Cephalopod Coffeehouse Sept 2016–Banned books galore!!


Hi 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.

stand-up_facebook2This week marks the annual BANNED BOOKS WEEK “celebration” highlighting books that are the most challenged within the ALA, American Librarian’s Association. As many may remember, I’ve been on a mission to read banned books in 2016. I think I’ve done rather well! I cried reading PERSEPOLIS. I smiled reading AND TANGO MAKES THREE with my sons. I’ve looked at the 2015 Top Ten banned books and saw John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA (read this years ago, before I got into Goodreads or blogging!) is in the top spot again, followed by EL James’s FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (read the book, own the movie), and David Levithan’s TWO BOYS KISSING rounded off the list. Food for the thought, the Bible is on the list again this year…

part-time-indianAnyhoo, I decided to pick up THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, which was the top of the 2014 banned list-and required reading for my son in 2011, I’ll add. I read half the book with him, and liked it. He still remarks that it’s the only English book he finished in high school. (Jane Eyre, he claims, broke his soul, but I digress…)

Sherman Alexie’s unflinching story of Junior, a dirt-poor Spokane native teen growing up on the rez is really a fantastic look into a world most Americans forget exists. It discusses poverty, and opportunity, and hope, and despair. Showcases parents who try hard, but still fail. Highlights the stark differences between kids who dwell in a world with no expectations–versus those who have a lot going for them, and dreams that might actually come true. It’s practically a treatise on institutional racism, and how it keeps some classes of people down…forever.

Are there problems? Yes. Junior’s attended forty-two funerals in his fourteen years. His parents are alcoholics. Close friends and family die for insensible reasons, usually related to alcohol abuse. White people think he’s trash. That’s a reality of life on the rez. It’s as inescapable as his dark skin and black hair. But. Junior seeks a way out–leaving the rez to go to the nearby white high school, and he’s labeled a traitor as a result.

Honestly, this was an eye-opener. I hate using the term “Indian” for Native Americans/First Nations persons, but it’s how Junior sees/calls himself. He stands up for himself when he can, and recognizes that the white world of his white school is a very different place. There, kids have so much more, and they don’t fight, and some of them really will make something of themselves. It’s almost a foreign country compared with his rez-life 22 miles away. And yet, this community also lacks closeness and camaraderie. Junior, walking between his two worlds, remarks that he’s Half-Indian in the white world and half-white on the rez–despite being a full-blood Spokane. These subtle cultural distinctions underlie the deep prejudices in his life. He’s brave, though, and succeeds in building friendships in both places.

Why is this book on the banned list? Cited reasons include: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.” Well, I that “sex education/sexually explicit” complaint is pretty weak, considering Junior makes a couple references to masturbation. And anti-family? Junior loves his family, despite their dysfunction. I saw fantastic bonding moments, in all their tragedy. Regarding cultural insensitivity: There are some gay slurs, and I’m not super thrilled about that–though there are other moments when Junior talks honestly about homosexuality in the Native community. Also, it was others calling Junior “gay” as a slur, and he rolled with it; bigots were always painted as such. There’s violence, and bullying, none of which seemed extreme. Junior was a target, and he endured some rotten moments, sure. Offensive language falls out of my 14 y/o son’s mouth on the regular–if you hang around boys you’re not gonna be shocked by the few F-bombs on the page.

Ultimately, this book opens a window on contemporary life in Native reservations, and the view isn’t good. I think it’s honest, and troubling, and it makes me want better for all these folks. My great-grandfather escaped reservation life in the 20s. He lived to be 36, dying after several bouts of pneumonia and leaving behind his widow and my grandmother–aged 8 at the time–at the outset of the Great Depression. The stories I’ve heard from family painted a bleak picture, but Junior’s world is even more despairing. Though his experience isn’t the same as that on all reservations, because his sister finds another rez that’s better off. That said, the whole book is an emotional rollercoaster that I rode for the span of a day. The story is completely accessible, with evocative language and fearless art, and I’m glad it was required reading for my eldest. I expect my other boys to pick it up in their turn, and have a copy on my shelf awaiting them.

Interested? You can find THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores and libraries everywhere. It’s a National Book Award winner, a best-seller, and a banned book.

I hope you’ll tell me if you’ve read a banned bookrecently–or if you’re inspired to do so, now! Be sure to check out the best books from my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers below. Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

His World Changed While CAUGHT INSIDE–Review and Giveaway!

caught-inside-bannerHi there! Today, I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary M/M New Adult romance from Jamie Deacon. CAUGHT INSIDE was a real heartbreaker for a boy who went to the beach with a girl…and fell for her gay cousin.

Catch the excerpt below and be sure to enter to win the $20 gift card!

About the book:
Luke believes he has his life figured out…and then he meets Theo.
It should have been simple—a summer spent with his girlfriend Zara at her family’s holiday cottage in Cornwall. Seventeen-year-old Luke Savage jumps at the chance, envisioning endless hours of sunbathing on the private beach and riding the waves on his beloved surfboard. He isn’t interested in love. Though his rugged good looks and lazy charm mean he can have his pick of girls, he has no intention of falling for anyone.

Nothing prepares Luke for his reaction to Theo, the sensitive Oxford undergraduate who is Zara’s cousin and closest friend. All at once, he is plunged along a path of desire and discovery that has him questioning everything he thought he knew about himself. No one, especially Zara, must find out; what he and Theo have is too new, too fragile. But as the deceit spirals beyond their control, people are bound to get hurt, Luke most of all.

How about a little taste?

I swallow against the dryness in my throat. “We need to talk.”

No response.

Slowly, as though wading through deep sand, I cross the room until I’m standing right behind him. He grips the edge of the worktop.


Still nothing. Only the convulsive tightening of his fingers shows he even heard me.

“Theo,” my voice cracks, “don’t do this.”

Theo sucks in a breath. When he replies, his tone is even. “Do what?”

“This. Shutting me out.”


“And don’t say you’re not, because we both know that isn’t true.” I’m aware of my voice rising, and lower it with an effort. “Just…don’t.”

Theo exhales in a long sigh. He turns to me, his expression distant but not unkind. I wish he’d glare at me, shout, whatever. Anything to show he gives a damn.

“Luke, I’m sorry about this morning. It was a mistake. If you got the wrong impression—”

“The wrong impression? You kissed me. What impression was that supposed to give me?”

