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“You could stay,” Sparrow says. “You don’t have to go back.”
Joel sighs. “I have a life on the other side,” he says.
“You can’t like it very much,” Sparrow says. “You’re always here.”

Joel works at a record store, but his real passion is writing. When he’s not at work, Joel escapes to the fantasy world he’s created, where he passes the time with his characters. Joel finds himself drifting out of reality so frequently that his characters begin infiltrating his real life.

Everyone’s a Casualty is a very short story – 12,000 words, or approximately 30-35 pages. This means that everything happens very quickly, and there’s little room for extra descriptions. I would have liked to see the initial idea expanded into something a bit more detailed. How did Joel first enter his fantasy world? Has he been doing this his whole life? How did Joel begin to see his characters as living, breathing creatures?

The basis of the story is good, but the writing is a little stilted. One example of this is that every character “says” their dialogue. They don’t “reply” or “explain” or “murmur” or “mumble” or “suggest.” They only “say.” I found it a little awkward, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.

At the end of the story, we have to determine what’s real and what’s taking place in Joel’s head. This messed with my head in a way that I probably would have really liked in high school. Unfortunately, either I wasn’t in the right mindset for this type of story, or I just don’t enjoy this kind of thing like I used to.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Final rating: ★

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #6: a book written by someone under 30.

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On the surface, Hannah Cohen’s life is pretty perfect. She’s smart. She’s popular. Her parents have more money than they know what to do with. She has her whole life figured out. But if you take the time to dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Hannah is slowly drowning.

“The rules are everything my parents have ever taught me.”

Hannah’s entire life has been dictated by thirty-two rules set by her mother. Thirty-two rules intended to make Hannah a successful, poised, perfect young woman. And Hannah has followed them to the letter.

Rule #1: Maintain the image of perfection.

Hannah is so focused on following all of the rules, on maintaining her image of perfection, that she can’t even process everything that’s going wrong in her life. Her father is in rehab after nearly dying of a prescription drug overdose. Her mother makes a habit of drinking a few too many cocktails with dinner. She can’t talk to her friends about it, because that would mean admitting weakness. And Hannah doesn’t trust anyone enough to break the rules and show weakness.

Rule #8: If reality wasn’t the way you wanted it to be, create your own.

So Hannah pretends that she doesn’t notice her mom’s drinking. She plays along with her mother’s lie that her dad is away at a “resort,” not detoxing at a local rehab facility. She pretends that everything’s okay, because that’s what the rules taught her to do. And when her mom jets off to Paris to dodge the impending scandal, Hannah pretends that she’s gone with her. Because she doesn’t want her friends to know that she’s really staying with her aunt in a small town a few hours away.

Rule #4: Never ask for help.

As luck would have it, Hannah’s car gets a flat tire as she’s driving through the North Carolina mountains on the way to her Aunt Lydia’s house. It’s then that she meets Jude Westmore, a seemingly friendly enough guy who asks if she needs help. The rules say that Hannah can’t ask for help, but her cell phone has no signal, she has no idea how to change a tire, and there are no repair shops around. 

Rule #21: Even the score as soon as possible.

With no choice but to ask Jude to help her change the tire, Hannah finds herself in an awkward situation. Her parents taught her never to be indebted to someone, even someone she’d never see again. So she whips out her checkbook, ready to offer to pay Jude for his time. The problem, of course, is that Jude is a gentleman, just helping her out of the kindness of his heart. Hannah’s insistence on paying Jude offends him, and she leaves the situation feeling like a jerk.

“You rely too much on your rules, Hannah. You’ve let these rules control everything you do in your life.”

For the first time in her life, Hannah is totally separate from her parents, and realizes that maybe the rules she was raised to follow have flaws. And without her parents to constantly criticize her mistakes, she is finally able to become her own person. With the help of her Aunt Lydia and her new friends, Hannah creates her own list of rules:

Rule #1: Be honest. Don’t overcomplicate things.
Rule #2: Do what scares you the most.
Rule #3: Always do the thing that could get you arrested.
Rule #4: Don’t be afraid to face reality.

