing on the cake. I love how he never gives up on Stacey, even when she pushes him away with both hands.

3. Stacey’s Letters. The letters she writes with no intention of sending are a deep look inside her thoughts, and they’re beautiful.

4. Friendship. The way Stacey puts Kate’s needs first, even though Stacey needs a friend to confide in more that she needs air to breathe makes her just that much more endearing.

5. The Scene at the Cafe. We saw the aftermath from Kate’s point of view at the end of The Problem with Crazy, but finding out what happened inside that room is priceless.

Bottom Line
Eleven Weeks is a lighter novel than its predecessor, but still packs a lot of depth, handing difficult issues with heart and soul.

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

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Eleven Weeks Teaser

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Title: Eleven Weeks
Series: Crazy in Love #2
Author: Lauren K. McKellar
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Pages: 198
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

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Author Lauren K. McKellar

Author Lauren K. McKellar

About the Author
Lauren K. McKellar is an author and editor. Her debut novel, Finding Home, was released through Escape Publishing on October 1, 2013, and her second release, a new A contemporary romance The Problem With Crazy, is self-published, and is available now.

She loves books that evoke emotion, and hope hers make you feel.

Lauren lives by the beach in Australia with her husband and their two dogs. Most of the time, all three of them are well behaved.

Where to Find Lauren K. McKellar
Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook

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Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

YA Book Review – The Problem with Crazy (Crazy in Love Series) by Lauren K. McKellar

The Problem with Crazy (Crazy in Love #1) by Lauren K. McKellar

The Problem with Crazy (Crazy in Love #1) by Lauren K. McKellar

5 Stars

Synopsis
The problem with crazy is that crazy, by itself, has no context. It can be good crazy, bad crazy … or “crazy” crazy–like it was when my ex-boyfriend sung about me on the radio.

Eighteen-year-old Kate couldn’t be more excited about finishing high school and spending the summer on tour with her boyfriend’s band. Her dad showing up drunk at graduation, however, is not exactly kicking things off on the right foot–and that’s before she finds out about his mystery illness, certain to end in death. A mystery illness that she could inherit.

Kate has to convince everyone around her that her father is sick, not crazy. But who will be harder to convince? Her friends? Or herself?

The Problem With Crazy “is a story about love and life; about overcoming obstacles, choosing to trust, and learning how to make the choices that will change your life forever.

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My Review
It’s been a long time since a book as affected me this much. Everything from the story to the characters sliced right through me. The Problem with Crazy is about hope as much as it is heartbreak and I think that’s what sets it apart from other books in the genre that it will inevitably be compared to. An Australian The Fault in Our Stars, except not really. Inside of a week, Kate’s father shows up drunk at her graduation and embarrasses her, she discovers he has a fatal, incurable disease that affects his behavior, and her boyfriend of two years dumps her, leaving her with no post-graduation plans, since she was supposed to go on tour with him and his band. Oh yeah, and that fatal disease her father has? Yeah, that’s genetic.

Plot
The plot centers around Kate coming to terms with her father’s illness and the potential that she’s inherited the disease, the end of her relationship, and what, if any future she has. How do you plan your life when you may not have long to live? When she runs into a strange yet adorable boy, Lachlan, who believes in doing everything once just to try it, she begins to see her world in different terms than just now and later. To let go of the uncertainty of the future and live in the moment.

The interactions with Lachlan are where the story soars into the stratosphere. These are the moments when Kate lets down her guard and just lives. Where she thinks about the world outside herself rather than being caged inside her own mind. Where she can forget for a small moment in time that life is uncertain.

World Building
The small Australian beach town where Kate lives comes alive with all five senses as Lauren McKellar weaves in enough detail to put us squarely in the middle of the scene. I’ve never been to Australia, but I almost feel as if I have. I started this book a few days after our Australian exchange student went back home, not even realizing the setting. But it was like having a little piece of Gaby still here with us as I read the familiar Australian expressions and the mention of Tim Tams (which are just as good as you’ve heard, by the way.)

Characters
The book is largely character driven and the characters are…just, wow. Lachlan is the boy by which all other boys will be judged in young adult/new adult novels. And I can tell you now, no one will ever come close, and this makes me both happy and sad, because the world needs more Lachlans, but also because he’s one of  a kind which makes him eternally exceptional.

