YA/NA Books: Best of 2014

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Looking back on 2014, so many wonderful changes have been made to the blog. I’ve gained several hundred followers and views, thank you! I’ve opened more communication networks and expanded social media to include more Indie authors and have made friends with many new authors. I’ve upped my participation in tours, giveaways, and conducted great interviews. It’s been a year of growth and discovery and I hope that you’ll continue on with the blog into what promises to be another amazing year-2015. A year which may or may not include my book release…we’ll see. Fingers crossed.

That being said, in 2014 I read and reviewed 218 books. That’s 32 under what my goal was but grad school, eh and writing, YAY. I asked over on the FB page and on my personal page for categories, the following are a combination of those suggestions and my own. The books on this list consist ONLY of books I’ve read this year. Some of them are not 2014 releases, most are. 

BEST DYSTOPIA

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BEST DEBUT

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BEST FEMALE LEAD

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BEST MALE LEAD

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BEST PLOT TWIST

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BEST CLIFFHANGER

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BEST COUPLE

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BEST SERIES

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BEST MADE INTO FILM

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BEST SECONDARY FEMALE 

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BEST SECONDARY MALE

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BEST DIVERSITY

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BEST PARANORMAL

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BEST TEARJERKER

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BEST OVERALL

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BEST DIALOGUE

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BEST PROSE

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BEST WEIRD/BIZARRE/HORROR

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BEST ACTION/SUSPENSE

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BEST CONTEMPORARY

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BEST DRAMA

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BEST LGBTQIA

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BEST END OF SERIES

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BEST MYTHOLOGY

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BEST LOVE TRIANGLE

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BEST GOTHIC

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BEST REALISTIC FICTION

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BEST NEW SERIES

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This is, of course, not an all-encompassing list and I’m sure there are categories and areas that I’ve neglected. Some of these titles are repeated but I couldn’t help myself. 

Keep reading and have a lovely New Year,

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Cover Reveal: Snake Eyes-Melissa Pearl

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Snake Eyes (The Mask, #3) by Melissa Pearl
COVER REVEAL
December 30, 2014
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Caitlyn Davis expects her sophomore year at UCLA to be perfect…until she walks into her dorm room to find Special Agent Zoey Kaplan of the FBI waiting for her. In that instant, she knows her idyllic year with new best friends, Nicole and Dale, along with her super hot boyfriend, Eric, is about to fall apart.
 
Having been forced to work with the FBI months earlier, Caity accidentally gave away her special ability to read people’s emotions and know whether they were telling the truth. Now, Kaplan wants Caity to go undercover again for a secret operation that will bring her close to the sadistic Diego Mendez, a man believed to be involved in human trafficking.
 
Eric Shore is not a man who trusts easily. Having been burned multiple times, it’s hard for him to open up completely, but his love for Caity makes him want to try. Yet, her sudden withdrawal worries him, particularly when she chooses to spend time with her new roommate, Quella Mendez, over him. When Caity’s behavior begins to match that of her wild roommate, Eric wonders if their relationship is as strong as he believed.
 
As Caity struggles to maintain her relationship and do her job, she finds herself pulled further into a dangerous world that could take away everything she holds dear. Will Eric learn the truth in time to save her? Or will the man with the eyes of a snake destroy their perfect romance?
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Melissa Pearl was born in Auckland, New Zealand, but has spent much of her life abroad, living in countries such as Jordan, Cyprus and Pakistan… not to mention a nine month road trip around North America with her husband. “Best. Year. Ever!!” She now lives in China with her husband and two sons. She is a trained elementary teacher, but writing is her passion. Since becoming a full time mother she has had the opportunity to pursue this dream and her debut novel hit the internet in November 2011. Since then she has continued to produce a steady stream of books, ranging in genres from Fantasy to Contemporary Romance. She loves the variety and is excited about the books she has coming up in 2015.

Happy reading,
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ARC Review: Earth & Sky-Megan Crewe

17875055Goodreads/Amazon

cooltext1790897456 copySeventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the panic attacks tormenting her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: our world no longer belongs to us.

For thousands of years, Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for its inhabitants and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help–but with each shift in the past, the very fabric of reality is unraveling, and soon there may be no Earth left to save.

cooltext1790896132 copy2.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Amazon Children’s Publishing.

PROS:

  • Earth & Sky is a bold, brilliant and unique story. The blur between science fiction and historical fiction is bewitching, the sort of story that mixes alien with fact. From the very beginning, Skylar’s sense of wrongness when it came to pieces of her world was puzzling and intriguing. It sucks the reader in and tantalizes with the promise of something mysterious, something magical. The bones of the story is amazing. The aliens, the fiddling with history, the threat of Earth unraveling, it’s terrifying. Unfortunately, that fear doesn’t translate well.
  • Skylar was interesting. Her trauma was a story that cut deep. Her anger towards her brother, the pain in not knowing his fate, her OCD as coping mechanism all drove and inspired her actions. Getting inside Skylar’s emotions was riveting and upsetting but real and emotionally raw. 

CONS:

  • The story is very slow and lacks the necessary suspense. Every action scene lags or is cut before any anxiety or uncertainty can fully develop. 
  • There’s a huge disconnect between Win and the reader. You never get the chance to know what he’s feeling, he’s almost absent, his presence is off and his actions push Skylar away.
  • The budding romance seems one-sided because of Win’s attitude towards Skylar. The build up is minimal and so when it does happen, it’s dull, unsatisfying, and kind of bizarre.
  • The history is brief and not nearly as detailed as I would have liked. Between the imagery in France to the battles with the Native Americans to the explanation of the colonization. The details were threadbare. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

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Pleasant reading,

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ARC Review: Both of Me-Jonathan Friesen

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“He bowed his head. ‘I’m scared. Are you ever frightened?.’ ‘No. Well, yes.’ ‘Frightened that you’ll be overcome by yourself? That a gentle monster inside of you might take over and never let go?'”

