ARC Review: You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche

you-in-five-actsAmazon/B&N/iBooks/Goodreads

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In the high-pressure months leading up to the performance that will determine their futures, a group of friends at a performing arts school look back on when an unexpected event upended everything. The moment that changed their relationships, their friendships, and their lives forever.

At a prestigious New York City performing arts school, five friends connect over one dream of stardom. But for Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan and Dave, that dream falters under the pressure of second-semester, Senior year. Ambitions shift and change, new emotions rush to the surface, and a sense of urgency pulses between them: Their time together is running out.

Diego hopes to get out of the friend zone. Liv wants to escape, losing herself in fantasies of the new guy. Ethan conspires to turn his muse into his girlfriend. Dave pines for the drama queen. And if Joy doesn’t open her eyes, she could lose the love that’s been in front of her all along.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Penguin First to Read 

You in Five Acts is told from the 5 perspectives of friends at a performing arts school in New York City. Each act is a new person directly talking to someone they care about, addressing them as “You”. They read like both diary entries and letters. The premise and organization is engaging, inspired, and gives you the opportunity to know each character-there are no secondary characters, they’re all the main character.

The biggest problem with this style choice is making sure each section is as strong as the last, unfortunately, (at least to me) 3 of 5 POVs were just so-so. Joy and Diego were by far my favorite. There was so much substance in their stories, whereas Liv, Ethan, and Dave read like a bucketful of teen angst. I struggled to sympathize or even empathize with them. Stress, unrequited love, and failed dreams lingered just out of touch. For some reason, all of the components were there but didn’t come across as powerfully as they should have.

Joy is a vision. She’s fierce, determined, and incredibly brave. She aims to break stereotypes and prove to her parents that despite the fact that the ballet world is dominated by thin, white ballerinas, that she can make it as prima ballerina. Joy has so much to offer and her story addresses the not-so-subtle prejudice in ballet. She’s strong, she has a normal body and she refuses to let commentary about her weight as not being the ideal ballet figure break her down. She’s proud of her body image and I think we need more of that in YA. In a world where everyone is unhappy about parts of themselves, they’re constantly critiqued, judged and put down when they don’t fit whatever ridiculous standards and tossed out there, Joy is not only refreshing but a straight up heroine. There’s a scene where she fights back against the toxic body image commentary and it is simply revolutionary. At the same time, Joy has insecurities about boys that are relatable and endearing. 

Diego. Breaking away from a cycle of crime, poverty, and bad choices feels impossible. When you’re surrounded by that environment, getting caught up in that life is easy. Diego is a wonderful person. He’s funny, full of life, and completely enamoured with Joy. She’s his light and hope. She makes him smile and he does everything to see that laugh he adores. Diego’s story is complicated, but intensely real. 

That ending. Do yourself a favor and avoid spoilers. They’re everywhere and it destroys the story. The build up to tragedy is consistent and keeps you going even when the pace is mind-numbing slow. 

PROS:

  • Diversity
  • Creative style
  • Deals with tough and culturally relevant topics

CONS:

  • So much angst
  • So-so characters (apart from Diego and Joy)
  • Snail’s pace

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

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Review: Pearl by Deirdre Riordan Hall

pearlGoodreads/Amazon

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Run fast and run far, unless you’re fearless. Unless you’re courageous. I’m not, but I’d like to be.

Pearl Jaeger is seventeen and homeless after drugs, poverty, and addiction unraveled the life she shared with JJ, her formerly glamorous rock star mother.

This moment of happiness is fleeting; someone will take it from me.

When tragedy brings a chance to start over at an elite boarding school, she doesn’t hesitate. Yet the only salvation comes from an art teacher as troubled as Pearl, and she faces the stark reality that what she thought she wanted isn’t straightforward.

I trace the outline of my reflection in a window. I am no more than a replica of my mother. This is not the self-portrait I want to paint.

Through the friendships she forms at school—especially with Grant, a boy who shows Pearl what it means to trust and forgive—she begins to see a path not defined by her past. But when confronted with the decision to be courageous or to take the easy way forged by her mother’s failures, which direction will Pearl choose?

review

3/5 Stars

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

Pearl is a tale of overcoming, self discovery, and learning to cope when life is too much. 

The story starts out strong. It’s a compelling, gritty, no holds barred look into a toxic family situation rife with drugs, abuse, and hopelessness. The story is real. It’s a situation that happens everyday, but so many ignore, look away, and certainly don’t talk about it. The portrayal of addiction and the secondary consequences of drug use like abuse, bullying, danger, homelessness, etc., are on full display and told with an honesty that transcends the fact that the story is fiction. It’s almost like a diary of a lost, terrified girl whose whole world is lived in her mother’s shadow. 

