Release Day Blitz & Giveaway: Safe and Sound by Alli Hope

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“Gritty and suspenseful with touches of swoon, Safe and Sound will keep readers on the edge of their seat.”

~Trish Doller, author of Where the Stars Still Shine

“Alli Hope is a brave new voice in YA Fiction. Compulsively readable, terrifyingly real at times, Safe and Sound is a thrilling debut novel sure to keep readers guessing until the end.”

~Lindsay Cummings, NYT Bestselling Author of Zenith

“Suspenseful, swoony, and full of heart. Safe & Sound is a thrilling debut by Alli Hope!”

~ CJ Redwine, NYT Bestselling Author of Shadow Queen

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16 year-old, Hailey Perish, knows her life can’t get much worse. Since her dad split a few years ago, Hailey’s mother has spiraled hard and fast, careening toward rock bottom and threatening to take her daughter down with her. Hailey now marks time by evictions, her mother’s poker games, and Saturday School where she voluntarily shows up for weekend detentions to secure her one promised meal of the week. She has no room for relationships, especially with someone like her childhood love and junior class golden boy, Carson Hart. Hailey trusted him once and Carson failed her. She’s determined not to let herself be hurt again.

When Hailey’s mom does the unthinkable and bets her own daughter in a high stakes poker game, Mitch, the loan shark, is all too eager and determined to collect on his debt. To him, Hailey is nothing but property. His property. And he’ll do anything to recover it. On the run from a fate that promises a much worse life than she already knows, there’s only one person in the world Hailey can call for help.

Will Carson be there for her in her darkest hour and deliver her from harm’s way safe and sound? Or will he abandon Hailey—just like he’s always done—just like they all do?

Alli Hope’s debut novel delivers an unforgettable story about love & surviving in the dark places.

Warning: Safe & Sound contains explicit language and a scene that portrays explicit sexual abuse & molestation. We have included this in order to tell an accurate story; to be a voice for those who have none. And to bring light to an issue we believe must be brought out of the darkness and into a broader awareness. If you are sensitive to sexual abuse issues, please be advised.

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Enter for your chance to win 2 signed books from Katie McGarry. 

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Intense reading, 

Jordan

 

 

Review: After the Fall by Kate Hart

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synA YA debut about a teen girl who wrestles with rumors, reputation, and her relationships with two brothers.

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing.

But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.

The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.

review2.5/5 Stars 

+++Potential triggers for sexual assault, tragic loss

***Contains mature content

After the Fall feels like a draft. It takes several directions and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The story is split into two parts, the before and the after-though the before is such a short duration that it’s like an underdeveloped Polaroid, a glimpse with huge, life-altering emotional development that there is no time to explore. And while that may be the point of the plot, a little more would have made the loss more potent. 

There are so many important discussions in this story-discussions that so many teens and adults could benefit from in regard to sexual assault and how it’s defined. Like the fact that if at any point during a sexual encounter you change your mind and the yes is now a no, you can take away your consent and the other individual should respect that. That’s not leading someone on, you have control of your body, you have agency, and you are the ONLY one who can give and take away permission to access what is yours. This includes ALL forms of sex. These discussions are between teenagers in the book and wise adults who approach the subject with respect, compassion, and righteous anger. Having these talks between adults and teens and with variety through the story was both thought-provoking and comforting. Sometimes knowing whether an encounter is assault or not can be hazy because of popular perceptions and how we view sex as a society. This book does a fantastic job both bringing up the subject and the commentary that follows. There is also commentary on prejudice and racial jokes, derogatory remarks, and gender roles. 

All of the characters were flawed and complex. While I normally enjoy the broken, confused, and wayward because generally these are coming of age stories and characters are going through a ton of stuff, these characters weren’t exactly likeable. They were self-righteous, blinded by their ideas, bull-headed, self-absorbed, and for the most part, didn’t have much of any redeeming qualities. Matt was a “poor me” character and some of the stuff he said was chauvinistic and demeaning and so near-sighted. How he could be a potential love interest was perplexing. Raychel is a mess. While it’s cool that she makes mistakes and embraces her sexuality, she’s not exactly a role model and doesn’t really learn anything. There’s no big resolution, it’s a cut off, hopefully things will be better in college situation. Does there necessarily have to be a moral to every story? No. But should the characters grow? Yes. 