Top Five Things I Loved About  The Problem with Crazy
1. The first time Kate meets Lachlan. Their initial meeting is as adorable as it gets and it showcases Lachlan in all his Lachlan-ness, sealing him in my heart forever.

2. Lachlan’s art. The way he memorializes every one of his “firsts” in black and white is just another thing that makes him remarkable.

3. The way Lachlan stands up to Dave in the restaurant. Dave is a complete douche. How Kate never knew this in two years of dating is beyond me, but Lachlan figures it out in about two seconds and his response is awesome.

4. Michael. Just because I don’t want this to be all about Lachlan (even though it really is). His loyalty to Kate and Stacey, at the expense of his position in the band, makes him one of the really good guys.

5. Lachlan. Because really, he’s just that amazing.

Bottom Line
The Problem with Crazy is heartbreakingly beautiful. It ripped my heart out, shredded it, and left me bereft, before slowly rebuilding it, piece by agonizing piece, leaving me hopeful.

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

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Title: The Problem with Crazy
Series: Crazy in Love #1
Author: Lauren K. McKellar
Release Date: December 16, 2014
Pages: 283
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

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Author Lauren K. McKellar

Author Lauren K. McKellar

About the Author
Lauren K. McKellar is an author and editor. Her debut novel, Finding Home, was released through Escape Publishing on October 1, 2013, and her second release, NA Contemporary Romance The Problem With Crazy, is self-published, and is available now.

She loves books that evoke emotion, and hope hers make you feel.

Lauren lives by the beach in Australia with her husband and their two dogs. Most of the time, all three of them are well behaved.

Where to Find Lauren K. McKellar
Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook

Book Review – Design & Illustration by Mark Sgarbossa

Design & Illustration by Mark Sgarbossa

Design & Illustration by Mark Sgarbossa

5 Stars

Synopsis
From rock and roll to corporate ID, artist Mark Sgarbossa shows a broad set of skills and styles in this comprehensive look at his work.

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My Review
Mark Sgarbossa’s art is vibrant, thought-provoking, energetic, at times enigmatic, and extraordinary. He’s pulled together a collection of his work in an oversized trade paperback. Design & Illustration by Mark Sgarbossa is a treat for the eyes, with limited text, it’s 250+ pages of pure visual confection.

With clients such as skateboarder Tony Hawk, bands Kiss, Rascal Flatts, and AC/DC, and 3 Doors Down, musical artists such as Jason Mraz, Carrie Underwood, Ottmar Liebert, and Rod Stewart, and organizations like Target Stores, San Diego State University, Vans, Warp Magazine, and House of Blues, the art is as varied as the clientele. Below are just a few examples of the hundreds of pieces of art on display in Design & Illustration.

Takahashi Band Poster

Takahashi Band Poster

Design & Illustration Teaser 4

Miami Heat

Jason Mraz Poster

Jason Mraz Poster

Ice Cube

Ice Cube

Bottom Line
Design & illustration is a stunning collection of some of the best pop culture art around by an insanely talented artist.

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Title: Design & Illustration
Author: Mark Sgarbossa
Release Date: October 30, 2014
Pages: 266
Category: Art & Illustration
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links:  Amazon | CreateSpace

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Illustrator Mark Sgarbossa

Illustrator Mark Sgarbossa

About the Author
Mark Sgarbossa is an award-winning artist from San Diego, California. A partial list of his clients include Jason Mraz, Target Stores, Tony Hawk, Franz Ferdinand, Major League Baseball, San Diego State University, Snowboarder Magazine, 3 Doors Down, and AC/DC.

In addition to art, Mark is a talented musician. He played rhythm guitar and sang vocals in the indie band The Shirlies as well as playing synth and singing in the live electro duo ROTATOR.

Where to Find Mark Sgarbossa
Website | Email |LinkedIn | Reedsy

YA Book Review – Sentinel (Covenant Series) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Sentinel (Covenant #5) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Sentinel (Covenant #5) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

5 Stars

Synopsis
It’s a beautiful day for a war.

As the mortal world slowly slips into chaos of the godly kind, Alexandria Andros must overcome a stunning defeat that has left her shaken and in doubt of their ability to end this war once and for all.

