What happened to 2015?!

book meme 6So…wow! The year’s end already? I’m a bit stunned, but also grateful. Some years whoosh by like a snowplow burying me under, but this year I’ve had the opportunity to read some really fun books, travel and interact with fantastic authors and review-types, like myself, and enjoy many moments along the way.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I also write, and I’m at the point of sending out a manuscript to agents coming next week. Fingers crossed that I’ll have the chance to promote some of my own fiction one day soon!

Book meme 3For the blog, I’ve gotten some great stats. Nearly 13,000 pages views this year. Not bad for a relatively unknown chick who drones on and on about books. If you’ve signed up to get my posts emailed, you’re in good company–140 of you special folks right now. Thanks for joining me on this madcap escapade! Lots of people are finding my reviews, and reading them/sharing them. I appreciate that so much, because it’s not easy reading and writing content to support the blog. It takes hours and hours each day, in fact. My hubs will attest he’d much rather I gave (most of) it up, so I could just sit and veg out watching TV with him…crossing his fingers that that might ever happen. TV is not really my thing.

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Goodreads tells me I read 375 books this year, but it’s been more. I didn’t log all my reads, though there are few that didn’t get reviews there. I have had a great time working with Joyfully Jay Reviews, picking up some excellent reads through their platform and generally interacting with those lovely folks. Authors have reached out to me and I’ve reached back, supporting their fiction in the best way I can. That’s a wonderfully rewarding experience, emotionally, and helps my pocketbook from getting TOO frayed. Yes, there are books that I do buy, and I cherish all my books–whether they were purchased or gifted for my review.

As this is a year’s end recap, it’s apt to highlight some books/series that got into my brain in the past 12 months.

Best read of the year:
No question it was CARRY THE OCEAN by Heidi Cullinan. This book touched my soul and left it altered for the better. Having suffered depression in my life, and having close friends/family with kids on the Autism Spectrum, this plain-spoken M/M romance between a brilliant autistic man and his depressive neighbor was spectacular.

Best YA read:
NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST by Eric Lindstrom. Touching tale of an orphaned blind girl who learns to “see” everyone she knows in the best light–even herself.

Best YA series:
I’ve really enjoyed reading the Backstage Pass series of contemporary YA romances between the members of the boy band Seconds To Juliet and the smart, worthwhile girls the boys all fall for. There are five books in the series, and I think I reviewed 4 of them…
Abby and the Cute One, Mia and the Bad Boy, Anya and the Shy Guy, Daisy and the Front Man.

Book Meme-1Best Adrenaline Rush:
KICK AT THE DARKNESS by Keira Andrews, a zombie apocalypse M/M romance kept me glued to my iPad long into the night, and the next day.

Best SciFi series:
I’ve really enjoyed the AI world carved out by Susan Kaye Quinn’s Legacy Human series. It’s a bit dystopian, a bit tech and a bit romance. And I love all those bits! Looking forward to reading more of this in 2016. THE LEGACY HUMAN, THE DUALITY BRIDGE, STORIES OF SINGULARITY.

Best contemporary New Adult series:
Karen Stivali’s Moments in Time series is really a must read for me. This is a contemporary M/M romance which is emotional and sexy, at the same time. I’ve loved all four Moments books so far, and eagerly anticipate the next release. MOMENT OF IMPACT, MOMENT OF TRUTH, MOMENT OF CLARITY, and MOMENT OF SILENCE.
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Best Paranormal Romance:
THE SECRET CASEBOOK OF SIMON FEXIMAL by KJ Charles rocked my world and set it right again. Historical M/M paranormal romance that kept me turning the page long after I went to bed.

Most Resilient Heroines: (Teen)
Ivy in THE REVOLUTION OF IVY by Amy Engel–She takes on her entire desolate town and finds the true love of her life. YA dystopian.

Lulu in MY BEST EVERYTHING by Sarah Tomp. West Virginian high school senior Lulu’s college fund has dried up, but she can’t bear to stay in her small town any longer. So, she enlists the help of Mason to make a fortune selling illegal moonshine. YA contemporary.