***

“‘Have you ever run from reality? Have you ever run because reality was too much, too suffocating, too…just too? And then you find fiction. And the fiction feels more real than the real ever did. Have you ever felt like that?'”

cooltext1790897456 copyElias Phinn has always been considered stupid, but that may be because no one knows his vacant exterior holds a gifted mind. A mind that has learned to focus on his created world of Warilia, through which Elias distills everything he sees in order to cope with the excruciating, actual world around him. But with each passing year, the detailed sketches and notebooks describing Warilia have not only taken over Elias’s time, they have become a world he must slip into in order to get through each day. Clara Tobias has been running from her own reality, leaving behind her fragile mother and two siblings in order to have the whirlwind life of travel and adventure she always wanted. She justifies she put in her time caring for others, and that the rest of her life is hers to use as she pleases. Even if guilt won’t leave her alone.

On a flight out of New York—Elias heading home for the summer, Clara on another trip to Somewhere—the two end up side by side. And when their carry-ons are mistakenly switched, Clara opens her bag to discover the histories of Warilia while Elias finds photographs and journals he uses to flesh out the mysterious girl who sat beside him, whom he sees as the beautiful daughter of a Warilian diplomat, making her and her mother an integral part of his entire world.

When Clara arrives at the Phinn’s boarding house for her luggage, she begs Elias to show her Warilia—and he does, taking her to locations that to him are not ordinary landscapes and buildings but epic mountains and massive skyscrapers. But as Clara finds herself further drawn to this intriguing boy, word comes her mother has died. When Elias becomes unable to deal with the death of his diplomat, he and Clara leave on a mission Elias claims will preserve Warilia forever. Though in the end it could be the one thing that allows Clara to piece her own world together.

cooltext1790896132 copy5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Blink

Sometimes you read a book and every other page all you can think is WOW. Just wow. Then you take a deep breath, take a step back and pause. Everything suddenly has a marvelous sort of calm and clarity. It’s brilliant, peaceful, the kind of elation that comes from being deeply satisfied and loved. Loved-because that’s what Both of Me is, an outpouring of love, understanding and self-discovery and definitely one of my top reads of 2014, if not ever.

Both of Me is an unconventional story that is part self-discovery, romance, mystery, and revelation. It’s at its heart, an adventure that unites two unlikely allies on a quest made of imagination and dark secrets.

From the first page, I was fascinated by Clara. Her role as a traveller following a map around the world through an elaborate system of blogging and funding from an internet scam simultaneously disgusted and intrigued me. Beneath her bravado was a scared little girl running from a past that she thought could be forgotten through redemption, through following her father’s path around the world. Clara is confused, bold, brilliant, she tackles things head on and has a nice British accent. At the same time, the need to know her sinister truth pulls the story forward as Clara’s unraveling comes to a head. Everything she’s been hiding threatens to bubble over and burst out into the open. Clara’s terrified and shamed. Her emotions are complex and raw as she questions her faith and what it means to love. Her guilt is sometimes overwhelming but complimented by a dramatic thirst for life.

Both of Me is breathtaking and beautifully written in its simplicity. Some of the most profound, moving sentences are casually strung together so that they linger. They don’t immediately hit you that simmer, a slow burn of longing and epiphany.

This book is special in that it deals with a subject that is difficult to capture let alone talk about-Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and autism. Jonathan Friesen doesn’t talk about DID as something crippling or wrong but as a puzzle with a bit of whimsy. Elias is the most unique, heartbreaking character I’ve ever read. He’s two parts of a whole. One side is a talented artist that breathes life into a fantasy world of his own creation, where a Lightkeeper must be found to combat the darkness in the world. The other half is a genius machinist with a bemused expression and big heart. These two pieces of Elias are easy to fall in love with. His switch happens in an instant and at first it’s intriguing. The determined Other One has a quest that rivals great epics and a giddy hope builds as Clara follows him on his journey for answers. When he slips into the main Elias, he has no memory and that happiness quickly turns to bleak sadness. He’s losing part of himself and can never get that back. It’s brutal, gut-wrenching, and almost paralyzes so that you don’t want to move forward out of fear.

My heart fractured and broke, only to be rebuilt as Clara and Elias’ relationship blossomed. 

Every character is quirky and has a fully developed personality. There’s not a small character that is not memorable. 

Elias and Clara, when they are together is sweet, charming, and uncertain but they fit. She wants to help him and he’s healing her wounds. 

The subplots are hilarious. Izzy’s insertion into the story and the underground railroad. It takes you to unexpected places that you’ll never see coming.

The ending. There are no words. 

If this is not made into a movie and/or best-seller I will be astounded. If you like John Green, I’ll Give You the Sun, or Belzhar get this, it’s your next favorite. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

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Review: The Adventures of Jillian Spectre-Nic Tatano

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cooltext1790897456 copyWelcome to the Mystic Quarter…

Jillian Spectre knows what happens after you die because the seventeen-year-old mystic seer can see the future of her clients even after they’ve passed on. And that’s not even her coolest power… she can be in two places at once. Problem is, her heart can only be in one.