And with all the obstacles between Alex and her happily-ever-after with the swoonworthy Aiden St. Delphi, they must now trust a deadly foe as they travel deep into the Underworld to release one of the most dangerous gods of all time.

In the stunning, action-packed climax to the bestselling Covenant series, Alex must face a terrible choice: the destruction of everything and everyone she holds dear… or the end of herself.

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My Review
I want to give this book more than five stars. Because I gave Apollyon five stars and this is even better. Because this is how you end a young adult series. Not a happily ever after, but it’s satisfying and leaves us with hope instead of despair. Because it didn’t ruin the entire series for me for a change.

This final book in the series is almost non-stop action, but not to the point that it becomes exhausting. The author slows it down enough to allow us to catch our breath before ramping it back up again. I’m not someone who is easily moved to tears. Just ask my husband. He cries during movies before I do. But a few really moving, bittersweet, and heartwarming moments managed to wet my Sahara-dry eyes.

Plot
Sentinel is almost entire plot-driven, although there are still a few moments of character development that are like the most delicious cherry on top of the perfect sundae. With everything in the previous books leading to war, war has finally come and Alex and her friends must fight for everything they know, love, and believe in.

And because it’s war, people get hurt and people die, but there are no senseless deaths. Each death serves a purpose, to move the plot, to further the story. And as painful as it is to lose characters we love, when well-done, they make the story richer.

World Building
If possible, the world building is even more complete this time around. It was already incredibly well developed, but the more the world unfolds, the more there seems to be to still learn. Like the TARDIS, it’s bigger on the inside.

Characters
The characters in Sentinel are still fascinating, still fully developed, but they had room to grow, and that’s exactly what they do. Seth is the boy I always knew he would be and that was beautiful to see. Watching Alex accept her fate with grace and dignity was worth the wait. And Aiden…what can I say, he is the ultimate book boyfriend to the very end.

Top Five Things I Love About  Sentinel
1. The action. There’s a lot of it and it’s all really well done.

2. Alex and Aiden. Still the cutest young adult couple in all of Greek mythology.

3. Seth. Seth is back and better than ever.

4. Apollo and Alex. There is a really bittersweet scene between the two of them that just really works.

5. The end. A completely satisfying conclusion to a fun series.

Bottom Line
The perfect example of how to wrap up a young adult series in a satisfying way.

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Title: Sentinel
Series: Covenant Series #5
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Pages: 316
Category: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

YA Book Review – Apollyon (Covenant Series) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Apollyon (Covenant #4) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Apollyon (Covenant #4) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

5 Stars

Synopsis
“History is on repeat, and things didn’t go so well the last time. “

Alexandria isn’t sure she’s going to make it to her eighteenth birthday–to her Awakening. A long-forgotten, fanatical order is out to kill her, and if the Council ever discovers what she did in the Catskills, she’s a goner… and so is Aiden.

If that’s not freaky enough, whenever Alex and Seth spend time “training”–which really is just Seth’s code word for some up-close and personal one-on-one time–she ends up with another mark of the Apollyon, which brings her one step closer to Awakening ahead of schedule. Awesome.

But as her birthday draws near, her entire world shatters with a startling revelation and she’s caught between love and Fate. One will do anything to protect her. One has been lying to her since the beginning. Once the gods have revealed themselves, unleashing their wrath, lives will be irrevocably changed… and destroyed.

Those left standing will discover if love is truly greater than Fate…

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My Review
So far, this is my favorite book in the series. It’s full of action, danger, romance, unconditional love, duty, responsibility, and conflicting emotions. Oh yeah, and lots of Greek Gods. With Alex having awakened as the Apollyon, she and Seth now have a duty to perform, but Seth and Lucien have different goals from the others. We finally learn who on the dark side is helping Seth and Lucien, and why Seth trusts Lucien so emphatically, even when the rest of us can see he’s no good.

I’ve always been a fan of Seth. Even when he seemed something other than ideal. But then I was always able to see in the good in Snape, too. So I’ll be thrilled if I’ve been right about Seth all along. And if my feelings about Ward from Agents of Shield can be proven accurate, I’ll be in a happy, happy place.

