Review, Excerpt, Q + A, & Giveaway: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

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Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Excerpt

5. Carnival

Unlike many of the other members of the sideshow, I didn’t have a specific job. My mom was a fortune- teller, Gideon did a magic show, Zeke had his tigers, Brendon and his family did acrobatics, Seth was a strongman. My best friend Roxie Smith was in two acts— she helped out Zeke, and did a peepshow revue with two other girls.

I had no talent. No special ability, making me essentially a roadie. I did what was needed of me, which usually involved helping set up and take down, and various menial tasks. I cleaned the tiger cages and emptied out latrines when I had to. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it was crucial to our way of life.

Since Roxie worked with the tigers, Mahilā actually tolerated her. Roxie was helping me clean out the tiger cage they traveled in. The cage was open to a fenced-in enclosure Seth had built, so the tigers could roam as they pleased.

Safēda lounged in the grass, the sun shining brightly on her white fur. Whenever we stopped, Safēda seemed content to just lay in the sun, sleeping the entire time, but as the older tiger, it made sense.

Mahilā paced along the fence, occasionally emitting an irritated guttural noise in between casting furtive glances back toward Roxie and me. Her golden fur was mottled with scars from her past life in the abusive circus, including a nasty one that ran across her nose.

“So where did you go last night?” Roxie asked, her voice lilting in a sing song playful way. She was out in the run, using a hose to fill up a blue plastic kiddie pool so the tigers could play in it, while I was on my hands and knees scrubbing dung off the cage floor.

Her bleached blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the sleeves of her white T- shirt were rolled up, revealing her well-toned arms. The cut- off jean shorts she wore barely covered her bum, and her old cowboy boots went up to her knees— her chosen footwear anytime she was at risk of stepping in tiger poop.

With fair skin, full lips, large blue eyes, and a dainty nose, Roxie was pretty and deceptively tough. Being a beautiful carnie was not an easy job, and dancing in the revue under the stage name “Foxy Roxie” didn’t help that. But she made decent money doing it, and Roxie never put up with anybody’s crap. I’d seen her deck guys much bigger than her and lay them out flat on their backs.

“I was just at a party,” I said as I rinsed the brush off in a bucket of bleach and warm water.

“A party?” Roxie looked over at me with a hand on her hip.

 “How’d you get invited to a party so fast?”

I shrugged. “I was just exploring town, and I saw some people hanging outside of this big house party, and they invited me in.”

“So what are the people like here? Are they nice?”

Safēda had gotten up and climbed into the pool, and then she flopped down in it, splashing Roxie as she did. Roxie took a step back, but kept looking at me.

“I don’t know. The people I met last night seemed nice, and they were superrich, so that bodes well for the town, I guess.”

“Like how rich?” Roxie asked.

“Like their house is practically a mansion.” I dropped the brush in the water and sat back on my knees, taking a break to talk to her. “It was the nicest house I’ve ever been in, hands down.”

“Is that why you spent the night there?”

Roxie understood my fascination with houses. Well, “understood” wasn’t the right word. It was more like she knew of it, but didn’t understand it all. She’d grown up in an upper- middleclass family, in nice houses with basements, and thought they were about as boring and lame as she could imagine.

“Partly.” I nodded. “It was a really amazing house. There were pillars out front, and the front hall was bigger than my trailer.”

“It’s just a house, Mara.” Roxie shook her head.

“I know but . . .” I trailed off, trying to think of how to explain it to her. “You know how you felt when you first joined the sideshow two years ago? How everything seemed so exciting and fun, and I was like, ‘We live in cramped trailers. It kinda sucks.’”

Roxie nodded. “Yeah. But I still think this life is a million times better than my old life. I get to see everything. I get to decide things for myself. I can leave whenever I want. There’s nothing to hold me back or tie me down.”

She’d finished filling up the pool, so she twisted the nozzle on the hose to shut it off. Stepping carefully over an old tire and a large branch that the tigers used as toys, she went to the edge of the run and tossed the hose over the fence, before Mahilā decided to play with it and tore it up.

She walked over to the cage and scraped her boots on the edge, to be sure she didn’t track any poop inside, before climbing up inside it.

