Synopsis A teen forger and thief forms a criminal crew from her high school friends (and crush) to perform a series of heists leading to the location of her missing mother in this action-packed contemporary YA novel.
By day, seventeen-year-old Fiona Spangler runs small cons for her ritzy prep-school classmates: getting them out of tests and forging fake hall passes. But by night, Fiona joins her dad on riskier heists: stealing back the clue-filled forgeries her mom scattered across the country before she disappeared. Fiona desperately hopes that her mother will be waiting at the end of the scavenger hunt she left behind.
And they are SO close. Just three more heists remain, but then disaster strikes when Fiona’s dad is captured by the FBI. Desperate to finish the job and save what’s left of her family, Fiona assembles of crew of teen criminals: a master of disguise who can transform into anyone, a talented hacker who only communicates in glares, and a rival con artist with a vendetta against—and possible crush on—Fiona.
All they have to do is perform three nearly impossible heists, solve her mother’s incredibly complex clues, and evade the FBI. Easy, right?
My Review This was a nice diversion from real life, and just what I needed. Seventeen-year-old Fiona is the daughter of con artists. Her entire life has been devoted to learning the craft of the con. A talented artist and impeccable forger, she and her family have been pulling cons as long as she can remember. But when she was ten, her mother disappeared and left clues on how to find her in her forgeries. Fiona and her dad have been working to retrieve the forgeries and the clues so the family can be together again. At least until her father is caught pulling a job. Now Fiona must complete the mission herself. She pulls together a ragtag crew of high school friends, including a tech genius, a former cosplayer turned master of disguise, and her arch nemesis, but charming classmate she may or may not have a thing for,
Plot The story centers around Fiona finding her mother and the heists she needs to complete to gather all the clues to find her mother. The heists were well-planned and executed, and added such an entertaining thread through the book. There is a subtle romantic element with Colin, the son of the FBI agent who arrested her father and a number of twists; some I saw coming, others I didn’t, making this a well-plotted fun read.
The Characters The characters are what really makes this story. Fiona is a fully-engaging anti-hero as a con artist. At no point did I not pull for her. She’s a criminal, but she was so lovable and relatable, I wanted her to succeed at every turn. Her dad, while singularly driven, still clearly loves his daughter and puts her needs above his own. Her best friend Natalie and her tech guru, Tig, are both interesting in their own ways. And Colin, as the potential love interest, is just as complex as Fiona.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About THE CON CODE 1. Heists. We’ve been rewatching the Ocean’s Eleven movie franchise and I forgot how fun a well-developed con can be.
2. Fiona. She is so dedicated to finding her mom, but her loyalty to her crew at all costs makes her a hero to root for to the very end.
3. Action. The story moves with a lot of action and edge-of-your-seat suspense.
4. Loyalty. Fiona is loyal to her family and her friends and those loyalties are tested, making her even more relatable.
5. The Ending. I wasn’t sure how things were going to end up, but the author did a great job of wrapping everything up in a satisfying ending that wasn’t predictable.
Bottom Line A thrilling escapist read with fantastic characters and lots of action.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Shana Silver studied creative writing at Syracuse University. She’s been a computer animator, an e-book creator for a major publisher, and now works as a Project Manager in digital and TV advertising where she enjoys telling people what to do. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, young daughter, and the characters she dreams up. MIND GAMES is her debut novel. THE CON CODE comes out in Summer 2020.
THE INVENTION OF SOPHIE CARTER by Samantha Hastings
Synopsis Identical twin sisters take turns swapping places over the course of a summer in order to pursue their secret ambitions in Samantha Hastings’ Victorian YA romance.
1851. Bounced from one begrudging relative to another their whole lives, orphaned identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter have always relied on each other for love and support, even though the sisters couldn’t be more different.
Brash Sophie wants to be an inventor, and demure Mariah wants to be an artist. Both long to visit London for the summer—Sophie to see the Queen’s Great Exhibition and Mariah to study the world’s finest collection of paintings. But when their cantankerous aunt answers their letter pleading for a place to stay, she insists she only has time and room to spare for one of them.
So, Mariah and Sophie hatch a clever scheme: They will travel to London together and take turns playing the part of “Sophie”.
At first the plan runs like clockwork. But as the girls avoid getting caught by increasingly narrow margins and two handsome gentlemen—both of whom think they’re falling in love with the real Sophie Carter—enter the equation, the sisters find they don’t have the situation quite as under control as they thought.
With all sorts of delightful Parent Trap-style identical twin hijinks, The Invention of Sophie Carter is the perfect light-and-sweet palate cleanser.
My Review Set against the backdrop of the London Exhibition in 1851, THE INVENTION OF SOPHIE CARTER is the story of two identical twins sharing a single identity in London society. Sophie seeks an apprenticeship, something unheard of for women at the time, and her twin, Mariah, seeks a husband. With only one of them interested in romance, what could possibly go wrong? Enter Ethan, the wealthy son of factory owners who captures Sophie’s heart. But since things aren’t going to go smoothly, Mariah’s heart belongs to her aunt’s ward, Charles, though her aunt has warned her to not engage his interests. As the two pursue their individual goals, entanglements get messy until things come to an inevitable head. This lighthearted historical romance is full of humor, heart, and cutting edge technology, Victorian style.
Plot The plot is forked with each sister having her own goal and her own arc. We get dual third-person point of view getting deep into both Mariah’s and Sophie’s heads. As each sister chases her own goal, the are also deeply affected by the events that impact the other. Though they are unique individuals, they are tied together by more than just blood and identical DNA, since they are pretending to be the same person. This is my second novel by Samantha Hastings and she is excellent at plotting and brings her historical world to life both accurately and in a way that makes even nearly 200 years ago feel fresh and familiar.
The Characters All of the characters are amazing. From the selfish, vile adults who treated the girls so poorly as children, to the rich cast in London, from the super wealthy to the average citizens, fro, eccentric artists to snooty aunts. The story is inhabited by amazing, three-dimensional personalities that made this an easy, engaging read.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About THE INVENTION OF SOPHIE CARTER 1. Mariah. She’s the softer of the two sisters and loves art. She’s a talented self-trained artist with dreams of her own beyond just finding a husband.
2. Sophie. She’s tenacious, driven, and stubborn to the core. She is me if I would have been born in Victorian times.
3. Charles. He’s hot and cold, but there is so much more underlying his aloof facade.
4. Ethan. It’s evident from the beginning that he is the perfect match for Sophie. I love that he never gives up.
5. Victorian London. The setting is as much a character in this story as its human counterparts.
Bottom Line A wonderful historic romance with breathtaking characters against a colorful backdrop.
About the Author Samantha Hastings has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Reading (Berkshire, England), and the University of North Texas. She met her husband in a turkey sandwich line. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spends most of her time reading, eating popcorn, and chasing her kids. She is the author of THE LAST WORD, THE INVENTION OF SOPHIE CARTER, and A ROYAL CHRISTMAS QUANDARY.
RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES, A Story of Faith, Politics, and the Common Good by Robb Ryerse
Synopsis Empowered by the Brand New Congress initiative in 2018, evangelical pastor and progressive Republican Robb Ryerse embarked on a long-shot, grassroots congressional campaign against Steve Womack, one of the most powerful Republican incumbents in Washington, DC. After he ultimately lost his race, Ryerse worked with the Vote Common Good campaign, traveling across the United States to help turn Congress blue.
Throughout his political journey, Ryerse gained new insights on the relationship between religion and politics in America today, the dynamics of our deep partisan divide, and the power of faithful people working for the common good. Running for Our Lives is the honest and authentic story of how one pastor tried to make a difference. Through all the joys and struggles of daring to make a stand, Ryerse shares what he’s learned about how our political identities shape us, what the role of government has in helping to meet peoples needs, and how others can get involved in politics as an expression of progressive faith.
My Review When I saw this title on NetGalley, I was sure it was something I wanted to read. What I didn’t know was if it would infuriate me, give me hope, or change my views. But after finally deciding to request it, I’m happy to report that it did all three. I’m a strong believer in a solid wall between church and state. The state shouldn’t be telling religious institutions how to worship and religious institutions shouldn’t be trying to tell the American people how to live. I didn’t know anything about author, Robb Ryerse, before starting this book, but I soon learned he’s a pastor in Arkansas who ran to unseat the incumbent congressman from his district. I wasn’t sure if he was going to try to convert me to his way of thinking regarding the intersection of politics and faith, but I went into it with an open mind. No one is going to convert me to their religious beliefs at this point in my life, but I was willing to entertain different ideas on how elected officials and the faithful can best serve their country without sacrificing their beliefs.
RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES is about a lot of things. It’s about how politics work in America (hint, it’s seriously broken), how many of the American faithful have embraced an immoral president in the name of Jesus, and how people of faith can put their beliefs in action without trampling on the rights of others to believe something differently. I found this book refreshing. Having been raised Catholic, Robb and I have had very different religious upbringings, and yet we oddly have similar ideas when it comes to the teachings of Jesus. Nowhere does Jesus say that we should blame the poor for their circumstances. Nor did he ever say to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others if it mean less financial security for you. Yet I see these ideas being shared by Christians. That, “If only those people would do what I did, they wouldn’t be poor.” Or “We can’t help everyone.” I get it. We can’t necessarily help everyone, but we also shouldn’t, as a nation, make life harder for people in their own countries with our policies. But that is exactly what happens when our president rails about trade deficits with countries like Mexico. Mexico has a population of less than half of the United States and a GDP per capita of just $9,670 vs. our $62,794. It is unconscionable to expect a nation of impoverished citizens to buy the same amount of US products as we do from them. It is also very unchristian. Nowhere will you find Jesus demanding the poor buy more of your products in order for you to buy more of theirs. That is not how Christianity works.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Robb is my kind of Christian. Someone who really gets that Christianity is not about getting rich, or even ensuring your are comfortable enough before you help the less fortunate. I also completely understand the argument that Jesus wasn’t talking about government. He was talking about people. But people have let down the poor over and over and over again. When that happens, governments have the duty to ensure no one falls through the cracks as part of ensuring the common good. If people would step up and do what’s right, government wouldn’t need to. To ignore the crisis at our southern border because they aren’t Americans is a grievous sin in my opinion.
Once I realized Robb saw human suffering the same way I did, I was even more willing to really hear what he had to say. I highlighted more passages in his book than any other I’ve ever read. The following are some of my favorites:
Could we as potential candidates for Congress demonstrate that people are more important than party?
I’m so tired of both major political parties putting their party loyalty above their duty to their constituents, those who elected them to office in the first place. But we see it time and time again. It’s one of the biggest reasons people hate government. We feel as if government works for itself, but not for us. What is surprising about this is that most people think their own particular elected officials are generally doing a good job, but it’s those “other” guys who are messing it up. Which is why incumbents have such a high rate of reelection. I loved that Robb really got it and that he was determined to do whatever little part he could to right that enormous wrong.
