ARC Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

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Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via FirstToRead & Penguin Teen

+++This book does contain mature situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens

PROS:

  • Some parts are gloriously awkward in the way that only first love can be. Others are a question, a struggle to define, and a learning process of how to understand and share intimacy in the many ways it presents itself. There are all aspects of love in this book and often it evolves, transforms, and rebuilds after loss, tragedy, and heartache. Sometimes the love you thought you wanted is nothing like you imagined. Sometimes love has a time and place and no matter how hard you fight for it, it’s a losing battle. Cringe-worthy, provocative, and eye-opening. 
  • Sex positivity. Girls that are comfortable with their bodies, their passion, and willingness to express themselves sexually. Sure, there’s judgment from others but this expression of love is seen as natural and necessary.
  • There are a number of beautifully lyrical and blunt truths that feel like revelation. Perceptions on love and what it means to be in love, to be loved, and to give love shift within the story and as the main character goes through each phase, we experience it right along with her. The confusion, the hurt, the yearning is all there in full force. This is also an ode to loss and the many ways we deal with the empty after. 
  • The premise itself is interesting, though I would hesitate to call it magical realism like many other readers and reviewers have. There’s enough belief in the curse to influence every aspect of the people’s lives who live on this street. That strength in belief is its own form of magic and carries incredible power. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and a little unsettling. The lemons, the windows being left open, it was all fairly ritualistic and earthy. In my Goodreads status updates I tried to encompass the feeling of this book through comparatives: 
    February 17, 2017 – page 75

     

    26.04% “Still undecided. It kind of reminds me of The Graces meets Tell Me Something Real and then there’s little Practical Magic meets The Sun Also Rises. If you think that sounds interesting, check it out. Still not sold though.”

     
    February 17, 2017 – page 25

     

    8.68% “So far I don’t know how to feel about this book. It feel like it’s set in the 70s or 80s, it’s super literary, and thoughtful. While there are things in here that suggest alternate history and local mythology, I’m not sure I want to read more.”

CONS:

  • The pacing. For a story so interesting and poignant, it’s one of the slowest I’ve ever read. And insanely short. For so much story it felt unfinished. It lacked development that could have made the ideas and atmosphere stronger.
  • I didn’t really care for any of the characters. While there were unique and I appreciated what they were going through, I struggled to leave my post of indifference. I pushed my way through the story hoping to feel for the characters, but my heart was with the words, the ideas, not the individuals living it. 
  • The ending. So much happens in those last few pages and it’s certainly jarring but left things feeling unresolved and random. It didn’t add up. It felt rushed, incomplete, and did not fit with the rest of the book. 

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

Read on, 

Jordan

 

Release Day Blitz & Giveaway: Lessons In Falling by Diana Gallagher

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When Savannah Gregory blows out her knee – and her shot at a gymnastics scholarship – she decides she’s done with the sport forever. Without gymnastics, she has more time for her best friend, Cassie. She’s content to let her fun, impulsive best friend plan a memorable senior year. 

 

That is, until Cassie tries to kill herself.

 

Savannah wants to understand what happened, but Cassie refuses to talk about it and for the first time, Savannah has to find her own way. The only person she can turn to is Marcos, the boy who saved Cassie’s life. Being with him makes her see who she could be and what she really wants: gymnastics. 

 

But Cassie doesn’t approve of Marcos or of Savannah going back to gymnastics, and the tighter she tries to hold on to Savannah, the farther it pulls them apart. Without Cassie to call the shots, Savannah discovers how capable she is on her own – and that maybe her best friend’s been holding her back all along.
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author

Website | Twitter | Goodreads


Though Diana Gallagher be but little, she is fierce. She’s also a gymnastics coach and judge, former collegiate gymnast, and writing professor. Her work has appeared in The Southampton Review, International Gymnast, The Couch Gymnast, and on a candy cigarette box for SmokeLong Quarterly. She holds an MFA from Stony Brook University and is represented by Tina Wexler of ICM Partners. Her contemporary YA novel, Lessons in Falling, lands on 2/7/2017.

giveaway

(1) Winner will receive an annotated copy of Lessons in Falling by Diana Gallagher (US only) Follow these rules to enter!
 

“Want to share your own Lessons Learned?? It’s easy! Tell us about a time in your life when you persevered, despite a bad situation, and what lessons you learned from that situation. Share it however you like – on your blog, your social media, wherever! Submit your link to the Rafflecopter during the blitz and share the giveaway with your friends to win an annotated ARC!

