Cephalopod Coffeehouse July 2014–THE ART OF SECRETS

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

I had a hard time choosing a book this month–there were a few that really got to me. My second choice was TORN AWAY by Jennifer Brown. It’s a story about a girl surviving a tornado and the destruction her life becomes in the aftermath. You can find my review here.

This month I chose THE ART OF SECRETS, a newly released YA mystery for two reasons. It’s set in my hometown–Chicago, and it tricked me! I lite really had to wait for the last three pages to learn who were the culprits. I had the great pleasure to meet the author, James Klise, at a local book signing and picked up an autographed dead-tree edition of this book. I’m so glad because I plan to pass it around faster than swine flu…

I’m not shy of my uber-love of mysteries. Confession time, my dad grounded me in third grade because I spent too much time reading Nancy Drew mysteries and too little time doing my schoolwork. #TrueStory So, this multi-POV, multicultural whodunit was a real treat for me.

The Art of SecretsAbout the book:
A Fire Destroys . . .
A Treasure Appears . . .
A Crime Unfolds . . .

When Saba Khan’s apartment burns in a mysterious fire, possibly a hate crime, her Chicago high school rallies around her. Her family moves rent-free into a luxury apartment, Saba’s Facebook page explodes, and she starts (secretly) dating a popular boy.

Then a quirky piece of art donated to a school fund-raising effort for the Khans is revealed to be an unknown work by a famous artist, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Saba’s life turns upside down again. Should Saba’s family have all that money? Or should it go to the students who found the art? Or to the school? And just what caused that fire?

Greed, jealousy, and suspicion create an increasingly tangled web as students and teachers alike debate who should get the money and begin to point fingers and make accusations. The true story of the fire that sets events in motion and what happens afterward gradually comes together in an innovative narrative made up of journal entries, interviews, articles, letters, text messages, and other documents.

My Review:

First of all, this book has, roughly, seven narrators. As noted in the blurb, the story itself is a collection of interviews, journal entries, newspaper articles, texts and emails. It’s bedlam, in the best way.

Saba’s family is from Pakistan. She was born and raised here, but her parents are traditional. They are, perhaps, more indulgent than other immigrant families allowing Saba to dress in modest Western clothing and compete on the school tennis team as long as her body is covered. We learn through Saba’s journal that her apartment is destroyed one day while she and her family are out at one of her tennis matches.

Her father reveals that he fears the fire was set by Saba’s 6 y/o brother, who has recently discovered matches. In the meantime, Saba’s high school community, most of which are affluent families, pitch in to stage an auction fundraiser headed up by Kendra and Kevin Spoon–two newcomers to the school. In fact, it is Kevin who discovers an undiscovered work of art from an “outsider” Chicago artist which he donates to the cause. The appraised value is $500,000, and Saba’s family is overwhelmed with the possible windfall.

In fact, people start to question if Saba’s family should benefit from this tragedy. Especially as the cause of the fire is suspicious. The high school principal, Dr. Stickman, thinks the money should go to the school which is in need of repairs.

The whole argument becomes moot, however, when the artwork goes missing two weeks before the auction. Then it’s a foot race to find the art. Teachers turn on teachers, accusing one another of theft. Was it Mr. Delacroix, the gay art teacher who needs capital to finance his fiber art projects? Or, Coach P, the retiring basketball/tennis coach who had easy access to the art as it was locked in her office? Students start accosting other students. Saba’s distraught that her family’s fortunes keep plummeting. Dr. Stickman was my choice for the thief, but, in the end I was completely, artfully, misdirected.

All I’m gonna say is: Best. Grift. Ever.

I wasn’t sure I’d like the story–I usually go for first-person traditional narratives in my YA. This is the exact opposite. There is (virtually) no romance. Surprisingly, the emotions shine through these third-person accounts. Humor is wry and abundant, with irreverent speech from Saba, incongruent speech from a Spanish exchange student (“in the kitchen, not the chicken” *snorts*) and the contrast between the humble laborer life of Saba’s father and the privileged pomposity of Dr. Stickman.

The story clips along, with devious reveals and backhanded breadcrumbs. I love being led on a merry chase, and enjoyed each moment of red herrings–once I finally saw them for what they were. Bravo.

Interested? You can find THE ART OF SECRETS on Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other local outlets, no doubt.

About the Author:

James Klise lives in Chicago. His short fiction has appeared in literary journals like StoryQuarterly, New Orleans Review, Ascent, Sou’wester and Southern Humanities Review. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Booklist, the Readerville Journal and elsewhere.

By day, he works as a high school librarian in Chicago, where he also advises a teen book group, writing club, and the Gay-Straight Alliance.

You can connect with James on his website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in. Please also take the hop on over to my fellow bloggers to find out which books they liked this month!