He casts a nervous glance at the window.

“What’s wrong, Theo? Worried Giles might hear? I don’t blame you. He’d probably make you bathe in disinfectant for a year if he knew you’d kissed scum like me.” Theo starts to protest, but I shake my head. “You know what? Forget it. So sorry I embarrassed you.”

I need to get out of here. Humiliation, hot and clammy, coils like tar through my veins. Still, what did I expect? Theo’s made it perfectly clear how he sees me, that he thinks I’m beneath him. I grab for the nearest glass, intending to pour myself a liver full of whatever’s in that jug, but my hand shakes so much it slips through my fingers. Glass collides with oak in a minor explosion, glittering fragments flying.

“Shit.” I drop to my knees, begin picking up the larger pieces. I fumble, a jagged shard slicing my palm. “Shit.”

“Luke?” Theo crouches beside me.

“I’m fine.” I turn away from the phony concern in his eyes, fist clenched around the cut to hide it from view. Blood trickles through my fingers and onto my jeans. The pain is almost a relief.

“Let me see.” Theo holds out his hand, but I jerk away.

“I said I’m fine.”

He ignores me. With gentle firmness, he takes hold of my wrist, uncurling my fingers to examine the wound. My body stills. I scarcely breathe. Every nerve ending, every particle of my being is aware of him, the pressure of his fingers on my wrist, his warm palm supporting the back of my hand.

My Review:
This is an interesting and tense coming-out story for a 17 year-old boy who finds himself hopelessly attracted to his girlfriend’s gay cousin while on summer holiday. Before anyone gets antsy, I’ll say this: it’s based in Great Britain, the age of consent is 16.

Zara is the only child of wealthy attorneys. She invites her boyfriend of a few months, Luke, to spend the summer at her family’s country house on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall. Luke, a virtually penniless boy has no better prospects and likes Zara well-enough to accept the invitation. Their chaperone is Zara’s cousin, Theo, a newly-graduated Oxford man who’s having trouble in his personal life. He had a bad break-up with his boyfriend and his father isn’t speaking to him since he came out.

Theo is a sweet man, who is highly attracted to Luke–and tries to pull back this attraction so he doesn’t hurt Zara. Unfortunately, Luke shares this attraction; he’s always dated girls, but had attraction to other boys before. Luke finds sex with girls to be less satisfying than he’d imagined. Zara’s full-on with her like of Luke, and she’s mostly a sweet girl. She has a *bit* of rich girl petulance, but it didn’t bother me overmuch; she sounds like a 17 year-old girl whose sexy summer is heavy on the sun, light on the lovin’. I got that, and I was also sympathetic to her situation. As well as that of Theo and Luke.

See, once Luke gets hooked on Theo, he’s not super attentive to Zara. He doesn’t want to hurt Zara or Theo, and this all might have blown over easier if Theo’s posh friend Giles hadn’t shown up. Giles is a Grade A Jerk, but his girlfriend Meredith is super nice, and she picks up on the Luke + Theo vibes early. She encourages then to come clean, but Theo wants to wait–wants to ensure there’s something to confess before they go breaking Zara’s heart. Plus, Giles seems, boorishly, to be hitting on Zara right in front of Meredith in some ill-conceived effort to get Luke to wake up and realize he’s dissing a great catch.

So, yeah, there’s a lot of crossed wires here, and Luke does halt his physicality with Zara in favor of Theo, but the bad juju comes back to bite both of them in the butt–just when Luke’s made the clean break from Zara he’d been avoiding.

Luke narrates his story which had a high probability for anguish, but never quite bogged in the potential melodrama. It’s not an easy read, because there’s lots of sneaking around–in the effort to not hurt anyone. In reality everyone gets hurt in that sort of scenario, and I think that’s what happened–but no relationship or person was permanently damaged. For all that there’s some serious shenanigans going on, and behind Zara’s back, this is a New Adult romance. The characters are between 17-23 years old, and they are gong to make impetuous mistakes. Luke and Zara have been together barely a few months; while that equates to roughly a decade in secondary school, it’s a blink for adults. Luke had always thought he was a bit of fun for rich girl Zara to slum with, and his insecurity is further inflamed by Giles’ artless recriminations. In contrast, Theo is a soul-match for Luke as they have more commonalities and develop a strong rapport–despite the income gap. In the best sense, it’s a case of right partner, wrong time, (or the reverse for Luke and Zara!) and Luke has a choice to make regarding his future–if Theo will be a part of it.

Come out, or carry on?

The end is really sweet. Luke makes good choices and he faces all his worst fears head-on. He also faces Theo’s worst fears, and the result is heartwarming. There are a few scenes of heat between Theo and Luke, though they are fast and on the down-low. That said, the emotions are out in full color on the page, and I was happy the resolution was so positive.

Interested? You can find CAUGHT INSIDE on Goodreads, Beaten Track Publishing, Amazon (US and UK) Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, AllRomance, and Smashwords.


Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $20 gift card!
Good luck, and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Jamie lives in a tranquil spot close to the River Thames in Berkshire, England, and has always been just a little out of place—the only redhead in a family of brunettes; an introvert far more at ease with dogs than with people; a connoisseur of simple pleasures in a society intent on the quest for wealth and fame. Despite an outward cynicism, Jamie is a romantic at heart, and, when not immersed in a book, can mostly be found writing emotional stories where young men from all walks of life are thrust headlong into the breathless, euphoric, often painful whirlwind called love.

Catch up with Jamie here: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Getting It Right READING THE SIGNS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for newly released M/M sports romance from Keira Andrews. I’ve always admired Ms. Andrews’ contemporary romances, be they Amish (A FORBIDDEN RUMSPRINGA) or disaster-related (BEYOND THE SEA), but I really fell hard for the yummy older/younger, slightly kinky, love affair that bloomed between pitcher and catcher in READING THE SIGNS.

signsAbout the book:
This hot-headed rookie needs discipline—on and off the field.
Pitcher Nico Agresta is desperate to live up to his family’s baseball legacy. Since he was a teenager crushing on his big brother’s teammate, he’s known he can’t act on his desires. His father’s made it clear there should be no queers on the field, but if Nico can win Rookie of the Year like his dad and brother did, maybe he can prove he’s worthy after all.