Supernatural abilities aside, she’s a typical high school senior torn between two guys. But that gets put on the back burner when she discovers the father she had long assumed was dead is actually alive, with unique powers of his own. He’s a technopath, with the ability to interface his mind with technology. And he’s got a plan to take down society.

Unless Jillian can stop him.

The Adventures of Jillian Spectre is the story of a very special girl who learns that the power of love is more important than supernatural powers.

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***I received this book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley and HarperImpulse.

There’s something special about The Adventures of Jillian Spectre in that it sucks you in and basks you in warmth. It’s carefree and magical and has the sort of lighthearted, magnetic characters that you want to see more of. 

PROS:

  • Jillian is a saucy little minx. She’s a fiery redhead with loads of sarcasm and serious confidence. She says what’s on her mind and throws caution to the wind. She makes reckless, life and death decisions that will leave you smacking your head against your e-reader while applauding her courage. Jillian is relatable. Besides having the coolest power, being able to predict and view the fate of romance for 5 years into the future, she still struggles with her own love life and is as confused about the opposite sex as the next girl. Jillian is calculated and conflicted about her father but sacrifices everything for the fate of the world. She’s truly a take charge, admirable protagonist.
  • The supernatural, the different shades of psychic and mental prowess was dazzling. From astral projection, to telekinesis, to being a muse, everything was bold, charming, and fascinating to read. 
  • The underlying message about technology and losing faith was intriguing. The idea that we’re so latched on to our devices we’re losing what makes us human, what makes us belive is a compelling and disquieting argument. As the technology interfaced with subconscious, people became more like zombies and forgot who they were in favor of what technology dictated. It’s an alarming portrait of humanity at risk.
  • Roxanne is a force. She’s a sizzling, ball of energy and wit. Sultry, sensual, and made of innuendo, Roxanne is an enigma. A good Catholic girl with a naughty sense of humor and big Italian personality. Rox insights laughter and head shaking. She’s addictive and more like a siren than a muse. ❤ Roxanne doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone, she’s above all the drama and puts people in their place. 
  • Roxanne and Jillian’s friendship is golden. It’s what best friends are made of. Understanding and perfect symmetry.
  • Ryan and Jake each have a heart-throb persona. They’re gorgeous, alluring and while Jake is a bad boy with a tendency to play with emotions, Ryan is clueless, adorably so when it comes to feminine charms. 

CONS:

  • The danger and urgency was subtle. All of the pieces were there but they we’re in the forefront and for that reason, the anxiety was muted. 
  • The general set up of the borough of psychics (the Mystic Quarter) wasn’t fleshed out. A little more insight into the various powers and the weight of each psychic’s role would have been helpful in positioning Jillian in this larger scope. Also, the Summit. There’s not much detail in what they do or what it looks like from the inside. While this does add to the mystery and sort of untouchable, clandestine mystique of the higher-ups, it left a lot of questions. 

If you like any of the following you’ll enjoy this:

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Release Day Blitz: Skin of My Teeth-Judith Graves

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cooltext1617835092 copyHOW TO PLAY

· draw a card from the deck
· kill or be killed
· and if you’re lucky, repeat…

Hidden agendas, deep, dark secrets, and monsters lurking around every locker. It’s business as usual at Redgrave High for Eryn and her crew of paranorm hunters – they plan to capture and cure Brit’s brother from his tormented existence, Eryn is reunited with her father’s beta, and Redgrave’s origins are revealed.

Although the two guys vying for Eryn’s heart just might have to up their game. Enter hot, wolven guy stage left. Is he the one Alec’s blood magic foretold? He is, if Eryn’s knocking pulse has anything to say about it. The tale-tell sound is driving Wade mad. But it’s Eryn’s move, and everyone is holding their breath.

A little healthy competition soon becomes all-out survival of the fittest as the crew are pitted against a pack of demons trading souls – for keeps. The student population is enamored with a new card game, Boroughs Quest. Kids are desperate to get their hands on gilded cards from a mysterious expansion deck, but when they do…

It’s all fun and games ’til somebody dies. 

cooltext1617835604 copySKIN OF MY TEETH EXCLUSIVE BONUS CONTENT!

Follow this link to a Special Release Day trailer to unlock exclusive bonus content! 

WATTPAD Excerpt

cooltext1617835901 copyJudith Graves has multiple young adult novels and short stories published with Leap Books, Orca Book Publishers, Compass Press, and, under the pen name, Judith Tewes, is also published with Bloomsbury Spark. In addition, Judith is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright, writes freelance articles for literary magazines, and facilitates writing workshops for both adults and young adults. She lives in northern Alberta with her husband and three crazy labs.

Website/Facebook/Goodreads/Twitter

Happy reading,

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ARC Review, Excerpt & Giveaway: Beautiful Collision-T.G. Ayer

Title: Beautiful Collision
Author: T.G. Ayer
Release Date: Dec 10, 2014
Published by: Infinite Ink Books
Genre: Contemporary
cooltext1843013784 copy Eighteen year old Gray McAllister is on the run. Leaving her dangerous past behind her is easier said than done, even when she finds herself at last able to forge a new life for herself.
 
But then the planets align and Gray finds herself bumping into super-hot Thane Blackwell. Drooling over him from afar is safe but that’s only until she is forced to look after Thane while he recovers from surgery.
 