The romance itself was short, fast, and development could have been stronger to build up to the tragedy. I would have liked to have seen more of them together, rather than the reference back to a time they had that the reader never saw. It felt like a summary and I wanted imagery. The emotions, the romantic ones at least, were muted because there weren’t enough scenes to reinforce the feelings. 

Secondary characters were in and out and there were so many of them that they didn’t make much of an impression, even if they were diverse and interesting, they didn’t have enough space. The book could have been longer, definitely, just to build on these smaller relationships. So much of the focus is one Matt and Raychel, that when anything happens to any of the other characters, it feels miniscule by comparison. 

The book was enjoyable to read because in some weird way, you wanted to see who Raychel ended up with. 

Side note: I also went on a tangent recently about this misleading synopsis.The way it’s initially worded makes you think this will be a romance or even a comedy. There’s a serious suggestion of dating two brothers, but this is not a romance, not really. This is a full-fledged drama and exploration of loss. I was thrown. After reading the synopsis, you go into the book with expectations and what the book really was felt like a stretch. 

If you like any of the following, you might enjoy this:

Introspective reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage

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Release Date: Feb 21, 2017

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Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca’s world, and that some things are better left untouched.

review2/5 Stars 

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

+++Potential triggers for: sexual abuse, death/loss, suicide

Beautiful Broken Girls is the kind of book you tilt your head and look at sideways, puzzled and perplexed, trying to figure out what happened and how it evolved into what it did. Unfortunately for me, even when the mystery unraveled, there were so many questions left unanswered that I was at a loss for what to make of this bizarre story.

When I initially saw this cover, I knew I had to have it. It’s creepy and unsettling. It looks like something out of a horror film, so that’s kind of what I expected when I opened the book. This is not that kind of story. At its core, Beautiful Broken Girls is a mystery and an ode to learning to cope after a horrible tragedy, and for Ben, after a lost first love. 

The story is told from multiple characters (Mira, Francesca, and Ben) and takes place in two different years. The pieces are not in order and are further separated by body parts that Ben touched on Mira when they were seeing each other. If it sounds strange, that’s because it is. The idea itself is an interesting one. Getting to each note that Mira left for Ben was like a nostalgic scavenger hunt as he relived the sensual moments he had with Mira as they feel for each other. What the notes meant and getting to the truth propelled the story forward, even when the pacing was excessively slow. 

I made guesses throughout the story about what really happened to the dead girls; I suggest trying this and seeing if you guessed right. I did, to an extent. As the story evolves and the clues are found-in the form of Mira’s cryptic little poem snippets-Ben makes a whirlwind of assumptions. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away and I HATE spoilers. One of the first things you learn about Ben, is that he was molested as a child in little league. So he’s known as touched or damaged. There is so much wrong with this, but I digress. Apart from the fact that this is used as a device by others in the story so that Ben is doubted and seen as projecting his past on the situation, it didn’t really function in the story and threw me off as a story arc. It felt like so many elements of this book were jumbled and thrown in and never really came together to form a coherent narrative. 

One of my major issues was with voice. Ben, the other boys, Mira, basically everyone in the story, despite being set in 2015-2016, felt like they were using language from the 80s or 90s. Maybe even before that. It could be the setting and maybe those phrases are abundant and natural there, but to me, it felt off. Some phrases are crude and made me feel slimy, and other times, it felt like things were thrown in to emphasize that they were teenage boys, whether they were realistic or not. You’re introduced to a lot of characters at once. It took a bit for them to develop into their own people, it was hard to distinguish them at first because of how they were introduced. 

I labeled this with a mental illness tag because of some of the descriptions of Mira and the actions of Francesca (which I can’t really go into without spoilers). But Mira has some disturbing imagery attached to her and her thoughts that make you question her…though somehow nowhere near the way you do Francesca and Mira almost functioned as a secondary character-her voice, her personality, the romance, none of it was emphasized or clear. Mira flitted in and out of the story and there are brief interludes of memory, but other than that, she fades away-ghostly. Back to the point, these thoughts, like wanting to drink toxic chemicals or throw herself off a cliff are dangerous, reckless, borderline suicidal and very disturbing, and yet, they’re just there. Not really deliberated over or anything and it makes you wonder why even put them there other than to show that Mira was messed up too. 

I wasn’t invested in the characters, I was invested in the mystery. The need to know what happened was enough. However, that ending, the truth, the reveal, what about all of the other stuff? Was it real? Was it a psychological issue? So many questions. If you’re looking for something weird, something that when you finish reading you’ll question what you just read, then check this out. 