1. The Armchair Squid 2. mainewords
3. Stephanie Faris, Author 4. WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME
5. Cherdo on the Flipside 6. Trisha @ WORD STUFF
7. StrangePegs — Secrets 8. I Think; Therefore, I Yam
9. Life of a Writer 10. Katie @ Read, Write, Repeat
11. StrangePegs — The Shadow Lamp 12. Mock? MOCK!
13. Mina Burrows 14. V’s Reads
15. My Creatively Random LIfe



Shifting Into Menage–CLAIMED BY THE ALPHAS, A Review

Hi there! Thought I’d share an unconventional romance. Actually, it’s more like an unconventional arrangement that turns into a romance. CLAIMED BY THE ALPHAS, by Viola Rivard, is a serial now available in one box bundle. It a shifter book–wolf shifters mostly–who need human women to breed. And, this particular pack has two Alphas.

Claimed by the AlphasAbout the book:
She wanted to escape…

When Mila Foster stumbles across the opportunity to become an alpha wolf’s mate, she doesn’t think twice about casting aside her lackluster life among humans.

He wanted a mate…

His whole life, Asch has been denying himself a mate and a family. Now that his pack is stable and his territory is secure, he’s ready to stake his claim on Mila—even if it means he’ll have to fight his closest friend for the privilege of her fertile body.

He had no interest in human females…

Caim prefers the lean, taut females of his own kind—women who can handle the aggressive mating he enjoys. He has no desire for delicate human women with soft, curvaceous bodies—or so he thinks.

Claimed by the Alphas is the story of Mila Foster and her efforts to hold her new pack together by accepting the claim of both of its alphas. It contains sexual themes, ménage romance, and takes place beyond the confines of human society. It is not intended for readers under the age of eighteen.

My Review:
This “book” is a serial, with the first episode free. I downloaded that and enjoyed it, so I bought the second, just to see if it held my interest (sequel’s remorse, and all) and I found I STILL liked it–so I held out for the box set. And, I’m happy to say I really liked it!

Mila is, well, a bit of a goof. She’s an impulsive young woman lacking direction in life and love. She has few ties to her family and, when visiting her cousin learns of The Lottery–humans in their rural New York community are offering women to local shifter packs to secure truces, and protection from attack. The shifters in this book are wolves–and their females are infertile.

See, silly Mila read a “romance”/memoir of a woman who had been a wolf pack Alpha’s mate, and the whole thing sounds rather luxurious to her. Be treated like a queen, bearing the “royal” offspring, respected by all the pack, etc. She jumps into the lottery–to everyone’s surprise (remember she’s impulsive) offering herself as the Pack Bride. *V shakes her head*

Well, imagine Mila’s shock when she learns the pack she’s betrothed to has TWO Alphas. Oh, and they are great friends, and since only one of them will able to mate her they will have to battle each other to the death for the delight of her body. Mila is horrified. And the Pack is rather agonized. They don’t want to lose either Alpha and detest this competition. It’s really Asch’s fault; he wants pups, but he’s not as strong as Caim, who could care less about pups but won’t give up Pack control. All members of the pack fully expect Asch to be killed, forthwith.

Mila is attracted to Asch, and fearful of Caim, and quickly realizing how ridiculous she was to jump into this scenario. Oh, and deciding herself seven shades of foolish for packing necessities like, say, high heeled shoes and curling irons when she was going to be living in a cave. Yes, Mila realizes that she’s a dolt, which is charming. She also comes up with the solution to the Pack Battle Royale–that Asch and Caim should SHARE her!

It’s a pretty rocky road for this city slicker, especially as the she-wolves can get rather catty(?). Remember, both Asch and Caim have availed themselves of these women more times than Mila can count–and Mila’s insistence that they remain true to her seems…sheer lunacy. It all does work out, and the road to pregnancy sure is entertaining.

Interested? You can find CLAIMED BY THE ALPHAS (Box Set) on Goodreads and Amazon.  If you just want to try out the first serial it’s free (and spicy!) Amazon

viola_2014About the Author: (in Viola’s words)

I write paranormal romance with a dash of fantasy.

Last February, I was working in a call center, trying to save up enough money to go to college. I’d always liked to write in my spare time, but after a great deal of financial difficulties, I decided to try my hand at writing something that someone besides myself may want to read. So, in between calls at work, I penned the first part of Claimed by the Alphas. Not one to wait around for luck, I took my writing career into my own hands and self-published it that same month.

By the end of March, I went from being someone who’d never written much more than a high school essay to becoming a bestselling author. It’s been a bumpy road, but a very exhilarating ride. I still have a great deal to learn, and I appreciate all of the fans who have stuck with me on the journey.

I do my best to price my stories fairly, but there was a time, not too long ago, when even a few dollars was more than I could spare. If there’s ever a book in my catalog that you cannot purchase, send me an email and I’ll provide you with one, zero judgment.

You can catch up with Viola on her website, Goodreads and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Tripped Out at WORLD’S END–Review and Giveaway

Hi all! Today’s book, WORLD’S END, is contemporary (?) historical (?), uh, look–I KNOW it was a M/M FANTASY (!), but let’s just say the timeline is subject to whimsy. It’s out now, from a new-to-me author M. LeAnne Phoenix. Jump on the Book Blog Bus, with me.

