ARC #Review: Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

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Fans of More Happy Than Not, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, andIt’s Kind of a Funny Story will cheer for Adam as he struggles with schizophrenia in this brilliantly honest and unexpectedly funny debut.

Adam has just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He sees and hears people who aren’t there: Rebecca, a beautiful girl who understands him; the Mob Boss, who harasses him; and Jason, the naked guy who’s unfailingly polite. It should be easy to separate the real from the not real, but Adam can’t.

Still, there’s hope. As Adam starts fresh at a new school, he begins a drug trial that helps him ignore his visions. Suddenly everything seems possible, even love. When he meets Maya, a fiercely intelligent girl, he desperately wants to be the great guy that she thinks he is. But then the miracle drug begins to fail, and Adam will do anything to keep Maya from discovering his secret.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Random House Books for Young Readers. 

The best way to describe my feelings towards this book is to shrug. This is a solid 3 star read. As much as I wanted to fall in love with this story of a boy dealing with mental illness as he fell in love with his dream girl, I couldn’t connect. Since I finished reading, I’ve struggled with how to put into words why that connection was missing and it comes down to the plot, or lack there of, or maybe just the whole mundane, guy has secret, clichéd bullies, truth comes out, romance. It was all too familiar. And what irked me even further was the title. It’s catchy, it’s clever, it is barely in the story and while there could have been a serious, philosophical moment with the words, it fell flat, despite attempts to tie it in. And on top of that, it made the plot feel thrown together and nowhere near as cohesive or smooth as it could have been, but perhaps that was the point. 

Here’s what I liked: 

  • I’m not a doctor. What I know about schizophrenia is pretty much the tripe, false portrayals in horror films or TV shows that make it seem like a dangerous, and deadly sickness that turns people into serial killers or something. It’s horrible, inaccurate, and even discussed throughout the story. Especially in relation to Sandy Hook. After the shooting, which happened during the timeline of this book, schizophrenia became something to be scared of. Knowing someone with the mental illness made people panic or at the very least feel apprehensive and on guard. Adam reflects on that and it’s a huge part of why he never confides in his friends about his schizophrenia, because he doesn’t want the looks, the doubts, the slow backing away and dissolution of friendships that has happened to him before out of fear. This is poignant and heartbreaking and a reality that needs to be called out and questioned. The stigma around mental illness and how it is perceived needs to be a discussion and unfortunately, like other timely issues, it is not. How schizophrenia is portrayed in the story may or may not be 100% accurate, the author does put a note in the back of the book addressing this, which I appreciated. Adam’s hallucinations are each unique and reflect parts of himself that he’s not in tune with, parts that he’s scared of or tries to hide and they speak to him, try to guide him through hard choices and situations. They pop in and out of the story. They’re memorable, but fleeting, and some are more solid than others. Adam’s emotions and voice were strong. They were all over the place, but he was honest, his voice never wavered, and at times his letters were like a confession to himself. 
  • The structure. I think this is the only book I’ve read where the entire story is told through journal entries to a therapist. Because of the style, it’s introspective, reflective, and full of genuine voice. You really get a feel for who Adam is, what he’s going through, and his humor about the whole situation. 
  • Love doesn’t save the day. So many times illness or some perceived flaw is solved simply by falling in love. It’s become a dangerous trope. I liked that at the end of this story, nothing was really resolved or fixed because mental illness is not something that magically disappears because feelings trump everything. Drugs can help manage, but they fail, they lose effectiveness, and sometimes the side effects are life threatening. Maya is great for Adam, don’t get me wrong. She listens to him. She befriends him when he felt so alone and scared on his journey and she sticks by him when things get weird. What more could you ask for? 

Here’s what didn’t work for me:

  • The pacing, the plot. I was bored and what’s weird is that I shouldn’t have been. So many scenes were of your run of the mill, everyday life and while Adam’s perception and snarky comments were entertaining, the incidents themselves were not. 
  • The enemy. The popular kids. The hot guy. So overdone and while there is some redemption it just didn’t do justice to the story. It was all too predictable. You could see that plot point coming from the moment you met the popular guy with connections because that’s always the choice. I was hoping for something more unexpected because of the subject matter but I guess the popular kids will always be evil bullies. 
  • I wasn’t sold on Maya or Dwight. They were just…sort of there. Dwight especially has few scenes and while those scenes do give you a better picture of him, it feels like filler. For Maya…the emotions were, and this could definitely be because of the style, lacking. Because everything is told from Adam’s POV, how Maya really feels like seen through his gaze and it makes her feel aloof.