Those who are cynical about American politics are convinced that the tribalism of the two-party system can’t be overcome. They frequently complain that their elected officials won’t cross the aisle to compromise. But how can we expect our leaders to put people ahead of party if we’re unwilling to do it first?
This is another paragraph that really stuck with me. I’ve been guilty as much of anyone of believing that I’m right. Because if I didn’t think I was right about an issue, I would be searching for what WAS right. And even if I think I’m right, I also know that nothing good ever comes from forcing my opinions onto others. We ping pong back and forth between liberal and conservative policies, depending on who is in the White House, giving the country whiplash. But if we stopped trying to make everyone bend to our will and realize that compromise is a beautiful word, not a curse, everyone could get a little of what they wanted, but no one would get everything they want. It means our country will change gradually, even if a big overhaul is what many of us believe is needed. But these gradual changes are more likely to be lasting changes that can be built upon over time.
The twenty-four hour news cycle means that each and every minute of airtime has to be filled in a way that drives ratings among people who already know the news. For this reason, sensationalized stories that feed the public’s appetite for entertainment and draw the largest audience get more play than substantive stories.
He precedes this statement by mentioning that everyone walks around with a handheld computer in their pocket, pushing news headlines constantly to our attention. So if we read that Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in five different news stories on our phones, when we tune into the news later, we don’t want to see what we already know. So the cable news channels look for that angle, the something different they think will appeal to their viewers. For Fox News it may be how the DNC orchestrated once again, a scenario to allow the establishment candidate to win the nomination. But CNN may start speculating on who Biden’s running mate may be, and MSNBC may run with the ideas that Bernie brought to the table and how they changed the conversation within the Democratic party. All of which leads to Americans, understandably so, believing the cable new stations are biased. I think it’s far less about the stations being biased and more that their viewers are biased and they know it. They want to appeal to their viewers, even if it means slanting a story a certain way. In most cases, the media gets the facts right. Not always, but more often than not. Where bias comes in is how they present those facts, and of course, the salacious punditry, speculating on everything and anything when additional facts are not available.
I started to refer to myself as an “Eisenhower Republican,” because I wanted people to recognize that I was not trying to do something that had never been done. I was trying to stand on the shoulders of other Republican leaders who fought for progressive ideas.
Robb ran as a “progressive” republican. Many people on the campaign trail asked him why he was running as a republican, if he was a progressive, and not as a democrat. He had to explain time and again that his ideas were the same ideas of republican presidents of the past. The party has shifted from what it once was, but that doesn’t mean Robb wants to abandon the party of Eisenhower and Reagan. Rather, he wants to bring the party back to what it once was. I found that refreshing, particularly with so many republicans allowing their party to be hijacked by nationalism and protectionist policies.
Blaming social media and cable news networks for this division is easy, but assigning blame doesn’t help us move beyond it.
He’s so right. We often look at how divided this nation is right now and point to Twitter and Facebook, which have made it easy to spread false information and to attack people for holding views different from ours from the safety of our keyboards. These platforms allow us to shut off our phone if we don’t like the ugliness we started with our harsh words. But saying that the cable news channels who pander to their viewers’ beliefs or the internet for making it easy for us to find our echo chambers, doesn’t help us do anything about it, unless we’re ready to give up cable news and computers. Instead, he offers his own thoughts on how to move ahead as a more civil society. His background as a pastor provides him with a different worldview than mine and gave me a lot to think about.
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God and others as we love ourselves. This is not two commandments, but one, a unified vision of love. It is recognizing that when we love others, we love God. When we feed the hungry, visit the incarcerated, welcome the stranger, and care for the sick, we are serving not just other people but Jesus himself. … In fact, maybe the most loving thing I can do when I enter the voting booth is to cast my ballot not for my own interests but for the common good.
This may have be the single most powerful few paragraphs in the book. Here is where he really breaks down his views on how religion and politics should mix. How faith can influence our vote, but not in the way I’ve always assumed. I always thought that Christians voted for other Christians, assuming they would bring about Christian policies. But it goes much deeper than that in Robb’s view and I found myself nodding throughout this chapter.
Until our campaign finance system is revamped, the best–and I believe only–hope we have for significant and needed change in Washington is working Americans supporting grassroots candidates with acupunctural interventions of small-dollar donations.
This is where the book infuriated me. Robb talks about how campaign financing works and how much it costs JUST to get your name on ballot to run. He also explains how, with big money donors, once elected, incumbents are tasked with making fundraising calls by their respective parties, eating up large chunks of their day. Time they are not spending working for the people who elected them. I know money in politics is a problem, but Robb’s inside information on the workings of elected officials in congress was mind-numbingly maddening. This is not what we send them to Washington to do. Also, if they need this money to get re-elected, where do their loyalties lie? Ryerse provides concrete examples of how this plays out, and trust me, none of it is good for average Americans.
This was an incredibly fast and engrossing read and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in understanding politics in this country. You do not need to be a republican to appreciate it. You do not need to be a progressive of any party to understand what’s at stake. And you do not need to be a Christian to find something deeply satisfying to take away from this book.
Bottom Line An eye-opening, stunning look at American politics from an outsider’s point of view.
About the Author Robb is the copastor of Vintage Fellowship, a progressive evangelical church in Fayetteville Arkansas. He serves as the Executive Director of Brand New Congress and the Political Director of Vote Common Good. In 2018, Robb ran for United State Congress in the Republican primary in Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District.
He lives in Northwest Arkansas with his wife Vanessa and four children.
Robb is a graduate of Mission Seminary in Philadelphia PA and Clarks Summit University in Clarks Summit PA.
He is the author of Running For Our Lives: A Story of Faith, Politics and the Common Good and Fundamorphosis: How I Left Fundamentalism But Didn’t Lose My Faith..
THE GAME CHANGER (Parkwood Mysteries #1) by Jennifer Brown
Synopsis Hollis and Daisy love podcasting about murder cases…But can they solve one?
Hollis Bisbee used to be a big-city crime reporter. Now, she’s a small-town journalist, and she’s bored. She and a young mom, talented baker Daisy Mueller, start the Knock ‘Em Dead podcast—”Where murder and muffins meet!” It’s all fun, games, and baking tips until murder comes to Parkwood.
After a brutal homecoming game loss, the coach of the rival football team is the victim of a hit-and-run in the high school parking lot. The entire town is on edge, and the star quarterback—who happens to be the police chief’s son—may just look the guiltiest of all.
With Hollis’s investigative skills and Daisy’s famous muffins…and in spite of the charming rookie police officer tasked with keeping Hollis out of the way…the podcasting duo sets out to solve their first real case.
This cozy mystery includes a killer free recipe for Daisy’s Cherry Chocolate Chunk Muffins.
My Review OMG! How much do I love this book? Soooooo much! Seriously, this is just the thing I needed to help break up my post-holiday blahs. Hollis Bisbee is a reporter of a tiny newspaper in Parkwood, Missouri. She writes about hotdog rollers and new vacuum stores in the local mall. A former crime reporter in Chicago, to say her job lacks the excitement she’s used to would be a gross understatement. While interviewing the snack bar supervisor at Friday night’s big high school homecoming football game, an altercation occurs on the field between the Parkwood quarterback and the opposing team’s coach. When not long after the game, said coach ends up dead in the Parkwood High parking lot, things get a little sticky for Hollis and her best friend, Daisy, who have a true crime murder podcast that is equal parts macabre and munchies, since Daisy is also the best baker in town and uses the platform to help promote her baking business. And when Hollis discovers the quarterback is also the sheriff’s son, and the death has been ruled natural causes, Hollis has had enough of her feel good pieces and drags Daisy into an investigation that the sheriff, the new local hunky deputy, and her boss, the paper’s editor, can’t catch wind of.
Plot The primary plot is the murder mystery and it’s exceptional. There were so many red herrings, I got to the point where I suspected it was going to be a MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS ending. There are a few minor subplots including Hollis’s job and a budding romance with Office Blue Eyes, but they were just there to round out the main plot. This was such a fun ride, I’m anxiously awaiting more Parkwood Mysteries!
Characters The characters are THE best! I would read anything with Hollis and Daisy in it. They’re both hysterical, witty, charming, and definitely the kind of people you’d hang out with in real life if they weren’t just figments of Brown’s imagination. Maybe I just need to hang out with the author in real life! Hollis is amazing as the spirited reporter who refuses to take no for an answer. Her bff and sidekick, Daisy, is a stay-at-home mom to like 32 kids. Entire scenes are devoted to her chewing out one kid after another as she still manages to carry on a coherent conversation with Hollis. She’s quick on her feet and helps Hollis out more than a few tight spaces. The rest of the cast, including Officer Hopkins, with his muscles and impossibly blue eyes, are just as warm and loveably quirky as Hollis and Daisy. If Hallmark makes this into a movie or a TV show, I’m all in.
What I Loved About THE GAME CHANGER 1. Everything. Seriously, I can’t find any fault with this book. The story, the characters, the writing, everything is top notch.
2. Hollis. She’s funny, smart, endearing, and tenacious.
3. Daisy. The best BFF ever and the type of person we all want in our lives.
4. The Mystery. Really well done. One of the best I’ve read in the genre in a long time.
5. Podcasting. My co-author and I have been toying with the idea of starting a pod cast in the near future, but nothing we come up with will ever be as good as the Hollis and Daisy show.
Bottom Line An absolutely adorable cozy mystery with a sweet romance and some of the best damn characters in the book world.
Disclaimer I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Jennifer Brown is the author of acclaimed young adult novels, Hate List, Bitter End, Perfect Escape, Thousand Words, Torn Away, and the Shade Me series. Her debut novel, Hate List, received three starred reviews and was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA “Perfect Ten,” and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Bitter End received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA and is listed on the YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.
Jennifer also writes middle grade novels — her debut novel, Life on Mars, was the winner of the 2017 William Allen White Children’s Book Award. She also writes women’s fiction under the name Jennifer Scott. Visit her at www.JenniferScottAuthor.com Jennifer writes and lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area, with her husband and three children.
Jennifer is available for school visits, workshops, classroom and book club Skypes, and speaking engagements. Contact JenniferBrownYA@gmail.com to book her for your next event!
Synopsis Two sworn enemies start to fall in love through anonymous notes in How to Speak Boy, a fun and charming YA novel from Tiana Smith.
Quinn and Grayson have been fierce speech and debate rivals for years. They can’t stand one another, either in competition or in real life.
But when their AP Government teacher returns their school assignments to the wrong cubbies, they begin exchanging anonymous notes without knowing who the other one is.
Despite their differences, the two come together through their letters and find themselves unknowingly falling for the competition. Before the state tournament, the two of them need to figure out what they want out of life, or risk their own future happiness. After all, what’s the point of speech and debate if you can’t say what’s in your heart?