At 34, veteran catcher Jake Fitzgerald just wants to finish out his contract and retire. His team doesn’t have a prayer of making the playoffs, but who needs the stress? Jake lost his passion for the game—and life—after driving away the man he loved, and he swore he’d never risk his heart again.

Then he’s traded to a team that wants a vet behind the plate to tame their new star pitcher. Jake is shocked to find the gangly kid he once knew has grown into a gorgeous young man. But tightly wound Nico’s having trouble controlling his temper in his quest for perfection, and Jake needs to teach him patience and restraint on the mound.

When their push and pull explodes into the bedroom, Nico and Jake will both learn how much they’ll risk for love.

This gay sports romance features men who have been repressing their feelings far too long, light BDSM, an age difference, sweaty locker rooms, and a happy ending.

My Review:
I absolutely loved this delicious, slightly kinky, M/M baseball romance.

Jake Fitzgerald is a seasoned veteran catcher in the big leagues, and he’s got a comfortable life playing for a team that’s never in contention come October. While closeted, Jake has a casual arrangement with a married couple who enjoy a third now and again. He never has to worry about the only man he ever loved, his ex-best friend Brandon, who was long ago traded to Toronto. He doesn’t have to worry at all, really. His mother has long encouraged him to come out and find a suitable life partner, but Jake doesn’t want to get hurt, not like when Brandon found the love of his life and married her. Jake wants to go through the motions of life, hiding his heart and his true self from the limelight until he retires in a couple seasons.

Until he’s traded to Ottawa. To a young expansion team hungry to make the playoffs and needing a cool head behind the plate to guide their hot-shot pitchers, especially Nico Agresta.

Nico is a rookie, having a stellar season on the mound, except for his temper. Once he loses control, even for a moment, he piles all his mistakes into an unscalable mountain. And, his casually homophobic father never lets up on Nico. A retired Hall of Famer, Al Agresta is ready with six comments on how Nico can improve his performance the second Nico steps off the mound. Nico’s quietly grateful that he plays in Ottawa, and not Chicago like his elder brother, just so he gets a break from their father’s scrutiny. Not that Nico ever stops berating himself. For not being straight, or for being the reason his mother died. He’s only more unsettled when Jake joins the team and begins working with him regularly. Jake was Nico’s first crush–years ago Jake and Nico’s brother played together, and Jake spent many a Sunday dinner at their house. It was natural for Jake to take Nico under his wing and help him with his fastball. Now, Nico’s ashamed of all the fantasies he’d built around Jake as a horny teen–and he’s mortified to find himself only more attracted as a grown, and sexually unsatisfied, man. He’s been with lots of women, hoping to find one that would spark more than just a perfunctory release, but one smile from Jake has him panting. He can’t escape his lust–which turns Nioc’s anxiety setting up to 20.

Jake and Nico reconnect, and Jake can’t help finding this all-grown version of Nico completely enticing. That he’s a brat in the clubhouse isn’t appealing however, and one incendiary moment burns both of their better sense to ashes. Nico’s attitude needs immediate correction, and Jake’s dominant hackles have been raised. The rest is whoa.

They know they can’t mess around near the team, but the peace Nico gains when Jake takes control is more than he can give up. Expect a little bit of kink. Spanking, dominating, a little bondage. Reminded me of BULL DURHAM, how Annie gets Nuke to think of other things on the mound so he can just throw the ball. Jake doesn’t make him “respect the streak” or anything. They develop a closeness that neither man had ever experienced before, even if it’s all behind closed doors. Even if it means Jake putting up with Al’s homophobic tripe at a home-cooked dinner when Ottawa comes to Chi-Town.

I absolutely loved the slow burn, and multi-layered characters. Al’s not a bad guy–he’s antiquated and old school, think Yogi Berra with a chip on his shoulder. But, when he learns the truth of Nico and his sexuality, Al reconsiders. Al measures his words, and the impact they had on his youngest child. Al…changes. It’s not miraculous, but there is improvement. And, when news breaks regarding Nico and Jake, well, Nico has his dad’s love and fierce protection in a way he’d never dreamed possible. People talk about mama bears–Al Agresta is freaking grizzly. I also loved how Jake came to terms with his past mistakes, and mends the friendships he’d wounded in silence, and intent. I also really liked how his attitude changed regarding baseball. He started out jaded and willing to coast, but the season in Ottawa sparked his love of the game again.

I loved the book, because it felt real and wild. I do hope the MLB would support it’s out players in the way Nico and Jake were, and fans would be as spectacular IRL as in fiction.

Interested? You can find READING THE SIGNS on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, AllRomance, and Smashwords.

Keira AndrewsAbout the Author:
After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Long And Winding Road–THE SECRET KEEPERS-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a middle grade fantasy from Trenton Lee Stewart. THE SECRET KEEPERS is an adventure that keeps on going, set in a world under the control of a madman and unraveled by one ingenious 11 year old.

secret-keepersAbout the book:
Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner Trenton Lee Stewart returns with a captivating, heart-stopping adventure about thrilling secrets and dangerous mysteries–and the courage to reveal the most frightening of truths.

Eleven-year-old Reuben spends his days exploring, hiding, and practicing parkour among the abandoned buildings of the Lower Downs as a way to escape the rough times that have befallen him and his mom–but his discovery of an extraordinary antique pocket watch changes everything. When Reuben finds that the watch has the power to turn him invisible, he’s propelled on the adventure of a lifetime.

Now Reuben is being pursued by a group of dangerous men called the Directions, and someone–or something–ominously called The Smoke. They all want the watch, and with the help of new friends, it’s up to Reuben to unravel the mysteries surrounding it and protect the city from evil.

New York Times bestselling author Trenton Lee Stewart’s latest novel will enthrall old and new fans alike with the twists and turns of an inventive and compelling adventure reminiscent of The Mysterious Benedict Society series.

My Review:
3.5 stars for this winding Middle Grade adventure.

Reuben is an 11 y/o boy whose mother works two jobs to support them in the tenements of the Lower Downs, a run-down district of New Umbra. It’s summer and shy Reuben spends his long days exploring all around his neighborhood, and avoiding the Directions, collections of four men–who always look out in one of the four directions–who shake down the local merchants for pay-offs on a weekly basis. They work for the dodgy man known as the Counselor, who reports directly to The Smoke–a man no one can attest to ever seeing, but who nevertheless pretty much runs New Umbra, mafioso-style.