Morgan La Fey in SWORD by Realm Lovejoy. Morgan kidnaps a prince, drags him through the swamps of Camelot and helps him find Excalibur–all to thwart a murder plot. And her execution? Wow. YA fantasy.
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Best Action/Adventure:
I AM THE TRAITOR is the final installment in the Unknown Assassin series by Allen Zadoff. You really need to strap in and read I AM THE WEAPON and I AM THE MISSION, first. You’ll thank me. YA contemporary.

Best Enemies to Lovers:
TO LOVE A TRAITOR by JL Merrow really flipped all my historical British M/M romance switches…
Christmas Romance
IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS by Keira Andrews took two battered hearts and shoved them into a car on a cross-country trek to make it home in time for Christmas. Swoon.

Best erotica:
The CAUGHT ON CAMERA series by Lily Harlem is spectacular M/M romance. Just loved all the sexy sexy bits, and the romance that developed between two new-to-porn stars on a filming trip was tender and lovely.

Best Menage:
THREE TWO ONE by JA Huss. Hot and chilling, by turns. This is a dark romance and not everyone makes it out alive.
SHARING A POND by Alex Whitehall. Frog Shifters. Pretty much knocked me out. Not the sexytimes, as those were satisfactory, but the emotional issues were excellent, and I’ve got a thing for frogs, I think.
Historical M/F/M:
THE MISTRESS AND HER MEN by Julia Talbot. A sassy widow and a daring nobleman–plus some BDSM? Yes, mistress!
Historical M/M/M:
RITE OF SUMMER by Tess Bowery was so loving and tender, and troubled.

Best Near Historical:
IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume, historical fiction featuring her true-life experience of living in a town where three airplanes crashed within 59 days of each other. Harrowing!

Best Recovery Story:
CLEAN by Mia Kerick. This one gave me chills. M/M YA romance between two guys who’ve been down and out and almost didn’t make it.

book-meme-8Best Subculture:
Who knew the Amish would captivate me? I adored Keira Andrew’s M/M Amish Romances A FORBIDDEN RUMSPRINGA, A CLEAN BREAK, and A WAY HOME. They really touched my heart.

Honestly, I could go on for blogs, and blogs. But I won’t; books to read, books to write after all! That said, I’m looking forward to sharing reviews for great books in the coming year and I hope you’ll enjoy reading along with me.

Feel free to send me your recommendations. Goodness knows, I’ll probably pick it up. (Fiction, and preferably romance-ish, though. I don’t review non-fiction, memoir or cookbooks.)

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!
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Cephalopod Coffeehouse March 2015–MY BEST EVERYTHING

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.

As part of the Coffeehouse I’m obligated to share the best book I read this month. And this time it’s a YA adventure/romance newly released from Sarah Tomp.

My Best EverythingAbout the book:
“You say it was all meant to be. You and me. The way we met. Our secrets in the woods. Even the way it all exploded. It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it one more time, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so uncertain. But I’m going back to the beginning on my own. To see what happened and why.”

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

The summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating. My Best Everything is Lulu’s letter to Mason – though is it an apology, a good-bye, or a love letter?

My Review:
This is an excellent coming-of-age YA story that is light on the romance and heavy on the message.

At first I was struck by the narration. The MC, Lulu Mendez, addresses a “you” in her constant speech. At first I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen into that elusive “2nd Person” narrative, but I quickly recognized the book is written as if it’s a letter, or communication, to another character in the book, Mason Malone. This immediately upped the tension for me, because it was clear that here was a separation between Lulu and Mason, but I didn’t know if that separation was distance or death. I will say that this question is raised on the first page and answered on the last page, and it boiled in my brain for all the pages between.