As the story progresses into Pearl’s stay at the private school and summer school, the story kind of slows and flits in and out of focus. There’s a drug-filled haze and depression coupled with romance and attempts to find herself. Regardless, it loses a bit of that dark, honest magic of the first section. 

Pearl is tainted by her mother. She loves her, she can’t help it. No matter how much her mother lashes out at her, messes up, and puts them in dire situations, Pearl remembers the moments when she knew her mother cared for her equally as much as the hateful comments. Pearl is not her mother, but everyone sees her as a messed up teen who is destined to get into trouble just like her mother. Everyone expects her to fail, there’s no faith and because she doesn’t have that direct or even indirect support, every single day is a struggle to stay focused and on the straight and narrow. Pearl is lost. She’s never had a role model really and doesn’t know how to be confident or even okay with herself. This opportunity at school is like a lifesaver that opens her up to discovery of the girl she buried within herself years ago. 

I was torn about the art teacher. He’s super pushy and mean. It’s borderline abusive the way he yells at the students. At the same time, he pushes them to a new level of talent. I wasn’t sold. This seemed toxic. While he had faith in Pearl when others did not, it was not a great example of a positive source of encouragement. 

Secondary characters are intriguing and interesting. You’ll want to know them. They’re far from perfect, in fact, many of them are downright jerks, but they’re themselves through and through. Sorel is a character to be remembered for sure. 

There are many mature subjects like drugs, sex, addiction, and abuse. This is MATURE YA.

The romance wasn’t for me. It faded in and out. It was random. The emotion was playful, yet subtle, until it was über sexual. While Grant did make Pearl feel beautiful and like she was worth something for the first time in her life, he was judgemental and pushed her away when she needed him. He didn’t listen, he assumed, and while there were reasons, he knew her well enough to give her a chance. 

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

Read on, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

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Release Date: September 6, 2016

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Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Random House Children’s Delacorte Press

+++Triggers: Self harm, violence, assault, sexual situations, graphic scenes

From the first few pages, I knew that this book would be something special. At 10% on my Goodreads update my status was: “This book. That voice.” I haven’t read such an emotionally gripping and poignant book in a long time. Charlie’s voice is rich, broken, and beautifully tragic. She bares her soul to the reader and has overcome so much that you’ll want to weep for her pain.

This book is intense and not for the faint of heart. The subjects are raw and gritty and graphic. There are times when, if you’re even remotely queasy when it comes to blood, that you might feel a little sick. Self mutilation/harm plays a major role in this story and the psychological reasoning behind it is dark, honest, and could be dangerous or cathartic to some readers. 

Sometimes contemporary books can feel contrived, this is seedy, and twisted, and full of anguish and suffering that many young people, unfortunately go through. It feels absolutely real and honest. Heartbreaking and yes, it will make you angry and maybe even open your eyes to all of the hurt around you that you overlook everyday. 

The writing style. Holy sinful writing gods. Beautiful. Potent. Full of soul. It’s imperfect. There’s some poetry thrown in here and there, but that voice. It reads like a diary. 

Girl in Pieces reads like two books. The time that Charlie spent during her recovery and the life she builds after. There are flashbacks sporadically as well. The first half of the book is like therapy. You’re introduced to everything that got Charlie into the position she’s in. You meet other girls who also self harm for whatever reasons. Each character is unique and memorable. You’ll want to know them, to get to the heart of why they feel the way they do. 

The second half was not my favorite. It slows down considerably. Charlie is building a new life for herself and everyday is a struggle not to cut. The memories of her past haunt her, but so is oh so strong. She’s a fighter, through every negative thought, every memory, she battles herself. You see the struggle and wonder how she copes, but there’s hope for a future where she’s better, where she can be and love herself. 

There’s a stunning plot twist. I was so surprised and disgusted. Just wow. You never know people. 

The romance is messed up. Toxic in some instances and good for her in others. Through love, Charlie begins to see a new side of herself, a beautiful side. She begins to truly look at herself, but the risks and decisions she makes, the way she puts herself in danger is most definitely not okay. She sees it, but doesn’t feel worthy or secure in herself enough to say no. THIS is so important. An examination of why people stay in bad situations and how to rediscover your worth. 

Side note: I strongly dislike this cover.