“So what was the other reason?” Roxie asked.

I kept scrubbing for a moment and didn’t look up at her when I said, “Gabe.”

Gabe?” Roxie asked. “That sounds like a boy’s name.”

“That’s because it is.”

“Did you have sex with him?”

“No.” I shot her a look. “We just made out a little.”

“What what what?” Luka Zajiček happened to be walking by just in time to hear that, and he changed his course to walk over to the tiger cage. “Is that what you were up to last night?”

“That’s what sucks about living in a community so small. Whenever anything happens, everybody knows about it right away,” I muttered.

Luka put his arms through the cage bars and leaned against it, in the area I’d cleaned already. Since he was rather short, the floor came up to his chest, and his black hair fell into his eyes.

His eyes were the same shade of gray as mine, but his olive skin was slightly lighter than mine. We first met him when he joined the carnival four years ago, and the first thing my mom said was that she was certain that we were related somehow.

Unfortunately, Mom knew next to nothing about our family tree to be able to prove it. All she could really tell me was that we were a mixture of Egyptian, Turkish, and Filipino, with a bit of German thrown in for good measure.

Luka had been born in Czechoslovakia, but he’d moved here with his family when he was young, so he’d lost his accent.

He had recently roped me into helping him with a trick. He’d stand with his back against a wall, while I fired a crossbow around him. Originally, Blossom had been the one to help him, but she kept missing and shooting him in the leg or arm, so he’d asked me to do it because I had a steadier hand.

“So you made out with some local guy last night?” Luka asked, smirking at me. “Are you gonna see him again?”

“He’s a local guy. What do you think?” I asked, and gave him a hard look.

Luka shrugged. “Sometimes you bump into them again.”

“And that goes so well when they find out that I work and live with a traveling sideshow,” I said.

The floor was spotless, or at least as spotless as tiger cages can get, and I tossed my brush in the bucket and took off my yellow rubber gloves.

“We can’t all meet our boyfriends in the sideshow,” I reminded Luka as I stood up, and it only made him grin wider. He’d been dating Tim— one of the Flying Phoenixes— for the past three months.

“But you didn’t see Blossom anywhere in town last night?” Roxie asked, and Luka’s smile instantly fell away.

A sour feeling stirred in my stomach, and I looked out around camp through the bars of the cage, as if Blossom would suddenly appear standing beside a trailer. As I’d been doing my chores all morning, I kept scanning the campsite for her, expecting her to return at any moment with a funny story about how she’d gotten lost in town.

But so far, she hadn’t. And the longer she went without coming back, the worse the feeling in my stomach got. I shook my head. “No. I didn’t see her at all last night.”

“She’s gotta turn up, though, right?” Luka asked. “I mean, it’s not like there are really that many places she could’ve gone considering she has no money or car and she’s in a small town.”

The tigers were still down in the run, so I opened the side gate and hopped down out of the cage. Roxie got out behind me, then we closed the door.

“I should talk to Gideon,” I decided as Roxie locked the cage up behind me. “It’s not like Blossom to do this.”

“It’s not totally unlike her, though,” Roxie pointed out.

“When we were in Toledo six months ago, she dis appeared for a few days with that weird commune, and came back just before we were leaving, totally baked out of her mind.”

Blossom had grown up with parents who pretended to be hippies but were really just a couple of drug addicts. That— along with her unexplainable telekinesis— led to her dabbling with drugs and alcohol at a young age, before the state intervened and shipped her off to a group home.

My mom tried to keep her clean of her bad habits, but sometimes Blossom just liked to run off and do her own thing. That wasn’t that unusual for people who lived in the carnival.

“But if you’re worried, you should talk to Gideon,” Roxie suggested. “Luka’s right in that Blossom really couldn’t have gone far. Maybe you can scope out Caudry.”

“Since that sounds like a mission that may take a bit of time, can you help me and Hutch with the museum before you talk to Gideon?” Luka asked. “The exit door is jammed, and we can’t get it open, and Seth is busy helping set up the tents.”

“Sure. Between me and Mara, I’m sure the two of us can get the door unstuck,” Roxie said.

