Category Archives: Fiction-Young Adult/New Adult

SIA by Josh Grayson

A young woman wakes up in a park with amnesia and is shocked to discover she’s the high school mean girl.

Sia

Sia

I love it when male authors really “get” their female characters. Josh Grayson introduces us to Sia at her most vulnerable–lost and confused and in terrible physical danger. The homeless community scenes are scary and plunge us firmly into the world of the novel and Sia’s point of view. This makes Kyle’s enraged reaction to her showing up at the homeless shelter is as stinging as if we were the one he chased out into the the street. The scene also functions as the pivot that turns everything we know about this sweet, lost kid inside out. Sia may not know who she is, but we’re starting to, and it isn’t pretty.

Grayson manages to take YA cliches like mean girls, drunk moms, absent fathers and turn them on their heads through Sia’s willingness to take the hard road in her quest for redemption. Sure, there’s a bit of fairy tale here, but Sia lives in Hollywood and has a father in the entertainment business, so there’s at least a tenuous realism to the events that take place toward the end of the book.

For me, SIA called up memories of the movie CLUELESS. Darker and grittier, maybe, but it’s the same flavor. I’m not normally a fan of Queen Bees, but this Cinderella-in-reverse story has earned its spot on my (virtual) Keeper Shelf.

Review: HEAT

* Author provided a copy of the book for review.

A troubled young man forced to take part in a family vacation meets a young woman with a secret of her own.

Heat

Heat

Lucassen does a good job building the mystery surrounding both Dan and Lynn. Dan’s issue, while hard on him, is nowhere near as devastating as Lynne’s. Yet his behavior is so much more self-destructive than hers. He can be incredibly unpleasant. It’s irritating in a way, but when we do find out what Lynne is hiding, the revelation is all the more powerful because she’s been so thoughtful and reserved throughout. It also shocks Dan out of his self-indulgence and forces him to put someone else’s well being ahead of his own regrets and resentments.

There’s good character development. The author does a great job portraying wounded people and struggling with huge obstacles. The romantic tension is generally strong, and sex scenes are tasteful and fitted to the plot.

The pacing is a bit slow at the start, but it does allow us a chance to know the characters. I wish I had as good a sense of the setting. Both the island resort and the scenes back in the Netherlands seemed rather undefined. Lucassen, a unique new voice in New Adult fiction, could have done more here to make the novel a bit more DUTCH.

I also found the English translation problematic in places. Overall the errors are small and amusing. Two of them, though, interfered with the plot. First, the younger children Lynn is responsible for are referred to as “toddlers.” Yet we know by how these characters speak and act that they have to be at least four and probably five or six. Since this age group becomes important to the action, an accurate understanding of what the author means is important. Also, Lynn’s position at the resort is “animator.” Call someone an “animator” in English, and we assume they draw cartoons for a living. “Livley” or “Energetic” has become a secondary definition of the word not often used in contemporary fiction. I don’t intend to be picky, but the word is used a dozen times or more, and it distracted me each time, especially at the beginning when I was trying to understand who Lynn was and what she was doing at the resort.

As a whole, HEAT offers a rich, emotionally intense reading experience. I’m looking forward to reading more books by this author.

Review: CRUSHED

* Author provided a copy of the book for review.

A silly love game played by three witch sisters goes too far, threatening their relationship and their lives.

Crushed

Crushed

The dynamics between the Knoah triplets are complex and layered. Their parents are divorced, and their father is a workaholic/control freak. Kristen is desperate to impress him through her grades and her plans to become a business whiz. Her sisters don’t offer much solace. They act more like twins, with Brittany taking the lead in most matters.

The simmering rivalry between “perfect” Kristen and “edgy” Brittany is what leads to big trouble. Each is determined to win this year’s game–basically bewitching a boy and having him do her bidding.
Brittany challenges Kristen to “Crush” Zack, THE most menacing boy in school. What they don’t know is that Zack isn’t what he appears, he’s onto their game, and he plans to teach Kristen a lesson.

Problem is that Zack has a secret of his own. Can’t say more without spoiling the plot, but Zack’s got serious family issues and a dangerous blind spot.

Kristen and Zack’s relationship develops at a nice, suspense-filled pace. He really puts her through the wringer. To the point where I would have paid Brittany her winnings and cut my losses. Yet the couple does stumble (grumpily) into a romance, only to find their futures and lives on the line.

