ONE S’MORE SUMMER (The Campfire Series #1) by Beth Merlin
If you love Sophie Kinsella and Emily Giffin, you’ll love this heartwarming debut from a fresh voice in contemporary chick-lit that offers a lighthearted and fun take on friendship, love, and how to recover from past mistakes.
For twenty long years, Gigi Goldstein has been pining away for her best friend’s guy. She knows it’s wrong and it has to stop, but she hasn’t been able to let go ever since they all met on the bus to summer camp back when they were 7 years old. The same week that her best friends finally announce their wedding date, Gigi loses her high-profile design job. With all of her dreams unravelling, she runs to the last place she remembers being happy.
Taking the Head Counselor position at Camp Chinooka, Gigi hopes to reclaim the joy she felt as a camper, but the job isn’t all campfire songs and toasting marshmallows. Gigi’s girls are determined to make her look bad in front of the boys’ Head Counselor—the sexy but infuriating Perry—and every scrap of the campground is laced with memories.
When Gigi finally realizes she can’t escape the present by returning to her past, she’s forced to reexamine her life and find the true meaning of love. But will she be able to mend fences and forgive herself before she loses her one real shot at happiness?
My Review This was such a blast to read. So much of it was reminiscent of camping as a child, but with adult problems thrown in the mix. Georgica Goldstein (aka Gigi) is a twenty-something fashion designer who was runner up in a reality TV show that launched her career. Now in the midst of a savage creative design block, she is fired from her job and has lost the only man she’s ever loved. Escaping to her childhood sleep-away camp, Camp Chinooka, as senior counselor, she hopes to find some inspiration while mending her broken heart. What she doesn’t count on is meeting fellow counselor, Perry, with his good looks, swoony British accent, and his own secrets and reasons to escape. They begin summer as adversaries, but anything is possible when sultry nights and s’mores by the campfire are involved.
Plot The plot moves well, taking us from the present back to what drove Gigi to escape to Camp Chinooka in the first place. Much of the relationship stuff with Perry early on is the typical inaccurate assumptions that are common in the trope, but I love that the story breaks from the expected in the middle and forged its own path to the ending. Though this is the first book in a series, it ends with an HFN and a lot of reader satisfaction.
Characters I loved the characters. Gigi is seriously flawed, but not in a way that makes her unlikeable. Just the opposite. I found her completely relatable as someone who has made my own share of poor relationship choices in the past . Perry is also less than perfect, but also completely redeemable. The young campers, the other counselors, and even the camp’s owner, Gordy, all add charm and conflict to the story.
What I Loved About ONE S’MORE SUMMER 1. Sleep-Away Camp. Visiting summer camp again through the eyes of an adult who had been there as a child was a real treat, and brought so many memories flooding back.
2. Gigi. She is so easy to relate to as the once chubby girl, now fashion designer, who suffers from a deep bout of imposter syndrome.
3. Perry Gillman. What’s not to love about the swoon-worthy Brit who plays the violin like a god?
4. Campers. The drama surrounding teen girls at summer camp was all too familiar and absolutely fun to read.
5. Ending. A perfect happy-for-now ending.
Bottom Line A light-hearted summer romance that has “beach read” stamped all over it.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Beth Merlin has a BA from The George Washington University where she minored in Creative Writing and a JD from New York Law School. She’s a native New Yorker who loves anything Broadway, rom-coms, her daughter Hadley, and a good maxi dress. She was introduced to her husband through a friend she met at sleepaway camp and considers the eight summers she spent there to be some of the most formative of her life. One S’more Summer is Beth’s debut novel.
A new teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war–with deadly consequences.
What do you love? What do you hate? What do you want?
It starts with this simple writing prompt from Alex Witt, Stonebridge Academy’s new creative writing teacher. When the students’ answers raise disturbing questions of their own, Ms. Witt knows there’s more going on the school than the faculty wants to see. She soon learns about The Ten–the students at the top of the school’s social hierarchy–as well as their connection to something called The Darkroom.
Ms. Witt can’t remain a passive observer. She finds the few girls who’ve started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and incites a resistance that quickly becomes a movement. But just as it gains momentum, she also attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her–including what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.
Meanwhile, Gemma, a defiant senior, has been plotting her attack for years, waiting for the right moment. Shy loner Norman hates his role in the Darkroom, but can’t find the courage to fight back until he makes an unlikely alliance. And then there’s Finn Ford, an English teacher with a shady reputation who keeps one eye on his literary ambitions and one on Ms. Witt.
As the school’s secrets begin to trickle out, a boys-versus-girls skirmish turns into an all-out war, with deeply personal–and potentially fatal–consequences for everyone involved.
My Review Told from various third-person points of view, THE SWALLOWS is a deep-dive into the world of privileged boys meets aggrieved girls hellbent on revenge. When new teacher, Alex Witt, assigns a routine paper for students to anonymously tell her something about themselves, she discovers an ugly secret society of misogynistic boys who rate girls on their unique abilities. What she discovers will ignite a fire under the girls to fight back and get even, with tragic consequences. The mystery of what the Darkroom is and means to students at Stonebridge Academy unfolds slowly, leaving the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next. It all builds to an ugly climax that leaves everyone forever changed.
Plot This is my first novel by Lutz and I’m hooked. She weaves a captivating tale, building suspense, gluing me to the pages, or in the case, my Kindle screen. More than a few hours of sacrificed sleep were involved. Her characters are so complex, damaged, real, and very well distinguished from one another, that I always knew whose point of view I was reading. Though she sets up the tragedy throughout the story, it doesn’t ruin the ending. All we know is something bad is going to happen, but so much builds throughout the preceding chapters, there’s no way to know exactly what it’ll be.
Characters The cast is full of diverse, well-developed, well-differentiated characters. Because it’s told in so many first-person points of view, this was key, and the author knocked it out of the park. Lutz does an amazing job of crafting compelling characters to tell her story. Even the ones I didn’t like, I still felt like i really understood.
What I Loved About THE SWALLOWS 1. Pacing. The story is expertly paced to keep me turning the virtual pages.
2. Alex Witt. The primary protagonist and the most damaged of the bunch. She was the perfect blend of jaded teacher and inspirational mentor.
3. Getting Even. The girls fighting back with what they had available was one of my favorite parts of the story.
4. Characters. A thrilling cast brought this story to life in a way that other characters wouldn’t have been able to carry.
5. Ending. Without giving anything away, I love the way the author concludes her tale and the ramifications it has on her characters’ lives.
Bottom Line A thrilling tale of lust, power trips, and revenge.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling author of the six books in the Spellman series, How to Start a Fire, Heads you Lose (with David Hayward), and the children’s book, How to Negotiate Everything (illustrated by Jaime Temairik). Her latest book, The Passenger, a psychological thriller, will be published March 2016 by Simon and Schuster. Lutz has won the Alex award and has been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.
Although she attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, the University of Leeds in England, and San Francisco State University, she still does not have a bachelor’s degree. Lisa spent most of the 1990s hopping through a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and rewriting the screenplay Plan B, a mob comedy. After the film was made in 2000, she vowed she would never write another screenplay. Lisa lives in the Hudson Valley, NY..
Synopsis SPF at the ready… someone’s about to get burned.
As a year-round resident of Cape May, New Jersey, Maisie Mundy has grown up loathing the “shoobies” that flood her charming seaside town each summer and treat it like their personal playground. And when it comes to shoobies, there’s none worse than Preston St. James, the arrogant heir to the St. James Development Company, the same company that’s trying to drive Maisie’s grandfather’s beach umbrella company out of town to greenlight their latest downtown project. Maisie is the only person aware of the dire financial situation her grandfather has found himself in, and she’s the only person who can save the shop, peddling rental umbrellas on the beach daily, doing whatever it takes to keep Mundy’s Sundries afloat. When Preston launches a beach delivery app to win a Shark Tank competition at his private school, he gives Maisie a whole new reason to hate him. Immediately, the two become engaged in a battle of rumor-spreading and sabotage that could sink them both.
But as Maisie’s best friend Summer points out, hating someone that much takes a lot of passion, and the more time Maisie spends duking it out with Preston, the more that passion starts looking like something else entirely; the more it starts looking like romance. The closer Maisie and Preston become, the more she trusts him with her heart… and her family’s secrets. When Mrs. St. James uses insider information to deliver the final blow to Mundy’s Sundries, Maisie’s convinced their romance was another one of Preston’s tactics, one meant to hurt her and her family at the same time, despite his denial of belying her trust. Was Maisie a fool for ever trusting a St. James, or will her lack of faith in Preston be the real reason she gets burned this summer?