Keep reading,

Jordan

 

 

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Release Week Blitz & Excerpt: Other Breakable Things by Kelley York & Rowan Altwood

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Entangled Publishing | Goodreads

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According to Japanese legend, folding a thousand paper cranes will grant you healing.

Evelyn Abel will fold two thousand if it will bring Luc back to her.

Luc Argent has always been intimately acquainted with death. After a car crash got him a second chance at life—via someone else’s transplanted heart—he tried to embrace it. He truly did. But he always knew death could be right around the corner again.

And now it is.

Sick of hospitals and tired of transplants, Luc is ready to let his failing heart give out, ready to give up. A road trip to Oregon—where death with dignity is legal—is his answer. But along for the ride is his best friend, Evelyn.

And she’s not giving up so easily.

A thousand miles, a handful of roadside attractions, and one life-altering kiss later, Evelyn’s fallen, and Luc’s heart is full. But is it enough to save him? Evelyn’s betting her heart, her life, that it can be.

Right down to the thousandth paper crane.

Excerpt

Nembutal isn’t a name I recognize. One of Luc’s medications? Something he wanted to try that he couldn’t get here? He didn’t tell me anything about it. I Google the name and get an array of results: Nembutal (pentobarbital), sedative and anticonvulsant. Used to treat tension, anxiety, nervousness, and epilepsy. Pentobarbital may induce death in high dosages and is used for euthanasia in both humans and animals.

My legs nearly give out.

The night Luc went to the hospital, I saw webpages open on his phone on euthanasia in Oregon. It hadn’t seemed right, and I hadn’t been able to wrap my head around it at the time, and so I’d shrugged it off and never even broached the subject with Luc. He could have been looking it up for any number of reasons. Curiosity brought about by temporary desperation.

This, though? This is a step further. This makes me feel cold all over.

The bathroom door swings open and Luc steps out. I hadn’t even heard the shower turn off. He’s dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, towel around his shoulders, and he

pauses when he sees me. “Evelyn?”

I could ignore it. I’m overreacting. I have to be…right? Yet I find myself turning to stare at him, holding up the business card and trying to keep my voice level. “What’s this?”

There’s a hitch in Luc’s step as he crosses the room to take it from me, and he won’t meet my eyes. “Just something someone gave me the other day. I don’t know.”

Any hope I had that this was some dumb misunderstanding is quickly fading. “Don’t lie to me.”

“It’s nothing,” Luc insists, pushing a hand back through his wet hair and turning away. “Just…don’t. I don’t want to—it’s not…”

“It’s not what? Not what I think it is?” My voice cracks near the end, and Luc goes still, as though he knows this entire conversation is about to hit the roof. I snatch my phone back up and read to him aloud: “Pentobarbital is contained in a group of drugs called barbiturates.”

“Evelyn…”

“Used to treat insomnia and seizures—”

“Evelyn.”

“—and for human euthanasia. Death in a bottle.” I lower the screen and stare at him, fighting back the overwhelming flood of tears threatening to reduce me to a complete mess. “Is that not what I think it is?”

Slowly, Luc turns to me, his expression one of guilt and grief and frustration. “I’m dying. You know that.”

I twist my fingers around my phone so tightly it hurts.“We’re all dying, Luc.”

“Some of us faster than others.”

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Kelley York and Rowan Altwood are a wife and wife writing team living in central California with their daughter and way too many cats. Kelley is the author of Hushed, Made of Stars, and Modern Monsters, and Other Breakable Things is Rowan’s debut.

Website | Kelley York Twitter | Rowan Altwood Twitter | Author | Kelley York Goodreads | Rowan Altwood Goodreads

Happy reading, 

Jordan

 

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

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

 

That is, until Cassie tries to kill herself.

 

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

 

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

Website | Twitter | Goodreads


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

giveaway

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

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

Ends on February 28th at Midnight EST!

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Insightful reading, 

Jordan

Review Tour: Something More Series Box Set by Danielle Pearl

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

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Amazon US | Amazon UK

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

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

But this isn’t a year ago.

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

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

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

review

5/5 Stars 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or you think you do.