I dropped off the bucket with the other tiger supplies, and then followed Roxie and Luka away from our campsite to the fairgrounds on the other side of a chain- link fence. We always stayed close to the rides, the midway, and the circus tent, but we didn’t actually sleep there. It was much better for every one if we kept our private lives separate from the crowds.

Many of the games were already set up, and the Ferris wheel was in the process of being erected as we passed. Near the end of the midway was a long black trailer painted with all kinds of frightening images of werewolves and specters, along with happier pictures of mermaids and unicorns, and the sign was written in bloodred:

Beneath that were several smaller signs warning “Enter at your own risk. The creatures inside can be DISTURBING and cause NIGHTMARES.”

The entrance to the left was open, but the exit door at the other end was still shut. Wearing a pair of workman’s gloves, Hutch was pulling at the door with all his might. His neon green tank showed that his muscles were flexed and straining in effort. The bandana kept his dark brown hair off his face, but sweat was dripping down his brow.

“Let me have a try, Hutch,” Roxie said.

“What?” He turned to look back at her. “Door’s stuck.”

“I can see that. That’s why I said let me have a try.”

“Okay.” Hutch shrugged and stepped back.

Hutch’s real name was Donald Hutchence, but nobody ever called him anything but Hutch. He didn’t have any special powers, unless you considered being really agreeable and easygoing a super power, so, like me, he was left doing whatever else needed to be done.

Roxie grabbed the door and started pulling on it, and when it didn’t budge, I joined her.

“Luka, go and push from the inside,” Roxie commanded through gritted teeth.

Both Luka and Hutch went inside, pushing as Roxie and I pulled. And then all at once, the door gave way, and we all fell back on the gravel. I landed on my back, scraping my elbow on the rocks.

Roxie made it out unscathed, and Hutch fell painfully on top of me, so he’d avoided injury. Luka crashed right on the gravel, though, and the rocks tore through his jeans and ripped up his knees and the palms of his hands pretty badly.

“Do you need me to get a Band- Aid or anything?” Hutch asked as he helped me to my feet.

“No, I’ll be okay.” I glanced over at Luka and the blood dripping down his knees. “What about you? Do you want anything?”

“Nah. Just give it a few minutes.” Luka waved it off and sat down on the steps leading up to the museum door.

No matter how many times I saw it, I couldn’t help but watch. His knee was shredded, with bits of gravel sticking in the skin. Right before my eyes, the bleeding stopped, and the rocks started falling out, as if pushed by his flesh, and the skin grew back, reattaching itself where it had been little mangled flaps.

Within a few minutes, Luka’s knee was healed completely.

Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

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  1.     Your characters are sent into the Hunger Games. Who wins?

If it’s just the characters from FREEKS, and only one could win, I would put my money on Luka or maybe Roxie. Luka because he can heal from injuries, which gives him a crazy advantage, but Roxie is smart and she’s a survivor. Plus, she has the power of pyrokinesis, which I think I would come in handy in a battle to the death.

  1.     What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?

I almost always listen to music when I write, unless I’m writing a really difficult scene. Sometimes the silence helps me focus, but most of the time, I prefer music. For FREEKS, I got to make a really fun 80s playlist, so I especially enjoyed working to that.

  1. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?

There are sooo many things. For FREEKS, I had to do fun stuff like, “What does a dead body smell like?” and “How much blood can a human lose?” And then after those macabre questions, I did a bunch of googling on fireflies and tarot cards. My search history when I’m working can be pretty exciting like that.

  1. What was your favorite part of writing FREEKS?

I love Southern Gothics and I love pulpy 80s horror movies, so I was excited to be able incorporate those things in FREEKS. But my favorite part was actually Mara and Gabe. I think they complement each other well, and it was fun writing their banter and flirtations.

  1. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from FREEKS?

For Mara, I envisioned Cassie Steele from the start. I used to be a hardcore Degrassi fan, and I loved Cassie Steele on that. For Gabe, I like Ryan Guzman. I saw him in a Jennifer Lopez movie, and I was like, “Yep. That could be Gabe.”