Ends on February 28th at Midnight EST!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Insightful reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

review

3.5/5 Stars

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

This book. I’m still reeling. What a whirlwind. Norah suffers from a heavy and debilitating combination of agoraphobia and OCD, that effectively makes her housebound. Her mind runs a mile a minute with scenarios that rival 1,000 Ways to Die. Things that the average person would never think of, statistics, all merge into a fatalistic and fearful main character. 

Where do I even begin? The author and the main character share their mental illnesses so the writer is painting her experience vividly and with authority. You can feel it in every thought, every action, the way Norah’s mind expands and she closes in on herself. It’s heartbreaking, terrifying, and absolutely puts you in the character’s shoes. Every fear, every anxiety is magnified and coupled with her OCD quirks that won’t allow her to step outside of her comfort zone and there’s no telling what will set off her spiral into fear and depression. Norah tries hard to control everything to alleviate her fears and when she can’t, she turns to self harm. Those moments are especially poignant. Many times her self-loathing, frustration, and anger with her illness pours off the page. She hates that she can’t be normal. At first Norah is hard to sympathize with because her OCD and agoraphobia is so pronounced. As someone who doesn’t suffer from these illnesses, you’ll think, why can’t she just get over? What’s the big deal? You might even get a little annoyed. But as the story progresses, you get it. 100%. You understand that Norah has no choice, that she struggles and fights and her mind overwhelms her. And it’s gut-wrenching what she goes through, how every little action consumes her and forces her to act a certain way despite what her heart years for. I mean, wow. 

The story is basically Norah opening herself up to new experiences, facing her insecurities through baby steps, and learning to hope for a future where she won’t be limited, where she will have the freedom to embrace her dreams of travel and dating like a “normal” girl. Under Rose-Tainted Skies straddles a fine line and where I think it might face some critique fire is in terms of romanticizing mental illness. Many times, a guy or girl will come in and suddenly they’re the miraculous cure, and IMO if love can help, I’m all for it, but lately readers have objected to that sort of cure-all at the site of a hot guy. Luke, to me, is a spark that ignites her, he lights her up and makes her dream again-he’s a catalyst not a savior. Norah still makes choices, heck yes she has a huge crush because the guy is smoking hot, awkward, and so understanding, but he by no means swoops in and saves her, she fights and makes choices and slowly copes-she’s not cured because that’s totally unrealistic. This is a real, gritty picture of mental illness and how it wreaks havoc on every aspect of the individual’s life. 

What I felt the story was missing was more encounters with Norah’s mother, and her therapist. They both are strong women that have a huge presence in Norah’s life and while you get that impression and there are short scenes, I would have loved to see more of the cute interactions with Norah and her mom, and maybe a bit more on what Norah was like before her accident. 

The pacing was so-so, but fit for contemporary. There’s definitely a build up in feelings, curiosity, and yearning. The twist near the end was unexpected, but worked well. 

Luke and Norah together are made of awkward and silly and smiles and sometimes walking on eggshells, but it’s worth it just to see Norah overcome and work through her illness. They’re so cute together and so weird. Totally endearing and it’s really refreshing that all the instalust and love that have been permeating YA lately is not present. 

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

Insightful reading,

Jordan

Review Tour: Something More Series Box Set by Danielle Pearl

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This box set is FREE on Kindle Unlimited and contains three amazing new adult books that you need to read NOW!

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Amazon US | Amazon UK

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It’s the kind of situation most people would dread. Starting at a new high school, in the middle of my senior year, in a new town, in a new state. I know no one. No one knows me. That’s what I’m counting on.

A year ago, Aurora “Rory” Pine was just a normal teenage girl – just as sweet and naive as the fairy tale princess she was named after.

But this isn’t a year ago.

Rory is broken, and suffering from a new debilitating anxiety disorder, wrought with precarious triggers, she moves across the country to escape the source of her troubles. Her plan is anonymity, but that’s easier said than achieved for the new girl having a panic episode outside of calculus. The worst part? There’s a witness – and a gorgeous one at that.

Sam is a walking trigger for Rory. Incredibly handsome, built like the star athlete he obviously is, and undoubtedly popular, Sam outwardly represents everything Rory despises about high school. But as the fates keep throwing them together, a connection sparks that neither ever expected, and certainly can’t ignore.