Worlds End_MediumAbout the book:

Kiyoshi awakes from a fever aware of two things. One, he is not in the home he can for some reason only vaguely recall. Two, he has fallen for Shelly, the man who cared for him through his fever. Shelly is as enigmatic as the island he has found himself on.

With few answers about who he is, Shelly’s own identity, how he came to be there with Shelly, and just what this strange place is, Kiyoshi comes to accept just one thing. He and Shelly are meant to be no matter what befalls them. They are tied together by fate, all the way to what just may be the end of their world.

My Review:
Well, me hearties! This be a…

Okay, okay. I can HEAR your eyes rolling. No more Pirate-speak. (Beware of bad puns, however!)

So, this book took me on a ride from the historic netherworld to Sunny California.  Kiyoshi is a slight Japanese man on a deserted island with one other soul–Shelly Gwynne. In World’s End, it’s the 18th century, and Shelly is a reformed pirate who spends his days making swords. He nursed Kiyoshi back to health when he washed ashore suffering amnesia and a fever.

Kiyoshi and Shelly have just come to terms with their isolation (and mutual attraction) when some of Shelly’s pirate comrades show up. Shelly had made a vow to bring back the soul of Capt. Cam Morgan, and he will get no rest until he does so. The thing is, Shelly doesn’t want to leave Kiyoshi behind, but taking Kiyoshi from the island results in tumultuous storms.

The thing is, Kiyoshi’s having strange dreams about an alternate life. A “modern” life he doesn’t understand. And, the unnatural darkness closing in on Shelly and Kiyoshi’s idyllic island is soon tearing these men apart.

It’s an interesting book–lots of twists. I had wished for a little bit more build-up in the romance, because we essentially meet Shelly and Kiyoshi at the point where they have fallen for each other. I do love how passionate they are, and their anxiety surrounding their separation feels real–but I hoped for a bit steamier smexytimes. I struggled a little with tense in the book–because we shifted from past to present in dreamscapes and then reality. I did enjoy the historical scenes, mostly because I’m a sucker for vernacular.

Bonus chapter!

Day Three, The Island:
I don’t know where this place is that I find meself. I’d wager that it’s no hell place, because I fear that a hell place would be hotter and with much less water and vegetation. I’d also wager it ain’t heaven because I figure heaven would be in possession of more souls’n just this one. It cain’t be purgatory because even pirates don’t truly believe in a middle ground when it comes to the afterlife.

I sighed, pausing in my musings as the tide tickled my toes, squinting my eyes at the light from the rising sun. It’d been two days since I coughed all the water out of my lungs and dragged myself onto dry land. I remembered waiting for Hunter on the deck of the Kingston, and I remembered the sharp pain in my side, reaching down a hand to find blood staining my vest. I remembered turning around to see Hunter standing behind me, her face set.

“I’m sorry about this. You must understand that I don’t want this. You can’t come with me now and you cannot tell Cam what I know you long to tell him when we find him.”

“Ye’d rather me die? Hunter… have ye truly turned pirate?”

“I’d rather spare you the pain of living alone than being left again—”

“I’d rather ye didn’t kill me—”

“Too late, Shelly Gwynne.”

She’d pushed me over the railing and I’d fallen into those frigid waters, certain that the blood from my wound would call all manner of hungry animals, but the cold had sent me to sleeping and I only vaguely remembered slipping beneath the waves.

I furrowed my brow as I saw something riding the tide coming to shore. Getting to my feet, I walked towards the shape, finding it to be the first of what would be many supplies. Wrapped in nets I would later use to catch fish, I found a bushel of apples, a case of straw packed green bottles containing rum and wine, and as I dragged them in, the next wave that nearly swept over me sent a heavy wooden chest slamming into the sand, creating a deep furrow next to my feet. Seeing the lock on its front, I frowned.

How in hell am I s’posed to get into that? I reckon it needs a key—

Something cold tumbled over my feet in the froth washing over my feet and I looked down to see a two-pronged iron key lying in the sand by my right foot. Picking it up, I lifted my gaze to the sun and squinted again as I thought, What is this place?

Kneeling before the chest, I inserted the key and gave it a twist. The lock opened and I removed it, lifting the heavy lid to find it full of smithy’s tools. A small smile touched my lips when I lifted one and found the initials S. G. burnt into the handle. I shook my head and took a look around me.

“Well, m’boy… looks like we might be here for a time.”

Interested? You can find WORLD’S END at Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Click the Rafflecopter link below for you chance to win

one of 2 ecopies of WORLD’S END

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Good luck!

M LeAnne PhoenixAbout the Author:
M. LeAnne Phoenix would tell you that the worst time of her life was the two years that she attempted to take off from writing. If you asked her to explain exactly why she did such a thing, you would most likely get the mad attempt to arch an eyebrow like her dad and then a shake of the head as she told you it was unlucky to speak of such things. Suffice it to say, it will never happen again!

Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas in the mid-1970′s, Ms. Phoenix was young and wild (and even free!) during the crazy wondrous decade known as the 1980′s and the even crazier but now grungy decade of the 1990′s. Music is second only to the muses that live and breathe to fill her mind with beautiful men, and music always helps them to tell their stories. She is never without her iPod or her computer no matter where she goes, although, she does like to hike and take pictures of the sky and the moon, and even the occasional shot of the sun through the branches of a tree.

An avid cat lover, Ms. Phoenix has been owned by many throughout her life, though her current owner is one Lily-Rose, who really would like for her to step away from the keyboard and pay her some attention! After all, hasn’t she earned it?

M. LeAnne Phoenix can be found on Facebook. As this is her first real foray into the professional world of writing, there will be more social media to come.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Tornadoes Left Her TORN AWAY–A Review

Hi there! Today I’d like to share a YA book that hit several notes with me. TORN AWAY, by acclaimed writer Jennifer Brown, recounts the aftermath of one girl’s life after an F5 tornado destroys her hometown in rural Missouri.

Torn AwayAbout the Book:

Jersey Cameron has always loved a good storm. Watching the clouds roll in and the wind pick up. Smelling the electricity in the air. Dancing barefoot in the rain. She lives in the Midwest, after all, where the weather is sure to keep you guessing. Jersey knows what to do when the tornado sirens sound. But she never could have prepared for this.

When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she’s sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?

In this powerful and poignant novel, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown delivers a story of love, loss, hope, and survival.

My Review:

Having grown up in the Illinois, I immediately identified with Jersey–and her almost nonchalance when the tornado sirens go off at 5:16 on a Tuesday evening.  I endured the twice-yearly school tornado drills, kneeling on the hard floor against an internal wall, balled up tight head down with my hands crossed over my neck, from kindergarten through senior year.  I have been there, cooking dinner for my kids watching the winds pick up and the sky darken when those ear-splitting peals have sounded. I have been trapped in the tin can of a moving van driving my earthly possessions cross-country as the anvil cloud formed and the hail pelted down and the rain blew sideways with funnel clouds visible in the NOT NEARLY FAR ENOUGH distance. My son was part of a crew that cleaned up the disaster zone in Washington, Illinois nine months ago when a tornado took out half the town. So, yeah, this book hit me freaking hard.

See, like Californians get inured to earthquakes, Midwesterners get too comfortable with storms. What are the chances one is going to hit, right?

Jersey is a typical teen in a blended family. She has a step-father, Ronnie, and a five y/o half-sister, Marin. At times, Jersey is moody and jealous and self-centered. But mostly, she’s a good student who doesn’t get into trouble and has friends she gets along with, even if they have more money and Jersey always feels inferior due to their nicer clothes and slimmer bodies. She’s never known her father, her mother ran away when she was pregnant, so she’s never met her grandparents, either.

Then the tornado comes. Jersey is alone in the house because her mother has taken Marin to dance class and Ronnie has been delayed at work.

The house is torn apart. Jersey survives by hiding under a pool table in the basement which now has a skylight where the kitchen used to be.

She’s terrified, as are the rest of the neighbors, who crawl out of their basements only to find their neighborhood, well, gone. Where the houses stood there is either rubble, or nothing.

Cars? Gone.

Street? Impassable, littered with debris.

Trees? They haven’t been splintered to lay across the road or toppled over onto houses, they are simply missing. Gaping wounds in the soil bear witness to the storm’s intensity, simply plucking them from the ground like carrots. (I had chills too easily visualizing this level of destruction. I want to say I cried, but I didn’t because I was so freaking knotted up my heart was racing and the tears sat poised on my eyelashes.)

People encourage Jersey to join them in a nearby shelter–the rain is coming, and they can’t tell if another tornado is coming because the sirens have been destroyed–but she opts to wait in the open-air basement, so that she’ll be home when her mother returns.

Mild spoiler: Jersey’s mom and Marin don’t make it. I only reveal this because it sets up the rest of the story. See, after two days of searching and waiting, Jersey is discovered by Ronnie, who is so busted with grief he sends Jersey three hours away to live with her father. That was when I started crying.

Jersey lives with the guilt of surviving. And, she’s doing that on a screen porch in a house full of low-lifes and lunatics with a father who–straight out–tells she she’s unwanted and of lesser status than his other kids. It is all Jersey can do to cope, yet she does. She keeps notes on Marin, keeping her spirit alive with tiny cartoons and cherishing Marin’s most precious treasures rescued from the wreckage. She laments her previously mean ways, wishing to turn time back and do it all differently. Even to have gone to the dance class if it would mean she had died with her mother and sister and not had to live this horrible half-life.

