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.

giveaway

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

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Intense reading, 

Jordan

 

 

ARC Review: You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche

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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

ARC Review: The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn

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Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Penguin’s FirstToRead program 

***There is some mature content, like sex, not especially graphic but it’s there. Contains what could be triggers for mutilation and suicide.

If you’ve read any reviews on this book, you’ve probably seen the collective, what did I just read? trend. Sometimes that sentiment is unfounded, but The Smaller Evil is one trippy, confusing, psychological journey into self discovery and recovery from what is deemed a toxic outside world. 

Curious yet? You should be. The Smaller Evil is the type of book where you wait and wait and wait and wait some more for something-anything to happen. You’ll flip through page after page, cruising on that J.D. Salinger vibe of awkward, a little grotesque, and hyper personal, and hope for revelation. You get it, but what you do with it, whether you understand it, is a whole different ball game. The book drags on and on in this self-pitying, misanthropic tale of Arman, a teenager who has been treated as nothing and so believes he’s even less than that. He knows he’s worthless, but he wants to change. Arman has a myriad of problems-ADD, GERD, self-mutilation, suicidal tendencies a regular cocktail of teenage angst and depression to the extreme. All of these sort of pop up randomly and will leave you questioning Arman’s reliability as a character.

There’s a big coming of age aspect to the story that’s a bit off-putting in some ways because it’s just so freaking weird. Sometimes I felt repulsed, other times I questioned every single character’s mental stability. 

A ton of misdirects. Just when you think you have an inkling of what is going on at the compound guess again. Something always pops up to throw you off, and believe me, when you get to that ending, you’ll never have seen that coming and I’m still not sure WHY. The how is there, but the why is fuzzy. Why go through such lengths? It’s crazy, yet somehow innovative.

The story itself, there’s not a huge plot focus. It’s more an internal journey for each character into finding their problems, questioning them, and looking for ways to fix them that might be out of the box. Up until, I’d say 200 or so pages, you’ll wonder why you’re still reading when so little has happened.

The compound, Evolve, is a hippie-retreat catered towards inner development and inoculation against the negative forces and influences of the outside world. Bullying, self-doubt, horrible parents, things like that (vectors in the story) that shape you and break your spirit. There are so many questions that are never answered. Why so few young people? Is it a cult? Why the extremes?

You can tell someone with a psychology degree wrote this.

When the plot twist happens, it’s a letdown. Why? Because it’s completely unsatisfying. Sure, it resulted in some moderate improvement but why????

There are some beautifully pointed psychological insights into humanity. Lots of quotable, profound material. There are also what appear to be journal entries or a how-to sort of guide mingled in with the chapters. These may be confusing and frustrating for some because up until the end, you’ll have no clue who wrote them or why.

All in all, The Smaller Evil was hard to rate. It was a decent read, it kept me interested, and I read it straight through. The urge to know what was going on was the driving force behind my single-minded focus to get to the end. 

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

Addictive reading,

Jordan

Review: Pearl by Deirdre Riordan Hall

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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

ARC Review: The Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens

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Sixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold.

Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked into his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit, pulling his true love, Josephine, along with him.

None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one.

Witty, audacious, and taking adolescence to the max, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching YA novel.

review

3/5 Stars

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

The Bad Decisions Playlist is an eclectic mix of coming of age, self discovery, and romance. 

PROS:

  • Austin lives a life of spontaneity and bad choices. He’s constantly getting himself in trouble and is so recklessly fearless that he gets into the worst situations. He’s headstrong, foolish, and there are definitely times where you’ll want to shake some sense into him because he can be pretty idiotic. Austin is sort of addictive, kind of like rubbernecking when you drive by an accident on a highway. You know it might be something bad, in Austin’s case that he might be doing something ridiculously stupid and pointless, but you have to see. The more Austin throws himself into precarious situations, the more you want to know how he’s going to get out of it alive. It’s crazy, but somehow enthralling. It’s a love-hate relationship with his characters, for sure. 
  • There’s a great balance of comic relief and serious subjects, like parents getting remarried, abuse, relationships, and being reunited with a parent that abandoned you. 
  • The most profound and crushing part of the story is hope vs. reality. Austin has built his father up on a pedestal. He wants to believe in him, he has to. He’s like a musical god to him and everything he does, Austin wants nothing more but approval and praise from the father that left him as a child. The hope, it’s like a puppy staring out a window begging to be loved. It’s heartbreaking, that moment when you’re blindsided by the truth. You ignore what’s in front of you because you want to believe the best in people and then you’re slapped in the face by reality. The greatest lesson is that there’s good and bad in everyone. You will be disappointed in your parents. No one is perfect, and seeing someone’s flaws can help you form a better understanding and relationship with them, or it might not. That’s the harsh reality. 