Plot
There’s less of a plot in Apollyon than in previous books in the series, because there is a lot more character development. Alex finally, finally begins to grow up and take responsibility for her actions. The relationship between Alex and Aiden intensifies in a positive way. He clearly loves her and that alone makes her more endearing. Because let’s face it, Aiden is perfect.

There are a few action scenes, but it’s more suspense that drives the story. You know something really ugly is about to happen, you just don’t know when or where. The big action scene at the climax is INTENSE, but really well done. And the ending is sweet, but perfectly sets up the last book in the series.

World Building
I love Armentrout’s world building. The way she weaves in Greek mythology with current day life is seamless and just unpredictable enough to keep us on our toes.

Characters
Characters is what JLA does best. She does a good job of creating such diverse personalities and keeping them true to themselves. Apollyon is no exception. As I mentioned above, Alex finally grows up a bit, Aiden is beautifully perfect, and we finally get a better understanding of Seth. One that only makes me root for him more. And without giving anything away, we get to “visit” with Caleb. Because as everyone knows, death is not the same in the world of Greek mythology as it is in reality.

Top Five Things I Love About  Apollyon
1. Alex and Aiden. Seriously, they are just so darn cute together.

2. Seth. Yes, I adore Seth. I know he’s got some sort of God-crazed power trip going on, but I suspect he will redeem himself.

3. The Big Action. Yes, that scene is tough to read, but man it’s just so good.

4. Character Development. I love Alex’s growth. It’s long overdue, but I it’s worth the wait. I think Alex had to go through everything she has in order to get to the point where she was ready to grow up.

5. Caleb. I missed him. I love that we get a glimpse into his afterlife.

Bottom Line
Apollyon is my favorite book in the Covenant series so far. Plenty of action, drama, and steamy Alex/Aiden time.

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Title: Apollyon
Series: Covenant Series #4
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Pages: 363
Category: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
LinksGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

YA Book Review – Letters to Nowhere (Letters to Nowhere No. 1) by Julie Cross

Letters to Nowhere (Letters to Nowhere #1) by Julie Cross

Letters to Nowhere (Letters to Nowhere #1) by Julie Cross

5 Stars

Synopsis
From the International Bestselling Author of the Tempest Series…

Set in the tough world of Elite Gymnastics…

I’ve gotten used to the dead parents face. I’ve gotten used to living with my gymnastics coach. I’ve even adjusted to sharing a bathroom with his way-too-hot son. Dealing with boys is not something that’s made it onto my list of experiences as of yet. But here I am, doing it. And something about Jordan–being around him, talking to him, thinking about him–makes me feel like I can finally breathe again. That’s something I haven’t been able to do lately. He knows what it feels like to be me right now. He knows what it’s like to wonder–what now?

I think about it constantly. I need answers. I need to know how to get through this. In the gym, if you’re struggling, you train harder, you do drills and conditioning. How do I work hard at moving on? At being on my own? And what happens if I might be…maybe…probably falling for Jordan? I mean we live together now. That can’t happen, can it?

But kissing him…well, let’s just say it’s not an easy activity to forget.

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My Review
I discovered Julie Cross when I reviewed Whatever Life Throws At You. I was so taken by her voice, the story, and the characters that I rushed out and picked up Letters to Nowhere. Sometimes it’s a gamble to go back and read an older book by an author you love. This isn’t one of those cases. I loved everything about Letters to Nowhere. Seventeen-year-old Karen Campbell is a spitfire at under five feet and a gymnastic dynamo. When her parents are killed in a car accident, she’s left an orphan, struggling to understand how she’s supposed to go on. Forced to choose between a promising gymnastics career and family, her coach steps in and offers to be her guardian in place of her grandmother, allowing her to continue her training. Gymnastics is the only thing Karen understands and takes him up on the offer.

Things get interesting when she meets her coach’s seventeen-year-old son, Jordan. He gets her in a way no one ever has and she soon discovers why. With shared pain, they bond on a deeper level than either of them has ever known. When friendship turns into something more, things get complicated considering they live in the same house. And oh yeah, his dad is her coach. Karen struggles with how to cope with unimaginable loss, plans for her future, and how to help Jordan cope with his own pain.

