ARC Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

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Release Date: June 6, 2017

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Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

review4.5/5 Stars 

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

This book is beautiful.  

It’s haunting and aching, gut-wrenching and bittersweet. Full of hope, loss, and memories. 

This book will make you laugh. It will also make you cry. But more importantly, it will make you feel. 

I finished this book over an hour ago and I’m still reeling. It’s the kind of book that sticks and leaves an impression. That makes you feel inspired. Those are the best kind. I’ve never felt so compelled to write in the margins. To explore a used bookshop. To confess everything I’ve ever felt about everything to a stranger. 

This book is about what’s lost and what you find when you lose someone and about how you find yourself again when you feel like you’ve been ripped in half. The emotions are poignant, honest, and raw. If you’ve ever lost someone, you will understand this on a soul level. 

This book is beautiful not only for content, but for the words. 

It’s a love letter to books. To words. To how words make you feel and the journey taken on the wings of a story. It’s poetry. The descriptions, the casual and offhand way that things are written about in an entirely new way. You might find yourself seeing the world differently.

Slowly falling in love. Rachel and Henry. The passion. The friendship. The angst. It’s a sweet and funny realization that happens in a blink for one, and has been building for the other. 

There are so many things in this book that are important and cathartic. That will bring comfort to those who are numb or bleeding or lost in memory. 

But mostly, the love just pours off these pages. Those of you who follow my reviews know that I am not a fan of contemporary, but this book makes my heart happy.

My only, only critique is the pacing.  Occasionally the plot is a little slow for my taste and Henry’s obsession with Amy makes you want to shake him. I mean come on, that vapid twit. But he’s mooning, he’s in lust, and it’s incredibly believable. 

I didn’t know how much I needed this book and I can only imagine how much others will appreciate this. So thank you, Cath Crowley. Your letter moved me. Your book is fantastic. 

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

Read this, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

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syn

Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

review3/5 Stars 

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

+++This book does contain mature situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens

PROS:

  • Some parts are gloriously awkward in the way that only first love can be. Others are a question, a struggle to define, and a learning process of how to understand and share intimacy in the many ways it presents itself. There are all aspects of love in this book and often it evolves, transforms, and rebuilds after loss, tragedy, and heartache. Sometimes the love you thought you wanted is nothing like you imagined. Sometimes love has a time and place and no matter how hard you fight for it, it’s a losing battle. Cringe-worthy, provocative, and eye-opening. 
  • Sex positivity. Girls that are comfortable with their bodies, their passion, and willingness to express themselves sexually. Sure, there’s judgment from others but this expression of love is seen as natural and necessary.
  • There are a number of beautifully lyrical and blunt truths that feel like revelation. Perceptions on love and what it means to be in love, to be loved, and to give love shift within the story and as the main character goes through each phase, we experience it right along with her. The confusion, the hurt, the yearning is all there in full force. This is also an ode to loss and the many ways we deal with the empty after. 
  • The premise itself is interesting, though I would hesitate to call it magical realism like many other readers and reviewers have. There’s enough belief in the curse to influence every aspect of the people’s lives who live on this street. That strength in belief is its own form of magic and carries incredible power. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and a little unsettling. The lemons, the windows being left open, it was all fairly ritualistic and earthy. In my Goodreads status updates I tried to encompass the feeling of this book through comparatives: 
    February 17, 2017 – page 75

     

    26.04% “Still undecided. It kind of reminds me of The Graces meets Tell Me Something Real and then there’s little Practical Magic meets The Sun Also Rises. If you think that sounds interesting, check it out. Still not sold though.”

     
    February 17, 2017 – page 25

     

    8.68% “So far I don’t know how to feel about this book. It feel like it’s set in the 70s or 80s, it’s super literary, and thoughtful. While there are things in here that suggest alternate history and local mythology, I’m not sure I want to read more.”

CONS:

  • The pacing. For a story so interesting and poignant, it’s one of the slowest I’ve ever read. And insanely short. For so much story it felt unfinished. It lacked development that could have made the ideas and atmosphere stronger.
  • I didn’t really care for any of the characters. While there were unique and I appreciated what they were going through, I struggled to leave my post of indifference. I pushed my way through the story hoping to feel for the characters, but my heart was with the words, the ideas, not the individuals living it. 
  • The ending. So much happens in those last few pages and it’s certainly jarring but left things feeling unresolved and random. It didn’t add up. It felt rushed, incomplete, and did not fit with the rest of the book. 

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

Read on, 

Jordan

 

Review: Fire Color One by Jenny Valentine

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A father and daughter reconnect after a life spent apart to find their mutual love of art isn’t the only thing they share.

Sixteen-year-old Iris itches constantly for the strike of a match. But when she’s caught setting one too many fires, she’s whisked away to London before she can get arrested—at least that’s the story her mother tells. Mounting debt actually drove them out of LA, and it’s greed that brings them to a home Iris doesn’t recognize, where her millionaire father—a man she’s never met—lives. Though not for much longer.

Iris’s father is dying, and her mother is determined to claim his life’s fortune, including his priceless art collection. Forced to live with him as part of an exploitive scheme, Iris soon realizes her father is far different than the man she’s been schooled to hate, and everything she thought she knew—about her father and herself—is suddenly unclear. There may be hidden beauty in Iris’s uncertain past, and future, if only she can see beyond the flames.

review

3/5 Stars 

Fire Color One is a kind of Vonnegut meets Palahniuk brand of bizarre and insightful. The kind of book that’s blunt, raw, and challenges perceptions by showing people as they are in all their horrible glory. 