But Sam has issues too, and Rory’s past won’t just stay in the damned past. When friendship evolves into something deeper, can a girl utterly destroyed by the worst kind of betrayal and a boy battling demons of his own ever have a normal relationship? Is that even what they want? Find out in NORMAL, a gritty story of trust and abuse, heartbreak and salvation, and if they’re lucky – love. This is not a flowery romance – not for the faint of heart.

review

5/5 Stars 

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

+++This book does contain triggers- sexual, physical, and psychological abuse as well as MATURE content

Normal is the kind of book that opens your heart, examines its parts and then stomps all over it only to put it back together again, better than before. It’s feels overload. The flashback scenes are gut-wrenching, horrifying, the sort of paralyzing trauma that leaves you breathless in sheer fear and trembling with tears. Rory’s suffering is incredibly moving and heartbreaking. Every remembered incident is an open wound and your heart will bleed right along with her. Grab your tissues. Lots of them. 

The violence is graphic and brutal. The details physically are coupled with Rory’s internal dialogue. Her thoughts are she was in the moment are scattered and conflicted as she tries to process the reality of her situation and to understand how something so horrific can happen. Some scenes may have you averting your eyes or skimming. It’s hard to read because it is emotional chaos. The scenes in the car, omg, and the locker room. I’d never been so scared for a character in my life. The terror will consume you and open doors to understanding.

When you get to the back of the book, there’s an explanation of the inspiration behind this novel. Danielle Pearl said she wanted to write a book about abuse that is not black and white but the perfect shade of gray. Pearl exceeded by expectations. There are times when you want to be mad at Rory, that you want to shake her and scream for her to get out of there but her thought process will have you pausing, rethinking. Rory’s mentality, her youth and inexperience are highlighted and very believable. For a girl who was just coming into her sexuality and unsure of what it means to have a boyfriend let alone a sexual relationship, her innocence and confusion really challenge the notion that everything is black and white. Rory doesn’t know, she feels alone, diminished, and broken with no one to talk to because she has been taught to feel shame. My heart broke for Rory and the rage was intense. Every time I hear the justification for assault as someone was asking for it incites my fury. It’s ridiculous and Rory epitomizes how this notion sinks under the skin, making girl question whether or not rape is their fault. Also, the excuse for cheating as “I have needs.” UGHHHHH.

Rory’s anxiety, her triggers, her life-preserver of just knowing her pills are there if she needs help are accurate and insightful portrayals of PTSD. That Rory should have to feel paralyzed to be alone in a room with a male, that she has to constantly adjust her life so as to not aggravate her triggers is unfair and honest. Every ounce of uncertainty and how it comes over her in sudden waves of fear granted more psychological understanding of a character than I’ve experienced.

Rory is brave. Her courage is an inspiration and made of awe. That she, knowing the possible consequences and the Golden status of her abuser, had it in her to make a report is powerful to read. Despite everything she’s suffered and her severe psychological and physical scars, she took a stand to save herself. Rory is that character that forces you to think, to feel, and experience. She’s the kind of character that will leave you all over the place, bogged down with emotion. Rory is a tiny broken bird, thirsting to disappear into the background but when she shines, she’s a phoenix. Rory is resilient in body and spirit, she’s an example of hope that everyone should read.

Sam is a lesson in patience and compassion. He cradles and soothes Rory. He understands her on a deep level that transcends his years and his playboy attitude. He gets it. His own story is sad and violent, he struggles with control but realizes that he is a better person, that overcoming is an everyday challenge. 

Sam and Rory together are therapeutic. They’re a wonder couple. They have their challenges, every day is a little better when their together and in each other’s arms they can move on from the past that haunts them. They’re playful and real, they share their secrets and feel safe with each other. It’s beautiful and a little tragic but the kind of love that speaks of forever.

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Rory and Sam fell in love in NORMAL, and we all fell in love right along with them. Now see it all unfold through Sam’s eyes, and learn just how the new girl with anxiety issues stole the heart of the gorgeous heartthrob, and turned his world upside down.

You already heard the story. The one of how Rory and I fell in love, supposedly, even if she couldn’t handle it in the end. You know how it all went.

Or you think you do.

You only know her side. But I have my own point of view, and even Rory couldn’t know my thoughts in those few months it took for her to go from being a stranger to my whole entire world.

Every moment is permanently ingrained in my memory. In my goddamned soul. From the moment I stumbled upon the girl panicking outside of calculus – the one with the tight little body, the angelic face, and the fierce attitude – to the night she abandoned me in Miami. It was the sum of those moments that changed me irrevocably.

Our story isn’t over. I won’t let it be. But this, this is what happened so far, the way I saw it.

