They Learned to Handle WHATEVER LIFE THROWS AT YOU–A Review and Giveaway

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Hi all! Today I’m sharing a contemporary Young Adult romance from best selling author Julie Cross. Released yesterday, WHATEVER LIFE THROWS AT YOU is a solid read for older teens.
Whatever Life Throws at You
About WHATEVER LIFE THROWS AT YOU:
Seventeen-year-old Annie Lucas is too young to remember her dad’s glory days as a pitcher for the Yankees. So when her father is offered a coaching position with the Kansas City Royals, Annie is intrigued to see the baseball side of her dad. Of course, knowing he’ll be a mentor to hot young rookie pitcher, Jason Brody, certainly makes it more enticing.

After an awkward first meeting with “Brody” involving very little clothing and a much-too-personal locker room interview, Annie’s convinced she knows Brody’s type: arrogant, self-involved, bossy. As her dad grows closer to the pitching phenom, the friction between Brody and Annie increases. But when opening day arrives and it looks like both her dad and Brody may lose their dream jobs, Annie steps up and offers support. She and Brody call a truce that grows into friendship—and beyond. Falling for a rising star who’s quickly reaching a level that involves rabid female fans is not what Annie would call smart, except suddenly she’s getting hints that maybe this crush isn’t one-sided after all. Could someone like Brody actually fall for a girl like her?

Excerpt:

He eyes me skeptically. “What kind of article?”

“It’s for Sports Illustrated,” I say without hesitation and then quickly realize that I don’t look nearly old enough to be a real reporter for a huge publication. “I’m an intern,” I add.

The skepticism falls from his face and he looks nervous, which gives me a boost of confidence. I walk closer and pull out the chair in front of the locker beside his, propping my feet up on the bench across from me. “Frank Steadman said you’d be willing to answer a few questions.”

His mouth falls open, and he looks down at his towel and then back at me. Water drips from his hair and off his dark shoulders. “Um…okay,” he says. “Mind if I get dressed first?”

I wave off his concerns, my face heating up, blowing my confident cover. But him getting dressed might allow enough time for Dad to return, and I’d rather not have to deal with that. I duck my head down, letting my hair hide my cheeks and flip open the first page of the notebook. “This will just take a minute… So, you’re nineteen? And you’re from Texas?”

“Chicago,” he corrects.

I had no idea where he was from but figured it sounded better if I pretended to know. I write down this information and then search my brain for some more questions. “Does the wind in Chicago affect your curveball? Do you throw into it or against it?”

He gives me a funny look. “I…well…I just throw toward home plate.”

My face gets even hotter. “Right, kidding. What’s your favorite color?”

“Orange.”

I take my time writing orange in really big loopy cursive while I think of my next question. “What are your opinions on sushi?”

His forehead wrinkles like I’ve just asked him to publicly declare a political party. “Raw fish and seaweed? I think it’s best eaten while stranded on a desert island with no other options.”

“Very diplomatic.” I scribble down his answer. “How many strikes have you thrown in your career?”

“Don’t know,” he says. “Do people actually count that stuff? Before the majors?”

“Some of them do,” I say, though I have no idea. “If you could be any magical creature in the Harry Potter series, which would you choose?”

“You said this is for Sports Illustrated, right?”

“Yeees, But it’s the…kids’ edition.”

“Oh, right.” He scratches the back of his head. “I guess maybe one of those elves.”

“A house elf? Seriously? They’re slaves.” I shake my head. “Why would you want to be an enslaved elf? They can’t even wear clothes.”

He grips his towel tighter and releases a frustrated breath. “Fine, I’ll choose an owl. That’s what I’d want to be.”

I snort back a laugh and drop my eyes to the page again.

“What? What the hell’s wrong with being an owl? They’re smart, they know geography and shit like that.”

“Owls in real life are actually pretty stupid. But no big deal, I’ll just relay that message on to the children of America. Jason Brody, temporary Royals pitcher, wants to be an owl when he grows up because they know geography and shit like that.”

Okay, I’m getting way too into this fake reporter role.