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

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens

THE BAD DECISIONS PLAYLISTThe Bad Decisions Playlist_hresAmazon/Barnes & Noble/iBooks/Goodreads

Pub. Date: August 2, 2016

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Austin, 16, a self-described screwup, finds out that his father isn’t dead. He’s alive, and moreover he’s Shane Tyler, a famous singer/guitarist/song writer—Austin’s dream for himself. But Shane is battling his own demons, and Austin must figure out how to grow up on his own terms.

authMichael

Michael Rubens is the author of The Sheriff of Yrnameer and Sons of the 613. He was a producer for several years for the Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and has written and produced for CNN, Oxygen, the Travel Channel and other networks. It’s theoretically possible that you saw him as the host of Eclipse Chasers: Ghana on the Travel Channel. He was also, for a very brief period, the World’s Least Effective Bouncer. He lives with his wife and daughter in Brooklyn, New York, and feels that the practice of writing one’s bio in the third person is somewhat questionable.

He is represented by John Silbersack at Trident Media Group.

WebsiteTwitter 

giveaway

3 winners will receive a hardcover of THE BAD DECISIONS PLAYLIST! US Only.

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CHECK OUT THE OTHER STOPS ON THE TOUR 

8/1/2016- YA Book Madness- Promo

8/2/2016- Curling Up With A Good Book- Guest Post

8/3/2016- Here’s to Happy Endings- Review

8/4/2016- Books and Ladders- Excerpt

8/5/2016- Riddle’s Reviews- Review

Epic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Halfling by H.D. Gordon

halflingGoodreads/Amazon

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Being seventeen and an outcast is hard. Being seventeen and only half human is harder.

When Aria Fae gets cast out of the Peace Brokers, a secret supernatural organization that’s trained her since infancy, and is left to fend for herself in the human world, she finds herself in Grant City, intent on attempting a normal human life.

As a Halfling, Aria has abilities that are a little underused in the flower shop she lands a job at. And when her new friend Samantha Shy enlists Aria to help investigate her mother’s death, the two girls decide to become vigilantes.

A new drug called Black Magic is running rampant in the streets of Grant City, turning people into supercharged maniacs. With Sam’s mad computer skills, and Aria’s Faevian abilities, they may be just the heroes Grant City is in need of.

Or they may find out they’re in way over their heads, and their mutual crush on the same guy is the least of their worries.

review3/5 Stars

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

The Halfling is an interesting twist on half-fae, much in the vein of Melissa Marr’s latest Seven Black Diamonds. X-Men meets paranormal magic, The Halfling is a thrilling, action-packed read that leaves you rallying for justice. 

PROS:

  • The story has a lot going on. Half-fae, sorceresses, a secret paranormal agency, human trafficking, hackers, and a horrifying new drug that makes users want to feed on flesh. 
  • Secondary characters are intriguing and make you want to know more about them. I loved that there were nerdy, tech obsessed BFFs that used their genius to make the coolest inventions and turn Aria into a fantastic super heroine. Samantha is awesome. Bullied but not defeated. She uses her mind and though she has some insecurity, it’s endearing. She can’t talk to guys to save her life and it’s hilarious. 
  • Aria is independent, courageous, fierce, and basically a crime fighting superhero. She takes risks and puts her life on the line to save the victims of human trafficking and other crimes throughout the city but at the same time, despite her fae powers, she’s just a teenage girl looking to belong. She doesn’t know how to deal with boys, she gets embarrassed, she abruptly leaves weird situations, and the tension is high but it’s very relatable. 
  • The chemistry. It’s all over the place. That neighbor. I’m not sure how to feel about it because he’s much older and sometimes seems like a fatherly figure/knight in shining armor, but oh man is he sexy. Former military, gorgeous, mysterious, and always comes to the rescue, what’s not to swoon over? There is some triangular action going on with the hot prep school boy whose father owns half the town but he’s flirty, playful, and has a big heart. You’ll feel for Aria because they’re both pretty perfect. 

CONS:

  • This felt more like the continuation of a series than the first book. So many key facts about Aria’s past were alluded to but never expanded on. Like the situation with her mother, a clearer picture of why she was banished, and who exactly her enemies were are all lacking in explanation. 
  • Focus gets lost somewhere between the superhero antics, Aria’s past, and the romantic tension. I’m not sure where the story was trying to go. Sometimes it felt like a pure romance, other times para, and others superhero adventure. The connection was loose. 
  • Some parts were predictable.

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

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Rebel Bully Geek Pariah-Erin Jade Lange

rebelGoodreads/Amazon/B&N

syn“The Breakfast Club” gets a modern, high-stakes reboot in this story of four very different teens and a night that changes them forever.

The Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked, tattooed wild child.

The Bully: York torments everyone who crosses his path, especially his younger brother.

The Geek: Tired of being bullied, Boston is obsessed with getting into an Ivy League college.

The Pariah: Choosing to be invisible has always worked for Sam . . . until tonight.

When Andi, York, Boston, and Sam find themselves hiding in the woods after a party gets busted by the cops, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off—the first decision of many in a night that will change their lives forever. By the light of day, these four would never be caught dead together, but when their getaway takes a dangerously unpredictable turn, sticking together could be the only way to survive.

With cinematic storytelling and compelling emotional depth, critically acclaimed author Erin Jade Lange takes readers on literary thrill ride.

review

3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books

READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You enjoy contemporary coming of age stories with a twist
  • Books like Perks of Being a Wallflower, Paper Towns, and anything Kasie West make you giddy
  • Self discovery, coming out of your shell, and friendship with mild romance are something you’ve been searching for
  • And yes, there is something very Breakfast Club about this story

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah is a surprisingly deep and layered story of that desperate search for belonging, for finding your place in the world, and making friends that appreciate your “mad” side. 

PROS:

  • Sam’s voice is rich and emotional. Her feelings towards her mother’s addiction and the horrific accident that forever altered her life are complex and poignant. The disappointment, hurt, and occasional hatred for her chaotic life are the basis for her quest for invisibility (Pariah). The story is told entirely from Sam’s POV despite the synopsis, which makes it seem like it would have several POVs. 
  • The plot picks up quickly and has a steady pace that keeps you on your toes. 
  • Each character has a unique voice. Their personalities are developed and memorable. They each have quirks and depth. Their pasts are interesting and make you want to know more about them. 
  • Laugh out loud funny at times and pensive the next. Get ready to laugh and feel and mourn and hope. Mostly hope. These endearing moments are special and warm. No matter the mistrust and apprehension, these friendships are life changing and important. Each interaction awakens parts of the characters that have been carefully buried and mask them from their peers. 

CONS:

  • The premise is a little farfetched for contemporary. Some parts were just scratch-your-head at the bizarreness. 
  • Some of the characters are more fleshed out than others. Their pasts are like snippets of information that aren’t always explored. Andi and Boston did not feel as alive as York and Sam (but this could have something to do with the slight romantic element). 
  • THAT ENDING. What happened? I want answers.

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

Keep reading,

Jordan

Interview, Review & Giveaway: Thicker Than Water-Kelly Fiore

Thicker Than Water bannerThickerThanWaterHCGoodreads/Amazon/B&N/iBooks

synCecelia Price killed her brother. At least, that’s what the police and the district attorney are saying. And although Cecelia is now locked up and forced into treatment, she knows the real story is much more complicated.

Cyrus wasn’t always the drug-addled monster he’d become. He was a successful athlete, but when an injury forced him off the soccer field and onto pain medication, his life became a blur of anger, addiction, and violence. All CeCe could do was stand by and watch, until she realized one effective way to take away her brother’s drugs while earning the money she needed for college: selling the pills.

Soon, CeCe becomes part drug dealer, part honor student. But even when all she wants is to make things right, she learns that sometimes the best intentions lead to the worst possible outcome.

Thicker than Water is an unforgettable dark, harrowing look into the disturbing truth of drug addiction and the desperate love of a sister watching her brother deteriorate before her eyes. 

intYABM: Thicker Than Water explores the far-reaching effects of drug addiction not only on the addict but everyone around them. Was it hard writing the dark and raw truth of drug addiction? What were some elements that were particularly challenging?

Kelly: I think when it comes to the dark and raw stuff, the truth was what was hardest to tell. There’s a line in the book where CeCe thinks about the relief she’d feel if Cyrus just OD’ed and died, then realized that would cause it’s own problems with paying for the burial. I had that thought when my brother was struggling with his addiction and I find it important to admit it now. I know there are other siblings thinking the same thing and feeling wracked with guilt. I want those sisters and brothers of addicts to know they’re not alone.

YABM: What do you want the reader to take away from your CeCe and Cyrus’ story?

Kelly: That addiction has far more victims than one and that it is, like cancer, a crime against humanity that is both involving humans and not entirely the human’s fault. We crucify drug addicts, and all addicts, for their “choices.” Sometimes it isn’t a choice. Especially with opiates.

YABM: Tell me about your inspiration for Thicker Than Water.