Lulu is a smart girl, living in Dale, a tiny town in the rural mountainous area of southwest Virginia. Dale is a place of hillbillies, hicks and moonshiners and Lulu cannot wait to escape it. It has long been her plan, and she has just the summer to endure before she moves to sunny San Diego for college. Lulu has always been the straight-laced good girl, avoiding drugs, drinking and boys, but she intends to cut loose a bit with her BFF, Roni, and Bucky–Roni’s boyfriend and Lulu’s good friend, too. Lulu has far bigger dreams than Roni (who wants to get married to Bucky) and Bucky (who wants to stay in Dale despite his college scholarship, he’s not ready for marriage like Roni however). Trouble is, college costs money, and Lulu’s dad has just dropped the bomb that his business is struggling and he can’t afford her tuition. She is outraged and sullen and desperate, as a result.

Lulu and Roni work at a local junkyard, and when a confiscated still turns up, it sparks an idea that is just crazy enough to work. Moonshining is a lucrative, yet dangerous and illegal, activity. Lulu, Roni and Bucky could all use money, but they can’t work a still–they have no experience of these things. Mason Malone, however, does.

Mason is the youngest of the Malone boys–and his family is known for its moonshine. Thing is, at 21, Mason is out of the family business. He’s a recovering alcoholic and can’t even bear to be around alcohol, let alone make it. Lulu is persuasive, and not in a bad way. She proposes that Mason help them set everything up, and that she, Roni and Bucky will manage the rest. Thing is, Mason’s been moonshining his whole life but for the past two years of his sobriety. His family, a collection of serious and functional alcoholics, no longer trust him, and pretty much have shunned him. He is rebuilding his lif, taking odd jobs and attending AA meetings. He makes furniture and does carpentry on the side. He does not associate with drunks–including his own family–ever.

He agrees to assist, knowing that it will be more than he can bear, also knowing he will do anything to help Lulu escape Dale, VA. As one can imagine, three teens and Mason making moonshine in the backwoods of VA, this goes more than haywire. Moonshine is made, sold, stolen, exploded and destroyed. Money is made, and plans resurrected and blown to kingdom come. The relationships that were so central at the beginning of the story become strained and reformed. Lulu and Mason have a precarious romance that can’t even cross the border to West Virginia on account of Lulu being 17 and Mason knowing he can’t take a minor over state lines. Mason’s very much aware of the legalities of life, and the moonshine business. With all his family connections, Mason is able set up buyers for their product, but this is a very slippery business–it brings out the ire of his scorned family, for one.

The language in this book is outstanding. I truly felt as if I was coasting down the Bottoms on a raft, and hiking through a midge-filled forest to stir the mash in Aunt Jezebel, the still. The characters leap off the page, from Mason’s quiet grace, to Lulu’s agoraphobic mother, to sassy Roni who finds a path she never fathomed in her high school imaginings. Lulu is a faithful narrator, and her insight is slightly self-deprecating. She acknowledges her faults and tries to atone for them, with explosive results.

And, as I mentioned at the beginning, the final page reveals the whereabouts of Mason, recipient of Lulu’s love and apologies and musings. It all ends on a high note, though this not a typical Happily Ever After. It is a mostly innocent book (expect an off the page issue with contraception) with nothing more than making out between our characters for the readers to see. There are lots of moral questions posed, and answered, and a whole lot of growing up being done. A solid teen read.

Interested? You can find MY BEST EVERYTHING on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Thanks for popping in, and don’t hesitate to check out my fellow bloggers on the Coffeehouse. I find lots of new reads this way!

1. With Every Letter 2. mainewords
3. Stephanie Faris, Author 4. Two Square Dogs
5. WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME 6. The Armchair Squid
7. Trisha @ WORD STUFF 8. StrangePegs — The Scarlet Plague
9. V’s Reads 10. StrangePegs — Assholes (a theory)
11. A Creative Exercise 12. StrangePegs — Living with a Wild God
13. Wishbone Soup Cures Everything 14. StrangePegs — the curious incident of the dog…
15. StrangePegs — Lyon’s Legacy 16. Life Before the Hereafter