I really enjoyed The Secrets Between You and Me. The only criticism I have is that while the writing overall was very nice, the dialogue was a little stilted. But the characters seemed real, and the conflicts felt like things that could actually happen in a teenager’s life. I flew through this book, reading it over the course of just a couple hours. There’s just a touch of romance, but it doesn’t come on too quickly – there’s no instalove here. Same with the angst – just a touch, not too much.

The Secrets Between You and Me is the companion novel to The Boyfriend Thief. I haven’t read The Boyfriend Thief, but didn’t feel like I was missing much of the backstory. The only thing I can say is that at the beginning of the book, Hannah has recently gotten out of a relationship, and while the whole situation has clearly had a strong effect on her, there really aren’t very many details about what happened. This is where I assume The Boyfriend Thief comes into play, but again, I don’t think it’s necessary to read it to understand The Secrets Between You and Me.

In the end, I’d give The Secrets Between You and Me a strong 3.5/5, and highly recommend it to fans of realistic young adult books.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Final rating: 

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #46: a book written by an author with your same initials.

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“Being a Seeker is bigger than you or me, bigger than personal fears.”

Since childhood, Quin, her distant cousin Shinobu, and her boyfriend John have been training for the noble title of Seeker. They’ve been told for years that Seekers fight evil, right wrongs, and make the world a better and safer place. Quin can’t wait to become a true Seeker, but on the night that she finally takes her oath, she finds that everything has been a lie. Seekers aren’t noble, and the things she’s being asked to do are awful. Disgusted with herself and everything her family stands for, Quin wants to disappear, but doesn’t know where to go. She ends up on the other side of the world, but she can’t hide forever.

Like most people, I was drawn to Seeker because of the email I got from Netgalley with comparisons to A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games. I should probably know by now that most (if not all) books marketed with those comparisons are going to fall short. Because the first thing you should know going into Seeker is that it is absolutely nothing like either of those series. Once you get that out of your head and take Seeker for what it is, a vaguely dystopian story about a girl struggling to overcome the path her father set for her, it becomes a much less frustrating read.

I was more than a little nervous going into this one, because about 90% of the reviews I saw were ranting about how awful it is. And, to be honest, I did almost abandon this book at least a dozen times. The pacing is off. The plot muddles along with nothing really happening. The characters’ personalities completely change, not just once, but multiple times. The setting is confusing – it is medieval, modern, or futuristic? Why, after 448 pages, do I still have absolutely no idea what a Seeker is supposed to be? And don’t even get me started on why the author decided to make Shinobu and Quin cousins.

But something unexpected happens around the 75% mark. It gets really interesting. It took me six days to get to 75%, and then I promptly finished. The last part of the book was so action-packed that I’m almost tempted to read the next book in the series, but I probably won’t, for fear that it will suffer from the same problems as this one.

The concept of Seeker is great, and with a lot of polishing, I think it could be a great story. Unfortunately, as it is, it’s not quite worth the time and effort that it takes to get to the (admittedly awesome) last quarter.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating: 

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #31: a book with bad reviews.

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Personal story time: It seems like every woman in my life is about to give birth right now. I mean, really. Relatives. Friends. Co-workers. Everyone! I’ve been spending my weekends sewing lots of bibs and burp cloths in preparation, but I tend to get bored pretty quickly since I’m basically just sewing rectangles. I figured if I could find a fairly mindless audiobook, something that I wouldn’t have to listen too closely to, that might help me focus. So I scrolled through my Audible account and foundMistletoe & Margaritas. I got it for free in some sort of holiday promotion a couple years ago and then promptly forgot about it. Turns out it was exactly what I needed – just enough to hold my attention as I cranked out some very cute baby-related items.