Being holed up in her apartment is a bad bad idea. Can Gray control the fire that Thane seems light inside her, or will she give in to her deepest desires. Can Thane achieve his goal without hurting Gray in the process?
The stakes are impossibly high, but love and lies don’t play nice with each other. Will Gray’s past catch up with her first? Or will Thane’s own secrets explode and tear them apart?
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4/5 Stars
***I received this eARC in exchange for an honest review via the author and in participation with this tour.
+++Does contain what could be triggers for some: abuse, assault, violence, human trafficking.
PROS:
  • Human trafficking is a subject that I don’t think is tackled enough, especially given how prevalent it is. Awareness is a powerful thing that can help people recognize signs and dangers to not only themselves but people around them. T.G. Ayer does a great job depicting the clandestine side of things, the clues that are just beneath the surface and occasionally blatant that we sometimes miss. The scenes are not graphic in terms of blood, gore, or sex but they are full of hysteria and poignant emotion. The fear, the screams, the emaciation are all components that when combined piqué the imagination without forcing the reader to face the image head on. 
  • Gray’s flashbacks are traumatic and made of vibrant bursts of memory that will haunt and chill you to the bone. The sheer disgust and sadness Gray feels makes her need to disappear more real. The scene with her brother horrified and disturbed me. Finally getting the whole picture at the end of the flashbacks shows how far Gray has come and how strong she is. Her bravery is astounding. She stands up to the Russian mob. That takes serious guts.
  • Gray is resourceful, resilient and still manages to find beauty in the world despite all the terrible things she’s been through. Her love of art, the way she blossoms in the sunlight, her thirst for knowledge all suggest a deep inner beauty and big heart. On top of that Gray is fierce. She is always on guard, looking over her shoulder, an expert at disguise and has mean aim. She always hits her target. All Gray wants is to be free, to not have to worry, and live a normal life but she recognizes that that’s not the hand she’s been dealt. I appreciated that Gray was a realist.
  • Thane is adorable. He’s playful, warm, and knows how to invade space in that super sexy crowding way. He’s sarcastic, lovable, and the way he looks at Gray will make you melt into a puddle of lust. 
  • Together, Thane and Gray are a force of nature. Their interactions are made of longing, angst, and naughty thoughts. They’re hot and heavy. The make out scenes are HOT HOT HOT. 
CONS:
  • Beautiful Collision is told from three perspectives that ultimately amount to two. This was a little confusing. 
  • Some parts were fairly predictable and took away from the suspense. 
  • It took forever for Gray to ask Thane about his mysterious B&E. For someone who is so suspicious and on the run, in mortal peril, she drops her guard for some random guy she met a few days prior because she feels guilty and he makes her hot and bothered? It doesn’t add up. I spent several sections silently fuming and paranoid, wondering when she was going to wise up. When she does get the explanation, that she doesn’t question for some odd reason, she decides to make out with him instead? Bizarre and a break from her character. 
cooltext1844526808 copyChapter 2

Watcher

Despite the dark glasses, I blink against the sunlight as it stings my skin. But I keep my eyes firmly on my mark. The girl is easy to track. Inexperienced. Naive. Thinks she isn’t being followed. It’s there in the false confidence of the way she walks, the way she holds her shoulders. Maybe it’s because I’m good at my job. Good enough that my target will never know how long I’ve tracked them, or how much time I spent watching them. I’m hoping it’s because I’m better than most at my job. Otherwise the girl is a danger to herself.

I’m standing beneath a tree, amidst the bustle of midday sidewalk traffic, the shadows of the branches and sparse leaves providing meager cover in the baking sun. I’m watching as Sara Roshkov hurries across the busy road toward the entrance to the San Francisco Public Library. I have little idea what she’s come to the library for, which makes me more than curious. I can’t imagine she’d be loaning out a book; not now, when her life is in such turmoil. That leaves the option I don’t like – meeting someone. The thought spurs me to move and I wait only until she’d reaches the top step before I jog across Larkin and enter the building after her. The cool air is a shock against my sweat-covered skin and I’m momentarily blinded going from bright sun to shaded interior. I keep my sunglasses on, habit and protection.

She’s hurrying up the marble stairs and I pause to watch her, pretending to admire the high, glass ceiling of the atrium. I follow her up the stairs and watch her enter General Fiction. My shoes don’t make any sound on the stairs and I know she has no idea she’s being followed. Her hair is short and black today, a wig she’s been using since she arrived in San Francisco. She keeps her neck straight and stiff. Seems she knows not to appear as if she’s looking over her shoulder. I’m not sure what she’s learned from her father but she sure has to learn a lot more about running and hiding so the likes of me won’t find her. I’ve been tracking her for a while now and I feel a pull of something as I watch her. There is a fragile air to her and she’s lost weight, the hollows of her cheeks proof that life on the run doesn’t exactly involve luxuries like three square meals a day. And Sara Roshkov is used to a life of luxury considering the family she belongs to.

I follow, grabbing a book from the bestseller shelf beside me, keeping sufficient distance between us that she’d see nothing suspicious should she turn around. What she would see is a young guy, black jeans, black tee, black sneakers, much like her own dark clothing. The hoodie I’m wearing is equally nondescript, the ball cap plain too. Nothing I wore would stand out in a person’s memory should they spot me. My black hair is short, the style efficient and easy to maintain. Again nothing to remember me by.

She sneaks a look over her shoulder as she enters an aisle up ahead but her eyes graze my face and her gaze seeks further beyond me. I flip through the book and then enter the aisle next to her. She’s facing me and I can watch her through the stacks without her seeing me. She’s already halfway down her row, finger running along the covers as she searches for her book. It feels a little voyeuristic but hell, the full scope of my job is inherently voyeuristic.