One day while exploring, Reuben discovers a mysterious watch hidden in an alley–and he believes that he could sell this antique watch and make enough money to support his mother for years to come. Only, all the watchmakers seem to want to buy it for very little money. One, Mrs. Genevieve, is horrified about the watch when Reuben comes acalling. All watchmakers have been warned to immediately call the Counselor if this watch turns up. This sets Reuben to working on the watch, and discovering it’s dangerous secret: it can render the bearer invisible for short lengths of time. It seems ripe for profit, but the Directions are turning neighborhoods in the Lower Downs inside out looking for Reuben and his fantastic watch.

So, Reuben not only can’t profit from his find, he knows that he’s in terrible danger from The Smoke, so he must discover the mystery behind the watch in order to return it to the rightful owner. Therein begins a bit of subterfuge, and a long trip, and the end of a hundred years quest for the Meyer family, sworn defenders of the watch. It allows Reuben to make friends for the first time, as Jack and Penny Meyer vow to help Reuben free himself for the scrutiny of The Smoke.

This is an interesting read. It’s also a very long read. I felt as if the tension wasn’t very high for nearly the first 150 pages, and while all those winding paths were eventually reunited into a robust trail at the end, it wasn’t very satisfying. All those long-winded descriptions had nip-and-tuck resolutions, and I found the pacing to be a challenge to my interest. I liked the mysteries, and I liked the camaraderie that eventually developed, but I truly would have enjoyed the book far better had it been at least a third shorter.

I’m not going to reveal more plot. It’s convoluted and yet interesting. I liked the idea of the story more than I liked the execution, which felt rambling and verbose in many patches. I almost despaired that the book would not have a solid resolution, that we’d be dragged into a sequel, but that wasn’t the case, and for that I was absolutely grateful. It’s not a bad book. It’s just slow, and all the action is understated. I think kids who really like adventure and mystery stories will enjoy this book.

Interested? You can find THE SECRET KEEPERS on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your public library. It was in my local bookstore yesterday, but the ebook releases today.

About the Author:
Trenton Lee Stewart is the author of the award-winning, bestselling Mysterious Benedict Society series for young readers; The Secret Keepers, also for young readers; and the adult novel Flood Summer. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

LOVE ME CRAZY–Release Blitz and Giveaway!

love-me-crazy-rdl-banHi there! Today I’m helping get out the word on a brand-new adult contemporary romance from Camden Leigh. LOVE ME CRAZY pairs a heart-broken girl with the long-lost black sheep, and lets the love grow…

Check out the cool gift card and swag giveaway below!

love-me-crazyAbout the book:
“We’re broken in the most screwed-up perfect way. It was inevitable we’d end up together.”
Cassidy Beck is focused on one thing, and one thing only: planning the Southern wedding of the century in Lucas Hill, South Carolina. Fresh from a tragic breakup, Cassidy’s not in the mood for any distractions. But when antebellum hottie Quinn Covington arrives in all his sexy, tattooed glory, he might prove to be the biggest distraction of them all.

MIA ever since his father’s death, Quinn doesn’t plan to stay any longer than it takes to start his dad’s vintage truck. But the sight of Cassidy trying to fend off his family’s pet turkey sends him for a loop. Red-haired and fierce, she’s just as broken as he is. But even though Cassidy’s past makes her the only one able to understand Quinn’s own scars, they also make her wary. After all, how can she trust him with her heart when everyone else she’s ever given it to has thrown it away?

Sexy, heart-wrenching, and full of Southern charm, this new contemporary romance from Camden Leigh shows just what happens when two people who are perfectly broken end up piecing each other back together.

Interested? You can find LOVE ME CRAZY on Goodreads, Bloomsbury Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play.


lmc-giveawayClick on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a great prize pack including a scarf, journal poster and gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

camden-leighAbout the Author:
Camden Leigh is a sucker for first kisses, first hook-ups and anything that adds the unforgettable first sparks of love–humor, seduction, hot-n-sexy bods, angsty determination…what have you!

Her stories expose the real dirt, grime and grit that befalls a seemingly perfect relationship, the heartache as a result, and the growth, perseverance and strength it takes to make flaws work for her characters. She wants her characters to experience love that wraps around their hearts, turns them into sizzling flames and results in a grand finale of fireworks.

When Camden isn’t writing, she’s either crafting, flicking through images of gorgeous paper, saturated palettes or…um, lip-lickin’ washboard abs. When feeling guilty, she attempts to keep up with her energetic kiddos by beach combing, kayaking, golfing (can it really be called golfing if a seven-year-old beats you?) or being that crazy person at a concert. Her addictions: chocolate covered raspberries, real southern sweet tea (not the fake stuff with the sugar crystals hanging out in the bottom of the cup), her pups and pretty paper she’ll never use.

Catch up with Camden on twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads and Pinterest.

InkSlinger PR Blogger Banner - New


banner-for-tss-with-titleHi there! Today’s the day to get your GIANT Christmas box set from Kat and Stone Bastion. TINSEL, SAND AND SNOW features two contemporary romances and one time-travel romance all set in the Yule. I really enjoyed both THREE CHRISTMASES and BOUND BY WISH AND MISTLETOE, so I know readers will like them too.

tinselsandsnow-3d-amazon-2About the book:
For the first time, Kat & Stone Bastion share Christmas romances from three different genres in one special collection. All have been loved as standalones by new readers of their books. The Bastions hope you enjoy the stories together in Tinsel, Sand & Snow.

Tinsel, Sand & Snow: A Christmas Collection includes…
~ Three Christmases ~ 4.9 star contemporary romance…PLUS a bonus scene for Three Christmases: An Island Kind of Christmas
~ The Espionage Effect ~ 4.5 star action & adventure romance
~ Bound by Wish and Mistletoe ~ 4.6 star Scottish historical romance…PLUS a bonus scene for Bound by Wish and Mistletoe: An Angel Turned Santa Claus

***PLEASE NOTE Scorching (explicit) sex scenes. Fire extinguisher highly recommended. Due to mature themes and adult language, this box set is for those 18 and older.***

A bit of my review for BOUND BY WISH AND MISTLETOE
Both men are fearsome fighters, courageous leaders, and tender lovers, but Isobel had given her heart to Iain first. Being with Velloc is heavenly, but shouldn’t she return to Iain if she can? How can a girl chose between sides of her heart?