My Review It’s been far too long since I’ve read anything by Karole Cozzo, but her latest release, THROWING SHADE, does not disappoint. It’s a beach read for young adults and anyone young at heart. Between lighthearted moments are deeper themes about fighting for what you believe in, family bonds, overcoming deep-seated fears, love, and loyalty. And of course, lots of kissing. Her summer before her senior year of high school, Maisie Mundy, works at Mundy’s Sundries at the beach, a business selling sunscreen and renting beach chairs and umbrellas, started by her great grandparents and now run by her grandparents. The business is in trouble, but she’s determined to turn things around. At least until preppy Preston St. James arrives and decides that his summer econ project will involve a competing business to Mundy’s except using cool tech to order items right from the beach. Maisie hates everything about Preston, from the silver spoon he was born with to his attitude as a part-time resident who doesn’t appreciate the tiny seaside New Jersey shore town of Cape May for what it really is.
When Preston’s mom proposes a new shopping center at the heart of town where Mundy’s Sundries is located, Maisie is incensed. How dare these shoobies just show up and try to shove out long-term residents! She decides the best way to fight back is to show Preston all the hidden gems of Cape May that only the true locals know about. Maybe if he can see the charm of quintessential Cape May, he can convince his mom that some things don’t need to be modernized. That small businesses are better than huge chains. What she doesn’t count on is mutual attraction sparking that leads to so much kissing.
Plot The plot is two-fold. On one side is the romance between Maisie and Preston and on the other is the fate of Mundy’s Sundries. But Maisie’s relationship with Preston is so intertwined with the success or failure of her family’s business, that the conflict practically writes itself. Cozzo handles both sides of this plot deftly, so that we take neither Maisie’s side, nor Preston’s, generating the kind of angsty romance that kept me turning the pages. Excellent sub-plotting involves Maisie’s BFF, Summer, and her need to overcome a phobia in order to take on a rival.
Characters Characters are what Cozzo does best and these characters are no exception. All have rich backstories who shape them into fully three-dimensional beings that we root for from the opening pages. There’s plenty of humor, lots of warmth, and just the right amount of growth for a satisfying ending.
What I Loved About THROWING SHADE 1. Maisie. She’s so devoted to her grandparents who helped raise her, and to their business, it’s hard to find fault in almost anything she does to protect them, even when you know she’s in the wrong.
2. Preston. He’s more than just a privileged preppy boy, and seeing Maisie discover these deeper layers is delicious fun.
3. Summer. I absolutely adore Summer, the badass swimmer and devoted teacher of young Black kids so they feel as comfortable in the water as she does.
4. Grannies on Pot. One of the best scenes is when Maisie’s grandma takes too much medical marijuana.
5. Angsty Romance. There’s something so visceral about teen love and their inability to grasp that anyone might really love them for who they are that tugs at my heartstrings. Every.single.time.
Bottom Line A wonderful teen beach read full of humor, young love, and fighting for what matters most.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Karole lives outside of Philadelphia, PA with her loving husband, exuberant little girl, and smiley little boy. She adores YA Romance, because it would be awesome if life in general had a requisite feel-good happy ending rule. Vices include obscene Haribo gummy consumption, addiction to Starbucks NF vanilla lattes, and tendency to hoard Bath and Body Works 3-wick candles.
GUTTER GIRL (Twin River High Series #1) by Lynn Rush and Kelly Anne Blount
Synopsis Star football player Jace Rovers has a secret. And not just any secret—a shocking secret… He writes romance. The kind with swords. And dresses. And kissing.
Nobody knows. Not the other kids at Twin River High. Not his overbearing parents. And certainly not the millions of fans who’ve read his book on the writing platform Scribbles. And that’s the way he plans to keep it.
Except suddenly one of the other football players grabs his notebook in jest and starts reading a kissing scene out loud…and Jace knows he’s busted.
But then McKenna Storm, resident goth girl who avoids the spotlight like a virus, snatches up the notebook and tells everyone she’s the author. And lucky for Jace, she later agrees to continue the ruse…for a price.
Heck, he’d give her anything not to reveal his secret. But when they start to fall for each other, he knows he’ll have to keep the biggest secret of all—his darkest character is based on her…
My Review I loved this book so much, and it easily moved to the top of my favorites for both authors. The characters are deeply drawn and I loved them instantly. McKenna Storm is likable from the opening pages as the goth girl with a bipolar mother. She likes to fly under the radar, just wanting to get through her last year of high school before leaving Twin River and her mom’s drama far behind. So why she agrees to cover for Jace, one of the most popular guys in school, and oh yeah the writer behind one of the hottest fantasy romances in all of teendom, is a mystery even she can’t fully understand. And yet there she is, standing in the hallway, pretending Jace’s writing notebook filled with kissing scenes and sword fighting is hers to protect him from the taunting by his football teammates.
Jace is both horrified and grateful to McKenna. He’s worried that once one person knows something, it’s no longer a secret. McKenna has crushed on Jace since third grade, so she won’t say anything, but when her fake alter ego is revealed, her ability to fly under the radar is obliterated as she’s suddenly the most sought after girl in all of Twin River High. She pushes back, but she’s no match for Jace’s pleading that she continue the ruse, at least for a little while. The secret cover means these two opposites need to spend more time together; something neither of them really wants. At least in the beginning. McKenna, aka Goth Girl, and the star football player are, as McKenna calls them, a cheesy romcom couple. But neither of them is their perceived stereotype and they discover they have much more in common than either of them imagined.
Plot This is a straight-up romance, but it’s filled with the kind of teen angst that keeps me turning the pages. The slow burn romance turns into so much more with a ton of conflict that drives both passion and pain in delicious ways. Their first kiss is toe-curling in the sweetest sense, but their romance is more than just sweet. The authors have created such complex characters that their actions and reactions felt really authentic. And with any romance, you find yourself yelling at the characters to just be open and honest, and then you remind yourself that they’re teens. Teens and communication are like reverse polarity. But these moments in the second half of the book only make the ending that much more satisfying.
Characters Both characters have rich backstories that make them interesting, flawed, and relatable. Jace is a sweet older brother who found his love of writing after telling his younger sister bedtime stories. McKenna is the only child of a single mom with bipolar disorder. Jace seems to have it all with two loving parents and a little sister he adores. McKenna seems to be nothing more than a goth girl with a giant chip on her shoulder. But there’s always more to people than what they allow others to see. McKenna’s best friend, Ernie, is beyond adorable, and I hope he gets his own story in the series.
What I Loved About GUTTER GIRL 1. Scribbles. The Wattpad alternative where Jace writes his Kingdom of Swords was a fun subplot.
2. Jace. A football player who secretly writes fantasy romance. What’s not to love?
3. McKenna. She has her hands full and then some, but she still keeps her head above water while working extra shifts to keep her family afloat.
4. Writing. As a writer, I really enjoyed the scenes where they were discussing plotting, character development, and all the other delights that goes into writing a novel.
5. Angsty Romance. It’s my favorite romance sub-genre, but it’s not over the top here. Just the right amount to add conflict and tug at my heartstrings.
Bottom Line My favorite book by this author duo with fantastic characters and heartfelt romance.
About Kelly Anne Blount KELLY ANNE BLOUNT is a USA Today bestselling author of young adult novels. When she’s not writing, she’s probably lost in a book, watching Twilight, snuggling her five furry rescues, or having an adventure with her handsome husband and their darling daughter. After living in a palace in Scotland, across from the Caribbean Sea, and in the snowy land of Wisconsin, Kelly and her family reside in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. Kelly loves connecting with readers on social media! Stop by and say, “Hi!” or ask a question. You can find her everywhere @KellyAnneBlount.
About Lynn Rush New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Lynn Rush, is a full-time writer, wife, and trail runner living in the Sonoran Desert, despite her fear of rattle snakes. Known as #TheRunningWriter, Lynn can’t resist posting epic sunrise pictures while running in the desert with her trail sisters, even if she has to occasionally hop a scorpion.
When she’s not running or writing, she’s watching movies that fuel her everlasting love of superheroes, vampires, and all things Supernatural. The books she reads usually carry the same theme, but this former college athlete loves reading sweet sports romances as well. She’s madly in love with her Ironman husband of 20+ years who is the inspiration for what true love is. You can find her on social media as @LynnRushWrites
Synopsis When Ellie is dumped by her boyfriend, she’s forced to make new friends (while watching her ex swoon over his new girlfriend) in The Secret Recipe for Moving On, a smart and funny YA debut from Karen Bischer.
Ellie Agresti’s not sure anything could be worse than being dumped by her boyfriend, Hunter, the first day of senior year.
But sharing a “life skills” class with him and his new girlfriend, Brynn? AND getting partnered with a “family” of misfits (A.J., the loudmouth; Isaiah, the horse-racing obsessive; and Luke, the tattooed stunt-biker)?
It’s a recipe for certain disaster…until an in-class competition allows Ellie to channel her angst into beating Hunter and Brynn’s team, and she unexpectedly bonds with her own group–especially Luke–in the process.
But as Ellie soon discovers, it will take more than classroom triumphs to heal her broken heart–and find herself again.