I keep my attention on her as her finger stops on one particular book. Her expression is satisfied; she’s found the book she wants but before she takes it off the shelf her eyes cloud, the gray darkening to dark metal; a moment of doubt that shows on her face as if she battles the monsters within. As much as I can read people, their eyes, their body language, it’s what goes on inside their heads that eludes even the best of us. Nobody can train you for that. She straightens her back and then tilts the book toward her. taking it down from the shelf with extra care. She flips to the back of the book and slowly the pieces fall into place.

Someone has left something for her in that particular book. There are a number of possibilities but it’s clear that someone is helping her. Is it someone within her family? Roshkov had always kept his personal life totally private. Not that our surveillance hadn’t picked up on his many mistresses or his other extracurricular activities. The man was involved in everything from human trafficking to drug-running. No wonder his wife, having left for St. Petersburg a year ago, is still to return. Something is rotten in the Roshkov paradise perhaps?

Now, as I study his daughter I wonder if her mother is the wife in Russia or is she the offspring of one of Roshkov many affairs? There is too much we still need to know about Sara and perhaps we will get our break soon. One thing I do know is that she has a heart, that there is a goodness in her. There is no way for me to tell what the book hides and any attempt to find out will likely jeopardize the mission. I could pass her by and steal the book from her without her even realizing it happened. But that won’t help the case. She has what she wants, so now she heads out, and her shoulders relax a little. She thinks the coast is clear. I allow her that misconception.

I hang back as she leaves the library, keeping my distance as she exits the building and heads back into the sunshine. I’m her shadow as she hurries to a fast food joint where she buys a couple burgers and then keeps moving. I follow, my awareness turned on to full blast. She heads further west, into the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. It didn’t surprise me that she’d chosen one of the most dangerous parts of the city to hide out in. What does surprise me is that she’s had the guts to stay there this long, hiding among the homeless and the drug dealers. People get killed every night in this area and so far she’s survived. If anything she is resourceful.

I’ve watched the building in which she’d found a place to sleep, cased the place once when she’d left for a soup kitchen a few blocks away. Other than that, I just watch and report back on her activities. Despite my impatience that we were too slow in getting info, despite my need for us to reacher the next level of this investigation in which we take Roshkov down, despite all my personal feeling I must remain clearheaded, keep my head in the game. Now I watch her enter the deserted building as I lean against a light pole and pretend to light a cigarette. I hear the buzz in my earwig that indicates someone is being patched through.

“Eagle, come in, over.” I press the button on the comms.

“Eagle here, over.”

My eyes don’t move from the mark. “This is HQ, do you have a situation report, over.”

“All quiet here, over.”

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I have been a writer from the time I was old enough to recognize that reading was a doorway into my imagination. Poetry was my first foray into the art of the written word. Books were my best friends, my escape, my haven. I am essentially a recluse but this part of my personality is impossible to practice given I have two teenage daughters, who are actually my friends, my tea-makers, my confidantes… I am blessed with a husband who has left me for golf. It’s a fair trade as I have left him for writing. We are both passionate supporters of each others loves – it works wonderfully… My heart is currently broken in two. One half resides in South Africa where my old roots still remain, and my heart still longs for the endless beaches and the smell of moist soil after a summer downpour. My love for Ma Afrika will never fade. The other half of me has been transplanted to the Land of the Long White Cloud. The land of the Taniwha, beautiful Maraes, and volcanoes. The land of green, pure beauty that truly inspires. And because I am so torn between these two lands – I shall forever remain cross-eyed.

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ARC Review The Art of Blending In: The Proud Wallflower and the Majors-Courtney Jackson

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cooltext1804448395 copyIn The Proud Wallflower, Sawyer Rossi is trying to navigate her new life in Redington Cove. Always the loner, she hates that her mother’s new marriage has taken her from her hometown in Seattle to a small beach town in Florida. However, Sawyer is trying to make the best of her time in Redington Cove. She’s hoping to coast through until graduation, stay out of the spotlight and the drama. The one bright spot in Redington Cove is her new relationship with fellow artist Kellen. The quiet and brooding artist seems like her perfect match, but Sawyer soon finds that she and Kellen have a lot more in common than just art. It’s this secret connection that is going to do exactly what Sawyer doesn’t want—put her right in the middle of the drama.

Lexi Stein is excited to have Sawyer as her new friend. She loves her best friend, Elliot, but he didn’t understand what it’s like to be the unpopular shy girl in school. He also didn’t understand her crush on the school quarterback, Tucker Parish. For years, it was a love that Lexi had from a far. She soon learns, and is surprised, when she finds out that her crush may not be so one-sided. There’s only one problem looming between Lexi and Tuckers potential relationship. Tucker is far from single, and his girlfriend has the ability to make her life a living hell. Even with the fear of social death, Lexi can’t resist pushing the limits with the guy she’s always dreamed of being with.

In The Majors, Ashley Glover and her fellow queen bee’s are finishing up the summer before heading into an exciting junior year at Oakhurst Academy. Ashley’s extremely excited about the changes in her life. She has a great new boyfriend who is crazy about her. Then there is the fact that she is finally going to have the family she’s always wanted. It was just too bad that her dream family had to include her stepsister, Sawyer. Ashley has no intentions of letting Sawyer’s less than chipper attitude ruin things. She is determined to create the perfect family with or without Sawyer— preferably without her. However, Ashley’s need to control everything thing just may be what takes away her chances of having the family she’s always wanted.

KJ Jacobs had it all. She was popular, her father was the mayor of the town, and she was dating the hottest guy in school. To go along with her perfect life, she also had the perfect plan for the new school year. Remain queen of the school, become team captain of her drill team, and lose her virginity. Little does she know that her perfect plan is slowly unraveling before it begins, along with her relationship.