Don’t think Jersey is a puddle of woe. She isn’t, but she is forgotten and forsaken. Back in her home community, people are rebuilding, and she wants to be a part of that. She wants to feel love–and it isn’t happening in her dad’s home. Her stepsisters torment her, steal from her, until one day Jersey snaps and an altercation leads to her running away.

She doesn’t end up on the streets, however. (THANK GOD!!) In fact, the place she’s sent is the exact right place she needs to be. Ronnie is moving back east–he can’t bear the loss he’s suffered, and Jersey is all tied in with that, so he’s leaving her behind, too. No, Jersey’s new home is the place her mother ran from, the people she’s heard horrible stories about her whole life. And it is there that Jersey is able to heal.

Jersey’s tale really got to me. She is let down and abandoned by just about everyone–her stepfather, her real father, her friends–but she finds sanctuary and she finds hope and she finds that she has people to love her, to share her grief. All I can tell you is this: I would recommend this book to anyone. It is amazing.

Interested? You can find TORN AWAY on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Jennifer BrownAbout the Author:

Two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award (2005 & 2006), Jennifer’s weekly humor column appeared in The Kansas City Star for over four years, until she gave it up to be a full-time young adult novelist.

Jennifer’s debut novel, HATE LIST (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009) received three starred reviews and was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA “Perfect Ten,” and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. HATE LIST also won the Michigan Library Association’s Thumbs Up! Award, the Louisiana Teen Readers Choice award, the 2012 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award, was an honorable mention for the 2011 Arkansas Teen Book Award, is a YALSA 2012 Popular Paperback, received spots on the Texas Library Association’s Taysha’s high school reading list as well as the Missouri Library Association’s Missouri Gateway Awards list, and has been chosen to represent the state of Missouri in the 2012 National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Jennifer’s second novel, BITTER END, (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011) received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA and is listed on the YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list and is a 2012 Taysha’s high school reading list pick as well.

Jennifer writes and lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area, with her husband and three children. You can connect with Jennifer via her website, Goodreads and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

THE RED SHEET To The Rescue!–Review and Giveaway

mia Red Sheet award ImageThe Red Sheet by Mia Kerick
About the book:
One October morning, high school junior Bryan Dennison wakes up a different person—helpful, generous, and chivalrous—a person whose new admirable qualities he doesn’t recognize. Stranger still is the urge to tie a red sheet around his neck like a cape.

Bryan soon realizes this compulsion to wear a red cape is accompanied by more unusual behavior. He can’t hold back from retrieving kittens from tall trees, helping little old ladies cross busy streets, and defending innocence anywhere he finds it.

Shockingly, at school, he realizes he used to be a bully. He’s attracted to the former victim of his bullying, Scott Beckett, though he has no memory of Scott from before “the change.” Where he’d been lazy in academics, overly aggressive in sports, and socially insecure, he’s a new person. And although he can recall behaving egotistically, he cannot remember his motivations.

Everyone, from his mother to his teachers to his “superjock” former pals, is shocked by his dramatic transformation. However, Scott Beckett is not impressed by Bryan’s newfound virtue. And convincing Scott he’s genuinely changed and improved, hopefully gaining Scott’s trust and maybe even his love, becomes Bryan’s obsession.

My Review:
This book brings to light so many issues gay teens face, out or not. Bryan is a victim of homophobia, as well as a victimizer. At the beginning he “awakes” with an overpowering urge to be a hero–to save any and all brings who need help.

This new attitude is more than exceptional. His mother is startled as much as Bryan. See, he’d been both a Superjock, and a Superjerk. His story will talk to you. Really. As Bryan endeavors to figure out what provoked his complete mental flip-out, he’s constantly addressing the audience in “Plain Teen Speak” which–my teen son tells me–is ‘foul-mouthed and direct’. So, expect cursing. Also, expect to move past it quickly. Bryan’s an engaging narrator–for all that he doesn’t know WTF is happening in his brain.

And that becomes readily apparent when he encounters Scott at school. Scott is strangely enticing. Is Bryan gay? He doesn’t know–and that’s troubling to him. Especially as pretty girls tend to swoon over him. Why don’t they excite him like Scott does? And why does Scott hate him?

Bryan’s confusion over his sexuality, his attraction to Scott, and their hostile relationship are all well-described. Bryan isn’t only messed up over Scott. He’s seriously torqued-off with his dad, who abandoned him and his mother for a very much younger woman, with whom he has another child. Bryan wants to hate his dad–and he’s been pretty steadfast at it for years–but the new, “kinder gentler” Bryan responds to his mom’s urging to build a relationship, even if it’s not perfect.

Bryan is convinced that the key to his mental issues lay with Scott–and he hounds his schoolmate until he learns bits and pieces of the truth. He and Scott had been dating on the “down low” until Bryan did the unforgivable. He caved to some serious pressure from his Superjock/Jerk pals and humiliated Scott in order to hide his own attraction. And Scott’s not likely to forget it.

