Review: The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

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When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17 year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

review4/5 Stars 

Unpopular opinion time. It turns out that there’s a ton of controversy surrounding this book because of some dismissive and rude comments made by the author about the YA genre. Here’s the thing, I did not read anything about this book or any of the Goodreads comments before my rating. This is a 100% unbiased, non-influenced rating on the story alone. While I do not agree with the author’s perception of dystopia YA or some off the offhand comments made by Gwen within the story, authors and characters do not always share beliefs. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the author’s opinions from the character’s and vice versa. I thought I would preface this review by saying that whether or not I like the author has absolutely nothing to do with this review because so many of the Goodreads reviews are attacks on the author not the book. 

Now that that’s out of the way, I loved this book. This is exactly what I’ve been searching for in YA. A thriller. Spies, lies, cover ups, danger, it’s like Bourne Identity for teens. And there are so many important and eye-opening topics discussed within the story about crime, human trafficking, and other terrifying and unsavory aspects of society. While the story wasn’t perfect, it definitely kept me engaged and enthralled with Gwen and her quest to save her father. I kept asking myself how far I’d go to save my loved ones.

Gwen is made of reckoning and a hunger for vengeance. I adore her. She’s of Jewish heritage, thick-waisted, opinionated, speaks multiple languages, and likes jazz. I mean, come on, that alone is enough to keep you interested. When Gwen embraces her new identity at Sofia, we see her transformation and wow, what a switch. The girl she started as is still there, but her alias is a fighter. Sofia is a vixen. She’s manipulative, calculating, more like an agent. She has a huge heart. She will go to the ends of the earth for her father and then some, sacrificing herself in the process. She knows she might die, she might get assaulted or scarred, but she is willing as long as she gets her father back. That’s insane and incredibly brave. Gwen has to shut off her emotions or she’ll break and sometimes it’s truly hard and devastating for her. In several scenes, I almost had to look away because I was so scared for her. But she puts on cruelty like armor and is surprisingly successful for such a small amount of training. 

There are so made shades of women within this story and they’re all powerful in their own ways. From prostitutes to the women who serve the crime bosses, from the trafficked girls to the bully at the introduction of the story, all of these women are fighters and wise to the ways of the world. They accept that sometimes life is dirty and hard and terrible, that horrific things happen but they can’t collapse, they rise and rebuild and take everything for what it is. Every character was memorable, even the fleeting ones and others that I abhorred. They were developed, multidimensional, and made me ask questions. 

Yael. OMG this woman. She’s fierce, hardened, cruel when she needs to be and lives by a do whatever it takes attitude. Suck it up and do what needs to be done. Yael is at times heartless and cold, others she’s mildly concerned. You can tell she feels a little motherly towards Gwen. Yael is the kind of woman, Mossad, who would take her child who can’t swim, throw him in a lake and tell him to find his way out; he’d learn pretty quick. I loveddddd her. She’s an epic badass of a character. 

The story itself is layered and developed. It’s cross multiple countries and gets right into the seedy underbelly of the cities. I have not been to most of the countries mentioned, so I can’t say how accurate the portrayal was, but there wasn’t much in way of description anyway. Scott Bergstrom appears to be more about the character than the setting. I loved the cyphers and the danger. Every edge of your seat moment was a new rush and there are so many. 

What I did not like was the random romance between Gwen and Terrance. He’s barely there, there’s no building, hardly any foundation, and while he is functional, the emotions are severely lacking and then suddenly it’s supposed to be like fireworks for the reader-yeah, no. I was not the biggest fan of the way Gwen was introduced at Danton Academy. While it did function to present her place in the social hierarchy, establish her race and figure, it felt clichéd and predictable. In fact, I don’t really know why it was there at all. School is nothing in this story. It’s gone in like 2 days of book time. 

Sometimes the pacing was slow. When you think of a thriller/suspense, you expect fast, but spy work and investigating is sometimes just pushing paper and waiting for leads, so in that respect, it was accurate. 

That ending. YES.

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

Suspenseful reading, 

Jordan

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. 

Enter Here

Intense reading, 

Jordan

 

 

Review: After the Fall by Kate Hart

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

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

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

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

review2.5/5 Stars 

+++Potential triggers for sexual assault, tragic loss

***Contains mature content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introspective reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage

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Release Date: Feb 21, 2017

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

review2/5 Stars 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mysterious reading, 

Jordan

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

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Everyone has a secret. Now Secret is talking.

 

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

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

 

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

review4/5 Stars 

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

+++Contain triggers for abuse, assault, loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mystery of Aunt T was pretty predictable for me. 

Excerpt


I come to you only when invited.

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

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

SECRETS take up space.

1

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

I bet you didn’t know this.

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

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

I am there in hearts.

Oh, the hearts are my best hiding place.

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

Holding her breath.

Waiting.

 

Talon Alvarado, party of one.

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

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

There would be no balloons for her sixteenth birthday.

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

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

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

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

Someday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, the Great Wall was as sturdy as ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seriously? That’s it?”

“But I—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shut right up, boyfriend.”

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

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

Dear Talon,

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Aunt T

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

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

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

She didn’t do vulnerable.

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

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

Mom had secrets, too.

Well, who doesn’t?

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

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

But first, verification.

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

Dear Aunt T,

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

I need some kind of proof.


Talon

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

Insightful reading, 

Jordan

Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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

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

review3.5/5 Stars 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughtful reading, 

Jordan

 

Review 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.

 

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Life changing reading, 

Jordan