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

Mysterious reading, 

Jordan

Release Blitz, Review, & Giveaway: Chalk Houses by Tracy Clark

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Everyone has a secret. Now Secret is talking.

 

Talon Alvarado has one goal – to be nothing like her mother who’s blown it in about every way. But sometimes you focus so hard on what you don’t want that you find yourself careening toward it. Bombarded with history, hurts, and secrets, Talon is struggling to be the person she yearns to be and to live a bigger life than girls like her are supposed to wish for. To climb out, she must dig for strength in the most unlikely place; the rubble of her bruised heart. 

The misty presence of Secret reveals its role in Talon’s life, showing how the secrets we keep tell our stories. 

 

Chalk Houses is a gritty, achingly hopeful story about love being in the places you forgot to look, and about starting over. Even at the end. 

review4/5 Stars 

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

+++Contain triggers for abuse, assault, loss

Chalk Houses is an exploration and evolution of the secrets we keep and the havoc they can wreak despite the purest of intentions. Full of authentic characters, achingly real situations, and painful truths, Chalk Houses will make you question your assumptions and look beneath the masks we wear.

I always love Tracy Clark’s books. I’ve read every release. This is no exception. Chalk Houses is a change from Clark’s typical subject matter, but as engaging and raw as her other reads. 

Talon is abrasive, confrontational, and throws verbal punches that have a crippling power. Her sarcasm and jaded view of her mother are sometimes so dark and acerbic that you kind of feel bad for her mother. At first, I didn’t like Talon as a person. She’s constantly taking jabs at her mother and is so wounded by her past that she’s blinded to the changes and attempts her mom is making to build their relationship. What I loved about Talon was how much she changed. Assumptions are dangerous and after a pattern of neglect from her mother with no explanation-secrets kept-Talon holds almost no sympathy for her mess up of a mother. But when the secrets come out, Talon’s world is thrown off its axis. Everything she assumed about her mother is reversed with such force and shock that it will make you dizzy and hurt for how much was lost between Talon and her mother. The more lies that turn truth, the more Talon opens her mind and her heart. She’d always been stubborn and thought she knew everything about her mother, responsibility, and what it takes to raise a child, but man, is she put in her place. It’s like a harsh awakening, but so real. Tracy Clark never shies away from those hard truths that bite.

There are several harrowing, but prevalent and triggering situations that happen in this book, such as all shades of abuse, verbal, sexual, physical, and substance, and attempted assault, as well as tragic loss. These scenes are raw, sometimes graphic, other times blunt and brutal, and occasionally told in pieces that let you fill in the blank. The emotions vary from distanced to terrifying and poignant. Trust me, you’re going to be hit right in the feels for most of this book. 

There were some things that drove me nuts. Besides Talon’s initial attitude, all of the signs that are ignored or forgotten about as life got in the way. It’s frustrating and you’ll want to scream at the pages, but THIS happens all the time. 

Talon’s “relationship” with Jay made zero sense to me. For someone with such strong ideas, that she puts up with him was baffling. Now, Bones. He’s incredibly real, honest, calls Talon out on her unfair perceptions, and makes her look closer, even when she doesn’t want to. His life hasn’t been easy. They share secrets and he gets her in a way that no one else does and most importantly, he doesn’t give up on their friendship. 

Secret is personified here. It’s a living, breathing entity that makes snide comments one minute and surprisingly heartfelt ones the next. I loved those little pieces of Secret’s mind. They were truths that people are scared to face and so they blanket themselves in the false warmth of lies. She (I read it as she, though I assume Secret has no gender) warns of the dangers keeping so many secrets have on every aspect of life. 

The mystery of Aunt T was pretty predictable for me. 

Excerpt


I come to you only when invited.

You decide if you want to share your life with me. But a warning…

Once I’ve entered your door, you’ll find it very hard to sweep me out.

SECRETS take up space.

1

Empty houses hold their breath, waiting for life to blow back in.

I bet you didn’t know this.

It doesn’t mean a house is lifeless when no one’s home. A house can be lifeless with every chair filled. I’m not lying when I say there’s never been a house, hovel, tent, or cave that I haven’t occupied, if only for a moment.

I am there in drawers and journals, closets and emails.

I am there in hearts.

Oh, the hearts are my best hiding place.

This house was nearly empty but for the girl with her dull hair and crackling eyes.

Holding her breath.

