Super Sequel NOT YOUR VILLAIN–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new YA LGBTQ-friendly superhero novel from CB Lee. NOT YOUR VILLAIN is the second book in her Sidekick Squad series and is a fantastic follow-up to NOT YOUR SIDEKICK. Both books are set in the US, a little over a century into the future, when superheros and villains take center-stage in the world…and Bells is a master of his future.

Check out the excerpt and be sure to enter the $25 GC and book giveaway below!

About the book:
Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants and, if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges.

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain.

How about a little taste?

Captain Orion walks into view, dragging a machine on a cart behind her. “I don’t like that smirk he’s giving you. Shame we couldn’t get the audio on that feed to work. Step aside, let me get a look at him.”

Bells has only seen Orion in holovids and during that one, frenzied encounter at Abby’s house. It’s startling how different she looks now from the shiny, polished hero who graced comic book covers. Her hair is tied in a messy ponytail; her bangs fall limp across her forehead. She’s wearing her usual blue-and-white supersuit, but Bells has never seen it this dirty or in such a state of disrepair; there’s a patch ripped in the leggings, and her knee is poking out. Orion’s cape trails behind her; the edge is frayed and riddled with dirt. The cart she dragged in rolls onto it, causing her to stumble. Orion yanks her cape free of the cart, straightens up, and glares at Bells, as if she’s daring him to laugh.

Bells recognizes the machinery sitting on the cart; it’s one they used at the training center to measure the power levels of meta-humans.

He remembers the last time he was tested. All the other students had taken care not to use their powers all day so they could get an “at rest” rating and be sure that the League could see their full potential. He kept his Barry shift on all day, so that by the time he was measured, he’d be so tired out he’d get a low rating.

What does Orion want with me?

The former hero looks down her nose at Bells. “Well. The famous, talented Chameleon. The League was all about you. The next me, perhaps. Or maybe that was just what they were filling your head with. Did they promise you glory? Greatness?”

“Free lunch,” Bells says. “And travel. To the training center for three summers. Got to see a lot of places. I liked Baja, but the last one was pretty cool. The North is awfully pretty. Lots of trees. Huge, like giants. And last year I got to go to the beach all the time, so—win.”

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of your situation, Barry.” Orion grins like a feral cat. “I’ve got your file right here.”

Orion flips through the thick sheaf of papers. Bells takes a deep breath when he spots the word Broussard, followed by a photo of the restaurant and even a picture of him and Simon as kids. The file must have been important for Orion to print them on actual paper. Or maybe Orion can’t connect to the Net anymore.

How long has she been on the lam? What was she proposing to Stone? The League obviously doesn’t know where she is, since they still claimed she was in Corrections.

Even if she doesn’t have the League behind her, she’s still dangerous, especially if she knows who he really is.

My Review:
Bells has grown up in Andover, a smallish town in the Nevada desert, several hundred miles from what remained of Los Angeles, after the Disasters and World War III are just stories in history books. Nearly 100 years ago, when humanity was still fighting to survive, there was a series of large solar flares that caused cataclysmic events, and generated the first generation of meta-humans, humans with super powers, of any type.

Bells is a black transboy with the power to alter his appearance, and that of anyone or anything he touches. He’s dealing with the meta-human stuff pretty well for a kid whose parents run a black market agribusiness. Oh, and who also has a long-time crush on his best friend Emma. In the beginning he keeps his identity as “Chameleon” one of the newly inducted member of the Heroes League of Heroes. Unfortunately, Jess, who has an undetected super power recognizes that Bells has been made a pawn in the game of heroes vs. villains. Jess noticed that the “villains” that Chameleon was impersonating on a series of “training missions” all had characteristics of her good pal, Bells, and Jess reveals the bigger plot that surrounds a group of missing villains, and Captain Orion, leader of the Heroes League.

This story overlaps NOT YOUR SIDEKICK and picks up with Jess, Bells, and their other pals trying to rescue Jess’ girlfriend Abby’s parents from captivity. Abby has a super power, but she’s been given a serum by Captain Orion to negate her mechanopath abilities.

Just as Bells is getting a handle on his powers and his feelings for Emma, life gets in the way. Ema finds her own boyfriend, and Chameleon’s activity in rescuing Abby’s mom leads to him being listed as Public Enemy ! by the Heroes League. That said, he finds some comfort in pals that didn’t have strong enough powers to make it into the League–and his mission to unmask the REAL villains of this world (think grown-ups in the government) brings some results. To a degree. If nothing else, Jess’ superhero parents take their mission seriously, and superheroes and villains are uniting to defeat the actual bad guys and bring justice to those who need it.