“Who says this is temporary?” he snaps.

“Your two-way contract.” Isn’t that how Dad explained it? He plays a few games then goes back to Triple-A, all without signing a real major league contract.

He yanks a pair of jeans from his locker and then grabs a bundled up orange T-shirt. “Well, I plan on kicking some ass on Opening Day and making this a permanent gig.”

“I think you need a reality check,” I say. “One game isn’t going to be enough–”

“Annie, what the hell are you doing?”

I leap off the bench and turn around to face Dad and Frank standing about five feet from me. “Introducing myself to your new pitcher.”

“Brody, what are you doing here, son?” Frank asks. “We’re off today.”

“Just getting in some cardio and weights.” His gaze darts from me to Dad to Frank. “I was just finishing up this interview for Sports Illustrated. The kids’ edition.”

“Well, we won’t keep you from getting your clothes back on, then,” Frank says, like he’s trying not to laugh. “And just for future reference, all interviews will go through the team’s publicity department so no one will be wandering in here, surprising you. Savannah will meet with you tomorrow to discuss publicity.”

Dad moves forward and extends a hand to Jason Brody. “Jim Lucas, nice to meet you, son. I’ve seen your spring training videos. You’ve got some real talent. I’m looking forward to working with you.”

Brody shakes Dad’s hand, his eyes still on me.

“And this is my daughter Annie,” Dad adds.

Brody glares at me. “Let me guess—you don’t work for Sports Illustrated?”

My Review:
This is a mature YA read due to sexual content that is accurate, age-appropriate, and handled with tact.

Annie is a high school junior whose father was a hot-shot pitching prospect 17 years ago. He was signed to the Yankees, played one game and was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, never returning to the game as a player. Now, he’s being recruited by a longtime baseball friend to be a pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. It’s a long way from Arizona where Annie, her dad and her senile Grams life a quiet life.

Annie likes it quiet, and hates when her flighty mother drops in–as she tends to do every couple years, or so. So, she urges her dad to make the move, and NOT reveal their new address to his estranged wife.

Annie’s dad’s main job is to refine a hot-shot prospect, Jason Brody, who has a great arm, and a bad history. He’s nineteen, an ex-con? (Sorta) Anywho, Annie and Jason spend a lot of time together, and Annie develops the teensiest mega-crush on the pitcher. But, she can’t act on it. First, she’s 17, he’s 19. Second, if anything goes wrong with Jason, her dad’s out of a job. Third, does it matter? You know she’s going to make a play for him…

Here’s the thing, this isn’t a flitty teen romance. It gets to the seemy underside of pro sports. Annie’s new BFF Lenny is the daughter of First Base. He’s a playa, and his famiy is polished yet fragile. Lenny’s a smart girl, but likes to cut loose, bringing Annie along for the ride.

Jason’s a decent guy, even if he’s attracted to a high school girl. Actually, one thing he really lacks in his life, a family connection, is something that he really admires in the bond between Annie and her dad. He’s infatuated with the idea of being a part of a family again, ever since his mother disowned him.

I really enjoyed the playfulness, and the introspection. Annie is a confident character, not a hot mess. She has goals–and is extremely competitive–yet she is human. She sees the heartbreak of a teammate and makes a choice to help someone else, instead of herself. She is mature, having practically raised herself with no mom around. And, she is fierce in her love for both family, and Jason.

The book unfolds over the course of the baseball season–roughly five months. The feelings develop and are expressed in terms of months, not weeks, so we don’t get whiplash from INSTALOVE, which is grand. Again, the characters do become intimate. In careful stages. With lots and lots of verbal communication. They make responsible, adult decisions and though Annie’s dad goes a tiny bit (read: whole lot) ballistic, life works out well for all the characters. In a way that doesn’t compromise the MC’s ideals.

Yes, there are curveballs. Yes, sometimes Annie has to perform a suicide squeeze when she wants to hit a dinger. Yes, Jason is panty-melting hot–and Annie’s not sure if he’s capable of reading her signs. The baseball metaphors are sprinkled throughout the book like poppy seeds on a Chicago style hotdog bun, and it worked for me. (side note: this reviewer played 10 seasons of fast pitch softball and spent her youth, and adulthood, cheering on the White Sox.) I appreciated the appropriate language of the game, and how skillfully the story enfolded all aspects of baseball in a way a non-fan could still understand.