Waiting.

 

Talon Alvarado, party of one.

The sunset was her cue to get the celebration started. She told herself she’d wait until dark but even that was a stupid deadline. She’d been waiting for her mother her whole damn life.

What’d she expect? Better to resist expectations, really. Expectations were flimsy balloons inside her chest, inflated with hope. And when they popped, they saturated her soul with disappointment. Every time.

There would be no balloons for her sixteenth birthday.

There would be music, however, and Talon told herself: if you don’t play that birthday song by The Beatles on your birthday and hop around the living room like a fool for two minutes and forty-two seconds, then you just don’t have adequate mojo.

As the sun set, the light in the house faded to darkness like it was on one gigantic dimmer switch. Talon hurried to flick on both the living room lamps and the kitchen light and peered out the window at the black moonless night – the exact shade of loneliness. Morbid thoughts had no business attending her birthday party, but life felt so dark sometimes that Talon struggled to see tomorrow.

Unable to find any birthday candles, she went to the dresser in her mom’s room to get the bumpy remnant of a melted votive, which she lit with matches from her mom’s favorite Basque bar. She carried the candle back to the kitchen and placed it in the middle of the table, then moved to the cupboard to find a saucer. The only clean one was chipped and reminded her of the flaked front tooth of one of her mother’s ex-boyfriend’s. The Hostess Cupcake she bought fit neatly in the saucer’s middle like they were made to go together.

The candle flame spat and fizzled, daring her to put it out. I’m seriously not gonna sing to myself, she thought stubbornly. But Talon did close her eyes before blowing the candle out with a hurricane force of a wish.

Someday.

After nibbling off the seven squiggles of white icing, Talon ate the waxy chocolate top of her cupcake. The rest flew in the trash but not before she tongued out the crème-filling, duh. While the cupcake served its purpose, her mouth still held the aftertaste of bitterness.

As she made a couple of sandwiches, one for dinner and one for school lunch the next day, headlights tracked across the kitchen. She peeked through the dusty, dented aluminum blinds, surprised to see her mom getting out of the car, cradling a big bucket of fried chicken on her hip like a toddler. DB-18, otherwise known as Frank, carried a grocery bag in each hand. No doubt, one bag had beer in it.

“Talon! We brought dinner!” her mom, Lisa, yelled from the living room.

Talon stepped into the doorway of the kitchen, turkey sandwich in hand. “I hunted and gathered for myself.”

Lisa’s smile broke, sliding like loose soil on a hillside.

“Mom, seriously…you’ve been…gone. Why would I think you’d bring home dinner?” They stared, glared, glowered; a familiar language in which they’d both become fluent. “But I can use the leftovers for dinner tomorrow. Thanks,” Talon quickly added, then wondered why she’d thrown her mom a flotation device, especially when she’d obviously forgotten her birthday.

“It’s the thought that counts, right?” said Frank as he put the beer in the fridge. He had that same shaggy-mutt look that came standard in all her mother’s boyfriends. Talon turned her back to him. Can’t I ever have mom to myself?

Since birth, Talon had felt like one of the satellite moons in Lisa’s planetary orbit. Her childhood was an unreal and treacherous place where the yellow brick road was full of trap doors. She wanted to believe there was a home for her on the other side of the rainbow, where she had a family that really knew her and loved her anyway. She knew what she’d ask the wizard for: Love.

But then “love” was just another four-letter word.

Under the harsh fluorescent kitchen light, her mom’s eyes were fogged and rimmed with red, as if she’d been crying, or smoking weed—probably both. “Sure you don’t want some?” Lisa asked as she and DB-18 seated themselves at the small flea-market table now crowded with unpaid bills, empty glasses, chicken, bland cobs of corn, doughy biscuits, and beer. Talon reached for a drumstick, knowing it was a greasy peace offering after their fight about how there was never enough food in the house.

A fly landed on the table next to the chicken and Frank deftly flipped a mason jar over it.

“Swift, grasshopper,” Lisa joked, and they giggled all stupid like the kids at school.

That fly had to be frustrated, banging itself against the glass. Talon flipped the jar and freed the fly because she couldn’t stand the sound. Its droning and tapping was too close to the noise in her own head.

Frank shrugged and bit into his extra crispy as Talon hopped onto the counter, mulling over a casual way to ask her mother something important. She had one thing on the brain: the essay contest at school. The theme was Family, which was seriously ironic.