Kelly: When my brother was struggling with his Oxy Contin addiction, I found great solace in watching episodes of the A&E series Intervention. I was able to watch other siblings deal with the same issues and problems I was dealing with. At one point, it occurred to me that teens don’t always have a voice in their family when they’re on the periphery of that addiction. I wanted to help give them that voice.

YABM: What would you say are CeCe’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Kelly: Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, CeCe’s greatest weakness is her inability to make a choice. To move forward. She lives inside her own head far more than outside of it and that is a problem when you’re being tried for murder.

Her strength, however, is her ability to transition and grow in the end. This is most evident in her prose and writing, which she starts in jail. She allows art and words to invade her life in a positive way, even though she’d never written for expression before. That’s a brave move in my mind.

YABM: What do you love most about your characters? Do you have a favorite secondary character?

Kelly: I’m a big fan of CeCe’s public defender, Jennifer, actually. Her tenacity and her youth is incredibly admirable. She also slides into a female role model space that CeCe desperately needs.

YABM: If you had to describe your book in the length of a Tweet, what would it say?

Kelly: Death isn’t the worst outcome; the worst outcome is living this life for one more day. WWYD if you had to choose between your brother, the boy, or your brother the addict?

review4/5 Stars

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

Warning: Contains what may be considered triggers for drug abuse/addiction

Thicker Than Water is an emotional minefield. It’s been a while since a book has left me at a loss for words (for a positive reason). Thicker Than Water is beautiful and poignant and written in simple truths that read like profound revelations. A heartbreaking tale of the far-reaching effects of addiction and the emotional and physical wreckage it leaves behind, CeCe and Cyrus’ story brings the hidden side effects of addiction to light.

READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You’re looking for a raw and honest glimpse into addiction from a loved one on the periphery.
  • You’re game for sarcasm, tears, and hard truths.
  • You know someone struggling with drug abuse.

PROS:

  • CeCe has one of the strongest voices I’ve read in a long, long time. Her brutal honesty, her avoidance tactics, and her guilt translate into this brilliant prose that comes off as mildly philosophical and ingenious. Feelings are put into clear, precise comparisons that make every, even those most complex and convoluted emotions make sense.
  • One of the compelling aspects of this book is how often people turn a blind eye. How loved ones can see but refuse to believe or feel so helpless that it’s like the ground is ripped from beneath their feet and all hope slowly slips away. Desperation and heartbreak, in words but much more in feeling.
  • The descriptions of addiction are eye-opening. The sighs of relief, the anxiety, the hunger in their eyes, the ease in which addiction escalates and the lies addicts tell themselves. It’s all these in stark and disquieting glory. But it’s not only the false promises addicts make to themselves, it’s the quiet ones that friends and loved ones repeat like a prayer. The yearning to believe in change, in getting better, and hoping that this will pass without intervention is all too real. You can feel the author’s heart in the story and her close connection to its contents.
  • Secondary characters had small, but life-altering influence on CeCe, especially those at the center. The moments are brief but they open CeCe up to forgiveness and understanding of herself and help alleviate her guilt. The scene with her roommate putting on makeup felt almost spiritual.
  • Romance is not central to the story. It’s there but it’s more of an awakening for CeCe than anything else. It helps her discover parts of herself that she locked away, her fears and insecurities. Tucker and CeCe are cute and fall together naturally.

CONS:

  • The mystery didn’t feel like much of one to me. From the get go, there’s enough hint dropping to guess at what happened. The opening scene is an adrenaline-inducing and totally captivating start that will make you want to read but it mark the story as more crime fiction that in truly is.
  • There were many substories worked into the plot that were left unexplored and it was kind of distracting. CeCe’s roommate’s horrible circumstances, Tucker’s emotions, Jason’s fight with addiction, and Cyrus’ story as well were left wanting. There are flashes of Cyrus’ pain and the reasoning behind his path to pills shouted in bursts of anger, however, deeper insight was left at only what CeCe could see on the surface.

authKelly fiorWebsite/Facebook/Tumblr/Goodreads

Kelly Fiore-Stultz has a BA in English from Salisbury University and an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia University. She received an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in 2005 and 2009. Kelly’s poetry has appeared in Small Spiral Notebook, Samzidada, Mid Atlantic Review, Connotation Press, and the Grolier Annual Review. Her first young adult novel, Taste Test, was released in August 2013 from Bloomsbury USA, and her second, Just Like the Movies, again from Bloomsbury, was releasted in 2014. Forthcoming novels include Thicker Than Water from HarperTeen in 2015.

giveaway3 winners will receive a finished copy of THICKER THAN WATER. US Only.

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Happy reading, 

Jordan