She does, however, and is able to convince both her husbands that she should split time between them–why? Because she’s unsure if her time displacement will upset history, or cement it. Isobel returns to Iain and spends time with him–then returns with Iain’s help–to Velloc for a temporary visitation, only to find he is embroiled in the Roman conquest of Scotland. Now her knowledge of history is the only thing that can save Velloc and his Pict clan. Also, an angel…

Skorpius is a delicious treat who helps the Brodie, and Isobel, survive.

It’s a super fun read if you like time travel romance or Highland stories. Plenty of magic and mystery surround the artifact that whipsaws Isobel through time and love. As for the romance steam-factor: think warm and fuzzy, not melt your Kindle.

Catch the rest here!!!

And a bit of my review for THREE CHRISTMASES:
Cade and Hannah have been dating several months now. They have jobs, which they work separately, and the event planning business Cade runs with his sisters, and Hannah. It seems that all is going well, even though Cade’s consulting is taking him away from home more and more frequently. While reunion lovin’ is fun, it’s also super hard on a fledgling relationship to have so much distance. And both Cade and Hannah are feeling the lack.

Then, Cade’s offered a staggering amount of money for a management position. Problem? The company headquarters are in San Francisco. Hannah wants him to follow his heart, as she would do, and he takes it. Reduced to weekend visits, their relationship suffers further strain.

Thing is, Cade and Hannah keep saying they value the other more than anything–so doesn’t that include their careers? Kinda. Looks like a new work/life balance is in order!
Catch the full review here!!!

Interested? You can find TINSEL, SAND AND SNOW on Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

TINSEL, SAND AND SNOW Release Day $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

Be sure to visit Kat & Stone on their Facebook page today to enter: Kat & Stone Bastion’s Facebook

About the authors:
Kat Bastion won several awards for her bestselling debut novel Forged in Dreams and Magick.

Kat and Stone Bastion’s bestselling first novel No Weddings and the No Weddings series were named Best of 2014 by multiple romance review blogs.

When not defining love and redemption through scribed words, they enjoy spending their time mountain biking and hiking in the beautiful Sonoran Desert of Arizona.

Catch up with them online on their blog, Facebook, Kat’s Twitter, Stone’s Twitter, website.
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Map of Love: HERE’S THE THING–Review and Giveaway!

heres-the-thing-tour-bannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a sweet contemporary YA F/F romance from Emily O’Bierne. HERE’S THE THING is a straight-talking story of a sixteen year old girl who’s trying to make sense of her love life. And semi-failing at it.

It comes out October 19th, but you can get all the info now, and pre-order it below. Check out the excerpt and e-book giveaway below.

heresthething-coverAbout the book:
It’s only for a year. That’s what sixteen-year-old Zel keeps telling herself after moving to Sydney for her dad’s work. She’ll just wait it out until she gets back to New York and Prim, her epic crush/best friend, and the unfinished subway project. Even if Prim hasn’t spoken to her since that day on Coney Island.

But Zel soon finds life in Sydney won’t let her hide. There’s her art teacher, who keeps forcing her to dig deeper. There’s the band of sweet, strange misfits her cousin has forced her to join for a Drama project. And then there’s the curiosity that is the always-late Stella.

As she waits for Prim to explain her radio silence and she begins to forge new friendships, Zel feels strung between two worlds. Finally, she must figure out how to move on while leaving no one behind.\

How about a taste?

As soon as she hears the words “New York”, the blonde princess perks up.

“You actually lived there?” Her voice is still measured, but I can hear the hint of intrigue. Suddenly I’m worth something. She straightens her blazer, looking curious and a touch self-conscious. Like the mention of that city has chafed at the all-comforting sense of superiority she held a second ago when she sized up my loose-haired, loose-jeaned, couldn’t-give-a-crap eyeliner look. Now her perfectly braided hair, subtle eye make-up, and her prefect’s badge don’t stand a chance against me (well, New York). It’s like she suddenly feels like the boring provincial cliché she is.

Please don’t think I’m a bitch, describing this girl like that. I’m not a bitch. Really, I’m not. It’s just that you weren’t here ten minutes ago. I swear it was surreal. She was nice as pie when Mum was here, making small talk, telling us about the school excursions and clubs and extra university prep courses they offer. Then, the minute Mum went in to chat with the senior school coordinator, she went on this total backspin from perky polite to general disinterest. All before the office door even closed.

Of course, that was before I uttered the four, golden ‘lived in New York’ words. Now she’s all ears.

So excuse me for judging, but you have to admit it’s kind of deeply shallow on her part. Like something out of a bad teen movie. She’s one of those popular girls, all shiny and judge-y and awaiting her comeuppance, the one who underestimates the new girl at the start. This, of course, casts me as the nerdy but likeable girl. The one who’ll either seek revenge on all the high-definition girls like this evenly tanned overachiever next to me or else become wildly popular by getting a makeover from a gay man, making some excellent quips, and then dating from the girl-clique’s private male gene pool property.

Believe me, people, when I say that NONE of this is going to happen. What will happen, if Mum and Dad magically convince me go to this school, is that I will put my head down and stay as invisible as humanly possible. Because if she is a taster of the school social menu, I plan to officially bow out of all interpersonal efforts.

We’ve already taken the full tour of the school and grounds, led by the blonde, in chirruping prefect mode, and the principal’s assistant. Apparently this school’s so exclusive that potential Golden Ones don’t even get to meet the principal until they’re properly signed on, fees paid. Together they schooled Mum in everything this place has to offer. Because she’ll be the one paying the fees for the Olympic swimming pool and the sky-lit art rooms, right? And while I dragged my feet behind them, I didn’t get a chance to find out if all the other students are carbon, depressing copies of this one either. All the girls (yes, only girls, which you would think would make me happy but it actually doesn’t) were tucked away in the classrooms. But my guess is, given the North Shore location and the amount of zeroes I saw on the fees list, that this sample of blonde wayyy-upper-middle-class Sydney sitting right here is probably representative enough for me to turn and run for the hills. Or at least back to the inner west.

“Like, New York, New York? Not the state,” the girl asks, wrinkling her nose slightly as if she can’t imagine that hallowed city allowing rabble like me in. Which, of course, shows how little she knows about the place. If she thinks I’m rabble, she’s got another thing coming when she and her fake designer suitcase finally make it there. If New York knows how to do anything, it’s how to produce prime rabble. It prides itself on it.