  1.  Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I usually write between 11 am and 7 pm. I’ve tried to write earlier in the day and have more of a 8-5 type schedule, but I am not a morning person. My brain just doesn’t want to work much before noon.

  1.   Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I usually have a goal in mind before I start writing, but it varies. Some days, it’s slow going and I hope to get at least 500 words out. Other days, I fly through with thousands of words. So it depends on where I’m at in the book, when it’s due, and how I’m feeling about the whole thing.

  1. When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?

With all my main characters, I have a really good idea of who they are, and it’s just a matter of showing that to the readers. With the side characters, they tend to be rather one-dimensional, and they grow into the story as they’re needed.

  1. How did writing Freeks differ from your writing your previous novels?

FREEKS was the first thing I had written in awhile that was started out just for me. For most of the past ten years, I have been writing my books with the intention of publishing them, with the audience and readers and trends in mind. I think I had gotten a little burnt out on trying to make everyone happy (mostly because it is impossible to please all readers all the time), and I just wanted to write something that for the sake of writing it.

And that turned out to be a gothic love story about a teenage girl travelling with a band of misfits in the 1980s. It was a very cathartic writing experience for me, and it reminded me of exactly why I loved writing in the first place – I love getting lost in the world, with the characters.

  1. If Freeks had a theme song what would it be?

Either “Hush” by Limousines or “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears.

  1.   Can you please tell us a little bit about Freeks and where you got the inspiration to write it?

I was going through a rough patch, creatively speaking, and so I just sat back and tried to think of my favorite and what I loved most that I would want to write about.

When I was a kid, I used to get old books at garage sales all the time, and I distinctly remember getting Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King and a few old V. C. Andrews novels, which are pulpy Southern Gothic-esque novels. I also watched The Lost Boys and Pretty in Pink over and over again (I think I literally ruined the old VHS of The Lost Boys from watching it too much).

So I basically threw all those things together in a soup, and I picked apart the things I liked and wanted to explore more. That became a travelling sideshow in the 80s stopping Louisiana, where a supernatural monster is afoot, and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is smith with a local boy with secrets of his own.

  1.   Freeks is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?

Mara and Gabe are my obvious favorites, since they’re the main characters because I was drawn to them and their story the most. Both of them of them have complex feelings about family and personal identity, and their instant chemistry was fun to write.

But I think Gideon – the namesake and head of sideshow – was actually the biggest surprise, which made him fun in a different way. In the original outlines of the story, he was much a different character – very one-note and cruel – but he completely changed and evolved as I was writing.  

  1.   The book is based off of a type of traveling circus that is full of many mysterious acts. If you were to attend a Freekshow, which act would you want to see most?

My favorites are usually the acrobatics, but I think if I attended Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, I would be most excited to see Gideon’s magic act. With his skills and knowledge, I think it would be a really amazing show.

  1.   What do you hope readers will take away from FREEKS after reading it?

With some of my other novels, I deal with heavy themes like life and death, identity, honor, mortality, classism, and family. And while I do definitely touch on those themes in FREEKS, I mostly wrote it as an escape for myself, and that’s what I hope it is for other readers. Life can be hard and frustrating, and I just wanted to write a fun book that readers could get lost in for awhile.

  1. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Probably how chronically shy I am. Writing is a weird profession, because a good 90% of it is perfect for introverts – you sit alone by yourself and make up imaginary friends to go on adventures. But the last 10% – which involves introducing the whole word to your imaginary friends – is the most exciting and rewarding part, but it’s also the most difficult when you’re as shy as I am.

review3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC via NetGalley, St. Martins, and with participation in this tour in exchange for an honest review 

PROS:

  • Mara is spontaneous, responsible, and terrified to get too close because she knows with her lifestyle love can’t last and once they find out that she lives with a traveling show it’s all over. Mara has grown up fast and loves her eclectic bunch-they’re family. She’s got secrets, she’s completely calm and collected about the supernatural, it’s her life. Mara does more than anyone to find out what’s going on at their camp. She’s likable, thoughtful, and so brave. As a heroine, she’s not particularly special in the typical YA way, she just uses her head, makes connections, and is determined to beat this invisible enemy. 
  • What Amanda Hocking is particularly skilled at is making her secondary characters memorable and unique. You might not like them, but you certainly will not forget them. Each member of the sideshow has a great back story and tons of personality. Roxie is a fiery (she’s has the gift of pyrokinesis), flirty, and sassy little thing. She’s a real minx. I adored her character, I only wish there had been more of her. Her story is made of fierce survival and overcoming her horrific past. Gideon is just as intriguing. From the scars on his back, his past, everything about his is suspect, but at the same time full of a heroic desperation to save his army of misfits. 
  • The concept is AMAZING. I mean super creepy and gory attacks on a sideshow. There’s an abundance of just not right, chilling things that you can’t put your finger on that will keep you on edge about what’s really going on. 
  • I usually loathe instalove, but I didn’t mind this one. Gabe is sexy, sensual, and just the right amount of mysterious/brooding. The chemistry is spot on and you’ll definitely crave more of them, even if they have very few conversations with substance. Lots of hot make out scenes though. 

CONS:

  • The story is set in the 1980s; while there are some randomly inserted references, there weren’t enough of them to feel fully cemented in the time period. The book could have been set in any time range, but maybe because the prevalence of “freak shows” has gone way down since the 1950s. Because there are a limited number of references, they feel like you’re being hit over the head with them whenever they do come up. A more fleshed out setting would have helped with total immersion in the story. 
  • Pacing lagged despite the disappearances, murders, and general supernatural encounters. Some sections were more everyday monotony than working to solve the crimes and harassment against the sideshow members. A ton of focus was placed on the instalove portion of the story, while I didn’t mind the romance, a whole lot of making out some conversation made scenes longer than they actually were. 

authoramanda-hocking-new-credit-mariah-paaverud-with-chimera-photographyAuthor Website/Twitter /Facebook/Author Blog/Pinterest/GoodReads

Amanda Hocking is a lifelong Minnesotan obsessed with Batman and Jim Henson. In between watching cooking shows, taking care of her menagerie of pets, and drinking too much Red Bull Zero, she writes young adult urban fantasy and paranormal romance.

Several of her books have made the New York Times Bestsellers list, including the Trylle trilogy and Kanin Chronicles.  Her zombie series, The Hollows, has been adapted into a graphic novel by Dynamite. She has published over fifteen novels, including the Watersong quartet and My Blood Approves series. Frostfire, Ice Kissed, and Crystal Kingdom  – all three books in her latest trilogy, The Kanin Chronicles – are out now.

Her next book will be Swear, the final book in the My Blood Approves series, and it will be out November 9, 2016. After that, her next book is Freeks – a standalone YA paranormal romance novel set in the 1980s that follows a traveling sideshow. It will be out sometime in early 2017, with the St. Martin’s Griffin.

-via Goodreads

giveaway

For your chance to win a hardcover copy of FREEKS comment with your favorite Amanda Hocking book or encounter either on this blog post, via Twitter @jw08k, or on the Facebook blog page 

U.S. ONLY. Ends 11:59 p.m. EST on 12/28 

Fantastic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review & Giveaway: Lost Stars by Lisa Selin Davis

lost-stars-bannloststars_hres Amazon/Barnes & Noble/iBooks/Goodreads

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Before her older sister, Ginny, died, Carrie was a science nerd, obsessively tracking her beloved Vira comet. But now that Ginny is gone, sixteen-year-old Carrie finds herself within the orbit of Ginny’s friends, a close-knit group of seniors who skip school, obsess over bands (not science), and party hard.

Fed up with Carrie’s behavior, her father enrolls her in a summer work camp at a local state park. Carrie actually likes the days spent in nature. And when she meets Dean, a guy who likes the real Carrie—astrophysics obsessions and all—she starts to get to the heart of who she is and who she wants to be. 

Praise for LOST STARS

“A moving real-life problem novel…Fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower will dig this book.”

—School Library Journal 

“Lost Stars is a novel for anyone who’s every grappled with their own place in the universe.”

—PopSugar, Best YA of 2016 

“Davis makes the 1980s shine…[and] makes interesting connections between science and teen angst.”