I’m Cap. Or Sam, to Rory. And this is my story.

review

4/5 Stars

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

From the first page of this series, I’ve been hooked. I love everything about Rory and Sam, their complex relationship, the past trauma, how they heal each other’s wounds and see how strong they truly are just by being loved. It’s beautiful, uplifting, heartbreaking, everything you could ever want in a story and so so so important. The Something More series deals with crucial issues that are not voiced enough, that people look away from rather than take action against like domestic abuse and rape. In many ways, when we do hear these stories, they’re from one side, or maybe two, the victim and the attacker, but what about the people who are there after, those who love and cherish those who have been hurt so deeply? ReCap is that other story. The powerful and life-changing POV of those who fall madly in love with someone who has been abused and the everyday struggles that come up.

Sam is…I mean, he’s amazing. That word somehow seems less. Sam is empathetic, strong, fierce, protective, and soul-crushingly, swoon-inducing, devoted to Rory. He sees her scars and worships at the altar of her strength. Rory is something holy and angelic to him. No matter how broken she sees herself, she’s the epitome of perfect to Sam because she has overcome so much.

It’s intense reading Sam’s emotions as he watches Rory fight for control of her PTSD. The thoughts that race through his mind, his struggle to understand, and the way he beats himself up when he makes mistakes are incredibly raw and honest. The fine line between treating her like she’s fragile and comforting her is hard to master and Sam makes tons of mistakes. 

It’s all the things you don’t think about that are brought to your attention in this book. The way we take things for granted, like casual touching, or grabbing someone when you want to get their attention. It’s eye-opening to witness how things we brush off can trigger someone who has been through trauma. 

How Sam sees Rory. It’s like seeing the sun for the first time. That bright, almost startling brightness, the magic of its beauty, the way it warms and occasionally burns, but brings so much comfort. That is what Sam feels every time he looks at Rory, like he’s awake for the first time. The emotions are off the charts, almost too much. I might be a little in love with Sam. 

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After the horrors she’s survived over the past year, Rory never expected to find the one thing she certainly wasn’t looking for – love. But after the painful realization that her past has left her a dangerous liability to the person she cares for the most, she finally understands that for her and Sam, love means letting go.

Can two people hopelessly in love with one another ever revert back into just friends? Neither Rory nor Sam know for sure. But the one thing they do know – it’s the only choice they have.

As Rory recovers from a devastating assault, Sam will do anything to make sure it never happens again. But how far will he go to keep her safe? Their choices will change everything, and they will either bring them back together, or destroy them irrevocably.

review

5/5 Stars

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

+++A few words about genre and context: Okay can be classified as Mature YA or early New Adult. In both cases it is a drama, romance, and contemporary. It does contain mature themes that are better suited for older YA so 18ish+. The content deals with issues of domestic and sexual abuse.Contains triggers. 

It’s taken me a while to write this review not because I was busy or lazy but because I had so much to say and this review was harder to write than others. When I first read NORMAL, I was absolutely stunned and impressed with Danielle Pearl’s voice. The way she captured the anxiety, the terror, and just how debilitating living with PTSD is on a daily basis was precise, accurate and showcased a substantial amount of research and understanding. Generally when people think of PTSD, I think they assume soldiers. PTSD has many faces and many levels of distress. Danielle Pearl does an amazing job informing the reader of the little things, the tiny day-to-day activities that those who do not suffer from PTSD don’t think about and sheds light on the strength it takes to endure when anxiety and memory strike. OKAY is a continuation of Rory and Sam’s romance and hones in more on self acceptance, learning to love in the face of a traumatic series of sexual abuse, and discovering that no matter how dark and horrendous the past can be, hope is as resilient as the human spirit. 

I appreciate so many things about what Danielle Pearl has done with this series: her endeavour to write about sexual assault from a gray area, to address ignorant assumptions about sexual violence and whether or not it can be okay. It’s never okay and no girl is “asking for it” despite what she wears or how beautiful she is. I think it’s crucial to address this mentality that is somehow drilled into people from a young age. The idea of dressing promiscuously as a gateway or okay for sexual assault. Where did this concept come from? Asking for it? The guilt, the questioning, the deliberation that women have to go through before throwing on clothes. Every aspect of care and thought so that she not look too tempting, that she not tease the men with too much cleavage or leg because they have no restraint. How is that acceptable or okay? OKAY made me question how I view sexual assault and the grounds on which abuse is determined. The argument that short skirts and flirting is justification is weak at best but even Rory questioned whether she was at fault, if she was indeed asking for it? How many girls go through this after assault? How many don’t report it because they believe they did something wrong? Danielle Pearl asks hard questions that we as humans need to address and ask more of.