“Soooo, there’s this writing assignment at school about, um, family…” No one looked up. She swallowed a salty chunk of chicken and forged ahead. “…and since I know nothing about ours, I thought maybe you could help me out?” Talon pinched her knees to stop her jumpy legs from bouncing against the cabinet.

Pausing mid-bite, Lisa glanced at Frank, their eyes holding for a split second. The silent, intimate conversation between them made jealousy nip at Talon’s heart. When her mom finally looked at her, Talon hoped a miracle was about to occur, that Lisa was actually going to share something. Usually when she tried to pry info from her mom, the “Great Wall of Lisa” rose up, impenetrable.

“Just make something up. I’m sure it’ll be more interesting than anything I could tell you. As long as it’s written well, they’ll never know the difference.”

Yup, the Great Wall was as sturdy as ever.

The genealogy of Secret: Evasion, a close relative of mine. Also related: Lie. Ours is a mad, mad family. We’d invite you to dinner but chances are, you’re already seated at the table with napkins under your chins.

Something sparked inside Talon, as though she had a lighter wedged in her chest, ready to ignite with the slightest friction. “I’m not asking for your entire life story here. Just give me something, anything. In the interest of scholastic achievement?” She wasn’t going to give up that easily.

Lisa slowly wiped her hands on the stinky moist-towelette and sighed. “Okay. When I was little, I had a pet bunny that I adored.”

DB-18 smiled and touched her arm. “You did? I had a lizard named Private Property.”

“What? Who names their lizard Private Property?” Mom asked, laughing.

“Someone who doesn’t want his four brothers to touch it.”

The two stoners tittered and ate, oblivious to Talon still waiting for a real answer.

“Seriously? That’s it?”

“But I—”

“A bunny? It astounds me how you opened up. Let me just go and get started on my in-depth, revealing essay about my mom’s pet rabbit!”

“Trust me, Talon, you do not want to hear about your relatives.”

Talon’s nostrils flared, bullish. “Here’s what’s wrong with that statement: A) The words trust me, and B) you don’t know what I want!”

“I am not going to do this with you right now,” Lisa said, scooting from the table.

“Yeah, cause clearly it’s on your agenda to do this with me some other time!”

“Ladies—” Frank began, holding up a beer and a chicken wing, like he’d been caught in a white-trash stickup.

“Shut right up, boyfriend.”

“Hey! That’s enough of your mouth!” Lisa’s cheeks were the color of a tomato, her eyes apologetic to Frank.

Tossing her half-eaten drumstick into the trash, Talon jumped off the counter and flew to her room, slamming the door with a satisfying thud. Don’t I have the right to ask questions? Don’t I have the right to answers? Restless, frustrated, a fly in a jar, she flopped herself into the metal fold-up chair at her desk. The computer droned to life and she stared at the blank essay document where she was supposed to *insert brilliance here. Naturally, she decided that writing her best friend an email to bitch about her mom was a better use of her time, only this is what she saw when she opened her email:

Dear Talon,

You don’t know me. I’m a stranger to you, but that’s my fault. Family can be like that, hiding from each other as a way to hide from ourselves. Stupid, I know. I’m done with that. I want us to know each other.

I call this a “Circle Journal.” The idea is that it circulates between us while we have a long, overdue conversation. I like the idea of that, don’t you?

Your mom and I haven’t spoken for years. I’m sure if she knew about this, she’d try to stop it. But I’m willing to chance it if it means I’ll get to know you after all this time. I can’t believe how much of your life I’ve missed.

If you want to write back, and I hope you do, then here are the rules…THERE ARE NO RULES. You can tell me or ask me anything you want. I promise to do the same. I’m sure we both have so many questions we want answered.

It’s probably best to keep these emails between us. I figure you’re old enough, you can decide for yourself. Just think about it. I’d like to know you before it’s too late.

Sincerely,

Aunt T

Who in Hell’s half-acre was Aunt T? And why was she sending some weird, cryptic email? Talon didn’t get random e-mails from people she didn’t know. She hardly got random emails from people she did know.

Aunt T was right, Talon had never heard of her. Not surprising. Mom liked to keep those little nuggets of information to herself—like who Talon’s real father was or why they seemed to have no family whatsoever—so it didn’t surprise her that her mom never mentioned a sister. She wondered what her mom did to screw up that relationship, too.