“Yes, the city,” I say patiently instead of sighing the sigh of the withering, which is what I really want to do. If I were Prim, I probably would have. I’m the kind of person who can manage to stay on the right side of polite, but Prim’s got zero tolerance for girls like this. But then, Prim’s got zero tolerance for most people. “We lived in Midtown.”

The girl looks blank.

“It’s the middle of Manhattan, near Times Square,” I explain as two girls in uniform, looking just like this one but brunette and sans prefect badge, peer into the office. One says something, and the other cackles as they pass. I shudder. Get me out of here. Now.

Blondie perks up some more. “That’s where they have the New Year’s parade?”

I nod.

“Did you go?”

I fight the urge to roll my eyes. I wouldn’t be caught dead there, fighting for a square inch of space with a gazillion tourists and out-of-towners. The parade is what television is made for. It’s for parents and old people and the rest of America to watch while New York goes out. Prim and I had planned to spend New Year’s Eve planning our New World Order. I don’t have time to fill you in on the details right now, but let me tell you this much—this girl here would have trouble surviving once we run the show.

Before I can respond, Mum is finally ejected from the coordinator’s office. I’m so relieved to see her I have to stop myself from jumping up and hugging her. She gives me a thin smile like she, too, has been to private school hell and back.

The coordinator is right behind her. She’s a shaggy middle-aged woman wearing a pastel sweater dress straight out of the eighties. Now I really feel sorry for Mum. Ten minutes in the presence of that outfit is probably pushing at the edges of human endurance.

“I hope to see you next week, Zelda,” the coordinator says to me. “Meaghan will show you back to the gate, won’t you?”

Blondie McPerfect nods enthusiastically and leads us back to the car park full of shiny land cruisers and zippy hatchbacks. She chatters all the way, practically igniting with excitement when she hears Mum’s line of work. I smirk to myself. It must be killing her that two such unimpressive-looking people’s life CVs are impressing her so much.

I tune out and watch the school go by. The playing fields are movie-set green, the sprinklers keeping the summer sun from doing its worst. That’d be right. Last night’s news said parts of the Blue Mountains are ablaze with bushfires, but North Sydney is lush.

As soon as Meaghan leaves us with a wave and a faux-friendly see you next week, I turn to Mum. “I’m not going here. No way.”

My Review:

Zelda is a sixteen year old girl in turmoil. She’s a native Aussie who’s just returned to Australia after 10 months in NYC, where she’s befriended Prim, a beautiful, caustic girl who is the object of Zel’s affection. Their parting was less-that-optimal, and Zel’s afraid that Prim hates her. Plus, she must adjust to life in Sydney, and a new school. Again.

Zel’s a good girl, and she gets along with her parents. She has no friction regarding her lesbian sexuality, but she struggles to find appropriate targets for her crushes. It’s a find line between friendship and more, she comes to realize, and she doesn’t want to make the mistake she did with Prim.

She follows her cousin Antony’s lead and takes Drama, though Zel’s terrified of performing in front of an audience. In the class she meets Michael, Ashani and Stella, and they are all mates for the big performance production they have to script for the class project. Meanwhile, Zel works hard at her photography for Art class, the project there involving developing the many rolls of flim she used to capture subway rides and exploration days with Prim, back in NYC. See, they planned to ride each line to its end, and then see where that took them. There were only three lines left after Zel made her fateful mistake, and Prim didn’t see her again before she moved.

Working with her partners is a challenge, but it becomes something really special, particularly the political action part of the performance. Zel’s captivated by the challenges of refugees living in detention colonies, and how their sense of home is skewed from that of a citizen. Stella and Zel become close as their project winds on, and it’s sweet to see how Zel misses most of the signs that Stella finds her attractive. Still, Zel needs to let go of her fascination with Prim, and that happens eventually, and in a way that was really tender.

I liked this YA romance because it really felt grounded in real life. There are no over-the-top grand gestures. Just ordinary kids muddling through and making emotional messes of themselves, before sweeping up the pieces and making it all work out. All the characters felt solid and present, and I enjoyed the by-plays and ‘drama’ of all the class drama.  Don’t expect any homophobia or tension regarding sexuality; these characters have solid support networks and courteous friends. Zel’s parents adore her, and the feeling is mutual.

I also loved the attention to setting. Zel explores her new Sydney digs, as well as relates her New York explorations via flashback. I was really taken by the sweet vignettes of each locale and Zel’s comparisons between them–and also her more sedate former home in Canberra. I felt transported via plane and subway to many places I’ve never been and others–like Coney Island–which I’ve visited, which is a big plus for me, as a reader. In short, it’s a solid read, with the appropriate level of teen angst, and some sweet tenderness at the very end. It’s an innocent book, with just a bit of kissing on the page.

Interested? You can find HERE’S THE THING on Goodreads, and pre-order it in advance of its 10/19/16 release on Ylva.


Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win one of 10 e-books of HERE’S THE THING.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Thirteen-year-old Emily O’Beirne woke up one morning with a sudden itch to write her first novel. All day, she sat through her classes, feverishly scribbling away (her rare silence probably a cherished respite for her teachers). And by the time the last bell rang, she had penned fifteen handwritten pages of angsty drivel, replete with blood-red sunsets, moody saxophone music playing somewhere far off in the night, and abandoned whiskey bottles rolling across tables.

Needless to say, that singular literary accomplishment is buried in a box somewhere, ready for her later amusement. From Melbourne, Australia, Emily was recently granted her PhD. She works part-time in academia, where she hates marking papers but loves working with her students. She also loves where she lives but travels as much as possible and tends to harbour crushes on cities more than on people.

Living in an apartment, Emily sadly does not possess her dream writing room overlooking an idyllic garden of her creation. Instead, she spends a lot of her time staring over the screen of her laptop and out the window at the somewhat less pretty (but highly entertaining) combined kebab stand/carwash across the road.

Catch up with Emily online on her websiteGoodreads, and twitter.