Rory’s insecurities are real and relatable. Having never been in a non-abusive relationship, she doesn’t know what is expected or how she should behave, she also doesn’t feel worthy of love and it is devastating. Rory’s emotions are a chaotic mess of longing and memory, she’s haunted and doesn’t know if she’s capable of love after her abuse. Sometimes Rory makes decisions and interprets things in ways that seem foreign or strange to me but Danielle Pearl clearly outlines Rory’s thought process so that you see where she’s coming from. Rory is terrified of a future where she’s have to open her heart and share her body and because of this fear she pushes Sam away. I think what makes Rory so compelling is that she’s a survivor. It’s not that she’s super confident or smart, she’s not perfect, she’s scarred and weighed down by her past but she’s REAL. Her beauty shines through her brokeness and though occasionally emotionally fragile because of her PTSD she has a lot of fight in her when she lets it show.

Secondary relationships became a major plot element this time around. In the first book, one of my critiques was that friendships were almost an afterthought. In OKAY relationships between the main characters and their parents and the protagonists and their friends were complex and grew as the story progressed. Sam’s relationship with his father was gripping. All of Sam’s animosity, his violence and anger stems from his horrendous feelings towards his father. The therapeutic interactions between them allowed for Sam to understand, to open his mind, and forgive, not fully but he’s on his way. 

Sam’s feelings for Rory are transcendent, pure, heavenly. You feel every ounce of his attraction and respect towards her. From the way she looks, to her tiny mannerisms, and even when she’s throwing him off, he knows when to give her space. Sam’s anger is explosive, deep-seeded, and volatile, but the memory of his father’s actions ground him. Knowing that he is just as vulnerable and attached as Rory added another level to their relationship. 

The romantic scenes between Sam and Rory are molten hot bouts of ecstasy and carnal heat one moment and perfect love and mutual understanding the next. They care about each other’s happiness and that attentiveness intensifies their already steamy romance. 

The off and on, push and shove of Sam and Rory’s romance/friendship was infuriating. I understood Rory’s interpretation but I couldn’t get past the fact that out of everything Sam had done for her, the adoration and comfort he had shown her that she would believe she was better off without him or that he didn’t love her. It just didn’t make sense. 

author1177095_origDanielle Pearl is the Amazon and iBooks best-selling author of the Something More series. She lives in New Jersey with her three delicious children and ever-supportive husband, who–luckily–doesn’t mind sharing her with an array of fictional men. She did a brief stint at Boston University and worked in marketing before publishing her debut novel, Normal. She writes mature Young Adult and New Adult Contemporary Romance. Danielle enjoys coffee, wine, and cupcakes, and not in moderation.

 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Instagram

Life changing reading, 

Jordan

Review: The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics

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Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

review

3/5 Stars

+++Contains graphic violence, grotesque imagery, self-inflicted mutilation, and scenes that could be disturbing to some readers. 

I loved Daughters Unto Devils so when I saw The Women in the Walls I was gleeful. It felt like a lovely early Christmas present for my horror-obsessed little heart. Then I started reading. I waited. And waited. And waited some more for something to happen and finally it did, but it took ages. The pacing is slow. So much so that the tension doesn’t build like it should. Scenes that should have sucked all the air out of the room with the sheer creepiness of what was going on fell flat and missed their mark entirely in some places. 

The setting didn’t quite fit with the story. The Women in the Walls read like a Gothic novel, but was set (I’m assuming because of a few-very few-references) in present time. There were so many details that were left out. It bugged me that I had no clue how old the main characters were. All we know is that they are not legal adults. I was at a loss for what Lucy looked like. Descriptions of people were sparse. Apart from Lucy’s habit of self-mutilation, we really know nothing about her hobbies, her interests, her friendships, nothing. There are measly references to her mother, and some moderately detailed memories of her and Penelope, but that’s it. Lucy’s closeness to Margaret was stressed throughout, but there are no flashbacks, no nostalgia, and certainly no friendly interactions as the story evolves. If anything, they look like enemies. It’s hard to invest in their relationship when it felt as though it was never there to begin with. 

What Amy Lukavics excels at is those spine-tingling, chilling images that are blunt and brutal and made of nightmares. The horror is grotesque, packs a punch, and so bizarre that it takes a second for it to process and then, boom. I said this about Daughters Unto Devils as well, this would make a fantastic scary movie. Some statements are disturbing on levels that sink their teeth into you and keep going, gnawing at your thoughts. I can’t get them out of my head and that shows you how powerful those scenes are. 