My Review Quinn is serious, hardworking, and in desperate need of a little fun, but she’s vying for President of the Speech and Debate Club against her arch nemesis, the utterly swoon-worthy Grayson, so fun isn’t on the agenda. She’s as competitive as she is smart, but unfortunately, nothing comes easy to Quinn. She has to work twice as hard as Grayson to be successful, or so she believes. That makes it hard for her to let her guard down around him. Even though he’s adorably perfect. Quinn’s two closest friends, Naomi and Carter, have their own ideas about Grayson. Naomi is pro-romance and Carter is dead-set against it. Apparently Grayson has a reputation of sorts and wants to protect Quinn. But the more time that passes, the more it becomes clear that Carter has an ulterior motive in keeping Quinn and Grayson apart. Underlying it all is a mysterious student who Quinn corresponds with the old fashioned way — pen to paper. With three boys vying for her interests, she’s not sure where to turn or who she can really trust.
Plot The main plot is the romance between Quinn and Grayson, but there are a number of subplots that involve Quinn’s college future, the mysterious letter writer, her speech performance at the state finals, and her relationship with Carter. All expertly weave into the main plot to drive conflict and up the stakes. Although the reader knows who the letter writer is, well, if they read the synopsis, it’s fun watching Quinn try to figure it out. But it also adds an element of wanting to see if they’re just going to tell each other, that made turning the page to see what would happen compelling. While it did take me a good few chapters to really get into this story, because I’ll admit, speech and debate didn’t interest me in the least, once I was invested int he characters, I was all in to the story. So don’t let this aspect of the plot detract you from picking up this really awesome book.
Characters The characters are what I loved most about the book. Quinn is so relatable as an awkward teen who strives to do her best in everything, but keeps coming up short. Her growth comes across as authentic and organic. Her BFF, Naomi is the everything Quinn’s not but wishes she was, making her the perfect sidekick. Carter was a little annoying, but necessary. Not every character needs to be likable, and who doesn’t know at least on Carter? Grayson was adorable as the self-assured son of the the Governor who seems to have everything he’s ever wanted, but underlying it all is a vulnerability that only adds to his attractiveness.
What I Enjoyed About HOW TO SPEAK BOY 1. Quinn. She’s adorkably awkward and utterly endearing. I couldn’t help rooting for her.
2. Grayson. He’s sweet, smart, and hot. The perfect BBF.
3. Quinn’s Mom. I love their relationship. She’s the proper blend of confidant and authoritarian, just what Quinn needs, when she needs her to be.
4. Letter Writing. In a digital world, it was a refreshing throwback to my own high school days.
5. Speech and Debate. Okay, so I’m still not sure I’d ever join this club or find going to these events interesting, but the way the author wrote about these moments, definitely piqued my interest.
What Didn’t Quite Work for Me The story and characters were amazing and I loved the speech angle. But the ending fell flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a HFN ending, but I didn’t have quite the bang I was hoping for, what I felt it was building up to. That said, the author wraps everything up in a satisfying conclusion.
Bottom Line A cute contemporary romance with adorable characters you can’t help pulling for.
About the Author Tiana Smith is a copywriter turned novelist who grew up in the Rocky Mountains. When she isn’t writing, she’s chasing after her ninja boy, reading, or binging the Disney Channel. She’d love to be fluent in sign language, but for now she gets by with awkward hand gestures and even more awkward French. She has double degrees in Honors and English from Westminster College but wants to go back to school to be a lion tamer.
THE PRINCESS PROBLEM (Unexpectedly Royal #1) by Christi Barth
Synopsis What girl doesn’t want to wear a tiara? Me. The one who lives in yoga pants and knows she’s not special enough to be a princess.
One minute I’m starting my dream life in NYC, and the next, a man too hot for his own good is banging on my door, telling me that I’m a long lost princess of a country on the other side of the Atlantic.
Not exactly your typical Friday night in the Big Apple.
Suddenly, all of my plans for the future are yanked away. I’m trapped in a life filled with social obligations—and stilettos!—and an uptight royal family I didn’t know existed. They, and the whole rest of the freaking country, have lofty expectations I’m not sure I can meet.
At least the aforementioned sexalicious man, Elias, is my constant shadow, protecting me with his life. The whole situation is overwhelming. So I’ve secretly put him in charge of my happiness, too…and he’s taking my orders very, very seriously.
So seriously, I’m falling for him even harder than the new country I’m coming to…maybe…love.
And that’s a major problem, because he’s crazy about me, too. I may not know all the zillion rules about being royal, but I know one for sure: No way can a princess date her bodyguard…
Each book in the Unexpectedly Royal series is STANDALONE: * The Princess Problem * Ruling the Princess
My Review Kelsey and her big sister Mallory have just moved to the Big Apple, NYC, Manhattan, and are ready to live the dream they’ve been planning and saving up for for nearly a decade. After finally moving into their tiny apartment, they begin to unpack and dive into life in the big city at full steam when a knock on the door changes everything. Kelsey’s world is upended when she’s told she’s the long-lost daughter of the king of a small country nestled near the Italian coastline. A country she’s never heard of. They tell her she was kidnapped as an infant, something that makes no sense to Kelsey, who grew up in a very decidedly middle class family that was perfectly average in every way. She never had even a hint that she was a) adopted or b) kidnapped. None of it makes any sense to her or Mallory. And the fact that she can’t reach her parents, only makes matters worse when government officials from Moncriano want her to return to her home country. Elias, her self-described body guard is as hot as he is foreign, only muddying the waters further.
Kelsey not only needs to navigate royal life, bond with a family she’s never known, come to terms with her past, but also decide in two weeks if she’s ready to embrace her true identity and give up the only way of life she’s ever known. Yeah, no pressure there.
Kelsey must embrace her true roots or not. That’s the heart of the story. But the romance with Elias is a strong subplot. Her journey throws a lot of obstacles in her way, not the least of which is getting to know her royal family. With her birth mother having already died, her father, the king, is struggling with embracing the daughter he believed gone forever. She has a brother for the first time ever, but also an older sister who seems to hate her. The fact that Elias is her subject as well as her employee makes any relationship completely off limits. Which of course only makes the sparks fly hotter.
My biggest problem with this book is that Kelsey seems to take it all in stride. The fact that she’s willing to just go with the hot stranger without verifying anything for herself, that she’s not more distraught over her past and secrets withheld from her, ate away at me at a low level as she meets her “real” family. She mentions a few times in passing that her parents weren’t kidnappers, but this should have been driving some serious low-level angst in everything she does. Instead, less than 20% in, she’s snogging her security detail in the garden instead of having an identity crisis of epic proportions. But if you can overlook this for the sake of convenience, it’s a lighthearted take on what it’s like to be unexpectedly thrust into royal life, like a grown-up THE PRINCESS DIARIES. It’s definitely a fun, fast read.
The characters aren’t terribly deep, but they are fun, and not stereotypical. Kelsey is delightful as the reluctant royal and her sister, Mallory, is hysterical as her partner in crime. I love Kelsey’s loyalty to Mallory as well as her sense of duty to both her families. Elias is honor-bound and full of principle. Princess Genevieve is so relatable as the older sister whose entire life has been shaped by Kelsey’s kidnapping and is struggling with yet the latest upheaval in her relatively short life. Prince Christian is adorable as the loving older brother who has no idea how to interact with his youngest sister. I was totally pulling for a Christian/Mallory side romance. The rest of the characters are there to provide humor and conflict and do their jobs well. There really isn’t a whole lot for any of them to overcome on a deep level, leaving this more plot-based than character-based and that’s perfect for a romantic comedy.
What I Enjoyed About THE PRINCESS PROBLEM 1. Royalty. Sure, Americans don’t have our own royalty, in fact if anything we’re anti-royal since our whole country was founded on bucking the monarchy, but it’s still fun to get a behind-the-scenes reminder of why being a princess would suck on almost every level.
2. Elias. Not only is he yummy to look at, but his sense of duty and honor makes him nearly irresistible.
3. Christian. He walks a fine line between the duties of heir to the throne and that of an adoring older brother with class, humor, and intense hotness.
4. Mallory. Kelsey is her sister. She always has been and she always will be, regardless of Kelsey’s royal status. I love how nothing changes for her when it comes to her little sister.
5. Politics. I’ll admit, I didn’t really expect that in this story, but it plays into everything, although with a light touch by the author. It adds intrigue that would otherwise be missing.
Bottom Line A super fun, lighthearted royal romance.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author USA TODAY bestseller Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage. A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning. Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance.
Christi can always be found either whipping up gourmet meals (for fun, honest!) or with her nose in a book. She lives in Maryland with the best husband in the world.
Synopsis Harper Delaney is a newly certified elementary school teacher with the mountain of student loan debt to prove it. Moving back to her claustrophobically small hometown is about as tempting as two week old sushi, but the allure of free rent and a guaranteed summer teaching job are undeniable.
On the hunt for her dream job in San Francisco, Harper just needs to survive the summer without murdering Elijah Monroe. He may have grown into a scorchingly hot fireman, but he’s still her nemesis. Harper gave Elijah her heart when she was sixteen, and never forgave the jerk for not wanting it. Probably for the best, since he’s also her stepbrother.
Elijah still makes Harper’s blood boil and heart race. And he knows it. She’ll wipe that smug smirk off his gorgeous face before leaving town. The only question is if she wants to do it with a kiss or a slap.
My Review I love a good enemies to lovers story, and this was that on steroids. The emotions are intense from the moment Harper meets Eli, the teenage son of her father’s soon to be wife. Sixteen-year-old Harper is uprooted from her beloved San Francisco to a small town in the northern part of the state, where the trees are taller, but the people are more infuriating than what she’s used to. When Harper first lays eyes on Eli, she’s head over heels in love. Before he utters a single word, she determines that he is “the one” for her. Her everything. Until he opens his mouth. The hate/love/hate relationship begins with sparks that fly through the entire story. Eli’s father died before Eli was born and Harper’s mom abandoned her and her father, leaving both teens with massive scars. Harper suffers from serious insecurities to the point that all Eli has to do is smile at her and she’s suddenly in love with him all over again. Eli is brooding and moody, running hot and cold. The relationship is so fraught, that Harper flees back to San Francisco as soon as she graduates. After college, she returns to the small town, and temporarily moves back in with her dad, stepmom and step-brother, albeit reluctantly, to take a short-term teaching job while she waits to hear about her dream job at a private school in San Francisco. Because, let’s face it, you cannot afford to wait out a job in San Fran without a well-paying job. Not even with a roommate. When Harper returns, old wounds are still festering, and sparks fly even higher when a now grown Elijah is hotter than ever.
The plot is primarily the relationship between Harper and Eli, told both in current times as well as flashbacks to when the two first meet. These two timelines are interspersed, allowing the reader to learn the history of their animosity as the anger and resentment continue to unfold in current day. Underlying the main plot is Harper’s future and whether she’ll stay in nowheresville Weaverton or return to her beloved city by the bay. The romance aspect is very back and forth and became like watching a tennis match after awhile. The conflict is not only driven by intense emotions by both characters, but also the “forbidden” nature of their stepbrother/stepsister relationship.