Happy Book Birthday to OF LOVE AND CORN DOGS!

bannertemplateHi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review for a new contemporary M/M romance out today from Parker Williams. OF LOVE AND CORN DOGS is a an odd couple romance between a young waiter and the billionaire he cheers up at a restaurant. It’s very sweet with a little bit of steam.

oflovecorndogs-400x600About the book:
With more money than he could spend in ten lifetimes, Darwin Kincade still couldn’t keep death from stealing his lover. A little older and a whole lot wiser, flirting with his twice-a-week waiter is the perfect no-risk substitute for a real relationship. Until the night his routine is upended by the restaurant’s newest employee.

Ricky Donnelly loves people. While being a server isn’t his dream, he’s good at it. When a grumpy man is seated in his station, Ricky sees there’s more to him than he lets on, and when the man relaxes, he’s actually sweet.

As the two men bond over a discussion about corn dogs— something Darwin’s never heard of—he realizes how much he’s missed out on in his life. He vows to open himself to new experiences—including, perhaps, a chance at finding love again.

Not wanting anything to muddy their blooming relationship, Darwin hides part of himself from Ricky. He likes the look in Ricky’s eyes, unclouded by Darwin’s notoriety. Unfortunately, the truth can never stay hidden, and when it comes out, Darwin may lose any hope of holding onto the future they’ve begun to build.

My Review:
Darwin Kinkade is a billionaire CEO running his family business and being a decent human. He’s out, and always has been, but hasn’t dated any man since his first love and former husband, Dean, died of cancer six years ago. He takes a little salacious pleasure in observing his favorite waiter at his standing reservation–and is upset when that man doesn’t show one evening. Ricky, the replacement, is kind and attentive, in a way that disarms Darwin, and gets him moving out of his workaholic comfort zone.

Ricky is a frugal student making ends meet as a waiter. He’s subtly charmed by prickly Darwin, especially when Darwin returns to his restaurant with a special meal: corn dogs–recommended by Ricky and previously untried by Darwin. They share a meal, and a night out, but neither is willing to push for more. Ricky’s always liked to move slow, and Darwin isn’t sure how to get started.

As they develop a closeness, and continue dating, Darwin decides he doesn’t want to tell Ricky about his money. He likes that Ricky seems to like his personality, and he’d been schooled by his parents that “money changes people.” It’s also his experience, and he knows that Ricky is a very proud man; he fears that Ricky will think they are too different to stay together if he learns the truth.

Naturally, the truth comes out–and I liked how that happened. It was very honest, and the reactions were also genuine. It was upsetting for Ricky, and left him feeling less-than-worthy due to their great income inequality. I really enjoyed how the secondary characters in this story felt so real, and how they weren’t afraid to call Ricky or Darwin on their nonsense. Each MC has a loving and accepting family, and those relationships are a big part of the narrative.

Expect a break-up-to-make-up scenario that’s very sweet and full of tears, and a wee bit o’ primo scotch. And, there’s a bit o’ steam but you gotta wait for the end. The HEA is full-on with the stage set for another book featuring Darwin’s bestie, Hensley. I look forward to it.

Interested? You can find OF LOVE AND CORN DOGS on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
About Parker Williams (or at least his voices):
Good day! We are the voices that live inside Parker Williams’s head. The ones who whisper to him constantly, beckoning him to speak of our adventures, to tell of our love, and perhaps, if we’re in a mood, kill a person or two.

We guide his hand as he tells our tales where love is the most powerful force, but must be worked for, molded, and finally, embraced. There can be no shortcuts or substitutions on the path to a happily ever after.

We hope you will join with us as Parker fulfills his obligation to ensure our stories are told and, we hope, enjoyed.

You can find Parker on his website, twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends.

PLAYBOY PILOT–Release Blitz and Giveaway!

playboy-pilot-book-tourHi there! Just giving a shout-out to a new contemporary romance from New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Authors Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland. PLAYBOY PILOT is a standalone novel. I really liked their COCKY BASTARD, so I bet this one will be fantastic.

There’s a pretty steamy excerpt below, and a $50 Amazon GC giveaway, too!

playboy-pilotAbout the book:
Money or love? Which would you choose?

You probably just answered the question in your head thinking it’s an easy decision. For me, it’s not. Did I mention it’s a lot of money? A hell of a lot. I needed to go far away to think it through. As I embarked on an impulsive trip, I hit a detour when I met sexy Carter in the airport lounge. We struck up a heated conversation.

Then, he left.
I thought I’d never see him again. But fate had other plans.
Surprise! He was the pilot of my flight.

The bigger surprise was the adventure that followed after the plane landed.

Carter was dangerous and always on the move. Even though our connection was magnetic, I knew it was only temporary. He would give me tickets, and I would follow him around the world to exotic places. A bevy of flight attendant exes and rumors about Carter’s reputation were never far behind.

I didn’t know what to believe.

But I was addicted. Nothing else mattered anymore. And I was going to get hurt. Because a part of me wanted to be the one to finally ground the playboy pilot. At the very least, he was taking me on a thrilling ride. All good things must come to an end, right?

Except our ending was one I didn’t see coming.

How about a little taste?

“Carter? What are you doing?”


I laughed under my breath and banged the back of my head against the wood. “Praying?”

“Do you always breathe like that when you’re praying?”

“It’s an intense prayer.”

“What are you really doing?”

“I think you might know what I’m really doing, Kendall.”

“Can I come in?”

Still fully erect, I tucked my cock back into my pants as best I could before opening the door.

Her eyes trailed down to my massive erection. “I’m sorry….to make you resort to that.”

“It’s okay. My hand and I haven’t spent time like this since I was a teenager. I think he missed me.”

“What were you thinking about?”


“Yeah…but what specifically?”

“It was this fantasy of fucking you on the dance floor back at the club.”

She looked down at me again. Her expression was serious when she asked, “You need some help?”

“I thought you said we weren’t going to go there.”

“I can’t have sex with you. But I want to touch you. I could take my clothes off, let you finish what you started. You know…help you.”

Looking up at the ceiling, I shook my head. “You have no fucking clue, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“How crazy you make me. There’s no halfway with you. Jerking off with your naked body right in front of me…not being able to do what I really want to you…would be torture. I don’t have that kind of willpower, not with you, not anymore. Even when I kiss you, all I can think about is burying myself inside of you. But you naked in front of me? Too much, Kendall. When you strip down for me, I want it to be when you’re ready to let me have you. Otherwise, it’s better if I don’t know what I’m missing out on.”

Looking filled with remorse, she waved her hands. “Okay. I get it. I’m sorry…for interrupting.”