The Proud Wallflower and The Majors is the first book in The Art of Blending In series. Follow the many stories of love, friendship, and drama in the small town of Redington Cove.

-via Amazon

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***I received this book as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author

Courtney Jackson’s The Art of Blending In: The Proud Wallflower and the Majors is a multidimensional exploration into the various lives of the average teenager in a small Florida town. Encompassing several races, social classes, and the standard high school drama, it has a little bit of everything-romance, diversity, and it poses questions that are ignored or glossed over, specifically, how to address race in a new marriage. 

PROS:

  • The Proud Wallflower and the Majors is told from several perspectives and social standings. Each character is unique and has a powerful voice. They all have their own set of problems and struggles that create a beautiful sense of unity in that despite their differences, whether it be race or class, they’re all going through something and big or small, they all suffer and feel. 
  • This is the first book I’ve read in YA that goes into racial tensions and the issues that arise when trying to merge two families of not only different races but different social classes as well. Race is not the elephant in the room, it’s not something to be ignored and while the parents don’t constantly bring it up, it’s there. I appreciated how Courtney Jackson presented many viewpoints, some that were very forward, that claimed that race was invisible and others that were realistic as well, stating that race, despite how much we would love to blur the lines is present and does need to be considered. The main message is that though Andrew (the white stepfather) may never understand the race-centered trials of a young black woman, that love and understanding can be enough.
  • Lexi is a nerdy girl who embraces her heritage as both Indian and white. Lexi has a bubbly, genuine, sweet personality and though she’s crazy smart, she makes mistakes when it comes to matters of the heart. I loved that so many of these characters were flawed and so real. Lexi and surprising Mariah were the most interesting characters but because of the way the story is written, readers will definitely have their favorites and there are plenty of choose from. Mariah’s parts, though few, were full of life and dispel the general consensus by the other characters that she’s vapid. Yes, the girl runs out of gas because she can never remember to refill her car but there’s something vulnerable, flirty, and cute about her.
  • Kellan, Tucker, and Brighton are likable, attractive, and each have many things going for them. An in depth journey into the male consciousness and how they view girls and relationships was intriguing and surprisingly insightful. There are two sides to every story and what’s on the surface is almost never the be all end all of a person. We’re complex, emotional, thoughtful people whose preferences vary and change and that’s the true story of The Art of Blending In.

CONS:

  • Despite the many perspectives, Sawyer was the main character. Everything began and ended with Sawyer and her presence was the web that linked everyone else. While this was intricate and flowed well, Sawyer was hard to like. As much as I tried to sympathize with her, the challenges of moving to a new town, of adjusting, of inserting herself into a family, her anger is overwhelming and a little too much. She’s constantly whining like the world revolves around her pain and then she has the nerve to call other people selfish and accuse them of causing problems when she refuses to try or give any leeway. Her constant storming off and blatantly rude behavior is off-putting.
  • Some of the subplots seemed crucial to understanding the characters and why they reacted the way they did but they fell into the background for a substantial amount of time only to come crashing back into the story full force. 
  • Parts were predictable and a tad cliché. 
  • Some spelling and grammatical errors. 

cooltext1804451952 copyFacebook/Twitter

My name is Courtney Jackson. I graduated from the University of North Florida with a degree in English. I live in the sunshine state with my beautiful daughter, husband, and a fat lazy cat. When I’m not writing I like to read and do DYI projects found on Pinterest. I also enjoy photography and music, and find myself making soundtracks on Spotify for every book I write. I love romance and enjoy being able to write stories about finding love, losing love, and all the feelings in between.

Pleasant reading,

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Release Day Blitz: Fight On-Brina Courtney

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cooltext1804448395 copyCamryn Cruise is not human. But she will fight to protect those who are.

Kiley is her best friend. And now there’s Finn. Finn with his blue eyes, and his long eyelashes. Finn makes Camryn’s heart stop. She has to decide to not stop for him though. The Sick are coming and if they get inside the walls of Silverlake war will be inevitable.

Death is everywhere.

HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES? CHECK IT OUT BELOW!

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Camryn Cruise is not human. But she doesn’t know what she is. Not yet. 

The world is falling apart and her only escape is Camp Silverlake where she frequently stayed as a child. But Camryn’s summers weren’t filled with crafting and swimming, they were spent learning combat skills and how to protect herself from the outside world. 

Now she must return to Camp Silverlake to learn the truth, about who she is and she’ll discover the secret hidden within her blood. A secret that could save them all.

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Brina Courtney is a young adult author obsessed with chocolate, crime shows, and fantasy movies. She’s spent the last few years as an elementary teacher and a high school cheering coach. She lives in a small town in Pennsylvania with her husband and two very loud, small dogs.

Pleasant reading,

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ARC Review & Interview: Awoken-Sarah Noffke

JPG e-book Awoken by Sarah Noffke Goodreads/Amazon

“My dark secret is I’ve always wished I was Gatsby. As heartbroken as he was and as horrible a fate as he endured, I admired that he loved. It’s a difficult thing to do.”

cooltext1790897456 copyAround the world humans are hallucinating after sleepless nights.

In a sterile, underground institute the forecasters keep reporting the same events.

And in the backwoods of Texas, a sixteen-year-old girl is about to be caught up in a fierce, ethereal battle.

Meet Roya Stark. She drowns every night in her dreams, spends her hours reading classic literature to avoid her family’s ridicule, and is prone to premonitions—which are becoming more frequent. And now her dreams are filled with strangers offering to reveal what she has always wanted to know: Who is she? That’s the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out. But will Roya live to regret learning the truth?