—Kirkus Reviews

review

***I received this ARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review and participation in this tour 

Lost Stars is a gritty and realistic coming of age story. Set in the 1980s, music and drug use functions high in the backdrop as part of being a teenager and fitting in. Lost Stars is about loss, finding yourself, and the dangers of becoming numb, refusing to process emotions, and letting it all boil over into something that is too much, too scarring, and too depressing to cope with. 

Carrie is a frustrating character. She’s moody, full of angsty feelings and so rebellious. She lashes out, she screams, she’s rude and slightly annoying, but suffers from crippling self-doubt and a desperate desire to fit in. She’s complex, real, and like an annoying kid sister on the brink of womanhood trying hard to find out what life is all about. Carrie’s sarcasm can be grating, but it can also be funny. She’s super awkward and a little moon-eyed and obsessive over the concept of love. She keeps waiting to find out when it will “be her turn” to grow up. At the same time, Carrie has a deep-rooted sadness and melancholy about her. She hasn’t dealt with her sister’s death. As much as she hides it and has some startling moments of revelation and happiness, that glowing sensation that you feel when you feel a loved one you’ve lost presence around you again. 

Carrie is complicated and full of surprises. She’s so self-conscious though and I think that’s an important characterization to show. So often in YA now, we are presented with girls who are fierce, confident, and independent, but not all girls are like that, some girls are going through things and it’s not always in them to be strong, sometimes they have to break before they can rebuild. 

The setting will transport you. There are constant references to the 80s. From the clothes, to the slang, to the music. It’s all well thought out and consistent.

The pacing is a little slow for my taste, but it’s on par for your average coming of age drama.

If you like things like The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Paper Towns, you’ll like this.

authorlisadstoop

I’m super crazy excited to have my first YA novel, Lost Stars, come out in October 2016. I also have a novel for grownups called Belly, published by Little, Brown a few years ago. For the last 12 years or so, I’ve paid my rent by writing articles for The New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal and a zillion other publications. Before that I worked in film and TV, doing props and other art department jobs, including a four-year stint making props for Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues. I live in Brooklyn (but, hey, I moved here before it was cool) with my hubby, two kiddos and our kitty.

Website | Twitter |Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads

giveaway

3 winners will receive a finished copy of LOST STARS, US Only.

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Week Two:

10/3/2016- Here’s to Happy Endings- Review

10/4/2016- Literary Meanderings- Guest Post

10/5/2016- YA Book Madness- Review

10/6/2016- The Cover Contessa- Interview

10/7/2016- Lady Amber’s Reviews & PR- Review

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

Meaningful reading, 

Jordan

Blog Tour, Review & Giveaway: Life’s What You Make It-Theresa Troutman

 photo CoverLifesWhatYouMakeIt1_zps9caa02f5.jpg
 photo CoverLifesWhatYouMakeIt_zps4c1e21c3.jpgTitle: Life’s What You Make It (Love’s Great Adventure Series #1)

Author: Theresa Troutman

Genre: Mature Young Adult Romance +16

Publication Date: April 12, 2014

Publisher: Indie Published

Event Organized By: Literati Author Services, Inc.

cooltext1538338582 copyShes everything Im not and everything I want to be.

Sebastian Irons life is spiraling out of control. Over the course of one week: Sebastian witnesses death, runs away with his best friends girl, gets kicked out of his English prep school, and is banished to America by his domineering mother to repeat his senior year of high school.

In America, Sebastian struggles to find self-discipline and a purpose to turn his life around. He meets Tess Hamilton, the only person to show him any kindness in his new school. Little does he know, she is the savior tutor hired by his mother to help him improve his grades. The two slowly begin to build a friendship.

As their friendship blossoms, Sebastian begins to have romantic feelings for Tess. She claims to only wants a plutonic relationship, but Sebastian feels the undeniable spark that sizzles between them every time they are together.

Forces beyond their control will either bring Sebastian and Tess closer together or tear them apart.