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

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

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

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

review

4/5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

review

5/5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Instagram

Life changing reading, 

Jordan

Spotlight & Giveaway: The Homecoming by Stacie Ramey

homecomingIndieBound/B&N/Amazon/Goodreads

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Praise for The Homecoming

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

School Library Journal

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

School Library Connection

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

Kirkus

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

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

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

ExcerptTHE HOMECOMING

STACIE RAMEY

Chapter 1

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

“Strickland!” Coach calls. “Line up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Push, push, push,” Coach yells.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now hit the showers and head home.”

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

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

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

Dad and his stupid mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

I text back. Yeah. Fine.

How was practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He texts. Nice try.

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

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

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

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

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

authorstacie-ramey_headshotWebsite/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/Tumblr

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

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Dramatic reading, 

Jordan

Lost Review: Paint My Body Red by Heidi R. Kling

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synThe world isn’t just black or white. Sometimes it’s red…

They think I’m next. That I’ll be the seventh kid to step in front of a train and end my life. With the rash of suicides at my school, Mom’s shipped me off to my dad’s Wyoming ranch for “my own safety.” They think I’m just another depressed teenager whose blood will end up on the tracks. They don’t know my secrets…or what I’ve done.

I wasn’t expecting Dad to be so sick, for the ranch I loved to be falling to bits, or for Jake—the cute boy I knew years ago—to have grown into a full-fledged, hot-as-hell cowboy. Suddenly, I don’t want to run anymore, but the secrets from home have found me…even here. And this time, it’s up to me to face them—and myself—if I want to live…

review

3/5 Stars 

***I received this book way back when as a gift in exchange for an honest review

+++Triggers: Mature YA, adult situations, suicide, assault 

Paint My Body Red feels like two separate novels that don’t mesh as seamlessly as they should. While the characters are the same, it’s like an alternate universe that the main character has been carelessly thrown into. As individual books, I might have rated this higher. Each story is interesting and full of atmospheric details. 

The premise is genius and based on fact. A suicide trend that caused city-wide hysteria, paranoia, and fear is a very real threat that could happen anywhere. The amount of pressure, stress, and lack of place for mental health care in schools is a major issue that needs to be talked about more. 

Words have power. What you say to someone can change their whole life, especially if they’re already overwhelmed and doubting their desire to live. This is a strong theme and extremely powerful. The main character goes through a self-destructive period of doubt, self-hatred, and anxiety after she says something that may have pushed another student over the edge. Not only can negative words be harmful to the receiver, but to the person who says them. 

Sometimes bad choices can overwhelm us and make us feel disgusted, worthless, and unworthy. The feelings are profound and sharp. You feel every stabbing ounce of pain as Paige recounts her past in her diary. It’s real, brutal, and consuming.

The sort of Southern romance going on threw me off. Yes, Paige is complex and comes from two worlds. Ranch time is supposed to be a safe place, therapy for her. Throw in the rodeo and flirty cowboys, it becomes something else entirely. The romance is subtle at first, flirty fun that becomes more. Paige’s feelings are complicated and plagued with doubt. Her confidence has vanished after everything she has been through, but it’s through love that she regains that former shine. 

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

Dramatic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review & Giveaway: The Butterfly and the Moonbeam by Kim Streible

BT BANNER.pngthebutterflyandthemoonbeamAMAZON | PAPERBACK | iTUNES | KOBO

 syn

“The journey to womanhood is different for every girl.”

In this diverse and heart-wrenching debut novel that begins in the rural country of Kentucky in 1978, two sisters create a childhood for themselves among a dark reality they cannot escape. It’s a sweeping journey of two lives forever entwined in common experience and love.

Kathleen spent the first nine years of her life lost, when the death of her infant brother led her parents into a spiraling void of grief. When Lucy was born, she was life itself. For Kathleen, Lucy was more of a child, than a younger sister. Caring for her gave Kathleen’s life meaning, opening her to a new world of love and trust. When a series of tragic events separates them, each embark on their own path. Kathleen desperate to find her sister, and Lucy learning to exist in an unforgiving world without her sister to protect her.

Author Kim Streible crafts a moving coming-of-age journey about sisterhood, the tribulations of relationships and lasting love.

Excerpt
“Kathleen had wished for a different mother and father so many times. She’d even prayed for them to come and take her away, but instead, she got Lucy. She’d never even imagined having a sister. As it turned out, it was better than having new parents.”
Lucy turned away from the window and came to the edge of Kathleen’s bed. “Did Grandma Janie go to heaven?”