As much as I enjoyed the book, there were some rough spots for me. The whole idea that being accused of witchcraft will immediately strip a witch of her powers doesn’t work on a logical level. Basically anybody can strip a witch of her power at any time. It’s too big of a weakness. Why bother fearing a witch or her power?

Discontinuity in the action also posed a problem. Some of the most dramatic episodes are never fully developed. Instead, Blake jumps ahead and we find out the results/consequences in hindsight. For example, Kristen’s social downfall happens largely off stage. Even the final climax suffers from this. Lots of the battle is summarized. We’re not given enough detail to pull us in.

Still, CRUSHED is full of romance and chills. And since I got teary watching Kristen’s struggles, it earned its five stars.

Review: PRETTY LITTLE WEREWOLF

A young werewolf who’s spent her life in foster care finds her dream of being part of a real family threatened by a decades-long pack war.

Pretty Little Werewolf

Pretty Little Werewolf

Giselle’s had a tough childhood full of displacement and rejection. She’s about given up hope that any of her foster placements will turn into a forever family. So when she ends up at Martina Hernandez’s house, where her “condition” isn’t a cause for immediate removal, she should be over the moon. Turns out being part of a pack requires a degree of commitment and submission (to the alpha) that she’s not sure she’s made for. Then she finds out that her new foster mom may not be all she seems. There’s an ongoing pack war and it isn’t clear which side is at fault. Giselle needs to discover the truth before she commits to her new life.

Kadie Salidas does a good job giving us a layered heroine whose strengths and flaws vie for control of her better nature. As much as Giselle yearns to be part of something bigger than herself, experience has taught her that it’s a mistake to rely on others. At times it’s as if she looking for a reason to reject her new pack. Her relationship with her foster sisters is refreshingly normal–friends one minute, bickering the next. We learn no more about Taylor or Di’s origins that we do about Giselle’s. Taylor also seems to have some history with Damian, a witch. It becomes obvious that she cares for him, though his attention is fixed on Giselle, who is herself obsessing over the standoffish Asher.

Asher isn’t just cold…he’s outright offensive. Over the course of the story, we see his mask slip a little, but not enough to really grasp what’s going on inside until near the end. Even with his problems, Asher seems a better match for Giselle than Damian does. I never came to see Damian as more than “friend” material, though I do like that Giselle shows such dignity and self-confidence in the end. I get the sense that there’s more to all of these kids than we’re seeing, and that there are some interesting dynamics ready to be explored in a sequel.

Unlike the relationships, the mystery behind the pack war is fully unraveled. And Giselle nearly gets herself killed in the process. I don’t know how comfortable I am with that final attack on her. It’s so brutal and yet taken as no big deal and maybe even acceptable by the rest of the characters. Apparently werewolf packs have rather idiosyncratic ideas of right and wrong and what constitutes reasonable punishment for the crime of trespass. I get the whole “animal” law thing, but it seems to overpower the humanity of some of the characters, which can make it hard to fully sympathize with them even when they might otherwise deserve sympathy. As a result, although I enjoyed reading about these wolves, I had no urge to imagine myself in the story…which is usually my favorite part of reading fiction.

Overall, I’d say the world Salidas has created is exciting and full of potential. I hope we get to spend more time with her werewolves, witches, and…the as-yet-unmet (in this book, anyway) …vampires.

Review: AFLAME by Penelope Douglas

I am a rabid fad of the books that started Penelope Douglas’s Fall Away series: Bully and Until You. I also enjoyed Rivals. Falling Away didn’t grab me as much, but it had its strong points.

In the final book, Aflame, Jared’s insecurities separate him from Tatum

The entire Fall Away gang is back and, as usual, it’s great to see their personalities bounce off of and challenge one another. As the story opens, the couple that started it all–Jared and Tatum–breaks apart when he decided he needs to get away for a while and get his head straight about what he wants out of life. Tatum’s not having it. After putting up with years of his bullying, forgiving him, and building most of her world around being with him, she’s not willing to wait through yet another of his personal crises.

Two years later, circumstances (helped by scheming friends and family) develop that land Tatum and Jared back home at the same time. Their extended social circle is so intertwined that they cannot avoid each other. Not that Jared really wants to avoid her. Now that his life is on a clear course, he’s ready to make things right. Tatum, however, isn’t going to make it easy. She’s kind of an immature brat through a lot of the book. On the other hand, Jared gets annoying, too. He’s not oblivious to the pain he’s caused, but he is good at rationalizing and minimizing it.