Even adult Harper suffers from the same insecurities as teen Harper, although she has a better handle on her emotions. Eli is far less brooding, but he’s still got issues and he knows how to get under Harper’s skin, and it soon becomes clear he has insecurities of his own. The characters are the best part of the book, though. They are well-conceived and well-executed, with depth and complexity. My only real complaint is some mild slut-shaming of a young character in the early part of the book. Harper’s internal comments on Athena made it a lot harder for me to warm up to Harper, although I did get there. Part of her judgment, I’m sure, came from her insecurities and seeing this girl as a romantic rival.
What I Enjoyed About TRUCE? HATING ELIJA MONROE 1. The Flashbacks. The history of Eli and Harper’s relationship was key to me understanding who they are now, and why they say and do the things they do. Without those scenes, I wouldn’t have been able to get into either of these characters.
2. Enemies to Lovers. One of my favorite tropes.
3. The Parents. Eli’s mom and Harper’s dad are the sanest people in this story and they are needed to ground their kids and reign in their over-the-top emotions.
4. The Setting. I’m like Harper in that I’m a city girl, but escaping to the small town of Weaverton was a breath of fresh air. The author provides stunning details that makes this fictional town someplace I’d love to visit.
5. Romantic Gestures. I won’t give it away, but there is a scene at the very end that was just so wonderfully romantic it melted my heart. Yay Eli.
Bottom Line An intense hate-to-love romance with strong emotions and in-depth characters.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Amelia Kingston is many things, the most interesting of which are probably California girl, writer, traveler, and dog mom. She survives on chocolate, coffee, wine, and sarcasm. Not necessarily in that order.
She’s been blessed with a patient husband who’s embraced her nomad ways and traveled with her to over 30 countries across 5 continents (I’m coming for you next, Antarctica!). She’s also been cursed with an impatient (although admittedly adorable) terrier who pouts when her dinner is 5 minutes late.
She writes about strong, stubborn, flawed women and the men who can’t help but love them. Her irreverent books aim to be silly and fun with the occasional storm cloud to remind us to appreciate the sunny days. As a hopeless romantic, her favorite stories are the ones that remind us all that while love is rarely perfect, it’s always worth chasing.
Synopsis Imagine a world where shadows of enchantment instantly render ordinary experiences eerie, terrifying or sublime, and where the unexpected becomes the norm. The twenty-one micro stories in Laura McHale Holland’s Just in Case comprise such a place: a universe where a wife betrayed relishes her revenge; a couple chugging toward retirement takes a surprising U-turn; a much maligned character finally has his say; a cozy family scene chills the blood; a curious relative cannot leave a half-human baby alone. These, and more, are what you’ll find in this book.
The dark, often revealing themes in this collection marry exquisitely with the precise flash fiction form, offering a full reading experience in few words. If you enjoy engaging, short reads with deliciously poetic prose, plenty of imagery, and context left to the imagination, you’re likely to love the concise gems found herein.
My Review JUST IN CASE was a delightful, fast read, which I finished in just half a day. The stories are short, vivid, and left me wanting more. The author weaves tales using carefully chosen imaginative words that not only set a scene, but get us deep into character point of view. The shortest is just a half a page and the longest was probably less than ten, but the amount of real estate had nothing to do with the reading experience. I devoured each one, then reread it to savor it, to marvel at the author’s ability to use words as if she was wielding magic, making us see and feel with intensity. My favorite was the tale of a mailman and his favorite customer, a man with wolf-dog hybrids, but I don’t have a least favorite. They were all so very good. I will be reading more by Laura McHale Holland!
What I Loved About JUST IN CASE 1. The Writing. The author has the ability to draw me deeply into a story that takes no more than five minutes to read.
2. The Length. As someone with ADD, I loved that I could read a story while I was waiting for water to boil or my computer to boot up. I could set it down and not have to remember where I was because that story was over.
3. Reader Interpretation. Due to the nature of the storytelling, so much is left for the reader to interpret, and each one had me thinking about it long after I was done reading.
4. Quirky Characters. Many of the tales had richly drawn characters that were fun and a little different, making them a delight to read.
5. Darker Subject Matter. I loved the darker tones of many of the stories without ever becoming macabre. Perfect for reading during an autumn evening by a warm fire.
Bottom Line Wonderful short tales of fascinating characters wrapped up in spectacular storytelling.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author In all of her work, Laura McHale Holland strives to stir people’s emotions and find hope hidden in unlikely places. Her novel, The Kiminee Dream, set for release in 2020, introduces a cast of quirky characters in a fictional Illinois river town where unseen forces both help and hinder, and people learn to rise in the face of adversity, accept what can never be and embrace big dreams anew. Laura’s published books include two memoirs, two collections of flash fiction, and an anthology on sisterhood. In addition, three of her plays have been produced in San Francisco’s North Bay region.
THE FIXER UPPER (Echo Springs #1) by Maggie Mae Gallagher
Synopsis Abby Callier is more in love with Shakespearean heroes than any real man, and she’s beginning to wonder if there is life for her outside the pages of a book. It doesn’t help that her esteemed parents tend to view her as they would one of their science experiments gone wrong. On the eve of finishing her dissertation, she escapes her staid existence to live in the house she inherited from her Great Aunt Evie in the small town of Echo Springs, Colorado. Because, let’s face it, when a woman starts comparing her life to horror films, it might be time for a break.
Sheriff Nate Barnes believes in law and order and carefully building the life you want. In his spare time, he has been remodeling his house in the hope that one day it will be filled with the family he makes. But Nate doesn’t like drama or complications and tends to avoid them at all costs. And yet, when Miss Abigail Callier, his newest neighbor, beans him with a nine iron, he can’t help but wonder if she might just be the complication he’s been searching for all along. It doesn’t hurt that he discovers a journal hidden away by the previous tenant and decides to use Old Man Turner’s advice to romance Abby into his life.
Abby never expected her next-door neighbor, the newly dubbed Sheriff Stud Muffin, to be just the distraction her world needed.
The problem is she doesn’t know whether she should make Echo Springs her home, or if this town is just a stopover point in her life’s trajectory. And she doesn’t want to tell Nate that she might not be sticking around—even though she should because it’s the right thing to do, the honest thing—because then all the scintillatingly hot kisses with the Sheriff will come to an abrupt halt. Did she mention that he’s a really great kisser?
My Review Abby Callier uproots her academic life under academic parents and defies them to write her dissertation on English Literature, instead of something more appropriate, in the small Colorado town outside Denver where her great aunt lived. Tiny Echo Springs is the opposite of everything Abby is used to. She plans on finishing her paper, get her doctorate, and sell her aunt’s house. That’s the plan anyway. But things seldom go according to plan. For one, her aunt’s victorian home is filled with an army of tiny porcelain dolls that leave Abby uneasy. So uneasy, she leaves them in the living room while she sets up camp upstairs, far away from the creepy things. For another, her aunt’s neighbor is beyond hot and also the town’s sheriff. The more time she spends with the man she calls Sheriff Stud Muffin, the more she questions her current objectives and the less sure she is of what her next step will be. She takes a job at the local community college and meets a colorful cast of characters. It’s easy to see where the next books in the Echo Springs series will take us.
Plot This is a straight-up romance that follows the typical format of meet-cute followed by all the ups and downs you expect in a contemporary romance. There’s a minor subplot involving a series of break-ins in the small town, but the subplot that really shines is Old Man Turner’s journal that tells a romantic tale that started before World War II between Old Man Turner and Abby’s great aunt. It serves as both a parallel tale as well as backstory.
Characters This was the one part of the story I’m iffy on. Abby’s ovaries “sigh” at the sight of the studly-muffinesque sheriff. And not just once, there is much ovary sighing throughout. And Nate’s declaration that Abby “isn’t like other women” was too cliche. However, the supporting cast saved the story for me. Nate’s bevy of messed-up buddies and punk community college teacher Tessa and her gorgeous, but militant sister, Cybil, drew me in. In fact, if any of these characters are involved in the second book in the series, I’m there!
What I Enjoyed About THE FIXER UPPER 1. Rufus. Nate’s big, lovable, slobbering Great Dane provided some great comedic moments.
2. Tessa. She’s tough, acerbic, and funny. I can’t wait to read her story.
3. Cybil. She’s snark and sour wrapped in a pretty package, and her story is going to be epic.
4. Aunt Evie. The story of her romance with Old Man Turner is heartbreaking and bittersweet.
5. Old Homes. I adore old homes and the descriptions of the two Victorian homes made me want to do a few more renovations around here, much to my husband’s dismay.
Bottom Line A decent romance with a stellar supporting cast.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Maggie grew up listening to Cardinals baseball and reading anything she could get her hands on. She remembers her mother saying if only she would read the right type of books instead binging her way through the romance aisles at the bookstore, she’d have been a doctor. While Maggie never did get that doctorate, she graduated cum laude from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with an M.A. in History.
Maggie is a bestselling and award-winning author published in multiple fiction genres. She also writes erotic romance under the name Anya Summers. A total geek at her core, when she is not writing, she adores attending the latest comic con or spending time with her family. She currently lives in the Midwest with her two furry felines.
Synopsis It was never easy for Cassie and her mother, struggling to make ends meet in their tiny apartment in The Bronx, but they had each other and that was enough. When her mother dies suddenly from an aggressive form of cancer, Cassie is forced to finish high school in California while living with the wealthy family of her mother’s closest friend—a women she never knew existed.
Living with the Stantons is the complete opposite of what she’s used to—the massive house, a father figure, and Cody, the spoiled, insanely good-looking son with the bedroom across the hall.
Broken with grief and struggling to fit in, Cassie meets Mila, a female powerhouse that helps her cope with a hidden past, the overwhelming present, and a shared experience no one should have to endure—a nightmare they both thought was over.
Warning: Although this book is classified as Young Adult, I recommended it for mature readers due to explicit language.
My Review EVERYTHING I KNEW TO BE TRUE is a powerful story about finding your inner strength even when everything around you seems to be falling apart. When Cassie’s mom dies of cancer, she moves from New York, the only home she knows, to the west coast to live with a family she barely remembers, a family that is not her own. Barely scraping by in New York, Cassie’s new life in Northern California couldn’t be more different, from the large sprawling homes to the intact nuclear family she comes to live with, including Cody, a boy from her childhood who has blossomed into a serious heartthrob with a room across the hall from hers. As she adjusts to a new life that does not involve wondering how they’re going to pay the bills, she is also thrust into high school drama she is totally unprepared to handle. Her east coast upbringing has given her a hard outer shell and the wit to hold her own, but only on the outside. Inside she’s crumbling from grief and feeling like a fish out of water. With the help of Cody, his parents, and new friends, she tenuously navigates her new world until secrets from her past and a cruel event at a party turn her world upside down once again, leaving her wondering if everything she thought was true is really just one more lie.
Plot The story is about Cassie learning who she is and coming to terms with the truths she discovers about herself, her family, and life itself. But it’s also about friendship, family, revenge and romance. The author weaves everything together in a well-plotted tale with a few surprises.