Plot
The plot is complex. The main plot is likely the relationship between Karen and Jordan, but there are strong subplots, including Karen’s gymnastics career, her ability to cope with the loss of her parents, the mystery surrounding the accident, the secret Jordan’s best friend Tony is hiding, and Jordan’s relationship with is father. Julie Cross manages to weave all of these together seamlessly, creating a beautiful tapestry of emotion. Letters to Nowhere is definitely a page turner, with increasing tension and heartfelt moments that are worth the wait.

World Building
As a former gymnast, Julie Cross creates an authentic world filled with juniors, worlds, elites, olympics, bars, vaults, floors, and more. I don’t know much (anything) about this world and yet I was so immersed in it, I could easily understand Karen’s drive, her fears, doubts, and goals.

Characters
All the characters are strong. Karen is deep, troubled, sympathetic, and exceedingly believable. Watching her process her grief and anger over her parents’ deaths is sometimes difficult. I love that it wasn’t an easy transition for her, that the author didn’t have her move on too quickly and make the dead parents just a plot vehicle for the romance. It’s more like the romance is there to help drive the grief plot. Everything Karen does is laced with thoughts of her parents. I love that she writes letters, sometimes only in her head, that she never intends to send. She writes letters to Jordan, her parents, and her coach, giving us a glimpse inside her head and allowing us to connect with her on a very deep level.

Jordan is equally fascinating, yet we only see him through Karen’s eyes. He’s sweet, loyal, a total daredevil, and he’s deeply wounded himself. Karen recognizes his pain for what it is and tries to help him through it.

The rest of the cast from Coach Bentley to the other gymnasts, and even Jordan’s best friend Tony, are well-rounded and support deeper plotting and characterization with their presence.

Bottom Line
Letters to Nowhere is a compelling young adult story that is as uplifting as it is tragic. Karen deals with loss, triumph, and first love, with equal parts grit and humor.

About the Book
Title:
 Letters to Nowhere
Series: Letters to Nowhere #1
Author: Julie Cross
Publisher: Long Walk Press
Release Date: August 1, 2013
Pages: 356
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

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Author Julie Cross

Author Julie Cross

About the Author
Julie Cross lives in Central Illinois with her husband and three children. She’s a former gymnast and 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 credentials, Julie is a committed—but not talented—long-distance runner, creator of imaginary beach vacations, Midwest bipolar-weather survivor, and expired CPR certification card holder, as well as a ponytail and gym-shoe addict.

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

Book Review – Voyager (Outlander Series) by Diana Gabaldon

Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

5 Stars

Synopsis
Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser.

Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny.

And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

My Review
This is my second favorite book in the series, after Outlander. There is so much intense passion and drama. The book moves from Claire in the 1960s as she travels with her daughter, Bree, to Scotland, to learn more about what happened to Jamie during the battle at Culloden. When she discovers that Jamie miraculously survived, she has to decide between staying in present day with her daughter or returning to 18th century Scotland to reconnect with the man she loves.

Since this is the third book in a nine (possibly ten or more) book series, I’m not giving anything away by saying she obviously chooses to return to another time. And that’s when things really get interesting. While Claire knows Jamie survived, Jamie is not prepared for Claire’s return and all hell breaks loose.

Plot
The story starts off slower than I’d like, but when it finally picks up, it takes off and never looks back. There’s a lot of ground covered. We see flashbacks of the past twenty years through both the eyes of Claire and Jamie. We also get glimpses inside the heads of Bree and Roger, the nephew of the Reverend that Claire and Frank had met nearly 25 years earlier when Claire first went through the stones. I’ll admit that I didn’t think Roger’s point of view added much to the story, but it didn’t annoy me, either. At more than 1,000 pages, this is really an epic tale that covers several continents and two centuries.

Characters
The characters are as intense and passionate as ever. The addition of an adult Bree is a fresh breath of air as is Roger, although Roger is the character I like the least. The grown up character of Fergus is a delight as is Young Ian, Jamie’s nephew.  The return of Laoghaire ignites fireworks along the lines of the Fourth of July debacle in San Diego in 2012 when they all went off at once. Several other interesting characters include Lord John Grey, Jamie’s fellow Jacobite survivors, and Jamie’s smuggling sidekick, Mr. Whiloughby.

Bottom Line
Voyager is a delightful, intense, and action-packed addition to the Outlander series.