CONS:

  • A serious case of instalove that makes hardly any sense. For someone who is so into building a relationship, not letting anyone in until she’s sure, Josephine jumps right on in. It conflicted with her character.
  • The chemistry was random and muted. Barely visible at all. The awkwardness was something else. There’s so much space between Josephine and Austin, and they’re worlds apart mentally, that it’s pretty shocking that they can stand each other enough to do anything. Austin pretty much moons over her from the moment he met her and it makes ZERO sense. 
  •  Austin’s so-called best friends make an appearance once or twice in the entire book. They’re mentioned and then fade out. There’s this kind of fleeting, wishy-washy development for most secondary characters besides Austin, his love interest, and his bully. 

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

Happy reading, 

Jordan

Surprise Giveaway & Excerpt: The Cabin by Natasha Preston

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Release Date: September 6th, 2016

synThere may only be one killer, but no one is innocent in this new thriller from Natasha Preston, author of The Cellar and Awake.

When Mackenzie treks to a secluded cabin in the woods with six friends, she expects a fun weekend of partying, drinking, and hookups. But when they wake to find two of their own dead and covered in blood, it’s clear there’s a killer among them.

As the police try to unravel the case, Mackenzie launches her own investigation. Before long secrets start to emerge, revealing a sinister web of sins among the original seven friends. The killer is still free. Every one of them is a suspect. And Mackenzie starts to realize that no one is innocent…

Excerpt

Chapter One

Friday, August 7

“Do you have everything you need, Mackenzie?” Mum asked, watching me stuff clothes in a bag.

“I think so. We’re only going for two nights anyway.” Two painful nights of dealing with Josh.

“Remember to leave the address and phone number on the fridge.”

“I don’t think the cabin has a landline, but I’ll leave the address. I’ll get cell reception out there, apparently, and I’ll let you know when we arrive.”

She nodded nervously and gave me a weak smile.

“Mum, I’ll be fine.”

“You’re spending the weekend with someone you don’t like.”

“No, I’m spending the weekend with Aaron, Courtney, Megan, and Kyle. It’s just unfortunate that Josh will be there too.” If I could have uninvited him, I would have.

But the cabin is his parents’, so that didn’t seem too likely. Or reasonable. He’d invited us all to spend the weekend at his family’s cabin since school was out. The UK had finally realized it was summer, and next year, we’d all be going our separate ways for university.

“If you need to be picked up early…?”

I shook my head. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine. There’s no way I’m letting him ruin a weekend with my friends. Anyway, I need to go.”

“I’ll drop you off at Joshua’s.”

“No, it’s fine, Mum. I can walk.” I grabbed my bag and swung it over my shoulder. “See you Sunday night. Love you,” I said, kissing her cheek.

“Love you too, sweetheart. Call if you need anything.”

“I will,” I replied.

Josh only lived a two–minute walk away, so it wouldn’t take me long. I slammed the front door behind me and headed down the path. The weather was superhot, it being the beginning of August, and I was glad I’d opted for shorts and a T–shirt.

When I got to Josh’s, everyone was outside his house, cramming bags into cars. Seriously, we were going for two nights, but it looked like Courtney and Megan had packed for a week.

“Kenz!” Courtney shouted, jogging toward me. Her red ponytail swayed and her green eyes danced with excitement. She was the only person genuinely happy about this trip.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed away every ounce of doubt I had about this weekend and smiled. “Hey, Court. Is everyone ready?”

“Almost. Josh will be back soon,” she replied with a goofy smile. “Don’t look like that,” she added when I grimaced at his name.

Whoops, she caught me. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that. It’s…nice of him to invite us to his folk’s cabin.”

She took my lame apology with a smile. “He wants things back the way they were.”