The lady said she wanted their communiqué to be private, which stoked Talon’s healthy suspicion. Come to think of it, how did she even know Aunt T was who she said she was? The email could’ve been from anybody. Talon took a deep breath to unclench her stomach.

She didn’t do vulnerable.

As she exhaled, she had to admit, it gave her a rush to think of corresponding with her mom’s sister on the sly. Spilling her secrets to a total stranger was not an option, mostly because she didn’t spill her secrets.

Spill, jab, fling, dangle, or hide. I’m a multi-functional tool.

Mom had secrets, too.

Well, who doesn’t?

If the lady really was her aunt, then maybe she’d reveal something, anything. In Talon’s quest to be as different from her mother as humanly possible, it would help to have some details – the worst potholes were the ones you didn’t see coming.

Suddenly the idea of talking with this Aunt T person seemed pretty appealing.

But first, verification.

Talon’s fingers hovered over the keyboard for a moment before plunging down.

Dear Aunt T,

Pardon my suspicious nature, but I’ve learned over the years to be wary of pretty much everybody. How do I know this isn’t some prank by a punk at school with no life and nothing better to do than to try and infiltrate mine? How do I know you aren’t a nutball stalker with bad intentions? How did you get my email address?

I need some kind of proof.


Talon

author
Tracy Clark is a young-adult writer because she believes teens deserve to know how much they matter and that regardless of what they’re going through, they aren’t alone. In other words, she writes books for her teen self.
 
She grew up a “Valley Girl” in Southern California but now lives in her home state of Nevada, in a small town at the base of the Sierra Foothills. Her two children teach her the art of distraction and are a continuous source of great dialogue.
 
 
Tracy was the recipient of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Work in Progress Grant. A two-time participant in the prestigious Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Tracy is a private pilot, an irredeemable dreamer, and a spicy-chocolate connoisseur.
giveaway
(1) Winner will receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card, US Only.
(1) Winner will receive an eBook of CHALK HOUSES
Ends on February 9th at Midnight EST!

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

Insightful reading, 

Jordan

Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian–the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kind hearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

review3.5/5 Stars 

+++Triggers for graphic abuse, violence, claustrophobia. 

I had a hard time rating this book. I had to sit and think about it before I could put a label on it. It’s taken me almost 2 weeks to get to this point. On one hand, some sections of this book were so engrossing that I didn’t realize time was passing, sound stopped, everything became about the story and the horror taking place there. On the other hand, the pieces didn’t mesh well, secondary characters were so-so, and it all felt kind of random and strung together. 

A List of Cages is told from two POVs-Adam’s and Julian’s. The first is a graduating senior who seems like he’s on top of the world. He’s likable, full of light and laughter, charisma, and charm. He kind of floats through life on a cloud. Julian’s life is polar opposite. He’s disconnected, scared, isolated, and suffers sickening bouts of abuse. The thing they have in common? Once upon a time Julian lived with Adam before he was placed with his abusive uncle and from that point on Julian has always been influenced by Adam, even if they’re no longer friends and Julian doesn’t notice it himself. What’s interesting about the choice of these two protagonists is that it depicts the discovery, the realization, and the war within that someone so young goes through when they find out that their friend is being abused. But this is also problematic, though realistic. The two narratives, though they collided more towards the end, felt like two very different stories and didn’t combine. It was jarring, the pacing was off, and I kind of got super annoyed with Adam. Though I know he had to live his life and whatever, his character grated on me. Here’s the thing, Adam didn’t resonate with me. Sure, he’s a nice guy, he’s occasionally funny, and always compassionate, but his story was bland. He felt like any other character. He didn’t feel especially developed or complex, he just was. There were some scenes when I almost felt something for Adam, like in the flashbacks to his and Julian’s relationship when they were younger and the climax scene. I think sometimes it’s hard to find a balance when one story is so intense and their voice so powerful. 

One thing I loved was how persistent Adam was. Though I wasn’t exactly a fan of his character, I did respect and adore his actions. He tried to include Julian, to get him out of his shell, and he understood when Julian was getting overwhelmed; he’s deeply perceptive. 