The chemistry between the pair is as sizzling as ever. In this age of “erotic everything,” Douglas manages to make the intimate scenes blaze.

Like the past couple of books in the series, the middle of AFLAME sags. Douglas probably could have cut ten to fifteen pages and improved the pacing. Especially when readers have full access to both Jared and Tatum’s inner thoughts, so we KNOW where the story is going even at the pair snipe and snap at each other. Dragging things out serves no purpose. For me it was the race scenes that seemed to slow the story down, which is ironic considering they’re meant to add excitement and sexual tension.

Also, I HATE having the music that “goes” with the book chosen for me. Playlists at the end that show an author’s inspiration is fine. But quoting song title after song title in the narrative is irritating. Why do authors do this? Do they want to unnecessarily date their book and shorten its shelf life?

I didn’t care for the epilogue. The first few pages were were fun, but after that it seemed gratuitous and forced. It was too obvious that Douglas is setting the stage for a possible new series starring the children of the Fall Away characters.

BULLY is still the best book in the series. With UNTIL YOU, a close second. That said, AFLAME is a satisfying ending to a favorite series.

Review: WILD RECKLESS by Ginger Scott

A young pianist’s parents move her from the city to a small town where the mysterious and difficult boy next door is the catalyst for life changing events.

Wild Reckless

Wild Reckless

Kensington “Kensi” Worth is a piano prodigy with a meek mother and overbearing father. As the book opens, the family had just moved to town under circumstances Kensi doesn’t completely understand but which come to haunt her for most of the story. Owen Harper is trouble. He lost his father at an early age under tragic circumstances and it has destroyed his family and marked him forever. Of course, these two are going to butt heads and fall for one another–this is YA/NA romance, isn’t it?

I’m glad to report that Ginger Scott gives us more than the typical boy-meets-girl angst-fest. Owen and Kensi’s relationship is carefully developed and driven by their complicated characters and involved backstories. The plot itself is intricate and deals with a number of serious issues, internal and external obstacles that press the couple from all sides. I especially like that, though both Kensi and Owen change over the course of the novel, it is in an organic rather than an author-engineered way. Kensi and Owen do not save one another, though that’s what they each profess at various points. Rather, they allow each other the space and offer each other the means to mature and improve themselves.

I also appreciate that Scott tells a very sexy story in a way that is not riddled with erotic content. Her characters share a strong physical attraction, but it doesn’t get top billing.

If I have a criticism, it has to do with Kensi’s parents. Her mom’s weakness and vulnerability in the face of Dean Worth’s transgressions is understandable and realistic, but Dean is a bit over played. He’s the only character who, for me, approaches soap opera villain proportions. Scott could have mitigated this by providing some sort of realistic consequences, either legally or even just professionally, for his actions on the “Gabby” front. At one point Kensi admits to herself that Gabby is also “kind of sort of maybe” a victim in this mess, but I don’t think this goes far enough. It is the only plot thread that Scott leaves dangling, so it stands out.

Still, WILD RECKLESS is an intelligent and well-crafted novel. A standout in its category.

Review: CATCHING CASSIDY

A good-time guy faces an abrupt awakening when his parents die leaving him and his twin sister in charge of their seaside bar. Things get even more complicated when he realizes he’s in love with his best friend.

Catching Cassidy (Harborside Nights, #1)

Catching Cassidy

One of the things I love most about Melissa Foster’s books is her ability to create an entire community of likable, engaging characters. This first book in her new Harborside Nights series gives us yet another great ensemble cast. We also get a fun cameo from veteran Foster couple Dane Braden and his fiancee Lacy Snow. Of the new arrivals, Cassidy and Delilah both shine. They are warm, earnest, and real. Even Wyatt is appealing in a “like to smack in the head” way. The beach town setting is beautifully built detail by detail. I could imagine myself right there.

I love that there is more going on this book than a romance. There’s all the hard stuff that comes with loss. Grief. Unfinished personal business. Struggling to make sense of grownup life…when you’ve barely grown up.