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  1. In Awoken, the world suffers from vivid dreams (or should I say nightmares) and hallucinations. This sounds like the makings of a dystopia but Awoken is something a little different. What inspired this story?

I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and sleep. Not just sleeping, but dreaming, is vital to our survival. If we don’t dream then the human brain deteriorates. REM sleep deprivation in rats has shown to cause a loss of survival behaviors, decrease of pain threshold and depression. In humans sleep deprivation causes hallucinations because it is so crucial to brain function. All this kept me thinking about the power stored in dreams and dreaming abilities. I spun these ideas around in my head until I concocted a villain (Zhuang) who stole human’s abilities to achieve REM rendering them hallucinating zombies. And maybe also I was inspired by my own sleep deprivation at the time. My daughter was six months old and not sleeping through the night. I’m fairly certain I shouldn’t have been operating a motor vehicle.

  1. Do you believe in premonitions?

Absolutely. In my own life I’ve experienced them many times. Some instances were powerful like when I knew my brother was going to die or I was going to have a car accident. Other times have been mundane and most akin to a déjà vu moment. And I’ve also heard countless reports from others who have had similar experiences. I’m not sure why we have premonitions. Maybe some people have a gift and maybe some are just attuned at the moment. Whatever the reason I find them fascinating.

  1. Is a phenomenon like mass hallucinations /nightmares possible, in your opinion? That’s a terrifying thought.

That is a terrifying thought. And I’m not sure why mass nightmares couldn’t happen. We are all connected. Not only that but nightmares are usually caused by real fears. Since we tend to spread our fears like germs among our society the idea of it happening on a mass scale seems very real to me. Media exacerbates this reality. We are very susceptible to subliminal input from our visual and auditory sources. Now hallucinations are a little different in my opinion. Something would have to happen to cause that: a drug, chemical in the air, electrical current or ancient villain with REM syphoning abilities.

  1. Roya feels like an outsider in her own family and kind of keeps to herself. What challenges did you have in crafting Roya’s character? What was your process?

That’s a great question. One challenge I had with crafting her character was developing the underlining trauma that being an outcast caused her. She can be emotionally numb, but none of us are robots. At some level we are all affected by rejection or a sense of not belonging. I wanted Roya to be strong, but not fully detached. Furthermore, I wanted Roya to be different from most heroines: small, unassuming, introverted, reluctant, and pessimistic. I love heroines who are strong and brave and stand right up to a challenge. But let’s face reality, most of us can’t relate to that. If a madman challenged me to a fight I’d totally kick some dust in his face and run the other way. I wanted Roya to be more like the average person. I wanted her to be someone who had to go through an evolution to face her greatest challenges. And more than anything I wanted her to be someone people could relate to.

  1. The Lucidites are evolutionary. How would you classify the series? Science fiction, fantasy, romance?

The Lucidites are an extremely evolved society with a higher emotional intelligence than most, not to mention they are all gifted with different powers. To me the series has components that make it science fiction, fantasy and especially later on romance. The time travel and technology give it the science fiction feel, the ancient villain and paranormal abilities contribute to the fantasy aspect, and the love triangle makes it romantic. There’s bound to be something to satisfy different tastes for different readers.

  1. Roya travels in her dreams. What made you pick the locations she visited?

Some of the locations were places I’ve visited like Buckingham Palace, Redwood Forest and Dealey Plaza. This gave me the details I needed to make these scenes real. However, there were many locations I used which I’ve never visited. Luckily the internet and other people’s accounts helped with this. Some of these locations were chosen because I really want to see these places with my own eyes like, Sydney Opera House for instance. And some of the locations were chosen because they were perfect for the scene: Red Square and Graceland.

  1. What are some things that you want readers to know about Awoken or the series as a whole?

One thing I keep hearing from readers who have finished the series is that the story is unique and unpredictable. I’m honored to hear these things. Honestly, the story surprised me when I was writing it. Common phrases that came out of my mouth while writing the series were: “He said what?”, “I didn’t see that coming!” and “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I felt like The Lucidites invaded my brain, told me their story and then left when it was complete. There are semblances in this series that relate to my own life, but there’s a lot of stuff that I have no idea where it came from. I love that and I do agree with readers that it’s unique.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Every writer has advice on this topic and it’s all worthy. It’s advice from other writers that’s made me who I am. With that being said, I don’t want to repeat what most say, but I’m going to anyway. My promise is that I’ll try to say something new too.

So most will tell an aspiring writer (and they’re correct) to read as much as possible, write every day, and read books on how to write.

Alright, now here’s my something new that I give to only you: Become intimately acquainted with the writer inside you. This is not a person the world outside will know. This is the part inside you that only you know, that tells stories inside your head, and imagines fantastic things when the normal day-to-day is going on around you. You’re the only one who knows this person and the only one who can interpret their stories. Make a habit of closing your eyes once a day and meditating with this person. In time you will be so connected to them that their words will flow from you effortlessly. Most writers I know will agree that their books do not come from them, but rather through them. This happens when you open up this channel.

And if that sounds too metaphysical for you, well then just check out Stephen King’s autobiography, On Writing. He’s a genius.

  1. Awoken illustrates that there are all sorts of evils in the world but also the potential to find magic and beauty in the universe. What do you think we could learn from Roya’s journey?