Now for the hard stuff. There is so much I want to say about Julian. His POV broke me every single time. OMG my heart. It kills me how kids live in these situations everyday because of poor screenings or people dropping the ball or because legally a relative might seem like a creep but unless there’s evidence…I just. There are so many wonderful, amazing social workers out there, but there are so many kids that fall through the cracks too. Julian has so much trauma. Developmentally he is behind because his learning disability was undiagnosed and no one has patience with him, on top of the fact that he’s terrified all the time and can’t focus. He gets so scared. He chooses to isolate himself because he doesn’t know how to cope and all the chaos frightens him. He also believes that no one can possibly like him. Just stab me in the heart. On top of these issues, he lives in fear and walks on eggshells. He tries to be the best he can to avoid getting beaten at home, but it’s like nothing he does is right and he can’t win. And the abuse. If you’re sensitive to this issue, I’d probably tell you to avoid this one. It’s like you’re slammed with these graphic, terrifying scenes and the emotions are crippling. Between the imagery and the pleading and confusion in Julian’s voice, it’s chilling and emotionally it’s hard, so hard to read. Some reviewers have complained about this book because they said they feel the author took the violence too far. That it was too graphic, and while I do see how readers would feel that way, it’s not unrealistic and children in abusive homes face violence like this sometimes daily. I won’t lie to you, you know when you’re watching a particularly bloody and scary scene in a movie and you feel that tension building, your heart racing, your stomach bottoming out? This happens several times throughout the book. Be forewarned, you might be consumed by rage and anguish for Julian. There are two scenes in particular that gave me nightmares (if you’re claustrophobic, you might want to step back from this too). And it is a piercing pain that turns into an almost numbness thinking about this injustice in the world. It’s definitely eye-opening and will make you want to act.

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

Thoughtful reading, 

Jordan

 

Review: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

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syn

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

review

3/5 Stars

***Potential triggers for human trafficking, abuse, animal cruelty, violence, death

It pains me to write this review because I was so looking forward to this book-it was at the top of my highly anticipated list for 2017. I mean, The Phantom of the Opera??? As a theater kid, this is my personal form of euphoria. Unfortunately, my feelings on this rendering are mixed. 

PROS:

  • Thorn’s story is almost as tragic and heartbreaking as the Phantom’s and yet so full of beauty. No matter the darkness and fear he experienced as a child captured by traffickers and tormented beyond measure, his heart is pure and OMG is he swoonworthy. Some of the stuff he says to Rune, I mean, my heart swelled with joy. He’s like a part-time poet and the way he plays that violin. He’s the definition of dreamy. That dark hair and those coppery eyes, and that jaw. Smokin’ hot. I loved the way his past evolved and changed him and his starry-eyed devotion to the Phantom. Plus the way he looks at Rune…it’s like she’s his world at first sight. Now, let me warn, this does read like instalove on Thorn’s part, but there are reasons so hold out. 
  • This twist on the Phantom is super weird and complex. It can be hard to wrap your head around and accept, but there are enough history and allusions to the original Leroux story. The Phantoms’s story is somehow even more depressing and horrific than in the original. When you read about the love he felt for Christine, the hope he held for a happy ending, it will crush you and hit you right in the feels.
  • There’s a ton of seriously disturbing elements to this story-from creepy, crawly animals that don’t belong in nature, to taxidermy, to cryogenics. It’s a mix and match of sci-fi meets paranormal. And when you find out the truth about Rune’s heritage and how she relates to the Phantom…well, whether or not you’re a fan is up to you, but for me, I was torn. It felt like the author didn’t stay entirely true to the mythology (and that’s all I can say without spoilers). 
  • One of my favorite characters was the cat, Diable. He’s not particularly cute, but he has so much attitude in his mannerisms and he’s so clever. A sassy cat, what’s not to love?

CONS:

  • This book is at least a hundred pages too long. Let me explain. There were so many parts that seemed unnecessary, dragged, and pulled down the whole sense of foreboding that should have wrapped around the reader. The pacing was in line with a Gothic novel, but because it is set in contemporary time, it didn’t fit well with the story, despite the setting. There were whole sections of sprawling description that could have been trimmed, but went on for pages. While these sections certainly painted a picture, the length didn’t really build the emotions, but distracted from them with painstaking details. Scenes that would have benefited from being shortened by heightening the anxiety and fear got lost in a sort of step-by-step, piece-by-piece map of the setting. It became more about setting the scene than the story/scene itself. 
  • There’s so much going on that it became overwhelming. After you get used to the shock factor and adjust to the bizarre twist on the traditional Phantom story, the shifts in POV, the flashbacks to the past, and the absolutely strange quirks of every character (which was a bit much to begin with) don’t fall into place but feel strung together and random. There’s not a feeling of cohesion and planning, it hits like chaos and stays that way. Told in a more measured way, these pieces are all elements that explain the characters and their personalities. I guess what I’m saying is that I would have liked more build up. 
  • So much time was placed on carefully crafting the back stories for the Phantom and Thorn, even for Jipetto and Audrey, so that you know their hearts, their motivations, how they became who they are. And yet, despite the tragedy of her past with her father and the terrible situations she had with her grandmother, and even the history of the family name, Rune’s character felt undeveloped in comparison. While there are tidbits, like her joy of gardening, her knitting, her personality was kind of bland for such a strong story arc. Honestly, she was much better, much more interesting when she was interacting with other characters than by herself. 