My Review This is exactly the book I needed to read at this moment in my life. It’s delightful, delicious, and devourable. Seventeen-year-old Ellie is a recent transplant after her father lost his restaurant due to the actions of an unscrupulous employee. She arrived mid junior year where she immediately drew the attentions of Hunter and they were immediately smitten. Hunter rolled Ellie into his posse and she gained both a boyfriend and a friend group overnight, easing her transition. But when Hunter reveals himself to be the worst boyfriend ever, dumping her overnight for someone else, Ellie is left both brokenhearted and friendless since Hunter’s friends were hers. To make matters worse, she’s stuck with him and his saccharinely adorable new girlfriend, Brynn, in their life skills class, until the class bad boy, Luke, rescues her from their pod. Now, Ellie is determined to not only prove to Hunter she’s better off without him, but to take down his life skills pod by the end of the year.
Plot The plot is so much fun. Rather than just a straight-up romance, it’s more of a character growth arc with a side of romance. Ellie has a lot of growing to do, too. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I liked her in the first few chapters, but after she and Hunter part ways and she needs to forge her own way in her new high school all on her own, she becomes someone I rooted for every step of the way. Her relationship with the other members of her pod brought some of the best dialogue and moments to the book. And while I predicted early on that Luke would be a love interest before the book ended, I love that it wasn’t THE plot. The main plot is really about Ellie finding herself and discovering who she is without her BFF, Jodie, by her side every day, and without Hunter and his friend group.
The Characters I loved the characters! Even Brynn and Hunter were the antagonists you love to hate. Luke, AJ, and Isaiah, as Ellie’s life skills cohorts, were all so unique in their personalities and they truly brought out the best in Ellie. Her childhood best friend, Jodie, who only lives an hour away, makes cameo appearances and it’s clear to see why these two have such a solid friendship.
Top Five Things I Loved About THE SECRET RECIPE FOR MOVING ON 1. Ellie. For me, it’s the hallmark of good writing when an author can make me care so much about a character after I initially dismissed them as unlikeable.
2. Luke. I love him. He’s nothing like Ellie’s original assessment, but that’s because he’s complex and complicated and it only makes him more endearing.
3. Isaiah. The horserace loving, sheltered teen is one of the most fascinating characters in the story.
4. Getting Even. Ellie takes the “getting even by living your best life” approach to the limits and it’s sweet revenge.
5. Life Skills. Their “easy A” class is anything but, as all the students learn a lesson on life in a fun, unique class.
Bottom Line A delightful romance with heart and soul. I love these characters and I love the themes.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Karen Bischer has written short stories for Girls’ World and Animal Tales magazines and currently works as a copyeditor. She lives in her native New Jersey, where she has never encountered Bruce Springsteen in the wild, but does have a cat named after a member of the E Street Band.
IN THE PENALTY BOX by Lynn Rush and Kelly Anne Blount
Synopsis The Cutting Edge meets Friday Night Lights in a sizzling new hockey romance from bestselling authors Kelly Anne Blount and Lynn Rush.
Figure skating was supposed to be my whole world. But one unlucky injury and now I’m down…but I’m definitely not out. I just need to rehab—a boatload of rehab—and who’d have thought I could do it on the boys’ hockey team?
Of course, the infuriatingly hot captain of the team seems to think I’m nothing but sequins and twirls. What’s a girl to do but put him in his place? Game on.
Hockey is my whole world. I’ve worked my tail off getting my team in a position to win the championships—hopefully in front of major college scouts, too—so what’s a guy to do when a figure skater ends up as our new goalie?
Of course, the distractingly sexy skater thinks I’m nothing but a testosterone-laced competitive streak. And surely she’s only biding her time to heal, then she’s gone. Game over.
My Review A sweet romance with enough heat to melt any freshly Zambonied ice rink. Lynn Rush and Kelly Anne Blount have written a swoony teen romance with stellar lead characters, a fun supporting cast, and more skating than the Winter Olympics. Willow Covington, a figure skater with her eye on the Olympics, is injured and loses not only her spot on the team, but the host family where she’s lived for years, returning to the small northern town where she grew up. But the Woodhaven she left didn’t have one Brodie “The Wind” Windom. He’s not only easy on the eyes, he’s a monster on the ice. As Willow rehabs in Woodhaven, she’s increasingly frustrated by her lack of progress landing her jumps. When she watches the boys’ hockey team practice, an errant puck flies through the air, nearly hitting her and her friend, Jessa, until she reaches out and grabs the spinning death disk in midair. This gets her a tryout with the team since their goalie is rehabbing himself. Willow isn’t sure if playing hockey will help or hinder her return to figure skating, but spending time with Brodie every day is enough for her to give it a try. Playing hockey turns out to be more than she imagined, and when the figure skating teams come calling, she’ll need to make a choice between the only dream she’s ever had — to skate in the Olympics — and the only boy she’s ever loved.
Plot With two authors, there’s a lot of plotting going on. The primary plot is the relationship between Willow and Brodie. But both Willow and Brodie have their own growth arcs and lots of subplotting. From Willow’s efforts to regain a spot on a top figure skating team to Brodie’s family matters and his future as a hockey player, there’s a lot happening that should keep these two apart. Not the least of which is the no fraternization between teammates rule. All of this adds delicious conflict and angst.
Characters Brodie and Willow are both really well developed, but Willow stole my heart. She’s strong, independent, and knows how to hold her own on a boys’ hockey team. Brodie is totally worthy of her amazingness, though. What makes Willow one of the best female characters I’ve read in a long time is the fact that she never once questions why Brodie would be interested in her. She still has some solid insecurities as you’d expect a teen character to have, but it wasn’t ever about whether she was dateable. I found that to be exceedingly refreshing.
What I Loved About IN THE PENALTY BOX 1. Ice Sports. Whether you love figure skating, hockey, or both, there’s a lot for everyone to enjoy.
2. Willow. She refuses to take any grief from the boys, or the catty girls on the figure skating team. She gives back twice as much as she takes.
3. Brodie. He has a lot of baggage, but he still manages to be this amazing guy who looks after his kid brother, his father, the team, and Willow.
4. Making Your Own Choices. I love that Willow didn’t let anyone influence her. She did what she needed to do for herself.
5. Reality. I love that the authord didn’t wrap everything up with a nice, tidy bow. Life is messy and even though this is a solid HFN ending, not everything was all neat and clean at the end, making it so much more relatable.
Bottom Line A flirty, sweet figure skater vs. hockey player romance with an adorable twist.
About Kelly Anne Blount USA Today bestselling author and Wattpad Star Kelly Anne Blount has more than seventy-three-thousand followers on social media. Her Wattpad stories have been read more than twenty-million times. She’s contributed to Tap, Wattpad’s new app for chat-style stories, where her work has been “tapped” more than fifty-million times. She is a writer and reviewer for SpoilerTV, which has allowed her to develop an incredible network of film and TV stars.
Two of her Wattpad works, including Captured (seventeen-million reads), have been optioned for film by Komixx Entertainment, and she is regularly invited to present seminars about social media at author events.
About Lynn Rush New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Lynn Rush, is a full-time writer, wife, and trail runner living in the Sonoran Desert, despite her fear of rattle snakes. Known as #TheRunningWriter, Lynn can’t resist posting epic sunrise pictures while running in the desert with her trail sisters, even if she has to occasionally hop a scorpion.
When she’s not running or writing, she’s watching movies that fuel her everlasting love of superheroes, vampires, and all things Supernatural. The books she reads usually carry the same theme, but this former college athlete loves reading sweet sports romances as well.
She’s madly in love with her Ironman husband of 20+ years who is the inspiration for what true love is.
1,000 STRONG VERBS FOR FICTION WRITERS (Indie Author Resources Series #2) by Valerie Howard
Synopsis LIST OF 1,000 VERBS
Are you searching for stronger verbs for your works of fiction (or non-fiction)?
Aren’t we all?
This handy little reference booklet contains a list of 1,000 strong verbs to help you replace the weaker verbs in your fiction writing as you self-edit your work. Just look up the weak verb you’d like to replace, and choose a stronger verb from the alphabetized lists.
Weak: Sally walked across the room.
Stronger: Sally scurried across the room.
Weak: Harry lightly touched the edge of the book.
Stronger: Harry trailed his fingers along the edge of the book.
Weak: Karen ran as quickly as she could to her closet.
Stronger: Karen charged her closet in a panic.
Weak: Lucy hit her palm on the desk.
Stronger: Lucy smacked her palm on the desk.
Ready to weed out the weak verbs and not-so-helpful adverbs in your writing and replace them with strong verbs?
Let’s get started!
Indie Author Resources Book 2
My Review This is a reference book full of useful verbs, like a thesaurus dialed in specifically for the fiction writer. It has easy to find, quick to use suggestions for weak verbs. Because I borrowed this with Kindle Unlimited and will have to return it, I do think I’ll end up purchasing a copy to have at hand when I’m revising. The suggestions are plentiful, and just a single strong verb can spark an entire creative process at the keyboard.