A big hit, for me. I received an ARC via NetGalley.

Interested? You can find WHATEVER LIFE THROWS AT YOU on WHATEVER LIFE THROWS AT YOU Goodreads, Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Powell’s Books.

Julie Cross Author PhotoJulie Cross Bio:
Julie Cross lives in Central Illinois with her husband and three children. She’s a former gymnast and longtime gymnastics fan, coach, and former gymnastics program director with the YMCA. She’s a lover of books, devouring several novels a week, especially in the young adult and new adult genres. Outside of her reading and writing credentials, Julie is a committed—but not talented—long-distance runner, creator of imaginary beach vacations, Midwest bipolar-weather survivor, and expired CPR certification card holder, as well as a ponytail and gym-shoe addict.

Check out Julie online on her blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, on Goodreads.

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She’s Earned the THIRD DEGREE–A Review

Being smart doesn’t mean you know it all…

Hi there! Today’s book is a contemporary New Adult romance from best-selling author Julie Cross. THIRD DEGREE follows the tumultuous world of 18-ish y/o Isabel Jenkins, MD. It’s got blood, guts an most of all:  heart.

Third DegreeAbout the book:

I used to be “Isabel Jenkins, child prodigy.” As lame as that sounds, at least it was an identity. But now I’m not sure what I am. I just failed the most important exam of my life—the emotional readiness test required to get into a medical residency program—and it turns out my parents can’t stand each other. Now I’m trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my life, and that means re-enrolling as a college freshman, but this time I’m shutting the books and majoring in being eighteen.

But so far, my roommate hates me and I’m not into the party scene. The only good thing about school has been getting to know my insanely hot RA. Marshall Collins makes me wonder about everything I missed while I was growing up too fast. Pretty soon we’re hanging out constantly, but for the first time, I find myself wanting more than a no-strings-attached physical relationship. And the lesson I really need is one Marsh definitely can’t teach me: love. Because I’m going to be alone forever if I don’t learn fast.

My Review:

Wabac machine photo of Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Dougie Howser nipped from http://www.fanpop.com

Back in the day there was this TV show I loved about a child doctor. While my kids will forever know Neil Patrick Harris as the snarky, sex-hound Barney Stinson, I lost my teenaged heart to a soulful Dougie Howser, MD. Which is why I wanted to read this book.

Isabel Jenkins has always been brilliant. And difficult. Her adoptive parents have loved her the best they could, but raising a freaking mega-genius hasn’t been easy. She read novels at age 4. She spent one week in Kindergarten and was then homeschooled–couldn’t cope with the kids, apparently. She “entered” college at 12, and finished med school when she was 17. And, at nearly nineteen she’s poised to enter a surgical residency at Johns Hopkins.

Then she’s given a re-boot. The psych exam she was required to take wasn’t too favorable. Seems Isabel is unable to ‘connect with others’ due to a ‘lack of life experience’. This blacklists her from residency programs across the country. She can sit for the psych exam again in 6 months, and has no desire to do research, so she embarks on a ‘personal journey’: college–for real this time. No private tutors, no learning in isolation. She has a dorm room and a cheerleader roommate named Kelsey. And a delectable RA, Marshall, who, as it turns out, had Isabel’s mother as a biology teacher in high school. Marshall’s the only one who knows Isabel’s a doctor–and she’d like to keep that info on the down low. Blend with the natives, and all that.

Unfortunately, Izzy, as she calls herself on campus, is NOT managing. She tries–really–but she almost can’t help being the socially awkward kid she is. Having always been the “prodigy” all her eccentricities were absorbed by the adults around her and she has no boundaries–because none were ever set. It’s no surprise that she blurts out random medical facts when in conversation, and oversteps continually, in the most exasperating ways. Like she NEEDED to swab the flaccid member of Kelsey’s overnight guest because she thought she saw a sore? *shakes head* #EpicFail #NotNormalIzzy

Marshall does heroic work to save Izzy from becoming a social pariah, and, in the process they become study-buddies; she helps him pass Anatomy, and he helps her learn to be a regular person, perhaps even develop friendships.