The ending. The bulk of the horror happens in the last 15 or so percent of the book. What gets you is the anticipation. You know something terrible is coming. Something so bad that you persevere and wade through the slowness. Will it be paranormal? Will it be bloody? Will Lucy make it to the end of the book? What happened? All of these questions nag and plague and will drive you mad with need. I had to know. I pushed and fought and when I got there…

Holy plot twist. That’s some next level horror. The clues are minimal. You might expect it a little, but the full extent of what happens-never. 

That finale. The gore is enough to keep you awake for days. Read it with the lights on. You were warned. 

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

Hypnotic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Forget Me Always by Sara Wolf

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All warfare is deception. Even in high school.

It’s been nineteen days since Isis Blake forgot about him. The boy she can’t quite remember. She’s stuck in the hospital with a turban-size bandage on her head, more Jell-o than a human being should ever face, and a tiny bit of localized amnesia. Her only goal? To get out of this place before she becomes a complete nutjob herself.

But as Isis’s memories start to return, she realizes there’s something important there at the edges of her mind. Something that may mean the difference between life and death. Something about Sophia, Jack’s girlfriend.

Jack Hunter—the “Ice Prince”—remembers everything. Remembers Isis’s purple hair and her smart-ass mouth. Remembers that for a little while, Isis made him feel human. She made him feel. She burned a hole in the ice…and it’s time to freeze back up. Boys like him don’t deserve girls like her. Because Jack is dangerous. And that danger might be the only thing protecting her from something far more threatening.

Her past.

Previously published as Savage Delight, this fully revised and updated edition is full of hilarity, drama, and heartbreak.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Entangled and NetGalley

Forget Me Always is a weird little book. Let me preface this review by saying that I did not read book 1 in this series. I went in blind. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the craziness that happened in book 1, so to me this probably read like more of a mystery than it actually was.

I don’t think I’ve ever read more unlikable characters. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. You probably should dislike them. Not everyone is perfect. Sometimes people are broken and in pain and don’t know how to cope. That’s a truth that is evident in this book.They’re a messy bunch of angst-riddled, spastic people harboring wounds so deep and tragic that it’s jarring even reading them. Jack is a masochistic jerk. He’s hurtful, lashes out, lives on sarcasm and self-loathing. His darkness is internalized until it becomes a physically painful truth to whoever he’s projecting his pain on. He’s twisted, complex, and has so much on his shoulders but his personality is just so negative that you kind of hate him. And yet…he’s like a brooding, tragic hero that you want to see through to the end-to see if he self destructs or comes to terms with his demons.

Isis seems way, way younger than her age. She evades and forces happiness to shield herself from past trauma-but because of that doesn’t really experience strong character growth. Some readers might appreciate her unique brand of quirky, she definitely has a strong voice, but for me it was too potent. At the same time, she certainly makes things interesting and her spirit rubs off on people, making them open up and care again. She’s devoted, a great friend.

Sophia is a nightmare, but I liked her. She vicious and cruel and borderline evil half the time, but the other times she’s bizarre and wounded, and dare I say sweet. She’s that character that you love to hate. 

There’s so much going on this book. Things coming from all directions. There was a lot left unresolved; the ending was bleak and twisted. 

The story has many components that are so relevant to teen life-sex, drugs, depression, abuse, making unsavory choices to provide for those you love, bullying, manipulation. Borderline Pretty Little Liars scale crazy with coercion, lies, and so many secrets.

Intriguing reading, 

Jordan

Spotlight & Giveaway: The Homecoming by Stacie Ramey

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Praise for The Homecoming

“The overall message of relying on family and friends for support is clear, and John’s pain and confusion are palpable… the male point of view distinguishes it in a field crowded with girls’ perspectives. VERDICT A solid addition to YA collections.”

School Library Journal

“This engaging story will appeal to all readers and will help troubled teens realize that there can be help out there for what’s going on in their lives.”

School Library Connection

“A stirring close-up of a family haunted by emotional trauma.”

Kirkus

Forced to return to his estranged family, John discovers how hard it is to truly go home.

It’s been a year since John lost his girlfriend, Leah, to suicide. Living with his uncle keeps his mind from the tragedy and his screwed up family—until he gets into trouble and a judge sends him back home. With a neglectful mother and abusive brother, John’s homecoming is far from happy.