Bottom Line A thesaurus on steroids, this reference tool is something novelists will find themselves reaching for over and over again.
About the Book – Read for free with Kindle Unlimited
Title: 1,000 STRONG VERBS FOR FICTION WRITERS Series: Indie Author Resources Series #2 Author: Valerie Howard Publication Date: July 24, 2019 Pages: 111 Category: Writing Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Amazon DE | Amazon IT | Amazon FR
Author Valerie Howard
About the Author Valerie Howard has been writing stories since she was in second grade when she wrote “The Mystery of the Missing Crayon.” She lives in Maine with her husband and two sons. She graduated from Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, Maine and Piedmont Baptist College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Welcome to the blog tour for BATTLE OF THE BULLIES, a young adult contemporary by Fenyx Blue. See below for information on the book, buy links, and my review. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for information on her giveaway.
BATTLE OF THE BULLIES by Fenyx Blue
Synopsis Ebony, Eris, and Emani Robertson have been through so much more than most high school freshmen. When they were younger, they survived a school shooting that killed their friend and left their oldest sister unable to speak. After giving homeschooling a try, they enroll in a promising new academy, hoping for the best.The Robertsons soon discover, however, that their new classmates are anything but kind. A mysterious group of bullies known as the Dimes rules the hallways and spreads fear everywhere they go. All three sisters end up being targets of the gang and have to find a way to defend themselves.
The triplets couldn’t be more different, but their loyalty to each other and to their school never fails. Along with diverse group of friends, the Robertsons do everything they can to uncover the identity of the Dimes and restore order to the school.As if their lives weren’t complicated enough, they also get sucked in to a much bigger game—discovering who was responsible for the attack on their old school. Can they bring down the Dimes and bring the murderer to justice, all while trying to make it through ninth grade?
My Review With a title like BATTLE OF THE BULLIES in the young adult genre, I knew this book offered promise, but I was expecting the powerful emotional punch it delivered. High school freshmen and triplets, Eris, Ebony, and Emani have joined older sister, Alexis at a new school after their old school was targeted for a bombing that killed 100 students. In the wake of the trauma, they try to assimilate in their new school, but are on the radar of the school’s famous, but mysterious group of bullies known as the Dimes. The girls are as different as they are alike and the three of them navigate the problems in their own individual ways. A dancer, an athlete, and a social media influencer, the girls tackle life as it comes at them, working to help the police track down the remaining guilty party of the bombing and ferret out the members of the Dimes. To say they have their work cut out for them would be an understatement. The themes are heavy and dark, but Blue’s writing is light, punctuated by moments of levity which carries the story through the bleaker moments. Her voice is fresh and youthful, but some of the story elements came across as almost over the top for no purpose in the story, that I could tell. For instance, they are a family of seven, including two parents, an older sister, the triplets, and twin brothers. On top of that, their mom has found time to hand make perfect Halloween costumes for all the kids plus herself and her husband every year.
Plot The plotting is rich and complex, with each girl having her own subplot in addition to the main plot of unmasking the Dimes. The additional subplot of helping law enforcement with their previous school bombing make this both intricate and aggressive. A lot happens and it can be confusing at times with each of the three girls having her own point of view, but once I was able to keep all of them separate in my mind, even with their names all starting with the letter E, it was easier. But also, because so much is happening, the story never slows down. It’s easy to read this through in a single sitting if you have the time. The dialogue is snappy and fun, and though the girls have similar personalities, they’re different enough to make the story unique.
Characters The cast is huge and diverse. From the triplets and their family, to friends and enemies alike, there are a lot of characters to juggle, some of them come off as flat, but for the most part, they’re fascinating, especially some of the tertiary characters, like Dr. and Mr. Thomas.
What I Enjoyed About BATTLE OF THE BULLIES 1. Detailed Backstories. The girls have an exciting, yet horrific past that has scarred them, but also made them stronger and more determined than ever. The way their backstory unfolds is well-paced.
2. Alexis. The oldest sister and the most broken of the three, she pulls at your heartstrings in unexpected ways.
3. Sisterhood. Having two sisters of my own, I appreciated the sisterly bond and how it is woven through the plot.
4. Unexpected Twists. I always enjoy a really good twist I never saw coming.
5. Emotional Gut Punch. This story packs a whopper and will keep me thinking about it for a long time.
Bottom Line A compelling story of the bonds of family and the value of justice.
About the Author If author Fenyx Blue actually had a tattoo, it would be a heart. Ms. Blue has written every book with love. Blue is a teacher, coach, mentor, and motivational speaker focused on women and youth empowerment. She has written a young adult novel about bullying entitled Who Failed Johnny?, a poetry book about purpose named The Blue Ink Movement, and a children’s book about the power of a solid father daughter relationship called Worth the Weight.
Fenyx believes in service to the community. After being chosen as teacher of the year for her school district, she continued to mentor teenagers and facilitate discussions about controversial topics like drugs, sex, violence, cyberbullying and mental health. She has been a guest poet for several women’s retreats and workshops and loves the energy she receives from a live audience.
Throughout her years as an educator and youth ministry leader, Blue created Team Bully-Free Forever, a poetry team for her school, and a mentoring group called D.I.V.A.S to address the needs of young people. She is dedicated to teaching the next generation to follow their dreams and feels it is her mission to equip them for the future. Ms. Fenyx Blue is a proud mother of three beautiful children who inspire her to write each day.
You can follow Ms. Fenyx Blue @FenyxBlueInk on Instagram and Youtube.
When a fire cuts off a popular trail in the Oregon forest, a small group trapped by the flames must find another way out―or die―in Playing with Fire, an unrelenting teen-vs-nature YA thriller by New York Times bestselling author April Henry.
Natalia is not the kind of girl who takes risks. Six years ago, she barely survived the house fire that killed her baby brother. Now she is cautious and always plays it safe. For months, her co-worker Wyatt has begged her to come hiking with him, and Natalia finally agrees.
But when a wildfire breaks out, blocking the trail back, a perfect sunny day quickly morphs into a nightmare. With no cell service, few supplies, and no clear way out of the burning forest, a group of strangers will have to become allies if they’re going to survive. Hiking in the dark, they must reach the only way out―a foot bridge over a deep canyon―before the fire catches them.
My Review PLAYING WITH FIRE is a page-turning thriller set against the majestic falls, deep canyons, and lush landscape of the Pacific Northwest. During fire seasons, Natalia and her friends-to-more co-worker, Wyatt, are out for a hike when a new fire breaks out, trapping them and independent groups of strangers as night approaches. Without a phone signal and no way to call for help, they retreat from the punishing flames, hoping to outrun the fire in time to be rescued. At nearly every turn, something impedes their odds of success, from someone missing from their ranks, a blocked bridge, a precarious ledge to cross, and someone within their group working against them.
Plot This is primarily a survival story, and the action moves at a steady pace. There is a romantic subplot between Wyatt and Natalia, and a very small change arc on Natalia’s part. The story is well plotted and crafted to keep me turning the virtual pages on my Kindle. Even though we know from the opening pages how the fire started, that is the only thing we are sure of. Because this is a standalone and a thriller, there is no way to know if our favorite characters will all make it out alive, which is the hallmark of excellent storytelling.
The Characters The characters were where I felt the story lacked. Natalia and Wyatt never felt like authentic teens to me. They were far too level-headed, prepared, and unemotional to be like any teens I live with, or happen to have met. But they were likable, and the supporting characters were fascinating, like the cast from an early season of Survivor, making me want to pull for all of them. Natalia is the victim of a home fire when she was younger, and is understandably terrified of the wildfire. The flashbacks to that event are hard to read, but really well done.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About PLAYING WITH FIRE 1. Setting. The wilderness provides so much opportunity to throw curveballs at the characters, and left the reader on edge, never knowing what was coming next.
2. Survival. I love a good survival story and this one really shines.
3. Surprises. Nearly ever chapter ends with a cliffhanger which kept me reading late into the night.
4. Fire. Okay, I don’t love wildfires, having had to evacuate more than once in recent years, but I love the unpredictability of fire as an antagonist.
5. Thriller. Taking this beyond just a story of man vs. nature and adding the bad seed among them was a delicious twist.
Bottom Line A gripping survival tale of man vs. nature and man vs. man.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author April Henry is the New York Times–bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including the YA novels The Girl in the White Van; Girl, Stolen; The Night She Disappeared; The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die; The Girl I Used to Be, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and won the Anthony Award for Best YA Mystery; Count All Her Bones; The Lonely Dead; Run, Hide, Fight Back; and The Body in the Woods and Blood Will Tell, the first two books in the Point Last Seen series. She lives in Oregon.
Sixteen-year-old Anne Elliot is in love with Captain.