Did he have a time machine so he could go back and not say those awful things about my friends? Could he take back what he’d done to me? What he still was doing to me?

Josh might be trying to make amends for the past—-if we were even to believe it was genuine—-but we weren’t going to forgive him so easily. Some hurts aren’t that easy to get over, and I couldn’t forgive someone who wasn’t sorry and hadn’t changed their behavior. Courtney had forgiven him already, of course, but she never could see what a waster her boyfriend was.

I lifted my eyebrow.

“Mackenzie, please,” Courtney said, sighing as she pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “He’s trying, and it will mean so much to me if you’ll try too. Please?”

I groaned and my shoulders sagged. “Fine. I’ll play nice.”

Two nights, that’s it. You can do that.

“We all will,” Megan added, stepping beside us. “Right, guys?” Aaron and Kyle nodded along, agreeing to put their differences to the side—-for the weekend at least.

“Where is Josh anyway?” I asked.

“Picking up his brother.” Courtney rolled her eyes. “Blake wanted to see him again, so Josh invited him this morning. Technically the cabin belongs to Blake too, so there’s not much anyone can do to stop him from coming with.”

“Oh,” I muttered, not sure how I felt about a stranger joining us. We didn’t know Blake, and if he was anything like Josh, the weekend was going to be a nightmare. “So the estranged brother is coming.” Great. This trip keeps getting better and better.

I had seen Blake before, on about two occasions, when his parents were doing a kid swap, but I’d never spoken to him. Blake had moved away with his dad after their parents divorced. Josh stayed with their mum. The two boys didn’t spend much time together while they were growing up, which was probably a good thing for Blake.

Courtney pushed her bangs aside again. They never stayed put, so I didn’t know why she didn’t just cut them shorter. “They’re hardly estranged.”

They rarely saw each other; I’d call that estranged. “Why is he crashing his brother’s party?” I asked.

“He’s lonely?” Kyle offered, making a sad face.

Courtney leaned against Aaron’s car. “No, he just wants to spend time with his brother. They both want to.”

If Blake was like Josh, I would be coming home early for sure. I didn’t even want to breathe the same air as Josh, so I sort of hoped Blake was an idiot too, then I would have an excuse to leave that wouldn’t hurt Courtney’s feelings.

The warm air blew my long chestnut hair in my face. I brushed the strands from my eyes just in time to see a metallic–black Mitsubishi Warrior—-the only car I recognized without reading the logo because it was Kyle’s favorite subject—-pull up beside me.

Here we go…

Josh was sitting in the passenger seat and his brother was driving. They both had the same dark–brown hair and blue eyes, but apart from that, they looked totally different. Josh definitely didn’t inherit the looks. Blake snapped every ounce of drop–dead gorgeous and left nothing for his younger brother. Lucky for Blake.

I looked away and walked around to Aaron’s car, wanting to put as much distance between me and Josh as possible. Even just seeing his face made me want to punch him, especially after his demands. Courtney was smart, but when it came to him, she was as thick as a post.

Josh got out of the car. “Hey, guys. You remember my brother, Blake?”

Megan shook her head. “Nope, but hi.”

Blake walked to the front of his truck and casually leaned against the hood as if he was bored. “Hey,” he said with a nod.

He wore chunky black boots, dark jeans, and a black jacket, making him look mysterious and maybe a little dangerous. His dark hair stuck out in all directions in a messy style that looked like he didn’t give a crap—-which I assumed he didn’t. His bright–blue eyes scanned the group, checking us out one by one.

His gaze was intense and it was like he saw everything. I didn’t want him to see anything about me. “Let’s just leave already!” I said, opening the car door and climbing inside. The sooner we got there, the sooner we could get back. Damn, I sounded like my parents on Christmas Eve when they would try to get me to sleep as the clock ticked dangerously close to midnight.

But at least I would get two nights adult free to spend with my friends. That was something to look forward to for sure.

“Err, Mackenzie,” Courtney said. “You’re in the car with me.”

My face fell. I knew what that meant. “What?”

She stepped forward and leaned in the car so we could talk privately. “You’re coming in the car with me, Josh, and Blake.”

“Yeah, I’m not,” I replied.

“Please? Look, I know you’re mad at him, and I understand why, but will you try? I really think you two need to spend the car trip together to work through this.”