The audiobook is very short, only about two hours long, and it’s read by MacLeod Andrews, my favorite narrator. Now, it’s no secret that friends-to-lovers is my favorite romance trope, so it doesn’t take much for me to enjoy a story like this. (Especially when my favorite narrator is reading it!) The thing is, I feel like I liked it more because of the narrator than because of the content.

Here’s the story: Claire has remained good friends with Justin, her late husband’s best friend, ever since his death two years ago. Claire and Justin do everything together, and she knows she’d be lost without him. But Justin has a secret – he’s been in love with Claire for years. But he’s keeping it strictly platonic, unwilling to be that guy even this long after his best friend’s death. After some margaritas at a holiday party, and some conveniently placed mistletoe, Claire and Justin find themselves in a potentially disastrous situation. Their friendship has survived a lot, but can it survive this?

The story is sweet, and if you’re looking for a super quick read that will lighten your mood, this is it. The thing that bothered me the most was that Claire and Justin hemmed and hawed forever about whether they were going to get together. Claire was lonely and literally dreaming about what it would be like to be with Justin. Justin has been in love with Claire for years. So you’d think that when they got together, it would be great, right? It’s just kind of glossed over in favor of the fallout. And if friends-to-lovers is my favorite romance trope, oh but I don’t deserve youis my least favorite. And that part of the story, while it’s probably only about five or ten pages, seems to drag on forever. I like my characters to be happy, and I didn’t see a need for all the angst in a story this short.

Final rating: 2.5, rounded up to

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #45: a book set during Christmas.

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Marked, the first book in Sarah Fine’s new Servants of Fate series, takes place in a post-apocalyptic Boston. The year is 2114, and global warming has destroyed the world as we know it. Much of the United States has become a desert, and Boston is now partially underwater. While the general population struggles to survive, the Ferrys, a family of reapers, are thriving. It could be argued that the Ferrys own Boston, having their hands in nearly every industry. They work hand in hand with the Ker, an inhuman, soulless, mostly cruel race who, under the direction of the Fates, mark people for death.

At the center of the action is Cacy Ferry, who shunned her family’s empire in favor of working as a paramedic. At the Chinatown station, she meets newcomer Eli, a refugee from Pittsburgh, and sparks fly. Eli’s sister, Galena, is Harvard’s newest infectious disease researcher. Galena’s research may just put a damper on the death business, making her a target of a rogue Ker.

I received a free copy of Marked through Amazon’s Kindle First program. None of the books offered in December particularly stood out to me, so I just picked this one at random. I didn’t look too much into the plot summary or the author, so I had no idea what I was getting into.

Marked starts out well enough, but quickly declines. It’s a dystopian future, although not especially well done. For a book that takes place a mere 100 years in the future, it’s difficult to imagine what could have happened to make the world so different. I could see civilization changing, but how did the climate change so much? Pennsylvania and Massachusetts aren’t that far apart, either. How are the landscapes so vastly different? This is just one example of the world building being slightly off.

I suppose it doesn’t matter much, because the dystopian landscape is of little importance. It becomes obvious just a few pages in that the relationship between Cacy and Eli is going to take center stage. The two are instantly attracted to each other, and it’s not long before they find themselves “in love.” The rest of the plot falls by the wayside in favor of sexual tension, and later, gratuitous sex scenes. This felt a little odd to me, because I don’t think that the romance aspect necessarily fit with the rest of the story.

It’s hard to say what to describe this book as, because all of its aspects are underdeveloped. As I mentioned before, there are major chunks of information missing that might make the setting more realistic. Despite them being “in love,” it’s difficult to tell whether there’s anything to the relationship between Eli and Cacy other than physical attraction. Even the plot dealing with Galena’s research leaves something to be desired. In the end, I kind of felt that any one of these plots on its own would be better than all of them combined.

For a book this short, I think there was just too much going on.

Final rating: ★

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #7: a book with nonhuman characters.