He’s been her best friend for years. A rising musician with a special smile he reserves just for her, Captain even lets Anne practice her makeup skills on him—though his bandmates give him flack for it.
When Anne gets an anonymous comment challenging her to kiss her best friend, it threatens to reveal her secret. But how can she resist doing the one thing she’s wanted forever? It’s just one kiss. She and Captain’s relationship can stay the same…right?
The real challenge: Kiss your best friend, and don’t let him know you’re in love.
This YA romance novella is fun, fast-paced, and flirty, the perfect story for anyone who loves best-friends-to-lovers. Inspired by TikTok & Jane Austen, THE KISSING CHALLENGE is sure to make you swoon!
My Review Oh my gosh, this is beyond adorable. Cookie O’Gorman has done it once again! Anne is a social media sensation as a makeup artist who can work magic with her brushes and pencils, but when it comes to matters of the heart, she’s more like a fish out of water. And she can’t resist a challenge, even one that fills her with equal parts excitement and horror. Because kissing her best friend means kissing the guy she’s been crushing on forever, and one small kiss could ruin everything. Still, she can’t let it pass when she’s tagged in the “kiss your best friend challenge” and frets and obsesses over how to best carry it out until it practically eats her alive. The chemistry between Anne and her BFF, Captain, is off the charts, so their first kiss is super hot followed by super awkward.
Plot This is a novella and it’s short and sweet, so the plot is the relationship between Anne and Captain. There’s no sub-plotting and no real character arcs, but the plot is so well done, none of that matters. I read it in a single sitting and had an enormous smile the entire time. This book is 100% what O’Gorman does best.
Characters I absolutely love Anne and Captain and I hope they show up as extras in a future novel. There were enough supporting characters, and any one of them could get their own story, and I would buy it the second it came out. Captain is in a band, and he has several swoon-worthy band mates in need of a solid growth arc, so if you’re reading this Cookie, I’m here for whatever you do with this cast!
What I Loved About THE KISSING CHALLENGE 1. Internet Challenges. While this is maybe not my personal thing, I totally love watching other people fool their dogs with a blanket, dump buckets of ice water on each other, throw cheese at babies, and numerous other, non-dangerous challenges. And kissing your best friend is an amazing idea (coming from someone who married her best friend).
2. Anne. She’s sweet, creative, talented, and is completely in love with her BFF who she believes to be out of her league.
3. Captain. His loyalty to Anne as girls everywhere fawn all over him makes him one of the good guys. We need more guys like him!
4. Makeup. I can’t tell you how many Instagram accounts I follow with makeup artists who do amazing things with pencils and powder and brushes. Reading about one of these awe-inspiring artists was so much fun!
5. True Love. Anne and Captain are meant to be and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
Bottom Line Adorable characters, steamy kisses, and a swoony love story wrapped in a tiny but mighty package.
About the Author Cookie O’Gorman writes YA romance to give readers a taste of happily-ever-after. Small towns, quirky characters, and the awkward yet beautiful moments in life make up her books. Cookie also has a soft spot for nerds and ninjas. Her debut novel ADORKABLE will be released in 2016.
Synopsis “[A] heartwarming fantasy … Christmas enthusiasts will find this hits the spot.” ~Publishers Weekly
A contemporary, holiday fantasy with a new twist on A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life.
Abby Nicholson used to love Christmas. Until she didn’t.
After leaving Winter Glen, the small town famous for its Christmas celebration and her family’s greeting card company, Abby is forced to return to the home she left behind when the unexpected passing of her father thrusts the business into her hands.
Turning her back on the magic of the holiday beloved by her father and the town, she decides to sell the business. Signing the paperwork with the very pen her father used to create it, she is shocked to discover her hometown has become a whole new world.
One where Christmas has vanished!
Now stuck in a place devoid of hope, joy, and the spirit of the season, Abby sees family and friends altered in the most terrible of ways.
Determined to set things right, though unsure how, Abby takes out her father’s pen and begins to draw. When she realizes her art is coming to life, she sets out to recreate the holiday and bring back the most wonderful time of the year.
But some are determined to keep an iron grip on the town and will do anything in their power to stop her..
My Review WRITE CHRISTMAS is a Hallmark Christmas movie that lives in my Kindle. It’s a delightful story full of hope, transformation, and charming characters straight out of a Dickens tale. Abby Nicholson is the heir to the Samuel Nicholson Card Company, her beloved late father. The entire town of Winter Glen was built around the bucolic greeting card company. But the bright-eyed hopeful girl who used to help her father hand-sketch his whimsical, heartwarming designs is all grown up with all of that hope drained from her. With a teen daughter of her own and the father of that daughter proposing to her year after year, she’s jaded and ready to move on. In her words, there are no adventures left to be had in Winter Glen and is ready to sell the company to a big chain and leave town for good.
No one thinks this is a good idea, except Abby, so the town will need to come together to convince her that there is so much more to Winter Glen than she can see. But it will take more than that. Abby needs to rediscover the magic of Winter Glen and Christmas itself, the holiday that the town has embraced more than any other place in the country.
Plot The primary plot centers around Abby, but the story is told like a vivid movie, with a stellar supporting cast who all have their own stories within the story. The author does a brilliant job of creating these fabulous characters that I couldn’t help liking from the first moment they appeared on page. Even Lolo Windberg. Because the story is about growth and second chances, no one thing drives the plot, but rather they all work together to create this magical story of redemption and rediscovering the joy of Christmas, like ingredients in a favorite Christmas cookie recipe. It’s not perfect if you leave even one thing out.
The Characters The characters are what really makes this story work. The plotting unfolds at a steady, but slow pace, but because the characters are larger than life, it’s okay. I’d spend all day with these people. Huston has a way of developing his cast with a word here and a sentence there that make them come to life. From Darla, the town mayor, to Abby, Abby’s mother Stella, her daughter, Chloe, and the man who wants her love, Cameron, to the people who work for her greeting card company, everyone is the star of their own part of the story even as the contribute to the greater tale, and we feel that on every page.
Top Five Things I Loved About WRITE CHRISTMAS 1. Winter Glen. I’m more of a big city girl, but if I ever moved to a small town, it would so be Winter Glen. The town is its very own character in the story.
2. Darla. The quintessential mayor is spunky and seems to always have the right thing to say in a given situation, even though she doesn’t think she does.
3. Abby. Though often morose, it’s easy to understand her disillusionment with both her home town and the Christmas season it embodies. She’s all of us at one time or another.
4. Cameron. His persistence is sweet rather than stalkery. Being the father of her daughter only makes his unwillingness to give up on the woman he loves and the family he wants endearing rather than creepy.
5. Christmas. The best holiday of the year gets a fresh new tale.
Bottom Line A warm pair of socks and a cozy fire wrapped up in an endearing tale.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Thommy Hutson is a bestselling, award-winning author, screenwriter, producer, and director.
A graduate of UCLA, he began his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!
As an author, Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of horror icon Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version followed from Permuted Press/Simon & Schuster. His novel, the teen thriller Jinxed, (Vesuvian Books) is the first in a trilogy that has been called “A must-read for classic horror fans … Hutson could easily take on the mantle as the next Lois Duncan.” Hutson was named on the
7 Essential LGBTQ Horror Authors for Your Summer Reading Lists.
Thommy wrote the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries original film, A CHRISTMAS FOR THE BOOKS, which was the highest-rated scripted program the night it premiered. He co-scripted the teen thriller INSTAFAME (Lifetime), wrote a screenplay for an audio holiday project, and is in development on a family feature film. In addition, Thommy produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy. He has also worked as a staff writer on a Hulu web series.
A member of the Producers Guild of America, a Saturn and Home Media Magazine award-winner, and an aficionado of holiday films as well as teen movies from the 80s and 90s, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling, and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment.
Synopsis Leena Coughlin is simply eye-candy to her husband Steven’s sky-rocketing career. Steven may be a brilliant cardiac surgeon, but the self-absorbed man is more focused on other people’s hearts—and his own pleasure—than on the emotional heart of his family. He’s a God-like man, after all, saving lives every day. And a man like him has needs. More than Leena can provide.
To fend off the growing loneliness of her marriage, Leena strikes up a relationship with a stranger, Michael Casspi, through a letters-to-prisoners program. Michael was also once a cardiac surgeon. He claimed that assisting his dying wife with suicide was an act of mercy. The state called it murder. Can a man imprisoned behind bars fill Leena’s emotional void?
Focused on their own strained relationship, neither Steven nor Leena has noticed the deteriorating mental health of their college-aged daughter, Joy.
Two men. One woman. And a fragile girl teetering on the knife-edge of depression. But when Michael is unexpectedly released from prison, the precarious balance of all their lives will be dramatically altered forever.