Characters I love Cassie. She’s snarky thanks to her childhood in the Bronx, strong, but not immune to the crap high school throws at you. Mila is hysterical as the new friend with a verbal stream of consciousness, and Cody is adorable as the quasi step-brother/love interest that creates a lot of the best conflict in the story. Cody’s parents and Cassie’s guardians are everything she needs and what we hope all parents would be. The antagonists are bit more stereotypical, but also different enough that I wasn’t always sure what to expect from them.
What I Enjoyed About EVERYTHING I KNEW TO BE TRUE 1. Mila. She is the vibrant colorful yin to Cassie’s dark and withdrawn yang
2. Cassie. It took me a little bit to warm up to her, but once I did, I absolutely loved her spunk.
3. Cody. Completely swoonworthy.
4. Surprises. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming that helped keep my interest when I felt the story was slowing down a bit.
5. Revenge. A dish best served deliciously cold.
Bottom Line A sold young adult tale with interesting characters who are easy to root for.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Rayna York grew up with hippie parents that liked to adventure, so being the new kid was always a challenge. Where change was the norm, books were her constant–a way to escape. As an adult, many careers came and went, but writing has always been her passion. Everything I knew to be true is her first published novel.
Synopsis I am the daughter of the first female POTUS, and today is about to become the longest day of my life…
24 hours—that’s how much time I have to save my mother before terrorists assassinate her. But now my father and brother are missing, too. This goes deeper than anyone thinks. Only someone on the inside would know how to pull this off—how to make the entire First Family disappear.
I can’t trust anyone, so it’s up to me to uncover the conspiracy and stop these madmen. Because little do they know, they picked the wrong person to terrorize.
My name is Sophie Washington, and I will not be a victim. No one, I repeat no one, is taking me or my family down. But the clock is ticking…
My Review Chasing Liberty meets 24, as the daughter of the country’s first female president finds herself embroiled in a terrorist plot to take down the administration. On her seventeenth birthday, Sophie Washington is doing anything but having the time of her life. Her brother is missing, her family is separated, and she has been told she cannot trust anyone, not even Frank, her secret service detail who has been with her much of her life. With minimal training in a teen CIA program for the offspring of operatives, she stumbles her way through an ever-changing game. Recruiting her best friends from the program, Jackson, Zeke, and Callie, she attempts to do what she believes no one else will, only to become a pawn in the biggest conspiracy to ever target the United States. Without knowing who is working against her mother, Sophie is isolated and terrified, but finds something within herself to rise to the challenge in this pulse-pounding young adult thriller.
Plot T-MINUS is a plot-driven tale, and the plotting is near perfect. The pacing provides plenty of page-turning action and just enough breaks to allow us to catch our breath before careening into the next big moment. The author keeps us guessing the entire time, allowing us to feel like Sophie, unable to trust anyone. One twist follows another, and layer upon layer of intrigue is expertly woven to create a story worthy of the big screen. In fact, I’ll be shocked if this isn’t turned into a blockbuster movie at some point.
Characters The characters are great, but pretty much in line with the story. There is no new ground broken here, but I love Sophie as the somewhat risk-averse teen who is forced to step so far outside her comfort zone, she hardly recognizes herself. The cast surrounding her provide just the right balance, and because I don’t want to give anything away, i won’t say anything more about them.
What I Loved About T-MINUS 1. The Pacing. The story unfolds at the perfect pace and I devoured it.
2. Twists. So many twists and turns, I never knew what was going to happen next, but all of it was perfectly foreshadowed.
3. Sophie. The reader gets to see her in a way she never envisions herself, making her both sympathetic and someone to root for and a kick-ass heroine.
4. Intrigue. I’m a political-thriller junkie, and this book has all the same elements that made No Way Out one of my favorite movies of all time.
5. Zeke. Her fellow TIA member and secret crush, he’s completely swoon-worthy.
Bottom Line A page-turning thriller with a strong female lead who also happens to be utterly relatable.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Shannon Greenland, or S. E. Green, is the award winning author of the teen thriller, Killer Instinct, a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers; the teen spy series, The Specialists, an ALA Popular Paperback and a National Reader’s Choice recipient; and the YA romance, The Summer My Life Began, winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award. Her books have been translated into several languages and are currently on numerous state reading lists. Shadow of a Girl is her latest novel and due out 9.19.16. Shannon has participated in and served as a guest speaker at festivals and conferences around the country to include but not limited to the LA Times Book Festival, American Library Association, Book Expo of America, Bouchercon, Romance Writers of America, RT Book Convention, Young Adult Keller Book Festival, Southern Festival of Books, and many more. Shannon grew up in Tennessee where she dreaded all things reading and writing. She didn’t even read her first book for enjoyment until she was twenty-five. After that she was hooked! When she’s not writing, she works as an adjunct math professor and lives on the coast in Florida with her very grouchy dog. Find her online everywhere @segreenauthor...
Synopsis Set against the smoky, gaslit allure of Victorian London, this sweetly romantic historical debut is full of humor and stars a whip-smart female heroine ahead of her time.
Where one story ends, another begins.
1861. Miss Lucinda Leavitt is shocked when she learns the author of her favorite serialized novel has died before completing the story. Determined to learn how it ends, Lucinda reluctantly enlists the help of her father’s young business partner, Mr. David Randall, to track down the reclusive author’s former whereabouts.
David is a successful young businessman, but is overwhelmed by his workload. He wants to prove himself to his late father, as well as to himself. He doesn’t have the time, nor the interest, for this endeavor, but Lucinda is not the type to take no for an answer.
Their search for the elusive Mrs. Smith and the rightful ending to her novel leads Lucinda and David around the country, but the truths they discover about themselves—and each other—are anything but fictional.
Chosen by readers like you for Macmillan’s young adult imprint Swoon Reads, The Last Word by debut author Samantha Hastings is a fun yet intellectual romp through Victorian London—the perfect book for book-lovers.
My Review Reminiscent of Jane Austen, THE LAST WORD combines neoclassicism and romanticism along with a healthy dose of humor and wit to bring Lucinda’s and David’s story to life. The two are childhood friends who meet again after a four-year separation to find the other both the same and yet infinitely different than the person they remember. Throw in a big misunderstanding and a young woman ahead of her time, constricted by the customs of 19th century England, and sparks fly higher than between Emma and Knightley or Elizabeth and Darcy, but with the underlying warmth of Elinor and Edward. The two dance around a mutual attraction while Lucinda fights against society’s dictates for her. Fresh out of finishing school, she wants nothing to do with being a proper lady, but rather to use the brain that God gave her to work in her father’s counting house. A natural talent with numbers, she helped him when she was younger but now is expected to do needlepoint instead of auditing.
If there’s anything Lucinda hates more than sitting around and waiting for someone to call on her, I don’t know what it is. Not having been born to a high-class family, her social standing comes from the wealth her father has amassed. His goal is to marry her to a man of higher social standing. Lucinda has less than zero interest in that plan. She managed to get through the long boring hours by reading. But her favorite author died before finishing her last novel, leaving Lucinda desperate to find out how it ends, as if her own ending will somehow reveal itself in those final pages. With the help of her father’s business partner and her longtime friend, David, she sets out to find anyone who may know how the story ends. But the more they dig, the more she’s left wondering, before a tragedy forces both of them to reevaluate what really matters. And what doesn’t.
Plot The main plot focuses on the budding romance between Lucinda and David, but Lucinda’s desires to work in business and find out the ending of her beloved novel are strong subplots that drive most of the action. The conflict derives for the social norms of the time, status and who is allowed to associate with whom. Women’s options and their carefully guarded reputations only further bind Lucinda in a world she finds too restrictive. Her father withdrew into himself after her mother’s death years before and their strained relationship underlies everything. The author does a phenomenal job of keeping the reader in Victorian England through scene setting, language, fashion, and customs. There is both a whimsical and sweeping cinematic feel to the places Hastings sets her characters in, drawing the reader right along with them.
Characters If you love any of Jane Austen’s characters, you will love these! From the narcoleptic Mrs. Patton to the eccentric woman in the half-built estate they visit in their quest, the characters are a delight. Lucinda is utterly relatable as a young woman who wants so much more from life than the world wishes to allow her and David is a man after my own heart, both seeing Lucinda as an equal, and treating her with that respect. The American girl, Persephone, who befriends Lucinda, is a delightful, although often inappropriate, breath of fresh air.
What I Loved About THE LAST WORD 1. Everything. Seriously, the entire book was just amazing. It was a joy to read.
2. Lucinda. I love that she’s independent and strong and refuses to be confined by rules of society.
3. David. He is also a man ahead of his time with his ability to see Lucinda as more than just an accessory.
4. Language. I love the way they speak and the words the author chooses to tell the story as if it were written as a contemporary in 1861.
5. Romance. It isn’t angsty or intense, even though Lucinda and David are both teens, but it’s perfect for the time.
Bottom Line A stunning coming of age story in a time long gone with amazing characters and beautiful storytelling.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Samantha Hastings has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Reading (Berkshire, England), and the University of North Texas. She met her husband in a turkey sandwich line. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spends most of her time reading, eating popcorn, and chasing her kids. The Last Word is her debut novel.
Synopsis Honest and full of heart, this clever contemporary romance debut deftly combines utterly relatable family drama with all the sweetness and uncertainy that comes with falling in love.
Rule #1: Don’t get attached.
Amber lives by strict rules to survive her mother’s love life: Always keep your eyes on the horizon and never get close to anyone connected to Mom’s boyfriends.
But after they move in with Kevin, the latest of her mom’s “soul mates,” the rules become increasingly difficult to follow. Kevin’s daughter, Cammie, keeps acting like Amber’s friend, even though she’s definitely not. And Jordan—star basketball player, hottest boy in school, and Cammie’s best friend—keeps showing up at the most inconvenient moments.
Amber has reasons for every one of her rules, and following them is the only way to protect her heart when her mom inevitably moves on. But as she spends more time with Kevin, his daughter, and especially Jordan, she starts to wonder if the rules might be worth breaking this time.
Chosen by readers like you for Macmillan’s young adult imprint Swoon Reads, Rules We’re Meant to Break is a charming, heartachingly real story of family and young love by debut author Natalie Williamson.
Praise for Rules We’re Meant to Break:
“The last time I devoured a book like this—I can’t even remember. … It was so openhearted and raw.” —Clarissa, reader on SwoonReads.com
“It is such a true true story about a girl finding herself within her first love. I loved it!” —Forever Bookish, reader on SwoonReads.com
My Review This is such a cute young adult romance. Everything from the settings to the characters sucked me in. Amber lives with her single mother, her father having left them when she was just five. Her mom bounces from one relationship to another, and after a particularly difficult breakup for Amber, she vows never to get close to anyone her mom dates again. This becomes challenging when they move into her mom’s then boyfriend’s place early in Amber’s senior year of high school. To make matter’s worse, this guy has a teen daughter who goes to Amber’s school. Said daughter, Cammie, is no bigger fan of the situation than Amber is. The only thing that makes the situation mildly tolerable is that hot Jordan Baugh lives down the street from her new house. Much to Amber’s surprise and delight, he seems to be flirting with her! And in a perfect world, that would be awesome, but Amber’s world is anything but perfect. It appears that Cammie has some sort of a history with Jordan and that breaks Rule No. 7 on her list of rules for surviving her mother’s dating life. If only Jordan wasn’t so incredibly adorable and insistent.
