Goodreads | Purchase from Publisher

“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.

Goodreads | Amazon

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.

Goodreads | Amazon

“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.

Goodreads | Amazon

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.

Goodreads | Amazon

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.

ARC review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Source: ARC via Netgalley

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.

Violet is an impulsive, self-involved ballet dancer who’s prone to bad decisions. Her best friend allegedly killed two girls, but Violet’s wealthy, well-connected family made sure that her name wasn’t connected to the crime. Violet seems lost now – she has more enemies than friends, and she doesn’t seem to particularly care for any of the friends that she has. None of that matters, though, because she’s headed off to Juilliard in a few weeks, where she’ll train with the best ballet dancers in the country. A position she never would have been in if Ori was still around.

Amber was sent away to Aurora Hills three years ago, after being tried and convicted for the murder of her stepfather. She’s learned to keep her temper in check most of the time, but occasionally she’ll still explode, under the right circumstances. Above all else, Amber loves books, especially her job in the facility’s library. And it’s through Amber that the magical realism of the book really begins – one night, the doors to Aurora Hills magically unlock, and the guards are all otherwise occupied. In the chaos that surrounds the facility, Amber bumps into someone who doesn’t belong. That someone is Violet, but how did she get there, and who let her in?

Through Violet and Amber’s narration, we meet Orianna, a seemingly perfect ballerina who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a young offender. Ori is cool, calm, and collected. Nothing ruffles her feathers, she gets along with everyone, and she works to find the good in everything, even her time at Aurora Hills. As the most talented dancer her town had ever seen, Ori was going places… until the night that she allegedly mudered two of her classmates – brutally – outside of the ballet studio. Ori doesn’t seem guilty, but she doesn’t claim to be innocent, either. The question on everyone’s mind is how could someone as perfect as Ori be capable of doing those awful things?

The answer lies in the narration. We know that Violet in particular is an extremely unreliable narrator. In fact, she herself seems confused about what happened – or didn’t happen – on the night in question. Or maybe she’s not confused. Maybe she’s deluding herself, and the reader, into thinking she doesn’t remember.

Because it’s clear from the beginning that Ori was a much better friend to Violet than Violet was to Ori, and Violet has always been jealous of Ori’s natural talent. She describes Ori having to hold herself back so that the two of them could stay in the same class. She’s envious the loving relationship Ori had with her boyfriend. She doesn’t understand why the other girls in their ballet class would make fun of her, but not Ori. Everybody liked Ori. Ori got away with everything.

Amber isn’t much better as a narrator. While we saw the bitterness surrounding Violet’s feelings toward Ori, we see the complete opposite with Amber. To Amber, Ori is almost an angel. She’s perfect, solving problems and making people feel better. Always doing the perfect thing at the most perfect time. Behaving exactly as she should. Excelling at everything she does. It almost seems that Ori could literally murder someone in front of Amber, and Amber would still think the world of her.

One of the best things about this book is that it never really becomes clear. We never know if Ori is as perfect as Amber makes her out to be. Even the ending is unclear – I finished this book days ago and I still don’t know what to make of it. But one thing is for sure: The Walls Around Us is definitely worth your time. The book is incredibly well-written, with an almost perfect, effortless flow. The narration is mysterious, with a sometimes creepy vibe. The only qualm I had with this book is that the girls all have the same voice, which makes the switch between narrators a little confusing. This is, however, very minor, and doesn’t detract from the story.

In the end, I highly recommend the Walls Around Us to anyone who enjoys ghost stories, magical realism, and/or young adult fantasy.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #4: a book published this year.

Goodreads | Amazon

In Truth or Dare, we met Maggie, Tyler, and all their friends. It was a book filled with instant attraction and a whole lot of angst. Touch & Go, the second book in Mira Lyn Kelly’s Dare to Love series, centers around Ava and Sam, minor characters from Truth or Dare. I would suggest starting with Truth or Dare before picking up Touch & Go to get a sense of who these characters are and how they’re connected… but if you’re pressed for time, you won’t be missing anything too major if you just jump right in.

Ava and Sam have been best friends for twenty years. They’ve been inseparable since the first day Sam wandered into her neighborhood and, shortly after, became an honorary member of her family. They’ve been together through thick and thin, so surely their friendship can survive one fake date, right?

Ava’s being pestered by a guy at work. To give him a not-so-subtle hint to leave her alone, she asks Sam to pretend to be her boyfriend at a party. It doesn’t take long for them to get a little too into their roles, and they can’t deny the chemistry when they kiss. One kiss turns into one night, which turns into several nights, which turns into broken hearts.

Can Ava and Sam have a happily ever after? Can they even repair the damage they’ve done to their friendship?

Let me just say that best friends falling in love is pretty much my favorite type of romance. I’m a sucker for the build up and the fallout. Add in some genuinely funny characters, the right amount of sweetness, and a healthy dose of sexual tension, and I’m done for. I stayed up half the night reading this one, and then resumed first thing in the morning to finish.

I enjoyed Touch & Go even more than Truth or Dare, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating: ★