“We really don’t, Court.”

“This weekend is going to suck if you’re pissed at Josh the whole time.”

I frowned. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like him though, so why was I the only one being forced to make the extra effort? “His brother’s weird,” I whispered as if that was going to change Courtney’s mind.

“Blake is harmless.”

I’d run out of excuses. Sighing in defeat, I replied, “All right! But if he pisses me off by making his usual stupid comments, I’m switching cars.”

Courtney held up her hands. “OK, OK. Thank you.”

“We’re taking Blake’s car then?”

“Yeah, they must have decided to bring Blake’s instead. I can see why.” Courtney was a car person; she knew all the different types and models by sight. I couldn’t even tell if something was wrong with one—-unless the engine actually fell out.

“Blake’s driving?”

“His car, so I guess.” She shrugged, watching Josh with a loving look that made me want to shake some sense into her.

“I call shotgun,” I replied. If I had to be in the same car, at least I wouldn’t have to sit next to him. I was aware that I was behaving like a child, but I didn’t care. Josh had crossed a line, and I wasn’t going to forgive him. Actually, Josh had crossed about a million lines.

I got in the passenger seat before Josh had a chance to say or do anything. He could shove it if he thought I was moving. Blake smiled a little awkwardly and started the car. He didn’t ooze confidence, but he looked like he didn’t care what anyone thought.

“I’m coming in your car too,” Kyle said.

Courtney narrowed her eyes. “You’re with Aaron and Megan.”

“There’s space with you for another, isn’t there?”

“Kyle, five in one car and two in another is stupid. No one wants to be cramped in the back.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Kyle, just get in Aaron’s bloody car,” Josh snapped, shoving past him. “Pathetic arsehole.”

I ground my teeth. Did it really matter which car he rode in?

The answer was no.

Blake and I hadn’t spent any time together, so we quickly fell into an awkward silence while we waited for Josh and Courtney to get in the car. I bit the inside of my cheek and twiddled my fingers. Say something to him! We had never actually spoken to each other before. That was about to change. We had a forty–five–minute car ride to a remote part of the Lake District ahead of us.

“Why do you hate Josh?” he asked.

I was surprised by his bluntness. It was no secret that I didn’t like Josh, but I didn’t expect his brother to come straight out and ask. “Um, because he’s a bloody idiot.”

Blake’s eyebrow rose, and he pursed his lips. Finally, he nodded once. “Yeah. OK then.”

“You don’t see him much, do you?”

“Not really. Growing up, my parents couldn’t get their shit together long enough to schedule proper visits for us. Most of the time, when they finally got around to it, they swapped us over for a day or two. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mum in the last twelve years.”

My heart ached for him. I couldn’t imagine what he went through as a kid. He must’ve missed his mum. I would have; my mum was the person I went to with every problem—-well, almost every problem. “That’s really sad.”

He lifted his shoulder and let it drop. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

“Yeah, but…” I shook my head. I couldn’t imagine not seeing my mum every day, as crazy as she drove me sometimes. Blake must have felt abandoned by his mom if she never made the effort. Maybe that was how Josh felt about his dad? Wow, Josh and deep feelings. That was strange to think about… Everything I’d witnessed of his character had been shallow and selfish.

Josh and Courtney got in the car, and I zipped my mouth. The atmosphere turned tense, like it always was when Josh was around. He knew I wished he wasn’t with Courtney after all of the horrible things he’d said about our friends Tilly and Gigi. He loved that Courtney wouldn’t ditch him for treating her friends like rubbish. Bastard.

“Oh, I don’t mind you sitting up front with my brother, Mackenzie,” Josh said sarcastically as he climbed into the backseat.

I clenched my fists. Don’t let him get to you.

“My car, Bro, and I’d rather sit near a pretty face than your ugly mug,” Blake responded.

Smiling to myself, I grabbed my bag of lollipops and offered one to Blake. I should probably have been annoyed at the “pretty face” comment, but that was overshadowed by him calling Josh ugly. Blake took an orange lollipop—-my favorite—-and gave me a wink.

“Not sharing, Mackenzie?” Josh asked.

I took a deep breath, resisting the urge to jam the plastic stick into his eye. “Sure,” I replied, holding out the bag. He took two, probably to annoy me, so I said nothing.