My Review The story is told in four first-person points of view: Leena, Steven, Michael, and Joy. Leena and Steven’s marriage is far from perfect, which is obvious right away from both POVs. The fact that Leena is writing to Michael out of loneliness as he languishes in prison is not a surprise. The opening chapter is Michael’s and it starts with a bang, hooking me almost instantly. As the story unfolds, we find out more about Steven’s extramarital behavior. He seems to love his wife and daughter, though he never has time for them. At least he sees his wife in bed most nights, where he grabs a quickie before going to sleep. But he barely sees his daughter and hasn’t for years. Steven is a famous cardio-thoracic surgeon, in high demand. He believes the material things he provides for his family should be enough. It’s not enough for him, though, because he has a rather active sex life with women who are not his wife. He claims it’s because he needs to blow of steam and doesn’t want to bring his hospital life home, which he views as a safe harbor. But in reality, he likes to do what he considers dirty and depraved things he believes his wife is too good for.
Leena is the long-suffering wife who we all know deserves better. She clearly loves her husband and adores her daughter, yet she’s completely oblivious to everything going on around her. She has no idea her daughter is suffering form mental illness that pushes her to the brink of suicide, nor that her husband has been unfaithful for probably most of their marriage. Shea assumes because he comes home to bang in her in the night, he’s clearly not getting anything on the side.
So much of the story I found problematic, but the author kept me turning the pages, proving she’s an outstanding storyteller. The book could have been a stronger story for me if the author had gotten certain details correct. For instance, Steven, a renowned surgeon, and even Michael for that matter, keep referring to conjoined twins as Siamese twins. That’s not a medical term at all and is actually quite offensive. I cringed every time it was mentioned, which was a lot. There was also a continuity error that yanked me out of the story when Leena is driving her beloved Karmann Ghia through the streets of San Francisco, only to end up in her black Mercedes, which blends in, without ever going home and swapping out cars. There is nothing about a Karmann Ghia that blends in, so this was jarring. And finally, the biggest problem I had was Joy’s mental illness. Throughout the book, everyone, including Joy, blames her father’s lack of presence in her life as the cause of her depression. But this does a disservice to anyone who suffers from mental illness. It is not caused by someone else. The blame game is very dangerous and hurtful, especially to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide. The thought that if they’d only done more, been more present, etc., they could have prevented it, is a terrible message to send.
Plot The plot centers around Michael’s release from prison, his future beyond his time behind bars, and the relationships between all four main characters. There’s a lot of drama and even more at stake, and the author does a good job of keeping the pacing spot on. As I said, I was riveted to the story and wanted, or rather needed, to find out what happened next, regardless of my issues.
The Characters The characters were all well-developed and deeply flawed. We get deep into each of their points of view, even Steven’s. While it was good to understand what drives a man who has everything to throw it all away for cheap thrills, it didn’t really do much to make me like him, but I think that was never the point. it was an interesting twist I wasn’t expecting, though.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About A HEART LIFE 1. San Francisco. I loved that my favorite city in the world was the backdrop for these characters. The story is as much a love letter to the City by the Bay as it is anything else.
2. Joy. She was my favorite character. Maybe because I have a daughter the same age or maybe because I could see a lot of my nineteen-year-old sister in her, but she was probably the only truly innocent person in the story.
3. Cliffhangers. Each chapter ended strongly, forcing me to read on. I love when an author can do that.
4. Twists. There were only a few twists that really caught me by surprise, but those are always a treat and I enjoyed them immensely.
5. Storytelling. The author knows how to weave a tale that kept me turning the pages.
Bottom Line A fun, fast read with deeply drawn characters.
Disclaimer I was provided by a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Fascinated by broken-hearted couples and atypical families, Patricia writes women’s fiction, weaving engaging tales of men and women who create cohesive families where love reigns supreme. She sprinkles her books with intriguing characters who struggle to find balance in life. Whether an unwed teenager, desperate widow, abandoned father, disconnected sisters, or a troubled couple, her characters form relationships impacted by their desire to create a family.
Patricia lives with her husband and two children on the island of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, along with three chocolate labs and a rescue terrier mix. When she’s not writing or spending time with her family, Patricia enjoys riding her Friesian horse Maximus, who lives in the Oakland hills with a million dollar view.
SEND ME THEIR SOULS (Bring Me Their Hearts Series #3) by Sara Wolf
The finale to the epic Bring Me Their Hearts series reaches its thrilling conclusion, full of intrigue, emotion, and of course romance.
Reunited with Lucien, Malachite, and Fione, Zera finally has the choice of whether or not to regain her humanity and give up her life as a Heartless. But with war raging and an army of valkerax on the loose, she’s never needed immortality more. Will they be able to stop Varia without sacrificing themselves in the process?
WARNING: Spoilers for books 1 and 2! Sara Wolf wraps the series up with a bang. SEND ME THEIR SOULS is a rollercoaster ride of emotion, from tears and laughter to angst, heartbreak, and redemption. The third installment in the Bring Me Their Hearts series has everything I was hoping for and more. Picking up where book two ends, the author brings us right back into that world, reminding us of anything we might have forgotten over the past year since it was released. Zera, Fione, Malachite, and Lucien manage to escape with their lives after Varia brings the Bone Tree to life, unleashing a swarm of flying valkyrax. The easy thing to do would be to kill Varia to save the world, but Fione’s love of her as well as Lucien’s means the only solution is to destroy the Bone Tree. And as with any good story, that is always easier said than done.
The group launches on a quest for answers, putting them in danger, testing loyalties, and breaking Zera’s unheart over and over as first she is reunited with loved ones, then Varia’s rage of terror wipes out one civilization after another. But this time Zera has the trust of Fione, Malachite and Lucien, making the treacherous trail they must all follow both easier and much more difficult, because when you love other people, you have so much more to lose.
Plot As with the other two books, the pacing is perfect, moving from one exciting moment to another, with enough room to catch our breath and witness romantic moments between Zera and Lucien. Finally, finally they are together, in love, the way they should be. But with a twist I won’t reveal. Fighting together as a team this time, the group works to defeat a nebulous enemy and save Lucien’s sister and Fione’s love. We get inside Varia’s head through a weird connection between Zera and Varia that only happens in Zera’s dreams. But it’s enough to show us that love is a two-way street and her passion to Fione is maybe the only thing keeping her sane as the Bone Tree gets a further hold on her mind.
Characters The characters continue to grow and develop throughout this finale, including Zera. Even though she’s frozen in time, she manages to mature along with her friends. The depth of character the author manages to capture on the page, brings these people and creatures to life in three-dimensional ways that have endeared them to me for long beyond finishing the series.
What I Loved About SEND ME THEIR SOULS 1. Zera. She’s as snarky as ever, but even without a heart, she’s grown warmer and more loving to those she cares for.
2. Young Love. The romance is on steady ground in this final installment and the sweet moments between Zera and Lucien zing.
3. Fione. She has much to be concerned about with the love of her life being the enemy now, but she uses that quiet determination of hers we’ve come to know in the first two books to keep on keeping on.
4. World Building. From a steampunk inspired zeppelin to a floating island in the sky, the author’s imagination knows no bounds as she creates stunning settings to drop her characters into.
5. Magic. With the prince now a witch, magic is on display in nearly every chapter and it’s as double-sided as everything else. Everything has a price, including using magic.
Bottom Line The perfect way to wrap up a trilogy — satisfying on every level, but leaving me sad to say goodbye to characters I’ve grown to love.
About the Author New York Times bestselling author, Sara Wolf is a twenty-something author who adores baking, screaming at her cats, and screaming at herself while she types hilarious things. When she was a kid, she was too busy eating dirt to write her first terrible book. Twenty years later, she picked up a keyboard and started mashing her fists on it and created the monster known as the Lovely Vicious series. She lives in Portland, Oregon where the sun can’t get her anymore and not enough fruit tarts ever.
ROMANCING THE BEAT (How to Write Kissing Books Series #1) by Gwen Hayes
Synopsis What makes a romance novel a romance? How do you write a kissing book?
Writing a well-structured romance isn’t the same as writing any other genre—something the popular novel and screenwriting guides don’t address. The romance arc is made up of its own story beats, and the external plot and theme need to be braided to the romance arc—not the other way around.
Told in conversational (and often irreverent) prose, Romancing the Beat can be read like you are sitting down to coffee with romance editor and author Gwen Hayes while she explains story structure. The way she does with her clients. Some of whom are regular inhabitants of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
Romancing the Beat is a recipe, not a rigid system. The beats don’t care if you plot or outline before you write, or if you pants your way through the drafts and do a “beat check” when you’re revising. Pantsers and plotters are both welcome. So sit down, grab a cuppa, and let’s talk about kissing books.
My Review One of the panels I virtually attended at RWA this year recommended ROMANCING THE BEAT. I’m a devoted plotter, so I wanted to see how best to weave the romance beats into the greater story beats. Hayes’s book is short and sweet. She lays out the beats, where they fall in the three-act structure, and gives a brief description of what each one needs to accomplish. Because it’s so short, you can read it easily in one sitting and be ready to plot or revise your next romance novel. However, because it’s such a quick read, it’s short on details that would have been nice. Whether you’re new to writing romance or have been at it for awhile, there are some great tidbits in here for every romance writer.