Title: Dragonfly in Amber
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 1072
Category: Historical, Science Fiction, Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

YA Book Review – Whatever Life Throws At You by Julie Cross

Whatever Life Throws At You by Julie Cross

Whatever Life Throws At You by Julie Cross

5 Stars

Synopsis
Life loves a good curveball…

Seventeen-year-old Annie Lucas is too young to remember her dad’s glory days as a pitcher for the Yankees. So when her father is offered a coaching position with the Kansas City Royals, Annie is intrigued to see the baseball side of her dad. Of course, knowing he’ll be a mentor to hot young rookie pitcher, Jason Brody, certainly makes it more enticing.

After an awkward first meeting with “Brody” involving very little clothing and a much-too-personal locker room interview, Annie’s convinced she knows Brody’s type: arrogant, self-involved, bossy. As her dad grows closer to the pitching phenom, the friction between Brody and Annie increases. But when opening day arrives and it looks like both her dad and Brody may lose their dream jobs, Annie steps up and offers support.

She and Brody call a truce that grows into friendship—and beyond. Falling for a rising star who’s quickly reaching a level that involves rabid female fans is not what Annie would call smart, except suddenly she’s getting hints that maybe this crush isn’t one-sided after all.

Could someone like Brody actually fall for a girl like her?

My Review
Whatever Life Throws At You is my favorite young adult read since the Pepper Jones series, and Julie Cross is my new favorite YA author. I was immediately hooked, rooting for Annie, her dad, and the sometimes arrogant rookie pitcher, Jason Brody. This was one of those books I had a difficult time putting down and was often reading until mere hours before I needed to get up in the morning. The author does an amazing job of creating authentic teen characters, angst-dripping conflict, and a sweet romance that borders on steamy without ever straying over the line.

Annie Lucas and her father, a former pitching phenom before cancer took his leg, relocate from Arizona to Kansas City where her father will coach young Jason Brody. At only 19, he’s the youngest player on the team, and Annie watches as the rest of the team shuns him. As much as she’d like to tell him and his attitude where to go, she sees the vulnerable Brody beneath the cocky exterior.

Annie starts to fall for Brody, but he’s she’s still in high school and he’s been told in no uncertain terms to stay away from high school girls. Plus he’s got a reputation for taking a different girl to his hotel room every night. When friendship blossoms between them, Annie realizes there is far more to Brody than his public persona. And just maybe some of that reputation wasn’t legitimately earned.

Plot
The main plot is the relationship between Annie and Brody, and Julie Cross has managed to create a page-turning young adult novel without needing to include  action or adventure components. While the main plot kept me reading, the subplots of Annie’s relationship with her flighty mother, Brody’s rookie season, and her dad’s pitching contract, all play beautifully into the main storyline. Everything is expertly balanced and all wind up with a perfectly satisfying conclusions.

Characters
Annie Lucas is infinitely likeable as is Jason Brody. Annie’s relationship with her father is believable and beautifully crafted. Annie’s new BFF, Lenny London, daughter of the team’s star first baseman, is a fantastic foil to straight-laced Annie. In fact, the overwhelming majority of trouble Annie gets into is due to Lenny. Savannah, publicity maven and all around assistant to the Kansas City Royals, is the perfect female role model for Annie who is sorely in need of one.

Bottom Line
Whatever Life Throws At You is one of the ten best young adult romance novels I’ve read this year. It has everything: a strong female protagonist, a swoon-worthy boy, a fun and spirited best friend, family dysfunction, and truckloads of angst.

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

About the Book
Title:
 Whatever Life Throws At You
Author: Julie Cross
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Powells Books | Amazon UK

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Author Julie Cross

Author Julie Cross

About the Author
Julie Cross lives in Central Illinois with her husband and three children. She’s a former gymnast and 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 credentials, Julie is a committed—but not talented—long-distance runner, creator of imaginary beach vacations, Midwest bipolar-weather survivor, and 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 + Giveaway – Scar of the Bamboo Leaf by Sieni A.M.

Scar of the Bamboo Leaf by Sieni A.M. Blog Tour

Scar of the Bamboo Leaf by Sieni A.M.

Scar of the Bamboo Leaf by Sieni A.M.