“OK, everyone, please play nice,” Courtney whined. “This weekend, parent free, is going to be epic, so will you all make up?”

“You know I don’t have a problem with any of them, babe,” Josh replied.

“Whatever,” I muttered, clenching my jaw.

I watched Blake as he drove. His eyes slid over, occasionally catching me, but he didn’t say a word. I found myself wanting to get to know him, but I wasn’t sure why. He would go home after the weekend, and I’d probably never see him again.

Still, Blake was gorgeous, and I was drawn to him.

We reached the cabin without bloodshed, so I was pleased with my self–control—-so far. Courtney kept Josh in check by flirting with him and getting him to listen to music. I couldn’t wait until she saw through him and his crap. I was going to make sure I had a front–row seat when she dumped his arse.

“This is it?” I asked, looking out the window up at a huge, two–story cabin. It could easily house about ten people.

Blake cut the engine and smirked. “What did you expect? The Ritz?”

“This is amazing. I didn’t think it would be this big.”

“Three years ago, I would have made some sort of sexual innuendo,” Blake replied.

“All grown up now, are we?”

“Nah, that was just when I noticed Josh trying to act the big man and I realized how lame those comments actually sound.”

I grinned and got out of the car. I liked Blake and his painfully beautiful face. Maybe this weekend wouldn’t be so miserable. Kyle and Aaron bundled bags out of the trunk and chucked them on the ground. Halfway to the cabin I guess. Kyle grabbed his phone and started to film, like he usually did. He wanted to do something in the film industry, and I think he’d be awesome at it.

“Smile, Kenz,” he said, pointing it in my direction.

I stuck out my tongue and Aaron made an obscene gesture.

“Nice, Aaron,” Kyle said sarcastically.

Megan stared up at the enormous house. You could tell from the overgrown plants and faded window frames that no one had been here in a while. Josh and Courtney had spent all last weekend here getting it ready, but they’d just cleaned the inside.

The cabin was set in a clearing; the woods surrounded it on three sides, and a gorgeous lake ran along the front of the property. The scenery was beautiful. I didn’t understand why Josh’s family didn’t use it more often.

“You happy to be back?” I asked Blake as we walked to the front door at a snail’s pace. He dragged his feet like he didn’t really want to be here.

Blake shrugged and grunted. “Just here for the booze.”

Of course you are.

Josh unlocked the front door and turned to us. Kyle rolled his eyes, guessing what was coming, and I tried not to laugh. We—-eighteen and however old Blake was—-were about to be given rules.

“Courtney and I have worked hard getting the cabin ready for you all, so I would appreciate it if you would respect the place and not leave it looking like a Dumpster.”

I bit my tongue. How pompous. None of us were going to trash the cabin and he knew that. Courtney stood beside him like the lady of the manor, eating up the attention. I loved that girl, but she needed a good slap to knock some sense into her.

Josh opened the door and walked in ahead of Courtney. Gentleman my arse! And Court didn’t even care; she followed him like a little lapdog.

“I’ll grab the rest of the bags,” Aaron said, heading back out of the door.

I walked in and my jaw dropped. Wow.

The cabin was beautiful, albeit a little dated. The view of the lake from the family room window was to die for. The sun shone down on the water’s surface, making it glisten. There was a large fireplace that I could have stepped into.

Kyle walked behind me, capturing the view with his phone.

“I’m going to explore. Anyone wanna come?” Megan asked, bouncing up and down like a toddler. Her short, overly hair–sprayed bob barely moved an inch. She had already dropped her bag by the bottom of the stairs, which was about as much unpacking as she ever did.

I handed a case of beer to Courtney, who was organizing the food and booze in the kitchen.

“Don’t fancy getting lost in the forest, thanks,” I replied.

Aaron dropped a load of bags on the floor. “I’ll come.” He walked out before anyone could stop him and make him help. I watched them walk into the woods. The bright midday sun shone down on Aaron’s white–blond hair, making it glow. They both looked happy to be away, and I was going to try and do the same.

“Going for a walk,” Kyle said, shaking his head at them as he lowered the phone. He held up a six–pack in his other hand. “Crazy. Hey, Blake, where’d you want the beer, man?”