Plot The plot centers around Amber’s relationship with Jordan, but is laced with Amber’s lack of a belief in relationships that can last and a fierce need to protect herself from getting hurt again. With the help of her best friends Hannah and Ryan, she navigates tutoring Jordan while attempting to hold fast to her “rules”. But feelings have a way of getting in the way of the best intentions. Strong subplots include tense relationships with her mother, Cammie, and her mom’s boyfriend, as well as Amber’s plans after graduation. She has her heart set on KU while her mother is dead set against it. All of these subplots weave expertly into the main plot for a compelling story beyond just the romance.
Characters I love the characters so much. Amber is so relatable as a teen girl hell-bent on protecting her heart. Jordan is beyond adorable and it’s easy to see why Amber is attracted to him against her better judgments. Hannah is the perfect loyal best friend, even when she feels as if her friend isn’t necessarily doing what’s in her own best interests. And Cammie is suitably complex making her a standout character. Everyone comes across as authentic and well developed, creating balanced and nuanced relationships that drive the story.
What I Loved About RULES WE’RE MEANT TO BREAK 1. Buffy. The German shepherd adopted by Amber is cute, smart, loyal, and makes Amber a better person.
2. Buffy. The OTHER Buffy. The one Buffy is named for. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer references peppered throughout are lighthearted and actually tie several things together.
3. Jordan. The adorable basketball player with a penchant to capitalize words that excite him is a boy worth swooning over.
4. Angsty Romance. My favorite kind. With Amber’s insecurities and her list of rules, there was no way this romance wasn’t going to come with a health dose of angst. It just has a way of pulling at my heartstrings. I love, love, love it.
5. Realistic Growth. While Amber has some amazing growth, I love that she isn’t totally transformed. Her history is so ingrained in who she is that by the end she’s only tentatively stepping forward into the unknown rather than fully embracing it, giving this a really realistic vibe.
Bottom Line Fabulous characters in realistic predicaments and a swoony romance to boot.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Natalie Williamson is an HR person by day and a YA writer by night and nap time. She referenced Harry Potter in her first ever full time job interview, which tells you almost all the things you need to know about her. Other important things to know include: she loves her husband, daughter, dogs, and cat; she has a serious dessert problem; and she frequently Wikipedias movies and TV shows to find out if they have happy endings. RULES WE’RE MEANT TO BREAK is her debut novel..
AUGUST PRATHER IS NOT DEAD YET by Danielle K. Roux
Synopsis Katherine Garnet is a writer who has never cared much about much, making it awfully difficult to create new content. Despite the fact she has the “edge” of being trans (according to her cis male editor) she is not looking to capitalize on her own personal story. Garnet tries to sneak a peek at her rival, August Prather’s, latest fantasy manuscript about a quest for the elixir of life.
While reading, Garnet gets accidentally dragged into a bizarre cross-country road trip that may or may not have a purpose and begins to see parallels in the story of the manuscript and the reality of their journey. Along the way, they encounter a parade of equally troubled individuals, including ghost-hunting priests, a robot magician, a discarded piece of furniture, a runaway teenager, and a Japanese rock star.
As Garnet confronts her past, she begins to understand why someone might want to live forever.
My Review I’m not sure exactly what to make of AUGST PRATHER IS NOT DEAD YET. There’s a quote by one of the protagonists that says a good book is one that leaves the reader to figure out what it’s about, and I kind of feel like the author was letting us know that it’s up to us to decide what her novel is about. To say I was confused for much of the book would be an understatement, but at no point did I want to put it down. I needed to know what the heck was going on. And because the characters are so fascinating, I was hooked on their fates from the beginning. But if I had to tell you what this book is about, I’m not sure I can easily sum it up the way I normally do for a book review. It’s about letting go and finding yourself, it’s about exploring all the sides of yourself, it’s about friendship and camaraderie, doing the right thing for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do, and the quest for immortality, but it’s also none of those things and a thousand things more. And yet the story is riveting as author Kate Garnet sets off on a cross-country trip with fellow author August Prather along with two “priests”, a table, and a dead body in a Prius. And that’s not even the strangest part.
Plot The plot unfolds haphazardly with as many detours as the group takes on their road trip. Kate gets herself accidentally kidnapped when she sneaks into August’s car to read her latest unpublished manuscript. We alternate between the two stories as Kate reading the book is interspersed with their adventures. August’s manuscript is the story of a two individuals on a quest to find the elixir of immortality, but there are so many parallels between the book Kate’s reading and what’s unfolding in her real life, she soon discovers what she thought might be a lighthearted road trip with a group of free spirits might be something much more deeply personal.
Characters The characters are, simply put, brilliant. August is a quirky bohemian who befriends anyone and everyone she meets. Kate is complex as a trans woman who is still on a journey of self discover. Mitya and Lyosha, the Russian ghost hunters, posing as priests, are both irreverent and the cutest couple ever. Everyone they meet along their way is somehow larger than life, but in a completely believable way. it’s not that they’re necessarily caricatures, but we view them through Kate’s lens, and she notices the more obscure oddities more than most people would, so that’s how the reader gets to experience them. Even the characters in August’s book have depth. These are the types of people who not only temporarily occupy my mind as I read about them, but take up space in my brain for a long time after I finish the book.
What I Loved About AUGUST PRATHER IS NOT DEAD YET 1. August. If she mentioned a road trip, I’d be strapped into the shotgun seat before the “p” popped on her lips.
2. Quirky Characters. Everyone who populates this story is unique and a delight to read.
3. Witty Banter. The dialogue is among the best I’ve ever read, whether they’re dropping off a dead body at the hospital or discussing a murder that August witnessed, everything uttered is pure gold.
4. Road Trips. Setting off on a cross country trip with no itinerary not only makes for a fantastic story, but it’s a metaphor for what life should be.
5. True Love. Mitya and Lyosha are so freaking adorable. One of my all-time favorite fictional couples.
Bottom Line An unusual tale with compelling characters that is impossible to put down.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Danielle K. Roux is a writer, teacher, and historian. Her first novel August Prather is Not Dead Yet is currently available in e-book and paperback through Parliament House Press (and soon will be available in hardcover and audio book). Danielle has always loved reading and telling stories – especially stories with adventure, mystery, humor, romance and at least a little bit of spookiness. Not Dead Yet has all this covered, with a story-within-a-story structure and a quest for immortality in the early twentieth century paired with a present-day road trip. There’s a lot of existential crisis and a male/male romance that is sweet and steamy.
Danielle has been writing fiction since she was nine, after getting tired of reading from the perspective of white, straight male characters in fantasy novels. Her first written story involved a group of middle school girls who find necklaces used by a dead witch that give them supernatural powers. It was written in notebooks in purple and green gel pens that are currently housed in a box in her linen closet. She is inspired by travelling to new places and reading about the stories tied to landscapes. She has at least three novels building in her brain (or wherever novels come from) and wishes she was writing them all right now.
Danielle lives with her wife and two orange cats in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has added a lot of young adult fantasy fiction to her bookshelves recently, and regrets nothing. Her dream library would be accessed through a secret door and look something like the library in the animated Disney Beauty and the Beast, although it would also have a cute barista or sentient coffee machine that once was said barista.
When she isn’t writing or thinking about writing, Danielle is building houses in the Sims, listening to podcasts, or taking Buzzfeed quizzes to find out what kind of tree she is based on her hair color. She has recently been watching lots of old BBC period pieces, and some of them are good. She has begun to drink Diet Coke and is worried this might be a real problem. Coffee and tea are still her primary beverages of choice..
ALIEN MINDS (Dimension Drift #1) by Christina Bauer
Synopsis DIVERGENT meets OCEAN’S EIGHT in this urban fantasy heist!
On my seventeenth birthday, I wake up in the hospital to find I just survived a sketchy but terrible accident. My parents stand by my bedside—both are beautiful, wealthy, and super-nice. They tell me that once I leave the hospital, I’ll attend the prestigious ECHO Academy, where I’ll churn out equations for the government along with my mega-smart peers.
So, I’m living the perfect life.
Then why does everything feel all wrong?
My parents, my house and even ECHO Academy…none of it fits. Plus, what’s up with Thorne, my brooding yet yummy classmate who keeps telling me I need to remember my true past, which seems to have included a lot of us kissing? That’s one thing I’d really like to remember, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure Thorne is hiding a ton of nasty secrets of his own, including the fact that he may not be from this world. But considering how my own past seems alien to me, it’s not like I can judge. Plus, Thorne has dimples. That’s a problem.
And worst of all, why does it feel so yucky to work on these calculations for the government? It’s all supposed to be part of ECHO, but my heart tells me that I’m helping something truly terrible come to pass. Thorne seems to think that kissing him again will release my real memories.
Maybe it’s time to pucker up.
“Appealing and engaging. Love the strong female character!” – Arlene’s Book Reviews
This new series is perfect for: fans of urban fantasy, action & adventure, cool science, evil corporations, forbidden romance and hot new classmates who may or may not be aliens.
My Review I finally dove into Christina Bauer’s sci-fi/fantasy adventure series with ALIEN MINDS. While this is book 1 in the Dimension Drift series, the characters and worlds are well-established from other, connected, series. That is evident from the opening chapter. Though I’m new to this world, Bauer does a great job of balancing the plot with world building so that even a newbie like me can grasp the nuances of the setting without being bogged down by details that detract from the story. When 17-year-old Meimi awakes with no memories, she knows something is off about the story she’s been told. She may not remember who she is or anything about her past, but she’s sure the doctor standing in front of her is evil. Just as she’s sure the tall, brooding guard, Thorne, assigned to her means something to her. She just isn’t sure what. When the doctor slates millions of people for execution for being “undesirable” and demands Meimi help him accomplish his goals, she’s determined to thwart him while pretending to go along with his plan. This sets up a wicked game of deception that rivals some of the best heist movies I’ve seen.
Plot The story revolves around Memi’s plans to prevent the destruction of innocent human lives while remaining alive herself. Told in dual points of view from Memi’s and Thorne’s perspectives, we see flashes of Meimi’s life before her mind wipe through Thorne, and insights into how she thinks through hers. Despite her memory loss, she is who she is, and her spunk and intelligence shine through. Teaming up with people from Meimi’s past, they plan the ultimate act of defiance and bravery to save the world. Strong subplots include Meimi’s battle to regain who she is and Thorne’s battle to win back her feelings for him.