There was this part, where Bryan realizes all his teammates already knew about himself and Scott–and wonders what it was he was hiding for…

RS 5 Promoand he recognizes the futility of all his bullying shenanigans. In the end, coming out is just what he has to do, even if Scott will never accept him as a boyfriend. In fact, Bryan’s willing to take any friendship that Scott will offer in order to be close to him.

This causes more issues, and prompts Bryan to move his alliance from the Superjocks to Scott–and build all new friendships in the process. The level of intolerance spans from simple taunting to all-out battery, something the new Bryan won’t tolerate. I was glad to watch Bryan “get it”. I was also glad to see Scott really consider all that Bryan does to prove his loyalty and friendship. It was refreshing that Scott wasn’t a dishrag–he has a spine, complete with heavy armored plating–Bryan really has to work to gain forgiveness for all his wrongs, and he does it all with a sense of style–even joining a flash mob for a teacher to hang with Scott.

By the end I was so rooting for Scott to accept Bryan–the New Bryan–that I was reading as fast as I possibly could to get to the end–and was relieved to find the resolution excellent. 

How about a little taste:
“Hey, you guys!” Marley plunked her ass down on the chair across the table from me. As usual, Kathy followed closely behind and hovered by her shoulder when Marley sat down. “I’ve got big news!”

We all turned to her at once. Josh even put down his walnut-grape-granola-goat-cheese-chicken-salad sandwich on focaccia to give her his full attention. “What’s up?” he asked between enthusiastic chews.

“I just heard some teachers talking in the hall. And they said that Friday is Miss
Libby’s thirtieth birthday.”

Kathy pursed her green lips. “We can’t let it pass without doing something for her. She’s the coolest teacher at Appleton.”

“You know what would be so funny?” It was Josh again. “It would be such a riot if we set up a flash mob for her.”

We all laughed, just imagining it in our heads.

“No, seriously,” Josh said. “We should set up a flash mob for her. Doesn’t she have lunch duty on most Fridays?”

Is this the Josh I know?

But, then, what did I have to lose? “I’m in.” It was the least I could do for Miss Libby, who’d given me a chance to redeem myself with Scotty.

“You’d do that?” Scott appeared absolutely scandalized. “What about those guys?” He again nodded toward the Superjocks. “They’ll never let you live it down.”

“Ask me if I care?”

Scott just sat there, his full spoon frozen just beneath his lips.

When Scott didn’t voice the question, David did. “D-do y-you c-care?”

I looked squarely at David. “Not even slightly. Plus, you should see me dance. It
is something to behold.”

Josh rolled his eyes, because he’d seen it a time or two, but everyone else seated
at the Social Justice League Table nodded and grinned.

“I’ll get together as many kids as I can and I’ll find some music. We can practice at the community center right after school on Thursday. I’ll reserve it.” Marley was always on top of those kinds of things.

That posed a problem for me, though: basketball practice. But I had new priorities. I would work it out. “I’ll be there. How about all of you?”

Everybody nodded again. Scott had turned an enticing shade of pink.

I looked right at him and said, “Then Thursday after school is a date.”

Interested? You can find THE RED SHEET on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Dreamspinner Press.

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About the Author:
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five non-pedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.

Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.

Themes Mia always writes about: Sweetness. Unconventional love, tortured/damaged heroes – only love can save them. You can find Mia on her website, Amazon, Facebook, and Goodreads.
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Frisky Friday–Who’s Up For Some Puppy Love?

Hi all! I’ve been posting a bunch of YA this week, so today I’m tossing out a bit of spicy bone for you all!  A double dose of Pets. What, pray tell, is a pet?

Well, it could be this:

Or, this:

But, what I’m talking about today are humans who have a sexual kink to emulate pets…The first time I encountered this sexual fetish was in Ann Rice’s Beauty Trilogy where unruly princes and princesses were harnessed to carriages and carts like ponies–tail plugs included. I’ll admit to being slightly scandalized, but the more I read and thought about it, the more fun it sounded. Really.

(Somewhere over Chicago a freak flag is unfurled…)

No, seriously, the Pet fetish is fun because we humans are so tender and loving to our pets. More so, I daresay, than to some humans in our lives. As “owners”/caretakers we understand the responsibility of a pet, and we freely accept their uncompromising love.

Except from cats. There we simply accept their disdain, but it’s equitable.

Anywho…on with the reviews!

(The books reviewed below are not suitable for kids.)

First up is a full-length novel by KD Grace. It is wicked fun.

The Pet Shop (The Pet Shop, #1 - 3)About the book:

In appreciation for a job well done, Stella James’s boss sends her a pet – a human pet. The mischievous Tino comes straight from The Pet Shop complete with a collar, a leash, and an erection. Stella soon discovers the pleasure of keeping Pets, especially this one, is extremely addicting. Obsessed with Tino and with the reclusive philanthropist, Vincent Evanston, who looks like Tino, but couldn’t be more different, Stella is drawn into the secret world of The Pet Shop. As her animal lust awakens, Stella must walk the thin line that separates the business of pleasure from the more dangerous business of the heart or suffer the consequences.