“In the oven,” he replied dryly.

I tried not to smile but failed miserably. I wasn’t sure what Blake was doing here. He didn’t seem to have a good relationship with Josh, and he didn’t seem to be making much effort.

Kyle’s mouth thinned in a tight smile, and I could tell he was fighting the urge to say something back. Instead, he narrowed his eyes and spun on his heel. Shaking his head, he walked away. Kyle was a sensitive soul and was never very good with anyone making fun of him.

Then, Blake and I were left in the living room. Alone again. I pursed my lips, not knowing what to say. Should I even say anything? The silence was awkward, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all. Nothing seemed to affect him. Blake was cool, calm, and almost robotic. But I wasn’t naive enough to think that nothing got to him.

“So…did you come here much when you were a kid?” I asked to fill the silence.

He looked over his shoulder, half smiling at me. “You’re asking if I come here much?”

“No, I asked if you came here much.” There was a big difference.

Blake turned his body so he was fully facing me. I don’t know if he did it to be intimidating, but it was. He had this cockiness about him, but it wasn’t off–putting like Josh’s.

“We came here a lot before our parents separated. After the divorce, the place stayed empty, until now.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”

“Why? People divorce all the time.” Before I had the chance to say anything else, he walked outside. There was definitely a lot more to him than he let people see.

“Beer, Kenz?” Kyle asked from behind me.

I turned and smirked. “You know it’s eleven in the morning, right?”

“Yeah,” he replied, tilting his head, waiting for me to explain.

I smiled and took a beer from his outstretched hand. “Never mind.”

Kyle and I sat on the sofa while Josh and Courtney messed around putting things away in the kitchen. “You think we should help?” I asked.

“I offered. You know what Josh is like.”

Control freak. We wouldn’t do it the way he wanted. How many different ways were there to put food in a cupboard? This was “Josh’s” place though, and we were being made very aware that we were just guests. “I’m going to need a lot of alcohol to get through this weekend,” I said. I’d promised my parents no drinking, obviously, but we were all parent free and determined to make the most of it. They think we’re swimming in the lake, cooking out, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire. We are, so it’s not a total lie, but there will be drinking.

Kyle nodded in agreement and raised his bottle. “Let’s keep it coming, then.”

I clinked the top of my bottle against his and took a swig.

Kyle and I had just finished our thirds when the rest of the group joined us. “Wow, this looks fun,” Aaron said, grinning at the bottles of alcohol spread out over the coffee table.

“Yep, Kyle and I thought we should have it all at arm’s reach. Cheers,” I said, raising my half–full bottle.

“Well, if we’re doing this, we’re doing it right. I’m well up for getting wasted,” Aaron replied, picking the Absolut Vodka. “Everyone’s in, no backing out. Josh, shot glasses, my man!” My smile grew. I wasn’t a big drinker, especially after last time, with the accident, but I wanted to have stupid, immature fun tonight.

“Err, guys, I don’t want anyone throwing up in my house,” Josh said in his annoying, stuck–up, I’m–better–than–you way. I had a very sudden, very childish urge to drink until I puked.

Everything he wanted, I wanted to do the opposite. I knew that was dangerous though. I knew I couldn’t—-and I wasn’t stupid enough to do it—-but I damn well wanted to.

“Lighten up, mate, come on. We all want this to be a good weekend,” Kyle replied.

Josh glared and his jaw tightened. He didn’t like to be challenged. “I am relaxed,” he growled through his teeth.

Aaron lifted a freshly poured shot glass and raised it to Josh, his own little in–your–face, before knocking it back. I smiled and did the same. And then I regretted it because Josh’s eyebrow arched and I knew exactly what he was thinking.

And he wouldn’t hesitate to open his big mouth. But before he could say anything, Aaron spoke. “A toast,” he said, raising a bottle this time. “To a killer weekend.”

We lifted whatever we had in our hands. “To a killer weekend!”

giveaway

Enter for your chance to win (1) physical ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of The Cabin by Natasha Preston (U.S. & CANADA ONLY). Giveaway ends August 18th 11:59 EST. 

To enter tell me your favorite thriller or horror book in the comments, on the Facebook page (http://facebook.com/yabookmadnessblog) or by email yabookmadness@gmail.com

Good luck, 

Jordan