Will Sebastian return to his old habits or find the strength to be the person worthy of Tess love

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Purchase Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Kobo | Barnes & Noble

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4/5 Stars 

Life’s What You Make It is Breakfast at Tiffany’s meets The Prince and Me. Set in the 80s it’s the perfect blend of bad decisions, reckless abandon, mounting passion, and perfect love. Sebastian Irons and the Libertines, his posse of arrogant upper-class nobility  with a live life hard and fast with no regrets attitude, could care less about consequences. They live life in the now, partying hard, getting into trouble, and hooking up with abandon. Things like love, fidelity, and caution are for the poor and a waste of time that could be spent getting high or waking up in the arms of the latest conquest. Everything is going swell for these social elites until a horrible accident shakes them to the core. They never thought that a little fun could go too far and that a situation couldn’t be fixed with their unlimited funds. Sebastian feels lost. Sometimes, even in the height of his high, he’d crash, consumed by melancholy, getting trashed just to cope with his mundane lifestyle. After the incident, Sebastian is more depressed than ever, takes a serious look at his life and feels like everything has been a sham. Forced into a future that he loathes, stuck with a mother he doesn’t love and who bribes him with her money, and a slave to the whims of his friends, Sebastian is resigned to a life left unfulfilled. The moment that changed everything leaves a lasting impression, Sebastian doesn’t know how to cope and slips further into dangerous behavior that he can’t come back from. When he’s approached by his mother with an ultimatum, Sebastian is faced with a shocking reality, banishment to Pennsylvania and into the hands of a tutor. America is nothing like Sebastian expected and the students are not too friendly. Sebastian finds kindness in the eyes of a average looking brunette and becomes more curious by the second. Tess isn’t anything at all like the girls he’s normally attracted to but something about her draws him in and it’s with absolute shock that he comes to find out that this enigma of a girl is his dreaded tutor. Tess isn’t looking for love or even a date, her days are dictated by a strict schedule and she has no room for alteration. NYU is her dream and she has to maintain her spot as valedictorian to get there. Sebastian is a distraction she doesn’t need but at $15/hr and with tuition to pay, she can’t say no. Will Tess be able to wrangle Sebastian’s frisky behavior, get him to buckle down and focus on her grades or will he drag her down with him?

PROS:

  • That nonchalant, careless attitude that the Libertines are made of is wonderfully written. They’re haughty in an upper class, passive way that is very Holly Golightly and Daisy Buchanan. They’re sophisticated, polished, and thirsting for danger, uninhibited and almost vapid. Their reckless and half-hearted attempts at caring bring the disenchantment with their A-list lifestyle. The fame and fortune can’t give the Libertines a golden or happy life and their disillusionment is so profound it’s almost sad.
  • The relationship between Nanny Jones and Sebastian is heartwarming. It’s that glowing warmth of kindness, genuine care and unfaltering love. The way Sebastian clings to memories of Nanny, the teddy bear story, and the endearing way he tells her he loves her will melt your heart and make you fall a little more in love with him.
  • Beneath Sebastian’s roguish, playboy attitude is a heart yearning to love and be loved. Sebastian has spent his life in one night stands and pointless flings, hunkering to sate his passions but unable to build any real connections. Sebastian’s feelings are an incredible insight into his psyche, a glimpse into the reasons behind his actions, and his deepest desires. He’s insanely complex, almost broken in his inability to truly love those who it should have been natural to. Sebastian will make you ache with pity. Although he’s spoiled and sometimes a sarcastic, flirty jerk, he has some serious issues that cannot be easily overcome and take a lot to work through.
  • Sebastian’s transformation is huge. Away from the Libertines, it’s as if he is a whole different person and will the help of Tess, he grows rapidly into a compassionate, thoughtful, and complicated man with goals that rival even Tess’.
  • Tess is confident is who she is and knows what she wants. She has clearly defined goals and plans for her life and is so mature that it’s admirable and you’ll feel a teensy bit envious. I know I did. Everything is black and white for Tess, clear yes or no choices that can be made with conviction. She rarely strays from her comfort zone and works hard constantly. When Tess starts to make mistakes, it’s as if she wakes to a whole new world, where things are so much more real and raw than she imagined. When she opens herself up to love, it’s beautiful and giving, she becomes more than just a headstrong girl and learns to live and let live.
  • Sebastian and Tess compliment each other. They balance and test each other, pushing and pulling in an epic game of give and take. As their feelings grow, something magic happens and suddenly both characters are faced with a truth that they never expected.
  • The ending is totally open for a sequel.
  • If you’re searching for a feel good love story without too much drama and with a lot of heart, check this one out.