5 Stars

Synopsis
“Her heart wept when she realized that the hardest part about loving him was the idea that his love was never meant for her.”

Walking with a pronounced limp all her life has never stopped fifteen-year-old Kiva Mau from doing what she loves. While most girls her age are playing sports and perfecting their traditional Samoan dance, Kiva finds serenity in her sketchbook and volunteering at the run-down art center her extended family owns.

When seventeen-year-old Ryler Cade steps into the art center for the first time, Kiva is drawn to the angry and misguided student sent from abroad to reform his violent ways. Scarred and tattooed, an unlikely friendship is formed when the gentle Kiva shows him kindness and beauty through art.
After a tragic accident leaves Kiva severely disfigured, she struggles to see the beauty she has been brought up to believe. Just when she thinks she’s found her place, Ryler begins to pull away, leaving her heartbroken and confused. The patriarch of the family then takes a turn for the worse and Kiva is forced to give up her dreams to help with familial obligations, until an old family secret surfaces that makes her question everything.

Immersed in the world of traditional art and culture, this is the story of self-sacrifice and discovery, of acceptance and forbearance, of overcoming adversity and finding one’s purpose. Spanning years, it is a story about an intuitive girl and a misunderstood boy and love that becomes real when tested.

My Review
Wow. Powerful is the first word that comes to mind, followed by heartwrenching. Scar of the Bamboo Leaf is a coming of age love story that transcends genre. It’s young adult, but it spans more than just the teen years. The story is flawlessly crafted, skillfully told, and evokes all the beauty of one of Kiva’s paintings. Vivid imagery and emotional depth thread through the novel bringing the story powerfully to life. Sieni A.M. has done her research, which is apparent throughout the novel. The setting and characters are so genuine, no you never question their authenticity.

Plot
Oh my gosh, where to begin. On the surface, it’s a tale of two people destined to be together, but their deep emotional and physical wounds prevent them from seeing what the rest of us know. But deeper, it’s the story of belonging, of understanding, self-discovery, acceptance, and forgiveness. The book is a tapestry of words, woven together to create a stunning picture when seen from a distance, but up close, you realize every thread is a work of art itself. The author uses descriptive prose to tell the story, the way a cinematographer uses cameras and lighting to create something more than just a movie.

Kiva is a fifteen-year old girl with a pronounced limp due to one leg being shorter than the other. She’s been abandoned by her mother and raised by her aunt and uncle. Ryler is a troubled teen sent to reform school in Samoa where he meets Kiva. The two are from different worlds, but have much in common, and form an unlikely friendship. When Ryler graduates and leaves without saying goodbye, Kiva is left broken hearted. The two meet up again years later and realize what the reader knows, that they belong together. But the story is so much more than that.

Characters
The characters shine. They are deeply developed, intense, complex and stick with you long after you’ve read the epilogue. Kiva is especially strong. The things she has to deal with…and yet she takes everything life hands her and channels it into her art. Ryler is fantastic. He grows so much. Even Hana, who is less than sympathetic at first isn’t a weak character. She is just as richly characterized as the two main characters.

Bottom Line
Scar of the Bamboo Leaf is brilliantly written, complex, poignant and deeply moving. It left me stunned, wrung-out, and touched beyond what I was expecting.

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

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Excerpt
The white van’s presence in the driveway made Kiva’s heart thud against her ribs, and a mysterious anticipation settled over her. Hobbling into the house, she carried out her chores with efficiency, hanging the laundry on the line and checking on Masi’s bowl while stealing curious glances at the art center.

After a long pause, she decided to enter it.

Poised along the far wall to avoid distraction, Kiva perused the students scattered around the room, heads and shoulders bent over their wood carvings, the clink and thud of the chisel and mallet competing over each other. Mau paced his time with each student evenly, making his way around, offering guidance when needed. Kiva couldn’t make out his words from where she sat, only a few low mutterings accompanied by the shake or nod of his head.

Her eyes strayed until they settled on the boy with the mysterious tattoo. Ryler. Her suspicions were correct about his work when she noticed the slab of wood with the sliced words in front of him. He hadn’t spoken a word to any of the other boys, didn’t acknowledge them, and they avoided him too, as if he’d erected an invisible wall and they were aware of it.