PROS:

  • Insightful, honest looks at the hard truths. Sometimes people are flawed and corrupt and greedy and sometimes those people are your family. Not everyone is redeemable, not everything is sunshine and roses and crystal clear. The shades of gray are vast in each individual. Fire Color One explores the complexity of human nature and the relationships that manifest between the most unlikely of people. Characters are nuanced.You love to hate them and enjoy their randomness. 
  • The story is creative. Pyromania, getting into Iris’ head and how the fire makes her feel was beautifully written and thoughtful. There are some serious epiphanies in this book that read like concise and thought-provoking life advice. The way art functions in the story is equally as magnetic. The twist is epic and a long-game revenge that will make you feel gleeful and satisfied. 
  • Hannah and Lowell are these laughable caricatures of truly despicable people who are so real it’s unsettling. Greedy, selfish, verbally abusive, Iris is seen as a burden and a mistake. Their characters were the most developed. Some of their personality traits and actions and laugh out loud funny because they are so ridiculous and occasionally sickening. Absolutely pathetic, money-hungry people. 

CONS:

  • As flawed and compelling as these characters are, they’re mere glimpses into their personalities. It felt like the author was just scratching the surface. She laid the foundation, but she could have taken many characters much further and it would have made for not only a better story but stronger connections to each character, whether good or bad. Characters that were inherently interesting were foisted for the main character. For all of the influence Thurston has on Iris, he’s only seen in snaps that fade away. There’s hardly any interaction or even voice. It’s stuff you hear secondhand and don’t entirely experience. The same with Iris’ father. The emphasis was always off. 
  • The book was super short and would have benefited from more development in terms of exploring characters and how they related to Iris, her pyromania, and how she perceives the world, i.e. Thurston and her father. Instead, the story seems packed into the last handful of chapters, rushed after a very slow pace, and while it did help to magnify the twist, it was jarring and offset the whole book. 50+ more pages would have fleshed out the story, but what was actually presented felt a little like a summary.

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

Pleasant 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

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

Insightful reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

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Release Dare: February 7, 2017

syn

In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

PROS:

  • There was so much to learn from this book. Mental health isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as it should be. There’s a complex system of animals Mel uses to illustrate her moods/how she’s feeling, which you might want to write down for reference throughout, because it is a little hard and confusing to keep track of. As far as I know (I’m not an expert), this is a poignant and realistic portrayal of the mental and physical highs and lows experienced by someone who is bipolar. It was an awakening for me as a reader, because I haven’t read many books with this mental illness. It brought keen insight into the disorder and how the individual’s thinking and feeling change, how they react, and the medicine cabinet full of medication that some who suffer from this disorder live with everyday. I think a big part of this story was trying to show how normal mental illness can appear to an outsider or someone who doesn’t know. There was a bunch of terminology I had no clue about and I was pretty startled by the idea of subintentional suicide; I’d never heard of that before. Generally when we think of people who make dangerous choices it’s in a oh, what a daredevil kind of way, but this was truly eye-opening for me, and in connection to bipolar disorder. I am still reeling. 
  • I adored HJ (Hurricane Joan). She’s this feisty, sassy aunt, who like Mel, has bipolar disorder. She’s super fun and full of energy, and while she does have her down times, she has such a strong presence. 
  • Mel was an intriguing character. She wasn’t particularly interesting, but she was compassionate, giving, a genuinely good person. Her emotions were a dizzying spiral of highs and lows, ups and downs, and very raw, honest. Her confusion and fear are clear, even if she doesn’t understand why she feels the way she does or how she’s going to react. Mel is trying to cope with her disorder, not beat it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Mel believes she can be like a “normal” person and that in order to do so, she needs to lie. Why Mel insists on all the lies is revealed in time, but it doesn’t always feel like it was necessary. 
  • Mel and David are cute together. They’re blunt and challenge each other. He is the only one that she is completely truthful with and where she can be the most herself. They’re funny, playful, and have an easy way with each other that feels meant to be.

CONS:

  • A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is split into flashbacks and current events. There are two storylines, one regarding the time before diagnosis and another after. These stories mix and mingle with each other and I wasn’t entirely sold on how it was set up. They way these two narratives were presented made the pacing feel staggered. You feel like you wait forever to things that are alluded to from the very beginning-like why her friendship with Zumi and Conner is on the outs. The whole book you wait for this reveal and it’s built up so much that you expect it to be something world-shattering and terrible, and while it is a betrayal, when you know the reasons why, it’s like, oh, shrug. Other reveals, like what happened to her brother and the mystery about her name, were a little frustrating, but once you understand that they took so long to get to because Mel couldn’t safely, emotionally process them, it’s okay. 
  • All of the characters except for David and Mel and HJ and most of the elderly people-let me fix this, most of the teen characters were antisocial, withdrawn, and even with the flashbacks, didn’t have much personality. The connection between them and Mel was supposedly so strong that it emotionally paralyzes her to think about it, and yet, that feeling does not carry through the book, it’s more talked about than actually illustrated. Most of the story, I questioned why Mel even cared that these people were no longer in her life, she had replacements in the form of Holly and Declan, who were similar enough to the original friends that they were kind of forgettable. Had there been more interaction with ANY of these friends, a stronger establishment between characters would have been made and it would have been easier to become emotionally invested. Again, I think this had a lot to do with how the book was organized. 
  • I wish there had been more flashbacks to Mel and her brother. I felt like the focus was skewed. So much emphasis was placed on the loss of these friends she made after her brother’s death, when his loss is the root of so much of her hurt. 

SIDE NOTE: I would not compare this to All the Bright Places in terms of writing style, but thematically, sure. 

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

Informative reading, 

Jordan