“Go back to bed. I’ll be right there.”

After Kendall left, I closed my eyes in regret. Was I crazy for turning her away like that?

Now that she knew what I was up to in here, I couldn’t relax. Still needing release like a motherfucker, I turned on the shower and got in. Ironically, I jerked myself to thoughts of her naked body against the bathroom door and imagined she was watching me.

Fuck my life.

Interested? You can find PLAYBOY PILOT on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo and Google Play.


Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card!
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Authors:
Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Penelope lives for reading books in the new adult/contemporary romance genre, coffee and hanging out with her friends and family on weekends. She is the proud mother of a beautiful 11-year-old girl with autism (the inspiration for the character Callie in Gemini) and a 9-year-old boy, both of whom are the lights of her life. Penelope, her husband and kids reside in Rhode Island. She is the author of RoomHate, which hit #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list and #1 on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list. Her novel, Stepbrother Dearest, also spent four consecutive weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. Other works include the New York Times bestseller Cocky Bastard (co-written with Vi Keeland), Sins of Sevin, My Skylar, Jake Undone, Jake Understood and Gemini.

You can find Penelope on Facebook, her website, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads and her Private Fan Group.

Vi Keeland is a native New Yorker with three children that occupy most of her free time, which she complains about often, but wouldn’t change for the world. She is an attorney and a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, & USA Today Bestselling author. Over the last three years, ten of her titles have appeared on the USA Today Bestseller lists and three on the New York Times Bestseller lists.

You can find Vi on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads and Pinterest.

Sign up for Penelope & Vi’s mailing list and be the first one notified of releases!

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!


Hi there! I’m so excited to share a review for a newly published contemporary YA romance from Paula Stokes. GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE s a bittersweet contemporary YA adventure/romance that deals with PTSD, OCD, and general anxiety in a teen girl who’s survived some pretty tragic moments.

Girl Against the UniverseAbout the book:
Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.

My Review:
Maguire was eleven when the car she rode in went off a mountainside and her father, uncle and brother were all killed. She was twelve when she rode a rollercoaster that went off the track, seriously injuring all 19 other passengers beside herself. She was thirteen when she went to a slumber party where every other guest ended up with gut-clenching illness. And six weeks ago, her abandoned candle burned down the neighbors’ house. Maguire believes that she’s Really Bad Luck, and she has a notebook filled with instances and coincidences that back up this claim.

Now sixteen and living in her third house in the past four years, preparing to enter her second high school, Maguire wishes she could just be home-schooled. She doesn’t want to make any friends, and potentially be responsible for any of them getting hurt, or worse.  Worried about Maguire, her mother insists that she attend therapy, and this is where the book opens, in a therapy session between Maguire and Dr. Leed. When the hour is up, Maguire notices the tall, attractive boy who enters the office in her stead. This boy, Jordy, reaches out to prickly, unapproachable Maguire as part of his own “homework” for therapy. And, they sort of hit it off. Maguire learns that Jory is semi-famous, but none of that seems to matter and Jordy appreciates that.

Inspired by Jordy, and knowing that she needs to get over her many phobias if she’s going to fly to Ireland with her mother for a five year memorial for her father, uncle and brother, Maguire actually begins to engage in her therapy. She’s terrified of riding in cars with people, using public transit, being out in public, going to parties, and has terrors imagining a bus ride, let alone a trans-Atlantic flight. So, with Dr. Leed’s help, Maguire sets her own list of “homework” so that she can reclaim her life and defeat the sinister powers of the Universe that have ripped so much from her.

Along the way, Maguire joins her high school tennis team, where she makes real friends for the first time in years. She also connects with Jordy, who is happy to help Maguire in any way he can–even if it means crossing his parents. See, Jordy IS a big deal; he’s a tennis wunderkind all set to go pro, if he can finish high school and stand up against his parent’s plans for college. And, maybe, he and Maguire may become more than friends…

This is a bittersweet read, because Maguire is a kid trapped by tragedy. She has a loving mother, step-father and new step siblings, but she dwells in the past. She’s terrified of her own mystique:  believing that she’s cursed. By really engaging with her therapy, and investigating the truth of her situation, Maguire learns to overcome her anxiety, by reasonable measured steps and slowly escalating “risk.” It was an affirming story, that realistically demonstrated how a kid struggling with several mental issues could overcome her fears by challenging herself in safe ways. I really liked that there weren’t a ton of catty gals, or hecklers. I liked that Jordy was a stand-up guy, and that he never gave up on Maguire, even when she did hurt him, succumbing to her fears when he needed her most. Maguire’s self-discovery wasn’t all forward motion, which was also reasonable. She had backward steps and tough choices. She cried, and she healed, and she fretted, but she made it all happen. It takes courage to go on, and survivor’s guilt was also likely a big factor in Maguire’s self-isolation.

I really dug the whole arcane “luck” charms that Maguire built into a ritual, not for herself, but because she wanted to ensure the safety of those around her. It’s rather ironic that she never wanted herself to be safe; she expected her bad luck really only affected those around her. Jordy was a great guy, and I liked how down-to-Earth he was. He’s got a bright and shiny future all laid out, but agonizes about his people-pleasing tendencies, and the high likelihood of failing to set proper boundaries. These were reasonable issues for an athlete of his caliber, and his pathway through therapy was also interesting.

For a teen romance, this was really tame with only a few kisses, some dithering regarding embarking on an official relationship v. secretly dating. Those issues held real relevance for Jordy, as approached legal adulthood and struggled to assert his autonomy over that of his parents’ wishes. In total, the book was a clean read with plenty of morbid reminiscences and a healthy portrayal of mild mental illness, teen relationships, and healing.

I’d wish Maguire luck, but I think she’s learned that she makes her own.

Interested? You can find GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Book Depository, and IndieBound.

About the Author:
Paula Stokes is half writer, half RN, and totally thrilled to be part of the world of YA literature. She started out writing historical fiction under a pen name and is now branching out into other YA genres.

When she’s not working (rare), she’s kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She’s petted tigers, snuggled snakes, snorkeled with stingrays, and once enjoyed the suction-cuppy feel of a baby elephant’s trunk as it ate peanuts from her palm. Her future goals include diving with Great White sharks, learning Krav Maga, and writing a whole slew of novels, not necessarily in that order.

You can catch up with Paula on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!