Characters Meimi is a strong protagonist who inherently knows right from wrong and will risk everything to do what is right. Thorne is a tortured soul with a secret – he’s an alien, and oh yeah, son of the ruler of the omniverse. These two shouldn’t work, yet they are linked in a way that is more than just mutual attraction. Meimi is witty, sarcastic, and driven. Thorne is dark and brooding. Both are well-developed and a joy to read. The evil Dr. Godwin is more of a cartoonish character, though. Evil for the sake of evil. While he makes for a good bad guy, he’s not as developed as he could have been. Supporting characters, twins Zoe and Chloe, Fritz, and the others are more complex and nicely round out the cast.
World Building This is where the story really shines. The alien world, dystopian Boston, alternate dimensions, and the technology are extraordinarily well constructed, and the writer’s ability to paint vibrant pictures with her words brings this amazing omniverse to life.
What I Enjoyed About ALIEN MINDS 1. World Building. Some of the best world building I’ve read in a long time.
2. Meimi. Her sarcastic wit is a blast to read.
3. Tech. The technology that populates this world is as engaging as the characters.
4. Sticking it to the Man. Their goal of beating Godwin at his own game is something we all can root for.
5. Thorne. His devotion to Meimi is both sweet and swoony.
Bottom Line A fun, action-packed adventure with amazing world-building and fun characters.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author
Christina Bauer thinks that fantasy books are like bacon: they just make life better. All of which is why she writes romance novels that feature demons, dragons, wizards, witches, elves, elementals, and a bunch of random stuff that she brainstorms while riding the Boston T. Oh, and she includes lots of humor and kick-ass chicks, too.
Christina graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with BA’s in English along with Television, Radio, and Film Production. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, son, and semi-insane golden retriever, Ruby.
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RUSTY NAIL (Jack Daniels Mysteries #3 ) by J.A. Konrath
Synopsis Lee Child, David Morrell, and M.J. Rose all agree: Jack Daniels is the one to watch! Anthony Award finalist J.A. Konrath’s latest novel featuring the feisty female police detective serves up another thriller
Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels of the Chicago Police Department is back, and once again she’s up to her Armani in murder. Someone is sending Jack snuff videos. The victims are people she knows, and they share a common trait — all were involved in one of Jack’s previous cases. With her stalwart partner hospitalized and unable to help, Jack follows a trail of death throughout the Midwest, on a collision course with the smartest and deadliest adversary she’s ever known.
During the chase, Jack jeopardizes her career, her love life, and her closest friends. She also comes to a startling realization — serial killers have families, and blood runs thick.
Rusty Nail features more of the laugh-out-loud humor and crazy characters that saturated Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary, without sacrificing the nail-biting thrills.
This is Jack Daniels third, and most exciting, adventure yet!
My Review RUSTY NAIL is my first book by J.A. Konrath, and I now consider myself a fan. This is the third book in a series, and it builds upon characters and events in the first two books, but the author weaves in just enough information that I wasn’t lost without recapping everything. Part thriller, part mystery, Detective Jacqueline (Jack) Daniels is faced with a cruel serial killer who has ties to previous cases of hers. As she attempts to track down this new killer, she must determine if it was an accomplice or a copycat of the original. She works with her partner, Herb, a handful of FBI agents, and a collection of officers in various jurisdictions. Interspersed with this is the marriage of her former partner, Harry, a romance with an ex, and coping with her feelings surrounding her mother who is in a coma in a skilled nursing facility.
The main plot is the mystery, told in first-person POV from Jack’s perspective, as well as various third-person POVs, including the killer. The story moves at a steady pace, building to a pulse-pounding climax. Humor is woven throughout to keep it from getting too dark, and this really helps an otherwise gruesome story from getting too morbid. I prided myself on figuring out who the killer was only to be floored when I was wrong. But in retrospect, everything I needed to know was skillfully placed throughout the story.
I had some difficulty connecting with Jack at first. She’s rough, tough, and really hard around the edges, but as the story unfolded, I saw softer sides of her, including her visits with her unconscious mother, the way she cares for her mother’s cat, who clearly can’t stand Jack, and even her broken heart. Herb, Harry, and even Harry’s fiancee, Holly, were all fascinating characters that helped make Jack that much more human when she tried her best to be inhuman.
What I Enjoyed About RUSTY NAIL 1. Plotting. Great plot with lots of twists and unexpected surprises.
2. The Ending. I love the way the author wound up the story in a way I didn’t expect.
3. Jack. It took me a bit to warm up to her, but once I did, I loved her more than just about any detective I’ve read in a long time.
4. Harry. Jack’s former partner, Harry McGlade, is a soft, pasty, gross mess of a man, but he has some of the best lines in the book.
5. Evil. The villains on Criminal Minds ain’t got nothin on Konrath’s bad guys.
Bottom Line Gripping thriller/mystery with great characters and a plot that never lets up.
About the Book – Read for Free with Kindle Unlimited Title: RUSTY NAIL Series: Jack Daniels Mysteries #3 Author: J.A. Konrath Publisher: Hyperion Books Release Date: July 1, 2006 Pages: 288 Genre: Adult Thriller/Mystery
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars Links: Goodreads | Amazon| Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU
Author J.A. Konrath
About the Author J.A. Konrath is the author of eleven novels in the Jack Daniels thriller series. They do not have to be read in chronologically to be enjoyed, but the order is: Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini, Fuzzy Navel, Cherry Bomb, Shaken, Stirred, Rum Runner, Last Call, and White Russian. More coming soon.
Jack Daniels also appears in the novels Dead On My Feet, Dying Breath, Everybody Dies, Shot of Tequila, Flee, Spree, Three, Timecaster Supersymmetry, Banana Hammock, Lady 52, and Serial Killers Uncut. She’s also in the novellas Floaters, Burners, Planter’s Punch, Babe On Board, Racked, Straight Up, October Dark, Jacked Up!, Beat Down, Cheese Wrestling, Abductions, Watched Too Long, and Babysitting Money, and the collection Jack Daniels Stories.
Wow, that’s a lot of Jack.
Other novels include the thrillers Origin, The List, Disturb, Timecaster, Afraid, Trapped, Endurance, Haunted House, Webcam, Grandma?, Holes In The Ground, and Draculas. Other novellas include Fix, Hit, Naughty, Exposed, Rescue, and Wild Night is Calling.
He also writes the Stop A Murder mystery puzzle series, where you become the sleuth and solve brain teasers to try and catch a killer.
And, finally, he writes erotica under the pen name Melinda DuChamp.
Joe writes a lot. You should probably read everything.
The best part of a happy ending… finding out it’s actually just the beginning. Having someone promise to be by your side, to chase dreams with, whisper troubles to, it’s more than I could have imagined.
But after three seasons of Jace playing pro ball in Ohio, three long seasons, with him on the road, and me training all over the world, I’m questioning if we can really have it all. Harsh criticism of our relationship is all too familiar and uncovers old wounds. I only ever wanted to run and to be with Jace, and finding the perfect balance proves to be my greatest trial yet.
We vowed not to let our love deter each other’s athletic goals, but I miss him. I miss us.
The demands of our careers have us running in opposite directions, when we should be putting down roots, together. But escalating fame and an overbearing agent have me fumbling everything I hold dear, including Pepper.
After years of dedication and sacrifice, I’m finally in a position to trade to my hometown team. Moving back to Colorado could be the answer to all our problems, but just when I think we’re finally on the right track, we’re sacked with news that turns everything upside down. News that rattles me and sends Pepper into a tailspin. It’s time for me to remind the girl that I fell in love with how to fight.
Until she’s ready, I’ll fight hard enough for the both of us. For better or for worse.
My Review I was introduced to Ali Dean’s writing with PEPPED UP, the first book in the Pepper Jones series, and was immediately hooked. I was surprised when a sixth book was released because Pepper and Jace’s story seemed to be over in in book 5, but I was eager to dive into their world once more. Both professional athletes now, Pepper and Jace are early to mid twenties now, and life seems to be going pretty well, other than the fact that they spend a lot of time apart from each other. They’re looking to settle down in their old home town of Brockton, Colorado, with Jace vying for a spot as the quarterback on the local NFL team, the Stallions (Broncos). There’s plenty of shallow people in both the running and NFL world to deal with along with returning favorites, including Bunny, Wes, Zoe and the rest of the Brockton crew. Madeline Briscole, my favorite mean girl (i.e. the girl I love to hate) makes a brief and snarky reappearance, but she doesn’t really rock the boat this time. In fact, not much rocks the boat, and that’s my biggest issue with this last installment. There isn’t as much conflict as I’m used to in Ali Dean’s stories. And the conflict that does arise is quickly doused by our now more mature protagonists. This is what we all wanted for them, but it doesn’t make for a page-turning read. That said, it was a very satisfying final conclusion to the series and the epilogue was especially fulfilling.
There doesn’t seem to be a main plot, but there are several parallel plots taking place: where will Jace play football, will Pepper make the Olympic marathon team, and where will they settle down. The three are obviously linked. Where Jace plays has a lot to do with where they will ultimately live which in turn impacts Pepper’s running career. As I mentioned above, there isn’t much conflict in any of these and anything that does threaten their happiness, isn’t a long-term issue. But the story unfolds at a steady pace and I didn’t get bored.
It was so fun being back with Pepper, Jace and the gang! I enjoyed seeing the more mature versions of these two and cameos from some of my favorite characters from the past. I would have liked more of Bunny, but isn’t that always the case?
What I Enjoyed About PEPPED UP & WILDER 1. Pepper and Jace. They work so well together, and after watching their trials and failures through five books, I love their HEA.
2. The Running. Pepper has evolved from trail running to marathon running. Having only ever run one half, I read through these scenes with only a superficial appreciation of what is involved, but I felt sucked into the events anyway. This is where Dean’s descriptive elements really shine.
3. Supporting Cast. Both old favorites and newcomers rounded out the characters nicely.
4. NFL Drama. It was my favorite sport to watch before the Chargers up and moved to LA (don’t get me started) but I still enjoyed reading about the behind-the-scenes drama that a bunch of egotistical jocks can drum up. Tween girls ain’t got nothing on this bunch.
5. The Epilogue. A deeply satisfying wrap up to one of my all-time favorite couples.
Bottom Line A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the series.
About the Book – Read for Free with Kindle Unlimited Title: PEPPED UP & WILDER Series: Pepper Jones #6 Author: Ali Dean Release Date: December 18, 2018 Pages: 185 Genre: New Adult Contemporary/Sports Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars Links:Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU
Author Ali Dean
About the Author Ali Dean lives in Colorado with her husband, twin babies, and golden retriever. In addition to reading and writing, she loves the outdoors- everything from marathon training and biking to snowboarding and skiing.
Synopsis In a world on the brink of war, four superpowered teens must learn to work together for peace in CaitlinLochner’s action-packed debut novel, A Soldier and A Liar.
Lai Cathwell is good at keeping secrets. As a Nyte, a supernaturally gifted teenager who is feared and shunned by the ungifted, this skill is essential to survival. Orchestrating her own imprisonment to escape military duty has only honed her ability to deceive others. But when rebels start attacking the city, Lai is dragged back into the fight with a new team of Nytes.