“I don’t know,” Kathleen said. “Probably.”

Lucy furrowed her eyebrows. “How do you know if you were good enough to go to heaven and not hell?”

“I don’t think there is a hell.” People seemed so much better at punishing themselves. Kathleen couldn’t figure a reason for a hell.

“Where do bad people go then?”

Kathleen shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe they just die. They lie in the dark, worms all around them and they decay and just, don’t exist anymore.”

“Don’t scare me,” Lucy said.

“I’m not.”

“Kathleen, please don’t lie.”

She shut her book. “I’m not. I’m not really sure. Some people believe in heaven, some people believe in nothing. Some people believe that you live on, that you are like energy and the energy just travels on to somewhere else, like maybe to the sea, or a flower. And some people think that they just linger around.”

“Their souls?” Lucy asked.

“Yeah, their spirits, like shadows behind a curtain. They are faint, but they’re still there.”

“Oh.” Lucy curled her fingers around the edge of the bed frame. “What do you believe?”

“I hope that we get to come back and be something wonderful.”

Lucy twisted her feet. “I’d be a butterfly.”

Kathleen smiled. “Yeah? They are pretty.”

“And they can fly.” Lucy walked around the bedpost and pulled herself onto the end of Kathleen’s bed. “What would you be?”

“Something eternal.”

“What’s internal mean?”

Kathleen laughed. “Not internal, eternal. It means something that goes on forever.” Kathleen crossed her legs, sitting Indian style on the bed, holding the book in her lap. “I know what I’d be,” she added, “a moonbeam.”

“A moonbeam? Would that be good?” Lucy asked.

“Sure,” Kathleen replied. “You cast down every night all over the world, people stand and look up at you from every point of the Earth. They dream of your mysteries, they tell you all of their wishes. They think you’re beautiful.” She looked at Lucy. “And you’d be part of the constellations.”

“What’s constetrations?”

“Stars.”

“Oh,” Lucy said. “Kathleen?”

“Yeah?”

Lucy looked at her. “If I’m a butterfly and you’re a moonbeam, then we get to see each other every night right?”

She smiled. “We sure would.”

review

3/5 Stars

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

The Butterfly and the Moonbeam is a bittersweet coming of age story that celebrates the bond of sisterhood and the unconditional love that comes with growing up, confiding in each other, and learning to find beauty in life despite all the ugliness the world can throw at you. 

Kathleen and Lucy are surrounded by a cloud of grief, abuse, and depression, and yet, their love for each other allows them to find magic and happiness despite everything working against them. Their bond is beautiful, strong, and potent. Their love and adoration oozes off the pages and will fill you with such warmth.

Lucy is a curious little girl. She questions everything and is enchanted by everyday simplicity. Her wide-eyed wonder is contagious and will make you want to look at the world with new eyes. When everything starts to fall apart and she begins to see the darkness, it’s like being gutted, watching some of that light fade from such a sweet child. Lucy’s sections have a consistent and playful voice, full of curiosity. You can tell her age and it’s adorable. 

Kathleen has an unfortunate amount of pressure and responsibility on her shoulders, but she never once looks at Lucy as a burden,her love trumps that. This unfaltering care for her sister will earn your respect and root for her happily ever after. 

There are a ton of serious and common issues that are done so well and should be talked about-alcoholism, depression, loss of a child, mental, illness, and domestic abuse all feature in this story. Kim Streible does an amazing job at showing depression as if it were another person in the room, a living and breathing entity whose presence takes over like a toxic, dark sickness. 

The setting is in the 70s and the references to the time period are pretty spot on. You’ll feel transported.

If you’re not into coming of age stories or slower, everyday life drama, this may not be for you. The pacing was so slow for me. I really had to push. The story was griping, but I guess because it was a slower time, some sections really dragged and I got distracted. 

auth
Kim Streible grew up with a healthy love of books, music and movies. The telling of stories fascinated her. She has a current obsession with the band, The Pretty Reckless and has become increasingly nervous at the happenings on the Walking Dead. When she isn’t writing, you might find her pinning Batman and other goodies on Pinterest. She has authored over eight novels, including the steamy romance series Desert Pleasures, just published under the pseudonym, Zoe Blackwood.

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Happy reading, 

Jordan