Bottom Line A solid resource that you’ll find yourself referring to over and over.
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.
Synopsis The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.
In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.
In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. ’Cause that won’t end in disaster.
The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him.
If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.
My Review I know I’ve said this before, but this time I really mean it. THIS is my favorite book by Pintip Dunn. Unless I’m allowed to have more than one favorite, in which case I choose them ALL. But seriously, this is just the right lighthearted rom-com for these complicated times. It’s full of warm, engaging characters, swoony moments that are solidly of the PG variety, and so much Thai food that my mouth watered throughout. Winnie is the youngest of three girls and has grown up in the shadow of her beautiful, identical twin sisters. And for the most part, she’s been okay with that. She loves them and they adore her. With them in college now, they’re expected to find suitable spouses, sooner rather than later, as is Thai tradition. But because the Tech girls are not allowed to date in high school, Bunny and Ari use that as an excuse for why they haven’t found anyone yet. After all, one needs to date in order to learn how to date. And they use that lack of experience as an excuse. Lesson learned, their parents decide that Winnie will practice date, so that she knows what to do when she heads off to college next year. And she will practice date with longtime family friend and arch nemesis, Mat Songsomboon. It’s clear from the beginning these two will end up together, but how they get there is hilarious, heartfelt, and full of humility.
Plot Winnie and Mat’s relationship drives the plot, but Winnie’s acceptance of her role in her family, the obedient daughter, drives most of the conflict. While Mat and Winnie are now mortal enemies, they share a past that included lazy afternoons, deep friendship, and lots of laughter. That is evident even in their most contentious interactions. The more time they spend together, though, the more Winnie begins to doubt that Mat hates her or that she hates him. In fact, it takes a lot of energy to hate someone, so why put so much effort into someone who doesn’t matter? What I absolutely love about this book is that the author doesn’t take the easy way out and allow unspoken thoughts and rampant misunderstandings to keep her characters apart. Instead, they both share thoughts and feelings, awkwardly, that clears the air far sooner than I expected, and instead the author finds more difficult ways to build conflict. This made the story much less predictable than I anticipated.
The Characters As always, Dunn creates beautifully deep characters with just enough flaws to make them believable and loveable. Winnie, Mat, and the rest are no exception. Winnie’s sisters, though only secondary characters, are nearly as well-developed as Winnie. Her parents, best friend, Kavya, and the new Thai boy, Taran, round out the main cast perfectly.
Top Five Things I Loved About DATING MAKES PERFECT 1. Mat. He’s annoying at times, self-assured, bordering on arrogant, but he is loyal to the end and earns Winnie’s love the hard way.
2. Winnie. Her desire to be the good and obedient Thai daughter but also be true to herself creates a refreshing internal conflict that makes her easy to love.
3. Thai Food. So much of the story centers around Thai tradition and food is as much a part of that as anything else. From meals to treats, the detailed descriptions left me salivating for a bowl of tom yum koong.
4. Parental Love. Even though Winnie is convinced her parents’ love is conditional, they show her that nothing could be further from the truth in the best way possible.
5. Rom Coms. The subtle weaving of some of the best romantic comedies ever made was a bonus I didn’t even know I wanted.
Bottom Line The perfect light, fun read for these extraordinary times.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and received her J.D. at Yale Law School.
Pintip’s novel FORGET TOMORROW won the 2016 RWA RITA® for Best First Book, and SEIZE TODAY won the 2018 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. Her books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for the following awards: the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; the Japanese Sakura Medal; the MASL Truman Award; the Tome Society It list; and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her other titles include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, THE DARKEST LIE, GIRL ON THE VERGE, and the upcoming STAR-CROSSED and MALICE.
WELCOME TO HICKVILLE HIGH (Hickville High Series #1) by Mary Karlik
Synopsis The Universe has completely dumped on High School senior Kelsey Quinn’s life. Credit card at Nordstrom’s? Deactivated. Honda Accord? Sold. Life in the burbs of Chicago? Gone. And it’s all her sister’s fault. Yep. Drugs, alcohol, and getting caught with the boss’s son was all it took. Dad loses job, family loses money, and the next thing she knows she’s crammed in a cell on wheels for the next two days as they make their way to a dilapidated farmhouse in Texas. But Kelsey doesn’t just leave the good life in Chicago. She leaves the boy who-has-it-all, Drew Montgomery.
Hillside senior, quarterback, Austin McCoy works for Kelsey’s dad at the feed store and helps with the farm chores in the morning. He sees through Kelsey’s surly attitude to the girl whose eyes light up when she’s with the animals. He is determined to help Kelsey see that not only does she love the Farmville life, but that the guy she really wants is him.
Will Austin convince Kelsey he’s the guy she wants? Will Kelsey embrace the simple life and find forgiveness for her sister?
My Review Kelsey Quinn is the epitome of a spoiled, rich teen from the upper midwest moving to smalltown Texas. She hates everything from the weather to the twang in their voices. Her initial observations on her new home, she nicknames Hickville, are judgmental and snobby. About the only thing she thinks might make running the family farm even mildly tolerable is Austin McCoy, local hottie and her new high school’s starting quarterback. But even Austin’s chiseled abs and sculpted biceps will only go so far when she has to get up at the crack of dawn to feed chickens, even before she’s allowed to enjoy a cup of coffee. All Kelsey wants is to survive her senior year in Hillside and return to Chicago and her perfect boyfriend, Drew. Her ideal life is gone, she knows that. No more designer clothes, her own car, or lavish lifestyle. Instead she shares the family pickup truck, wears second-hand store duds, and spends her time doing farm work. But she has her sights set on a big event in Chicago, an annual affair with ballgowns and a semblance of normalcy. Except that costs money her family no longer has. If she wants to go, she’ll need to earn the money herself between schoolwork, farm work, and time in the family’s feed store. Her only option is the diner, the same one where Austin’s mom works that she mocked when she first arrived in town.
The more time Kelsey spends with Austin, the more she begins to question whether she even wants her old life back. Being around him ignites feelings she never experienced with Drew. But Drew is her boyfriend and she doubles down on their long-distance relationship, until she doesn’t. As she’s torn between two worlds and two boys, she learns a lot about herself and does some much needed growing up.
Plot The plot is relatively predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. The personalities of the characters and playful banter shake things up. And even though I may have had a pretty good idea how the story would end, I didn’t know how we’d get there. While there weren’t any real plot twists or shocking revelations, the story moves at a good pace and the world building is well done, bringing me into the heart of rural Texas.
The Characters The characters were all really well developed and fully fleshed out. I’m used to first person POV for young adult, but even though this is third-person, I still felt really connected to both Austin and Kelsey. The rest of the characters also felt real and unique. Kelsey’s sisters are very different from Kelsey and from each other, so I’m not surprised to find they each have their own books, and I’m looking forward to reading all of them. Kelsey’s parents came across as some of the most authentic in the genre. They’re more than props or impediments to Kelsey getting what she wants and I loved that they even have their own issues to deal with as well as a minor relationship arc.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About WELCOME TO HICKVILLE HIGH 1. Forced Change. The complete upheaval of Kelsey’s life provides for so much conflict, the story was fun to read.
2. Humor. The author weaves a lot of humor through some pretty serious topics, bringing lighthearted moments in what might otherwise be a darker tale.
3. Homecoming. Hillside’s take on the homecoming tradition is something to behold.
4. Personal Growth. Kelsey has a lot of growing up to do and she does it with humility.
5. Austin. He’s one of the really good guys out there. Even though Kelsey is a handful, he realizes there’s more to her than just a spoiled rich girl lashing out after being dumped into the Middle of Nowhere, Texas.
Bottom Line A sweet contemporary romance with great characters.
About the Author Mary Karlik has always been a dreamer. When she was a teen, she read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and then sat in every wardrobe in her Nanna’s home, trying to open the door to Narnia. She didn’t find it, but she did discover her voice as an author: one filled with her young adult self, and grounded in her roots as a Texan and her Scottish heritage, nourished by obscure Scottish folklore.
You can find her Texas roots in her YA contemporary romance Hickville series , which has been described as “100% solid storytelling,” and begins with Welcome to Hickville High, a “lovely story about growing up.”
She digs deep into her Scottish roots – there is magic there, she just knows it – for the forthcoming YA epic fantasy Fairy Trafficking series, beginning with Magic Harvest.
She makes her home in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains of Northern New Mexico where she is a certified professional ski instructor, but she also loves visiting Scotland where she is currently studying Scottish Gaelic at the University of Highlands and Islands in Skye. Mary also earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, has a B.S. degree from Texas A&M University, and is a Registered Nurse.