CONS:

  • Some of the scenes are too short, they’re cut awkwardly going from one moment and skipping several days. For example, the Thanksgiving scene, I was dying to know what happened and it didn’t.
  • Tess can be infuriating at times, she is very determined and stubborn, her bull-headed nature gets in the way of some of the romance.
  • The secondary characters, like Tess’ two best friend’s Jordan and Courtney are like an afterthought. At first they have a pretty strong presence but as the story develops they’re left in the background and don’t really function well in the plot.

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Theresa Troutman is a Young Adult/New Adult Romance author who lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and their crazy dog, Niko. She loves reading, theatre, traveling and is an active member of the SCBWI. My Secret Summer is her first published work. Her latest release is A Special Connection and her first full length novel, Life’s What You Make It will be available in April 2014.

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The rest of the day dragged on as Sebastian made his way through his class schedule. There were sideways glances, stares, and muttered comments since his arrival at school, but he ignored them the best he could and went about his business. When the last bell chimed at 2:45, signaling the end of the school day, Sebastian navigated his way to the study hall. He was there to meet the genius tutor his mother had arranged for him. He wasn’t in the mood to study and all he really wanted was a cigarette, but he was mindful of Nanny’s instruction to blend in and buckle down, so he dutifully awaited the arrival of his savior.

Tess Hamilton promptly entered the study hall at 2:50 and walked up to him, laying her textbooks on his table.

“You?” Sebastian blurted out, slightly startled, but with a broad grin on his face.

“They didn’t tell you I was your tutor?”

“No.”

“Well, at least you look pleased—that’s half the battle. Why didn’t you ask who your tutor was in the dean’s office? Weren’t you curious?”

“I don’t care who is doing the tutoring. My job is to listen and learn. I’m not interested in your body, just your mind.”

Tess did have a nice body, he observed, finally able to get a full view of her standing next to him. She was petite, about five-feet two inches, with an hourglass figure.

“Gee, way to make a girl feel wanted,” she teased.

“If you’re looking for sex, I’d be happy to oblige. This table looks sturdy, and I like a girl who doesn’t have an aversion to public displays of attraction.”

“Public displays of affection,” Tess corrected, not missing a beat.

“I hardly think carnal desire has anything to do with affection,” Sebastian countered.

“Then it’s a good thing you’re not interested in my body.” She placed her hands on her hips and shook her head. “What did I get myself into?”

Sebastian didn’t reply, but stood up and pulled out a chair for Tess to sit.

“You’re charming,” she commented.

“Yes,” he merely agreed, with no sense of false modesty.

“And arrogant.”

“I prefer aloof,” he corrected her.

“Well, with a vocabulary like that, you should have no problem with the English portion of your SATs.”

He smiled to himself. He liked her straightforward attitude. Tess was not one of those polite socialite types he was so used to, who smiled demurely then quickly gossiped behind your back. She was a breath of fresh air.

“I printed out a schedule for you. We’ll meet on Tuesdays and Fridays. I have yearbook and the school paper on Mondays and Wednesdays. I can probably squeeze you in if you need a few SAT prep sessions before you take the exam in October. What was your last score?”

“What score are you referring to?”

“Your SAT score.”

“I haven’t taken it yet.”

She didn’t hide the surprise from her face. “What universities are you planning to apply to?”

At least he could answer this question. “NYU and Princeton.”

“Hmm.”

“Why did you just ‘hmm?’ It is absurd to think that I could attend either one of these schools?” Sebastian spat back, slightly annoyed.

“I didn’t say that. I just find it curious that I’m tutoring you this late in the game and you have such lofty aspirations. You’ll have to work hard to get into these schools. What type of extracurricular activities have you been involved in?”

Again, she was speaking a different language he didn’t quite understand. He was sure she was not talking about parties, drugs, and sex. These were the only extracurricular activities he knew. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I don’t quite understand.”

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