As he tries to navigate and repair the relationships he abandoned years ago, Emily, the girl next door, is the only bright spot. She’s sweet and smart and makes him think his heart may finally be healing. But tragedy isn’t far away, and John must soon face an impossible decision: save his family or save himself.

ExcerptTHE HOMECOMING

STACIE RAMEY

Chapter 1

Standing on the high school’s lacrosse field in the town I never thought I’d go back to, I wait for my turn to do suicides. The sun blazes, and I take a drink from my water bottle and try not to chew myself out for landing here instead of getting to stay in Chicago with Uncle Dave. What would Leah think if she saw me now?

“Strickland!” Coach calls. “Line up.”

It’s not my turn to run again, and the unfairness starts a flame in my stomach, but I line up anyway. No way I’m gonna let Coach see he’s getting to me. Or let the team know how out of shape I really am.

“Get your legs up!” Coach Gibson screams, and I think he’s talking to me, but I can’t be sure, because six of us are racing, and I’m losing. Bad. Guess the last few years of smoking weed hasn’t helped my stamina.

Matt, a guy from my neighborhood who I used to play lacrosse with and one of two people Mom fought like hell to keep me away from, yells from the sidelines, “Wheels, Strickland, wheels.” But he laughs as he says it, and I know he’s just giving me shit.

I knew they’d go hard on me. Payback for moving away. For not playing lacrosse since fifth grade. For hanging with the druggies instead of the jocks. I’m one of the new guys on the team. An honor not usually given to seniors. So I’m treated to Hell Week like the freshmen and sophomores. I don’t mind. That’s just the way it is.

Coach Gibson points to me. “Just Strickland this time.”

Bodies collapse around me, and I hear their sighs of relief as I crouch in the ready position, sweat pouring off my chest and arms and legs while I wait for Coach’s whistle to launch me like a bullet from a gun. I run from the end line to goal line. Goal line to end line. End line to box line. Box line to half field.

“Push, push, push,” Coach yells.

I do what he says, push my body. Pump my legs. It sucks, but I do it, because with each stride, I feel my body taking over and my mind being left far behind. Maybe this time, Dad was right. Lacrosse is just what I need.

“Again.” Coach points to me. He clicks his stopwatch, and I race again. He shakes his head as he documents my time. Like I don’t know how bad I suck. Like I don’t get how much persuading Dad must have had to do to get me on the team. Thinking of Dad fires me up to tap into my beast. I bend over. Try not to puke. Take a drink of my water and hit the line to run again.

I don’t actually mind this part. Whenever I run full out, push my body past its limit, those are the times I’m not thinking of Leah.

“Again.” I run my route one more time, my body failing a little more with each step. When I’m sure I’m going to fall to the ground, I make myself think of Leah. How I was supposed to save her. How I didn’t. And that’s enough to propel me forward. At the end of the run, I bend over, spit on the ground.

The other seniors and juniors start their Indian drill. They jog by us freshies, run their rhythmic jogging and even breathing, reminding me that they are warriors, and I am not. Matt yells out, “Damn, Strickland.” Then laughs as I lose this battle and puke on the ground.

Brandon, another guy from the old team, joins in the hilarity. “We got a puker!”

I look at each exercise as a brick in some mythical wall I have to build before I can earn my walking papers. That makes it easier to face. One step. One drill. One minute. One hour. One week. One month. More than one year since my girlfriend Leah died. (Killed herself, I remind myself, careful to make the memory hurt as much as possible).

Probably thirty minutes left in practice. Nine weeks till my first report card. Nine months of probation, ten months till I can graduate and move on with my life to California. The farthest place from my family I can go without getting a passport. Where I can cash in on my one and only talent: growing and selling weed. Legally there.

Finally, Coach calls us in. The juniors and seniors have already been sent to the locker room ahead of us, so he’s only addressing us wannabes. “You guys didn’t totally disappoint me today, so tomorrow, you can bring your sticks.”

Some of the guys pump their fists. I don’t even have the energy to do that.

“Now hit the showers and head home.”

I’m turning to leave when Coach calls me over. “Hey, John, I wanted to say I’m sorry about your brother. And your girl.”

The dragon roars. Flames engulf me. People just can’t let an accident like Ryan’s go, even after all these years. But Leah? That’s too much. They didn’t even know her. I don’t want to share her tragedy, her life, her memory with anyone.

“You’ve had some tough breaks for sure.”

Dad and his stupid mouth.