As Izzy’s RA, Marshall isn’t supposed to develop a crush on Izzy–but don’t let a few rules get in the way there, Marsh! Actually, there’s a lot of sexual tension with a slow build toward consummation. In fact, it is Izzy in her medical element that wears down the last grooves in their mutual resistance. Turns out Marsh is sick–and Izzy’s the one to find and help him in his days of need.

Just as Izzy gains the sense of empathy she had been missing, she recognizes the problems she had caused by her proficient, yet callous, bedside manner. Overwhelmed with feelings she had never really experienced: love, regret, shame, guilt. She steps away from Marsh–running back to the sterility of medicine and the comfort of knowledge.

Only, this time medicine isn’t the home she used to know, and reconciling with Marsh may become the most important choice she makes.

As a book, it was a well-paced, interesting story. Izzy has clear emotional issues, she’s antisocial to an almost pathological degree. Her brilliance may grant her access to the medicine party, but what’s the point if you never get a chance to dance, right? I really enjoyed the slow build between Izzy and Marsh, how his chronic disease was handled and the baby steps Izzy took toward building lasting friendships. Her growth emotionally was refreshing–seeing her admit that her knowledge wasn’t helpful in actually connecting with the people around her was such an Aha! experience.

Couple things that troubled me: the whole way the surgical intern/residency issue was described was factually…off. Medical residents in the US don’t apply for one then the other, not anymore. Not for, like, 25 years now. Those sort of arrangements are made when a student is graduating med school, so I had to take it as a “special case for Isabel” sort of caveat. And, this psych eval, while critical to the story, is also an Izzy-ism. There aren’t many prodigies who enter medicine in the US, but they are almost all shunted into research programs to allow them maturity time. This is for everyone’s benefit. Close people to me have entered residencies at age 26–rather standard–and they were not taken seriously by their patients–due to their youthful appearance. As much as I admired Dougie, I really wouldn’t have wanted a pimply-faced teen (no matter how brilliant, talented or self-righteous *V gives Lorde the stink eye*) lecturing me about my life and/or my passionate love affair with peanut buster parfaits. And neither do most adult patients. Further, I’ll take Izzy’s negative view of research as another instance of her naïveté, because ain’t one physician alive who doesn’t value scientific medical research. I know, ’cause I been doing it for twenty years now.

Still, for fiction this felt good to read. We can always use another representation of responsible teens doing responsible things in fiction. The New Adult tag aside, smexytimes here are tame enough that upper YA readers won’t giggle too much. Izzy is to be lauded for her courage, in determining who she is, and who she wishes to be–and then making a responsible plan to achieve her goals. That is NOT to say she makes good choices throughout–’cause she doesn’t–but she does enough of the right things at the right times to make me like her. A lot.

Interested? You can find THIRD DEGREE on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Julie CrossAbout the Author:

I’m the International Bestselling author of the Tempest series, a young adult science fiction trilogy which includes Tempest, Vortex, and the final installment, Timestorm. I’m also the author of the Letters to Nowhere series, a mature young adult romance set in the world of elite gymnastics, as well as several forthcoming young adult and new adult novels with publishers like Entangled, Sourcebooks, HarperCollins, Random House, and St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books

I live in Central Illinois with my husband and three children. I’m a former gymnast, longtime gymnastics fan, coach, and former Gymnastics Program Director with the YMCA. I’m a lover of books, devouring several novels a week, especially in the young adult and new adult genres. Outside of my reading and writing credibility, I’m a committed–but not talented–long distance runner, creator of imaginary beach vacations, Midwest bipolar weather survivor, expired CPR certification card holder, as well as a ponytail and gym shoe addict.

You can find Julie online via her website, Goodreads, Facebook and twitter.

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Hope you find a great book today, and keep reading my friends!