Another fantastic question. Roya isn’t who she appears, even to herself. Her journey is all about opening herself up so she can experience a richer, happier life. Much of this comes from exploring her potential. Maybe Roya’s journey will encourage readers to seek out the talents in themselves and use them. And also, throughout the series many of the characters have their own unique journeys separate from Roya’s. I’m hoping that readers find inspiration from those stories as well, but I can’t elaborate on those without giving major spoilers, which isn’t going to happen.

 

I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the books and my writing process. It’s hard to express how amazing it is to be able to finally share my books. I wrote alone for so many years and went through many periods of doubt. I had someone tell me the other day, “I bet you’re getting tired of hearing feedback on your books.” Are you insane?! For the rest of my life I won’t get tired of it. I created this story for the world to read and I’m pretty darn interested in knowing what they think about it.

Thanks Jordan for the review, fantastic questions and all the support you give to the indie author community.

cooltext1790896132 copy3.5 Stars

***I received this as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author.

PROS:

  • The concept of this story is as fascinating and it is terrifying. The idea that a mass psychosis that literally severs people from their ability to hit a REM state is something that can inspire nightmares. The human mind is our most powerful and innovative asset and when that is savagely ripped from our control and abused for a terrorist style attack on the world, it’s ingenious but a stark, cold, prospect. 
  • The Lucidite Institute is very X-Men meets Hogwarts. A competition for challenger, methods to harness mental powers, and hone in on physical prowess. The techniques and classroom assignments are thought-provoking, whimsical and kind of badass. They mesh martial arts with telekinesis and mind-reading. The sheer variety of mental talents is exhilarating to watch. How they can be used together to bring together a team of outcasts is pretty inspirational and creates an air of hope, that we have magic within ourselves if we’d just let it blossom.
  • George is a marvelous present wrapped in cheap, tattered newspaper. He’s a hidden gem. On the outside, he’s enraged, cold, and avoids Roya like the plague but when the mysteries unravel, he’s a sweetheart. There’s so much bravery and resilience packed into his character, I found myself wishing for more of his unique brand of antagonizing quips and honesty. 
  • Aiden and Roya have amazing chemistry. It’s comprised of lingering gazes, soft touches, and agonizing of over another. Aiden is a brilliant, scatterbrained scientist who gets lost in his work and when he does, he’s semi-robotic. It’s difficult to get a read off of him but his playful banter and wit draw Roya in like a magnetic along with the reader. 
  • This is a love triangle that I can get behind. It’s a real decision. So often love triangles turned into squares or octagons and it just cheapens the protagonist. Roya’s choice is painful. Both of her love interests give her something that makes her better and grow into a fierce warrior. Yes, she still has doubts but her wingmen give her the courage to be bold. There’s no bad boy, that makes all the difference. 
  • The Lucidite world is elaborate, full of advanced technology, government secrets, and experiments. There’s a sense of foreboding and corruption, like we’re missing something that will lead to a horrendous truth.
  • A twist of epic proportions.
  • Roya grows on you. At first (see cons) she’s up in the air. It’s uncertain whether or not she’ll find a place in your heart but once you get to the root of her trauma, it’s hard not to be sympathetic. Roya is unsure of herself, she sees herself as weak and nothing special, as someone to be walked on so she builds walls and sets up defenses in the form of bad attitude and insults. Roya’s struggle is unexpected in terms of a protagonist. We’re used to the shy, nerdy girl who has a small group of friends and gets harassed but Roya has no one. There’s not squad of cheerleaders or BFF to calm her, she’s lost in her solitude. Roya is a challenge, you have to dive into her psyche to piece her true personality together.

CONS:

  • Roya’s harsh past is suggested but there’s not really any substantial evidence other than her feelings. Her resentment and hurt, the treatment that made her push people away and hide within herself were neglected. I would have like to have seen (an horrible as it sounds) some scenes of her with her family and how poorly they treated her just to understand where she’s coming from. For a large chunk of the book, Roya is off-putting and sort of unlikable. She’s rude, disrespectful and even her internal dialogue is a conflicted mass of hatred and fear of interacting with others. Her defense mechanism is not pretty and I had a hard time connecting with her on a deep level. 
  • There were several scenes I found myself searching for that never happened. Zhuang. I had so many questions about him that were left unresolved and about his impact. It’s one thing to say that he invades consciences and cuts off REM sleep until human bodies fail and it’s another to actually see it and get those emotions and full-scale horror. There was a disconnect that almost made Zhuang’s larger effects feel like a nightmare and less like reality.
  • Secondary characters-some were vibrant slices of life that woke Roya’s confidence and self-worth and others were some of the most intriguing and written off. They were shadows lurking in the background, every so often you’d get a glimpse of their secret lives and then back into the dark. Ren, toxic, sarcastic, and blunt, Ren was one of my favorite characters. He’s an enigma, made of depth and secrets buried beneath his mean exterior and there was a scene where it seemed that this other side of Ren would be revealed but in lieu of the impending attack, fizzled out. Give me Ren. Give me Shuman. For characters that have a huge impact of Roya’s perception of herself and with the most detailed personalities, there were more questions than answers. Additionally, Whitney, Samara, even Goat Girl were similarly left out so that an emotional connection or even an opinion about them couldn’t really be formed. 

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Sarah Noffke is the author of The Lucidite Series. She’s been everything from a corporate manager to a hippie. Her taste for adventure has taken her all over the world. If you can’t find her at the gym, then she’s probably at the frozen yogurt shop. If you can’t find her there then she probably doesn’t want to be found. She is a self-proclaimed hermit, with spontaneous urges to socialize during full moons and when Mercury is in retrograde. Sarah lives in Southern California with her family.

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Pleasant reading,

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