Cassidy waits a little too long to accept the truth about her New York plans. I also didn’t buy that after everything her parents have put her through she’s still prepared to pounce on any bone of attention and affection they might throw her way, even if it puts her very new relationship with Wyatt at risk. But these are very small blips in an otherwise great New Adult romance.

CATCHING CASSIDY is a fun start to a promising series. Can’t wait to see what happens with the rest of the gang!

Review: BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION

A bartender involved in a long-distance relationship finds herself falling for a childhood friend.

Beautiful Oblivion (The Maddox Brothers, #1)

Beautiful Oblivion

BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION is book one of Jamie McGuire’s Maddox Brothers series, a spin off of her hugely popular Beautiful series about college student Abby Abernathy and underground fighter Travis Maddox. There are three books (two novels and a novella) in that series. They didn’t quite light a fire in me, so I started this book with some reservations. But one of the things I liked about the Beautiful series was the relationship Travis had with his family. I’m glad I gave this a chance. It turned out much deeper and more fully developed than the Beautiful books.

Cammie is a strong protagonist. The scenes with her family show how honorable AND vulnerable she can be. Trent Maddox is funny and, except for a period where he reverts into a promiscuous ass, his pursuit of Cammie is relentless. There is a lot of sexual chemistry here, as Cammie fights her attraction to Trent and at the same time is drawn more and more into his world.

It didn’t take me long to figure out who Cammie’s California mystery man really is. The whole torn-between-two-lovers thing dragged on a little. I did enjoy the final resolution. Lots of drama and angst.

The timeline of this novel overlaps the events in the Beautiful series. This gives readers a whole new window on those books and a fresh take on Abby and Travis. The epilogue raises as many questions as it answers, but it also made me look forward to the next book in the series.

Review: A BEAUTIFUL WEDDING

This novella gives readers a full account of Abby and Travis’s Vegas wedding.

A Beautiful Wedding (Beautiful, #2.5)

A Beautiful Wedding

SPOILER ALERT: Can’t really talk about this plot without touching upon the ending of BEAUTIFUL / WALKING DISASTER

The action here is set off by the deadly fire that ended BEAUTIFUL / WALKING DISASTER. Abby’s worried about Travis facing legal consequences for being involved with the illegal fight that went so horribly wrong. She hatches a scheme to get him to Vegas as fast as she can, so it will blur the timeline for any curious authorities. Of course, Travis being Travis (a messy ball of need, insecurity, and misplaced chivalry), Abby can’t just tell him this is the reason she wants to push up their wedding by five plus years. Her secret motive haunts the entire book, which adds a nice amount of tension.

I’m also thrilled that McGuire alternates point of view. It’s not my favorite way to tell a story, but in the previous two books, the non-POV partner came off as weak and undefined. Here Travis and Abby share the stage, and both their characters and the narrative as a whole are better for it.

There are some especially funny episodes. The wedding itself is hilarious. Yes, Elvis is in the building! The trip to the tattoo parlor made me giggle, too.

There’s less sex in this book than the previous two. But it’s better sex. Much more emotionally charged.

Yet again, McGuire added an epilogue that creates a plot in itself. I enjoyed it.

Overall, a nice finishing touch to the BEAUTIFUL DISASTER / WALKING DISASTER duet.

Review: WALKING DISASTER

A bad-tempered college kid who makes his living through illegal fights meets a girl worth fighting for.

Walking Disaster (Beautiful, #2)

Walking Disaster

This novel is McGuire’s BEAUTIFUL DISASTER told from Travis’s point of view. I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first book. Travis’s connection with his family comes through so strongly. His bewilderment over his feelings for Abby–and her erratic emotions–is touching and draws the reader in. It’s also fun to witness the fight scenes from his perspective. Adds a whole new edge to some of the most dramatic scenes in the first book.

What’s really weird is that the issues I had with McGuire’s depiction of Travis in the first book–basically he came off as a dimwit–are flipped on their head in this one. Travis shines. It’s Abby who leaves us scratching our heads. There’s simply nothing about her that justifies Travis’s obsession with her. She’s whiny and almost bi-polar in her reactions. Also, as in the first book, any sexual charge between the pair is left at the bedroom door. The love scenes just don’t set the heart pounding. Not for me, anyway.

I’m glad I didn’t give up on the Beautiful series. There’s so much potential–especially with Maddox’s large, loud family. WALKING DISASTER is much better than BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, and the epilogue was unexpected and really well done.