My Review:

FOR THE RECORD, I am generally averse to books that do not practice, or mention, safe sex. This book completely skips the STI banter and lots and lots of unprotected sex happens. I still (guiltily) liked it.

Here’s why:
I have a soft spot for books about odd kink. I kinda think they’re the “redheaded stepchildren” in the erotica family. Lots of books out there cater to D/s fantasy, ménage, and even ménage Dom. But what about the Puppies!

Stella is a diligent worker for a British conglomerate that funds environmental work. Her bosses, Anne and Alan, think she’d do better in a new role–so they devise a few tests to see if she can hack it. Essentially, they give her a Pet, Tino, for the weekend.

Now, Tino isn’t an ordinary pet. He’s a Puppy, a man playing a role as an animal. He’s unable to communicate except by “doggie” gestures. He must be kept au naturale, and fed as dogs are, and he’s a bad, naughty, virile pup. Stella is at first aghast. How could he bosses send her what amounts to a prostitute–albeit a kinky one–for a weekend romp?! She tries to send Tino back, but has no way to do so. Overwhelmed with the situation, and mighty aroused, Stella allows Tino to comfort her on the second day. It isn’t smexytimes, at first, but Tino knows how to turn the heat on. We all remember how that Other Stella got her groove back? Well, same here. Steamy, fo sho!

In fact, Stella enjoys Tino so much she tries to book him for another weekend. This is in line with Alan’s plan, even if it upsets Anne. Anne’s worried that Stella will fall for Tino and not be willing to head up the entire Pet Shop enterprise that she and Alan run. It seems a major part of funding the environmental work they do is raised by hiring out Pets, and training wealthy Pet wannabes. (That’s kink-tastic, IMHO, turning tricks to support nature conservancy efforts…BRILLIANT!). Anne wants to move on to begin the North American Pet Shop branch, and Alan and Anne (and Tino) want Stella to take Anne’s place in London, but all this is going on behind the scenes. Also, Anne has had a blistering crush on Alan for years, and is bursting to let him know–but only if he reciprocates….

Meanwhile, Stella meets Vincent, a reclusive American environmentalist, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Tino and acts nothing like her submissive Pet. How can she resolve her desires for the “two” men?

I’m not giving away any more, but the smexytimes happen early and often. They are unlimited in appearance and scope–especially when Stella agrees to undertake some Pet training of her own. Expect ménage, M/M, group, F/F, etc. In short, expect everything. It’s a very sticky, kinky, sexy book from which two HEA’s emerge in the end.

Interested? You can find THE PET SHOP on Goodreads, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

For Round Two I have a M/M puppy fetish novella: Orion’s New Leash On Life.

Orion's New Leash on LifeAbout the book:

The US Recession of 2007 stole Orion Hathaway’s job, his property value, and his savings. With nothing left, he lost something even more important: his mental health. No longer able to afford the fees to his favorite BDSM club, he becomes a hermit, retreating further into depression and the cocoon of his bed until his friends stage an intervention. They have the perfect solution to get Master O back on his feet. Despite his initial reservations, Orion discovers canine therapy might be just what he needs to become human again.

Roan Matthews is used to flaky Masters weirded out by his pup fetish. Deep down, he desires what all dogs want— a forever home. Unwilling participant Orion Hathaway seems an unlikely candidate at first, but Roan realizes if he can help pull Orion out of his depression, perhaps they can make a new home together

My Review:

This quick read was the perfect cure for a lousy day. I don’t know about you, but my fortunes have faded since the economic meltdown plowed through the US, so I felt an immediate kinship to Orion. He’s struggling to survive his debt, and can’t really get past it. Emotionally, he’s on meds and the days blend in his extended unemployment.

Then, his buddies show up with a surprise:  Roan. Roan is a Puppy. He has a bag full of toys and a dog bed and everything. When in his puppy role Roan is a completely subservient male, eager to please his Master and cuddle, play fetch, and eat from his bowl–or his Master’s hand. On the outside, Roan is a trauma nurse. His life is stressful, and dropping into his puppy persona allows him to be fun, and frisky and completely cared for. Orion realizes this; and he’s not sure he’s up for the challenge.

Caring for a Pet requires a lot of focus and effort–something Orion’s been lacking what with his depression, and all. He tries hard, however, and it’s just the tonic his heart needed. In fact, after the first weekend, Orion misses Roan. They agree to try it on again which prompts Orion to clean up his house, and himself. The pride and purpose he experiences caring for Roan is a balm to Orion. By degrees his mood improves–for the first time in months he looks forward to something:  his next session with Roan.

They even hit a BBQ with buddies from the BDSM scene and Orion encounters another Puppy Master. And the socializing restores him. He even meets a contact for a job.

A lot happens in this novella. I liked the scenes. Lots of genuine affection, puppy-style, which gradually changed into human-human affection. It was a sweet tale with a bright ending.