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

Cryptic reading, 

Jordan

dreadnought

ARC Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

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“The shelter of boyhood ended, and they called me a young man. For no reason at all, they looked at the things that felt right to me, and they took them.

Even down to the way I carry my books and cross my legs. They took it. They took everything. Puberty came, and my body turned on me, too. Watching every part of myself I liked rot away one day at a time, the horrified impostor staring back at me. Watching the other girls, the ones who they let be girls, head in the other direction.

Every day, torn away further from myself, chained down tighter. Suffocated. Strangled.

They’ll make a man of me. Show me how to be a man. Teach me to man up by beating me down.

They never ask if I want to be a man.”

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Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.

She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

review4 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Diversion Books

+++Potential triggers: violence, verbal abuse

With a classic superhero fix that would do Marvel proud and a protagonist that speaks from the heart, Dreadnought is the book you didn’t know your soul needed, but it answered just the same. 

Sometimes the world is a bleak and terrifying place and so much seems hopeless. All we can do is fight through the darkness and stand strong in our convictions. Dreadnought is that quintessential story. The world can be a cruel place for those who are different and humanity can leave a lot to be desired. Dreadnought is a story of strength, hope, and perseverance, of embracing what you know in your heart and not letting anyone tell you different, despite the adversity and fear. 

Danny (Danielle) Tozer has lived her life in a body she feels betrayed her. I’ve never had such a keen insight into a character and their emotions. Danny’s story reflects the boxes that our sex puts us in, the way that society pushes and crafts each child into perceived ideas of masculinity and femininity. Danny has always known she was female, despite being anatomically male. She talks about how she gradually was pushed out of a circle of girls that she was friends with, how she was pushed into sports, and what she was expected to act like to assume the role of a male. My heart broke a little more with each loss, because that’s what they are deaths. It didn’t matter if Danny wanted to hold her books is a “girly” way, she was criticized for being too feminine and forced to adjust even the smallest of her mannerisms for fear of reprimand, even if part of her was dying inside with each small defeat. It’s eye-opening. How many times are people dismissive? How many times do people say, what’s the big deal, it’s a choice, what’s it matter, just hold your books differently? When you’re hit with Danny’s emotions and how it’s slowly killing her inside to relinquish even the tiniest bit of herself to satisfy society’s need to dichotomize, it cuts deeply. It’s powerful and insightful and will make you see the world differently. A transgender superhero. This makes my heart happy.

Dangerous forms of masculinity and femininity are summarized in Danny’s parents. I felt sick and disgusted by the way Danny’s father treats her and the way her mother cowers. The verbal abuse is gut-wrenching. There are all sorts of abuse and words can be just as painful and damaging as physical blows. I felt rage and hatred, and so sad for Danny. All she wants is to be accepted for who she is and the people who are supposed to love her unconditionally cast her aside. 

Throw in randomly gaining a superhero mantle on top of all this emotional turmoil. Obviously the adrenaline and emotions are high. The Legion is full of a diverse cast of superheroes that are both memorable, occasionally prejudiced, and super interesting. 

Calamity. I LOVE HER. She’s a little clichéd, but that’s her schtick. She’s funny, reckless, smart, and daring. The way she accepts Danny right off the bat and befriends her is sort of serendipitous and heartwarming. 

That being said, the world building was iffy. There were details just thrown in as explanation. Things weren’t clearly defined. They were more broad than anything. 

Utopia’s plan for domination is creative and she’s complex as a villain. However, all of these plot points were piled on at once and a little much. There’s not much spacing. The reveal too was so in your face that it didn’t pack the punch it could have. Some of the action scenes were too step-by-step and lasted an abnormally long time. Not in the sense that they dragged, because the description was epic, but you kind of wanted them to hurry up so we could get to the next catastrophe. 

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

Thrilling reading, 

Jordan