Mary currently serves as the President of the Young Adult Chapter of Romance Writers of America and looks forward to raising a glass or two of gin and tonic with her fellow writers every year at RWA’s national convention.
Synopsis In ShannonKlare’s fun and sexy YA novel LastChanceSummer, a teen is shipped off to work as a counselor at a summer camp―only to butt heads with her co-counselor.
Alex is a sheriff’s daughter with a less than pristine reputation. When she’s caught drinking at a party by her dad’s deputy, she’s in deep trouble. With an already incriminating incident in her past, Alex’s parents ship her off to her aunt’s summer camp to work as a counselor.
What’s worse than spending your summer deep in the mosquito-infested woods of Texas?
Being paired with an obnoxious co-counselor who wants nothing to do with you.
Alex is determined to make the best of her summer, even if it means putting up with Grant, who has secrets of his own that he’s determined to protect. Can Alex and Grant put their egos to the side and find the bright side of a summer that neither of them signed up for?
My Review Eighteen-year-old Alex has an attitude bigger than the sun and entitlement issues to give even the most spoiled child a run for their money. The daughter of the town sheriff, she seems to have spent her life breaking the rules for no other reason than she didn’t like them. The only child of two loving parents, she doesn’t really have much to rebel against, except she discovered being a rebel in her small Louisiana town made her more popular, so rebel she did. Until the fateful night in the autumn of her senior year when she, daughter of a law enforcement officer, got into a car with her best friend, who was drunk, and allowed said girl to drive. She’s forced to live with the tragedy of that night, still suffering PSTD as well as the loss of her BFF, though she doesn’t acknowledge her role in it to the extent I believe she should. After spending most of her senior year in rehab after the accident took a toll on both her body and spirit, she’ll be repeating her final year of high school. But first, she’s shipped off to be camp counselor at a summer camp for troubled youth. This should be the wakeup call she needs to see how good her life was until that night, but she wears a giant chip on her shoulder like a badge of honor.
She gets a crash course in what it’s like to deal with her when she comes face-to-face with five fourteen-year-old girls who give her a run for her money when it comes to attitude. But unlike Alex, their lives and attitudes are shaped by vastly different circumstances. These little rebels have a valid cause for their rebellion. As Alex learns how to wrangle them, she’s kept off her toes by her hot counterpart, Grant. He won’t take any of her crap, but he’s really good at dishing it out. A former camper himself, he has his own secrets and dark past. While the attraction between them is evident from the beginning, Grant isn’t like most guys Alex deals with; he doesn’t find her smart mouth or antics endearing. The more they spar, the more they learn about each other, and Alex finally comes to realize that everyone has issues and hers aren’t any more important than anyone else’s.
Plot The primary plot is Alex dealing with her issues and growing up, becoming less self-absorbed, but the romance between her and Grant is a strong subplot. The story moves at a steady pace, but where it really shines is the witty dialogue. From the playful banter between Alex and Grant and the snarky dialogue between Alex and her surly campers, the conversations make this otherwise run-of-the-mill summer romance really sparkle.
The Characters The characters are fascinating, if not all incredibly relatable or even likable. In fact, it took me a good 75% of the book to warm up to Alex. But no one is untouched by trauma of some sort that has shaped their complex natures. From the sassy campers to Grant and Alex, no one is unscathed by their pasts and they all harbor scars that manifest in different ways. But each one is resilient in their own way, and uncovering the secrets that shaped them is what makes this book work.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About LAST CHANCE SUMMER 1. Consequences. I may not like Alex for most of the book, but she’s never given a pass. The consequences for her behavior are harsh, deservedly so. The author doesn’t baby her, which is refreshing.
2. Grant. I love that he won’t take any of Alex’s bull. Sometimes I wonder why he’s attracted to her, but at no point does he allow her to get away with anything simply because he’s attracted to her. He has his own self-preservation motives for much of what he does.
3. Pranks. Summer camp pranks provided some much-needed lighter moments.
4. Redemption Arcs. I do love a good redemption arc and Alex has a great one.
5. Brie. She’s the most difficult of the campers, but her spirit and spunk were inspiring.
Bottom Line A fun young adult contemporary with stellar dialogue and fascinating characters.
About the Author ShannonKlare is a writer, teacher, reality TV fanatic, and movie connoisseur. When she isn’t writing or daydreaming new plots, Shannon can be found frequenting Starbucks or hanging out with her family. SURVIVING ADAM MEADE is her debut novel.
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.
Synopsis Every wallflower blooms at their own perfect time, but some like quirky Lo, take longer than others.
Lo is a sheltered 20-year-old who loves baking, manga/anime, and octopi. When she spots her college swim team’s tryout flyer sporting her favorite sea creature, an octopus she knows it’s a sign that she must join the Flying Octopi. The only things standing her way are her social awkward nature and the fact that she just learned to swim.
Will Lo find her place to shine or will her social anxiety DQ her dreams?
LateBloomer is a new adult novel that is a cross between Bridget Jones’s Diary, Baywatch and Kuragehime.
My Review This novel was a breath of fresh air. I love everything about it, from the cover, to the devices the author uses to tell Lo’s story, to the characters that populate the pages. At twenty, Lo is socially awkward on steroids and as inexperienced as an adult as she was in middle school. After a near-drowning experience as a child, she promised her mother she would never go into a pool again. But Lo, being Lo, figured the best way to protect herself was to learn how to swim. So through reading books and researching online, she taught herself how to swim. Now she wants to swim on her college’s swim team. She’s awful, but because she’s determined, the coach gives her a chance. When Lo isn’t studying, swimming, or taking care of her little brother, she’s listening to 90s grunge music. Set in 2003, there’s a lot of great music and movie references to take me back nearly two decades.
Lo balances her life the best way she can, by trying to please everyone. Her family is full-on passive-aggressive, giving her the silent treatment if she displeases them. No wonder she has so many issues with developing normal, healthy interpersonal relationships. But she always manages to regain a positive attitude every time she’s knocked down. Along her journey, she falls for moody Martin, and fellow music lover, but he’s got a girlfriend. Still, she can’t stop the way she feels and when Martin and his girlfriend break up, Lo blurts our her feelings in the most Lo-like way, taking their friendship into awkward territory as only she can.
I fell in love with this character as she deals with helping her brother with his problems at school, with her parents’ financial troubles, her own failing grades, and her up and down relationship/friendship with Martin. I enjoyed watching her crawl into her own person. Author L.M.L. Gil has shot to the top of my list of favorite debut authors. I can’t wait to read more by her.
Plot The plot is sort of a wandering tale of Lo’s personal growth, with strong romantic elements, and themes of friendship and being there for others. Lo is quirky, and one of her friends, Nick, calls her weirdo, but she takes it all in stride, knowing she’s always been different from other people. She knows she’s socially awkward, and while she would like to be more like her friends, I love her just the way she is. Lo is endearing and sweet, without ever being annoying. Even her friend Britney says, “If you weren’t so cute, you would be annoying,” and that’s the best description of Lo I can think of. I did find her constant need to apologize somewhat disheartening, but when you understand her family, it makes so much sense for who she is. While the book tends to run long at 525 pages, it’s actually a fast read, told over short chapters.
The Characters We see the characters only through Lo’s innocent eyes. She is such a caring soul, non-judgmental soul, it’s hard to get a true grasp of them, but over time, they all slowly come into focus. They’re all well-developed with rich back stories, even Britney, who at first comes off a bit shallow, but we eventually find out there is even more to her than meets the eye. But Lo steals the show, and one of the things I love most about her, is she is absolutely the last person to see what everyone else knows.
Top Five Things I Loved About THE DIARY OF A LATE BLOOMER 1. Lo. She’s so naive and trusting and wonderful. Her heart is enormous and she loves with everything she is.
2. Swimming. I loved reading about Lo’s time in the pool. I’m not much of a swimmer, but I almost feel as if I could be after reading her story.
3. Nick. It took me a full two-thirds of the book to warm up to him, but once I did, I adored him. He’s an enigma for sure, and I didn’t like the way he treated Lo at first, but the more I got to know him, the more I understood why he is the way he is.
4. Music. Lo spends a great deal of time going to concerts in small venues and if I hadn’t had a couple of newborn twins in 2003, I would have loved to have joined her. That was totally my scene!
5. Ending. So much is wrapped up in the last twenty percent of the book. I cried, I laughed, and I finished feeling completely satisfied.
Bottom Line An adorably fun and unique romance with some of the best characters in the genre! One of my favorite reads of 2020.
About the Author L.M.L. Gil is a writer, a reader, and a dreamer. When she is not writing, editing, or thinking about her next story, she is either in the kitchen testing out a new recipe or snuggling with her fur munchkins reading.
As a glutton, she equates a good novel to a scrumptious dessert, which leaves your heart a little lighter and a smile on your face. She hopes her novels provide a sweet treat without the calories