Thrown together with Jay, a self-conscious perfectionist consumed by the desire to be accepted; Al, a short-tempered fighter lying for the sake of revenge; and Erik, an amnesiac hell-bent on finding his memories and his place in the world, Lai realizes she’s facing an entirely different kind of challenge–one that might just be impossible. But if this team can’t learn to work together, the entire sector will be plunged into war.
My Review I wasn’t sure what to make of A SOLDIER AND A LIAR at first. It starts off slow and the characters are difficult to relate to, but I’m glad I stuck it out. The story and character development really picks up at about the 50% mark and takes off after that. Lai Cathwell is 17-year-old superpowered soldier. She and fellow young adults, Al (Johann), Erik (Mendel), and Jay (Kitahara) form an unlikely team of enhanced humans known as Nytes, on a mission to take out an elite squad of rebel Nytes determined to overthrow the Etiole government. While Nytes have powers, they are shunned for them, treated as second-class citizens at best. Lai wants acceptances and equality for Nytes, while the other three each have their own reasons for accepting the mission. With four different motivators, to say they’re a team would be a massive overstatement. Trust is hard to come by and suspicions run high. As their leader, Jay wants cohesion and solicits Lai’s help to make that happen. The more Lai learns about her teammates, the more she both likes them and distrusts them. But they’ll be forced to work together, whether they like it or not, to prevent all out war.
Plot I think the primary plot is about the mission and stopping the war, but it feels more like it’s abut the relationships between the four Nytes as they get to know each other and grudgingly begin to trust one another. The action scenes are really well done, but they don’t drive the plot as much as the interpersonal scenes do. And it’s those scenes that made me care about the outcome of the action scenes. There’s also a budding romance between Jay and Lai always simmering just below the surface. This relationship came across as forced initially, but as with the rest of the book, it hit its stride about halfway through.
The Characters The characters are my favorite part. Watching shy, socially awkward Jay try to navigate his attraction to Lai, Lai’s heavily armored exterior giving way to friendships, Erik’s selfishness giving way to something more, and Al’s standoffishness meld into someone I could identify with was what made this story really work for me. The author has created deeply authentic characters that are initially tough to get to know, but evolve with time at the same pace for us as they do for Lai. By not trying to force us to care early on, the author does us a favor and allows the reader’s feelings to grow organically as the story progresses. There are a lot of secondary and tertiary characters, who only make sporadic appearances, so I found myself flipping back to reread the scenes where they were first introduced.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About A SOLDIER AND A LIAR 1. Scene setting. The author has a way of bringing her settings to life in this world where people live in underground sectors to protect them for dangers above ground that only Nytes can survive. The descriptions are so vivid, I had no difficulty immersing myself in this world.
2. Friendships. The relationships between the characters develop over the story, so that the reader builds the same relationship at the same time as the narrator.
3. Super powers. This isn’t your typical superhero story, but the powers the Nytes possess are no less fun and shape the story as much as anything else.
4. Equality. Whether it’s Sneetches with stars upon thars, the color of one’s skin, or being a Nyte or Etiole, everyone wants to be seen as equal, and this classic theme is well done.
5. Lai. She’s fierce, independent, and just vulnerable enough to make her a heroine worth rooting for.
Bottom Line A different take on superheroes and dystopian adventures with strong characters.
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About The Author (Um, so, wow bios are hard.) I studied creative writing at the University of South Florida and used my BA in words to become an English teaching assistant in Tokyo. I’m in love with storytelling of any kind, but especially in the form of books, manga, and video games. If you ever want to talk nerdy, I am VERY down.
Synopsis One week on an Alaskan cruise, three teens, and an endless trail of lies.
Enter a series of thefts on board and they all fall under scrutiny. Though Navy acts a proper preacher’s daughter, she did end up with someone else’s purse in her hands, and Jesse knows way more than he should about what’s gone missing. Isaiah, however, is the one with motive—enough money and he could get back to his ranch. Each holds a piece of the truth, but exposing the thief could damn them all. They must navigate through the lies they’ve told, choose between standing together or saving themselves, and decide if innocence is worth facing their ugliest secrets.
My Review A teen cozy mystery at sea. When three strangers meet on an Alaskan cruise, the only thing they have in common is their relative ages. But when passengers’ property begins to disappear, they find themselves caught up in the mystery, first as suspects, then as amateur detectives, trying to figure out who really did it to deflect suspicion from themselves. Each of the main characters have their own goals for the trip: germaphobe Navy wants to experience her first kiss, cowboy Isaiah wants to convince his grandmother he’s NOT gay so he can go back to the ranch he feels completes him, and tattooed Jesse wants to keep himself and his father together after having just been left by his mother. The weaving of lies, truths, and desires creates a complex web that threatens to destroy the tenuous bonds of friendship they forge. Told in three alternating points of view, the chapters are short, which keeps the story moving from start to finish.
Plot Primarily, this is a young adult romance. Navy is torn between Isaiah and Jesse for her first kiss. Both boys are more than interested, but each has withheld important information about themselves, making Navy wary of both. Subplotting is both rich and deep, with each of the main character’s goals driving the main plot and the underlying mystery creating enough conflict to move this story at a decent pace. I’m not opposed to love triangles, but I wasn’t expecting it based on the book’s synopsis. So if this is not your thing, be forewarned. However, the author does a great job and it’s never too much. Because we get all three kids’ points of view, it’s clear how everyone feels throughout the story.
The Characters Each character is so unique and distinct in who they are and what they want, making reading the three points of view interesting. There were times I loved each character and times I couldn’t stand them, but at no time did they seem inauthentic. With revolving first-person narratives, we get to spend a lot of time with each of the three main characters, understand their thoughts and desires, and what makes them tick. And while they did become annoying at times, what teen doesn’t? It didn’t make me care any less for them, it just made them that much more realistic.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About TRIPLICITY 1. The setting. An Alaskan cruise is on my bucket list so I loved the setting. The author’s vivid descriptions of the sites was awe-inspiring.
2. The mystery. The added element of a lighthearted mystery set this apart from other teen romances.
3. The characters. Richly drawn and interesting, the characters made me care about what happened next.
4. Difficult subjects. The book touches on a number of difficult subjects, including drinking, abandonment, parental death, depression, and more. And while those topics could create a darker mood, the author does a good job of keeping the story light without making light of the issues.
5. Jesse. Okay, I said I wasn’t going to pick a favorite, but I did anyway. His outgoing personality endeared him to me. Most young adult fiction is filled with introverted protagonists, so it was a breath of fresh air to get inside an unapologetic extrovert.
Bottom Line A wonderful, fun young adult cozy mystery aboard an Alaskan cruise ship.
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Book – Read for Free with Kindle Unlimited Title: TRIPLICITY Author: J. Mercer Publisher: Bare Ink Release Date: January 6, 2019 Pages: 301 Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance/Mystery Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars Links:Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU
Author J. Mercer
About The Author J Mercer grew up in Wisconsin where she walked home from school with her head in a book, filled notebooks with stories in junior high, then went to UW Madison for accounting and psychology only to open a dog daycare. She wishes she were an expert linguist, is pretty much a professional with regards to competitive dance hair (bunhawk, anyone?), and enjoys exploring with her husband—though as much as she loves to travel, she’s also an accomplished hermit. Perfect days include cancelled plans, rain, and endless hours to do with what she pleases.
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THE BIRDS, THE BEES, AND YOU AND ME by Olivia Hinebaugh
Synopsis Seventeen-year-old Lacey Burke is the last person on the planet who should be doling out sex advice. For starters, she’s never even kissed anyone, and she hates breaking the rules. Up until now, she’s been a straight-A music geek that no one even notices. All she cares about is jamming out with her best friends, Theo and Evita.
But then everything changes.
When Lacey sees first-hand how much damage the abstinence-only sex-ed curriculum of her school can do, she decides to take a stand and starts doling out wisdom and contraception to anyone who seeks her out in the girls’ restroom. But things with Theo become complicated quickly, and Lacey is soon not just keeping everyone else’s secrets, but hers as well.
My Review Fiercely feminist main character — check, viola player — check, ace BFF — check! My daughter is a fiercely feminist, viola playing, asexual teen, so really there was almost no chance I wasn’t going to loveTHE BIRDS, THE BEES, AND YOU AND ME, but it still surprised me. I was surprised by how much I loved Lacey, Theo, and Evita. The complex relationships explored and the bonds of friendship stretched were incredibly realistic. The choices that the three of them face as high school seniors are typical, but no less intense because of that. When Lacey pushes back against her school’s archaic and factually inaccurate abstinence-only program that attempts to shame teens into not having sex, things go hilariously wrong. Lacey and her friends appoint themselves the sexperts, even though Lacey has never had sex, herself. They offer advice in the bathroom and provide covert access to condoms, until they get caught and suspended. But Lacey’s no wallflower and she fights the system with her mother’s support.
Plot This is really a story of standing up for what you believe in and the enduring bonds of friendship more than a romance. There is a romantic subplot involving Lacey and Theo, but Evita’s past relationship with Theo, before she realized she was ace, only complicates this. How the three best friends navigate their life goals, their determination to bring comprehensive sex education to their peers, and balancing loyalty is what drives this story and that’s where it really shines. The romantic elements serve more of a supporting role. The author doesn’t let her characters off without facing the consequences of their actions, making it believable. She weaves humor throughout the story, creating a lighthearted tale that could easily have taken on a darker tone.
The Characters This is really a character-driven story more than anything else, and the characters are utterly delightful. While this is Lacey’s story, all three have their own arcs and grow over the course of the book. Lacey’s knowledge of sex, without any firsthand experience, is a breath of fresh air. I wish more teen girls were this comfortable with the topic. Evita, as the leader of the trio, is fierce, funny, and loyal — everything you want in a BFF. Theo is a delightful third, the only boy in their close-knit group, who lends a little testosterone to all the estrogen flying around.
Top Five Things I Loved AboutTHE BIRDS, THE BEES, AND YOU AND ME 1. Representation. As the mother of an ace teen, I loved seeing such a strong ace character who was true to herself and didn’t end up in a romantic relationship.
2. Comprehensive sex ed. Another topic near and dear to my heart handled, with a responsible, fact-based approach.
3. Music. A cello, a viola, and rock music. What’s not to love?
4. Friendships. I love that the friendship is the primary focus over the romance. While romance plays a part, the enduring friendship is the glue holding everything together.
5. An honest portrayal of teen pregnancy. Nothing is sugar coated, but it’s not presented as shameful either. Really well done.
Bottom Line A book about friendship, personal responsibility, and the value of education, wrapped with humor and heart.
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author OliviaHinebaugh loves all stripes of literature for children. When she isn’t writing fiction, she can be found writing freelance, making art, discovering new songs on spotify, texting her writing buddies, or folding laundry. She lives near Washington, D.C. with her spouse, three kids, a dog that looks like a coyote, and a one-eyed cat. The Birds, The Bees, And You And Me is her debut novel.