Interested? You can find Orion’s New Leash on Life on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press and Amazon.

If these books don’t get your weekend started, drop me a line about books that turn YOU on!

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends! :)

Postcards From the Edge of Love–THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME–A Review

Hi there! Today’s book is a YA romance by Jennifer E Smith. I adored THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT, so I couldn’t resist a second effort. THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME is another quiet romance about two lonely kids who connect in a New York black out–and then spend very little time together.

So much for romance! you say? Don’t worry, HEA…

The Geography of You and MeAbout the book:

Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen’s relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and — finally — a reunion in the city where they first met.

A carefully charted map of a long-distance relationship, Jennifer E. Smith’s new novel shows that the center of the world isn’t necessarily a place. It can be a person, too

My review:
Okay, so, this review needs some theme music. And, as I’m a hip reviewer, I’m up on all the crazy beats these kids bang these days. (Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, I’m a fan of the Arctic Monkeys). The book, at it’s core, is about trepidation. Fear that the one person you *think* you might like won’t “Like Like” you back. It’s about: Do I Wanna Know?

(Well, to me, anyhow…)

Now, in light of that auditory experience, we can fully appreciate the kind of emotional tension that exists between Lucy–a rich gal with absent parents–and Owen–a poor boy who just lost his mother and home and has to support his grieving, broken dad.

Lucy has had the privilege of a good life, a private school education, and a bunch of nannies. She’s 16 and hardly been anywhere her jet set parents have visited. They’re in Paris when Manhattan goes dark and Lucy’s caught in an elevator with the new super’s teenaged son, Owen. Lucy is an optimistic introvert. She longs for life to begin, but isn’t sure how it should start. Not trapped in the dark with a boy, most likely….

Owen’s 17 and angry. His mother died just over a month ago in a car wreck. His father is a train wreck of grief and unemployment. They moved from a house in Small Town Pennsylvania to a basement apartment to take the building super job. In the posh building, Owen knows he’s second class, and he detests how the city sounds overwhelm and the lights consume the starlight. This is a serious problem for Owen–his passion is astronomy. When the power goes down Owen knows two things: he hates New York, and his dad is in big trouble. His ” field trip” to leave flowers at Coney Island to memorialize their anniversary, has left him miles away from a building in crisis. Still, Owen’s distracted from his grief and fear by the girl whose cheerful nature and love of her city is effusive.

After they are rescued from the elevator they have no one to report to, and no way of reporting–the whole eastern seaboard has no power–so they hang out together all night on the roof of the building. It’s a warm, clear night and the stars are brilliant. Chatting, they give away pieces of theirselves they have never given away before. It’s a little bit serendipity, little bit longing, and wholly innocent. Lucy reveals her deep desire to travel, and her inner hurt that her parents never include her. Is she so unimportant? Owen talks about his mother, and his desire to go to college, but his fear of leaving his dad completely alone in the world. Can he?

In the days that follow, Lucy’s flown to London to join her parents, who are heartsick that she was alone so long in such dire straights. Owen’s father loses his job, and their apartment, and he and Owen decide to go the vagabond route exploring America together.

Their paths separate, but they connect via postcards, and emails. For a bit. See, Lucy’s dad relocates them to Scotland where she’s suddenly more than the bookish lonely girl–she makes friends and snags a delectable beau, but somehow he doesn’t quite “get” her as Owen had. Owen, plagued with a dad who is rootless, settles infrequently and for little time. When they take up in Lake Tahoe he finds a job and meets a girl he likes, but the feelings are superficial and temporary. Meanwhile, he wonders about Lucy and her new life…

A christmastime reconnection with Owen and Lucy is a disaster, and the communication ceases.

For a bit…I’m not telling more, but this is a romance, and there is an HEA. So, there.

I really enjoyed the lyrical language of this book. The kids are human without being stereotypical. The parents are subject to whimsy, which I hadn’t expected, and yet the kids are relatively stable, learning that geography means very little when your heart gets involved. And that’s why Christmas was a bust. They had developed feelings in absencia using the other as a barometer for each new connection.

Their reticence to commit to those feelings, or even divulge them, (see: Do I wanna Know? Above) is classic teen behavior, even if it’s a distance of 7000 miles, instead of a cafeteria, that separates them. I truly enjoyed this introspective, teen read. Again, it’s innocent–the barest of kisses occur–and yet, it somehow felt very intimate. Both Lucy and Owen tell the story, and I thought both characters were well-described, likable and interesting. The build of anticipation is palpable even if the characters wander, muddle, and ponder a lot, so I didn’t trouble over the pace, which seemed almost ethereal.

Like contemporary YA romance? This book is for you.

Interested? You can find at Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Or, try your library. This is a shoe-in for the teen section. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Jennifer E. SmithAbout the author:

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Storm Makers, You Are Here, and The Comeback Season. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently works as an editor in New York City. Her writing has been translated into 28 languages.

You can find her on Goodreads and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!