Coach shifts his stance, crosses his arms—his clipboard with all my times now clutched to his chest. Numbers that for sure say I’m not good enough to be on any lacrosse team—definitely not the varsity team at East Coast High. “I don’t want you to get discouraged. Coach Stallworth told me about you. Said you used to be a hell of an athlete. You can be again, I’m sure.”

His stare feels like he’s trying to figure out what I’m made of. I want to tell him not to waste his time. I’m happy to tell him exactly who I am. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t mind taking whatever physical punishment he wants to dish out. But when it comes to my emotions? Coach is going to have to understand that that shit’s off-limits. Emotions are for idiots. Feeling crap doesn’t change what happened. Good weed works so much better. Hell, even bad weed beats feeling any day.

I gulp more water. Spit on the ground. Look him square in the eye. “Thanks, Coach. That all?”

I guess Coach picks up on my noncommunicative status, because his eyes go back to his clipboard. “See you tomorrow.”

I give him a nod and jog to the locker room so Coach’ll see I’ve still got a little juice in me, even after everything.

***

Last one in the locker room also means last one out. I sit on the bench, lean over to close my locker as Matt and Brandon head for the parking lot.

“Later,” Matt throws over his shoulder, the er reverberating as the door shuts behind him.

Matt and I’ve got some history to get over. It was his big brother, Pete, who hit Ryan. Seven years later and that still hangs between us. Not that it was Pete’s fault exactly. When it comes to those things, fault hardly even matters. It’s called an accident for a reason.

Besides, Pete hasn’t exactly gotten off scot-free either. Some people might think becoming a high school dropout, working pizza delivery while feeding a major drug and drinking problem is not as bad as Ryan’s deal, but I say that nobody has a right to judge. I stayed in touch with Pete even after I moved away. Nobody understands that, but it was like he was the only one who got the nuclear fallout of that accident.

I’m stuffing my sweaty clothes into my bag and zipping it up when I hear my cell chirp. I grab it, hoping it’s one of Pete’s connections I reached out to today. Someone who can help me with my little sobriety problem.

But it’s not Pete’s connection. It’s Uncle Dave. Hey, just checking in. Hope you’re settling in OK.

I text back. Yeah. Fine.

How was practice?

Somehow, that kills me. That he’s still checking on me. Uncle Dave. Not Dad or Mom. Him. This warm spot inside me lights a little every time he calls or texts.

He texts again. When someone you love dies, it changes you. Remember that.

He means Leah for me. My perfect big brother for Mom.

After Ryan’s accident, Mom didn’t change so much as reduce, like the sauce that Uncle Dave made for my filet the last night I was living with him. He explained how a little fire under you can intensify whatever’s inside you. After the accident, Mom got more intense for sure. Driven. Focused only on Ryan. With me, I just got more angry. Just the way I am, I guess.

Uncle Dave always tries to turn simple moments into lessons. Not preachy ones, just different ways to look at life. His texts aren’t meant to pry or annoy, but I can’t help wishing he hadn’t. I screwed up the best living arrangement of my life, the one Dad said I needed after I told him about Leah. But I killed the whole deal by hanging with a bunch of thugs and acting like a punk.

There’s a mass of activity around me in the locker room that doesn’t include me. Kids banging fists. Giving each other shit. Nodding when the others ask if they’ve got a ride. Then it hits me: I’m completely ride-less.

The guys on the team have picked up on my not so subtle I want to be left alone signal. I know teammates are supposed to male bond or some shit like that, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to finish probation. Live according to Mom’s rules. Then get out and go away. And never come back.

I text Uncle Dave. I’m exactly the same jerk I used to be.

He texts. Nice try.

As the door bangs shut for the last time, I realize my being a selfish ass and ignoring everyone means I’ll have to walk home. Great work, Johnny. I almost laugh out loud at what an idiot I can be.

The phone chirps again. This time it’s Dad. Picked up your Jeep from the compound. Cost me a fortune. Show me you’ve earned it and I’ll bring it to you.

Always pushing. Uncle Dave is so much cooler than Dad is that it’s hard to believe they’re even brothers.

The door opens, and a janitor leans in. “You done?”

“Yeah. Sorry.” I look around the locker room one more time. I am completely alone, even on a team of thirty kids. Classic me.

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Stacie Ramey attended the University of Florida where she majored in communication sciences and Penn State where she received a Master of Science degree in speech pathology. She lives in Wellington, Florida, with her husband, three children, and two rescue dogs. Visitwww.stacieramey.com.

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Dramatic reading, 

Jordan