Her uncle had no problem stepping through it though. He was with him now, speaking in low tones and gesturing to his work. What was he saying? Kiva strained to hear, but nothing came to her over the cacophony of sounds in the room. A muscle in Ryler’s jaw ticked as he sat, head bent, listening to him. Mau remained with him for some time, talking and listening, acknowledging the need to spend more time. Finally, he gave him a tap on the shoulder and a satisfied nod before moving away.

Kiva noticed when Ryler picked up a carving knife, pausing in concentration, his face tentative and contemplative, before he met it with wood, the muscles in his broad back contorting and flexing from the grip and release of the tool. What had he decided to carve? Kiva wanted to inch her way forward to find out but kept herself firmly planted. An hour passed and still she sat riveted to her spot.

A couple sharp drops on the roof were the only warning to the torrential downpour that followed.

“Makiva!” Hana’s voice shouted from across the yard and made her jump. “It’s raining! Get the laundry!”

Kiva scrambled off the floor, the noise drawing attention, and limped as quickly as she could to the line. The knifelike raindrops hit her on the back, stinging, and soaked through her shirt. Ignoring the pricks, she rushed to unpeg each piece of clothing, throwing it in the bucket and returning for more. The rain came down harder and faster, blurring her eyesight, the sound of a thunderclap roaring in her ears. Tea towels, Mau’s shirt, Hana’s school skirt. Breathless, her quick movements had long ago uncoiled her hair, wild and swirling in the wind; the pencil slipped out, lost somewhere. She was nearing the end of the line, grappling with a sheet, when she glanced up and noticed the boys running from the center to the van, their lesson over.

Ryler appeared last through the door, his brown eyes trained on her, and descended the stairs with heavy, deliberate steps. Kiva stared wide eyed as he stepped into the rain and came toward her with unhurried, even strides. She watched as raindrops pelted his gray shirt, soaking through to his shoulders until the wet dots spread and connected.

When he was a foot away, he lifted his hand.

“You dropped this,” he said, his voice low and hoarse, as if he was just getting over a cold. He smelled of wood dust and sweat.

She glanced down at his hand and saw the pencil she used to pin up her hair. It must have fallen in the art center in her haste to get to the laundry. Reaching for it, she noticed the deep scars on his left wrist and paused. From this close they looked even worse.

“It’s not what you think,” he answered, interpreting her thoughts.

Kiva snapped her eyes to his face. His brown eyes penetrated hers, thick lashes dripping from the rain, a line formed between his eyebrows. She tried not to fidget under his gaze and glanced to the right of his face. She saw a scar near his eye, something she hadn’t noticed before.

She calmly returned her gaze to him. “And what do I think?”

Ryler took a step closer. “You think that I did this to myself on purpose.”

“Did you?” She breathed.

He shook his head. “It was from a fight. The other guy had a broken bottle and I tried to block him.”

Kiva hissed as if she had been the one cut open and bleeding. Her eyes found the scar again and her stomach plummeted at the thought of the pain it must have caused. She felt suddenly light-headed and blinked to clear the blur clouding her mind.

“Are you alright?” he asked, concern laced in his voice.

She took slow, even breaths and nodded her head.

The sound of the van’s horn blared from the drive way.

“Ryler! Hurry up, we’re going!” A superior impatiently gestured for him in the rain.

“You better go,” Kiva said hastily. “Thanks for returning this.” She took the pencil from his hand and curled her fingers around it.

Ryler remained unmoving. Why wasn’t he going? Did he want to get into trouble? He finally stepped away and turned, jogging over to the waiting van, his shirt now drenched through and stuck to his retreating back.

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About the Book
Title: Scar of the Bamboo Leaf
Author: Sieni A.M.
Release Date: July 9, 2014
Pages: 358
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Author Sieni A.M.

Author Sieni A.M.

About the Author
Sieni A.M. is a coffee addict, Instagram enthusiast, world traveler, and avid reader turned writer. She graduated as an English and History high school teacher from the University of Canterbury and is currently living in Israel with her husband and two daughters. “Scar of the Bamboo Leaf” is her second novel.

Where to Find Sieni A.M.
Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Pinterest Amazon

Giveaway
5 ecopies of Scar of the Bamboo Leaf via Amazon
a Rafflecopter giveaway