I love the multicultural cast, and the world is beautifully rendered. All to locales jump off the page, and Bells’ plight, in life, love and activity, is a sympathetic one. I love his sweetness, and his commitment to do the right thing even when it’s really, really difficult. It seems as if Bells’ perserverance wins him both the respect and validation he sought when he hungered to be a hero, and I was happy for that. I wonder who will lead us to eventual victory in book three. It feels like Jess’ sister Claudia is a strong candidate. This is an excellent book series for teens who are identified, or questioning, in the LGBT spectrum, as the relationships are all affirming and fluid. Bells is trans, Jess is bi, but seriously dating a girl, Emma has two moms, and there are many other examples of queer life, too. This world posits that nothing is unusual about those connections, and that felt pretty super, too.

Interested? You can find NOT YOUR VILLAIN on Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Book Depository, and Indiebound.

****GIVEAWAY****

Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 GC to Interlude Press, or one of FIVE e-books of NOT YOUR VILLAIN.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber, and pinniped enthusiast from Southern California. A first-generation Asian American, she is passionate about working in communities of color and empowering youth to be inspired to write characters and stories of their own. Lee’s debut novel Seven Tears at High Tide was published by Duet Books in 2015 and named a finalist in the Bisexual Books Awards. This summer, C.B. was named to Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.

You can find C B online on her website, Goodreads, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Young and Questioning HAVING HER BACK–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a YA transgender romance from Ann Gallagher (aka: L.A. Witt). HAVING HER BACK is a tender and age-appropriate novel about acceptance, friendship and love–and contains the right amount of teen misunderstandings and angst. I liked LEAD ME NOT, another low-steam “Ann Gallagher” book, and I love YA romance, so this was an auto-pick for me.

Scroll down to enter the giveaway for a backlist book from LA Witt.
About the book:
Trevor Larson is a Navy brat. He’s used to moving every few years, and thanks to social media, he can stay in touch with the friends he leaves behind. But shortly after he leaves Okinawa, his best friend, Brad Gray, cuts off contact and disappears.

Four years and two bases later, Brad resurfaces—and announces his family is coming to Trevor’s base in Spain. But a lot’s changed in four years, and Trevor is stunned to find out Brad is now Shannon. Their reunion isn’t quite what either of them had hoped for, but they quickly find their footing, both relieved to have each other back.

Except nothing is ever all sunshine and roses. The military is a small world, and there’s no keeping Shannon’s transition a secret. Parents warn their kids away from her. She can’t attend school on-base for fear of harassment or worse. And although her parents try to hide it, being ostracized by their only social circle while they’re thousands of miles from home is taking a toll on them too.

More and more, Shannon leans on Trevor. But she’s also drawn to him, and he’s drawn right back to her, feeling things he’s never felt for anyone before.

Trevor’s scared, though. Not of dating a trans girl. Not of damaging his chaplain father’s career or reputation. After finally getting his friend back, does he dare take things further and risk losing her a second time?

My Review:
Trevor is a 16 y/o Navy brat on a base in Rota, Spain. He’s grown up moving every few years when his dad, Pastor Larson, a Protestant chaplain, gets reassigned. Sometimes he meets up with friends he’d made in DOD schools at other bases, and that’s the case in Rota. He’s lived there a few years now, and a few of his better pals from the Okinawa base are now in Rota, but not his very best friend Brad. Brad shipped out form Okinawa and dropped off the face of the earth, it seemed, because he wouldn’t respond to any of Trevor’s emails, IMs or texts. It’s been four years, and Trevor’s stunned to get an email from Brad saying he’s coming to Rota in a month, and he’s changed. A lot. Trevor wonders if that’s because Brad’s gay and bad things happened when he moved form Okinawa. Trevor’s determined to be good friend to Brad, no matter what.

Shannon is a transgender girl, who used to be Brad. It’s been a hard four years but she’s transitioned well, and feels good in her body for the first time, perhaps, ever. She’s had a lot of backlash in her personal life, though her parents completely support her, even if they all suspect her transition may have caused her dad not to make his promotion that past two years. Still, she’s being homeschooled, and trying to keep a low profile; unlikely in the small circle of families that make up overseas bases.

Trevor is stunned when he meets Shannon, and pretty angry she didn’t trust him enough to divulge her big secret before they met in person–or at any time in the past four years. His reaction isn’t excellent, but Shannon interprets his swift departure as a rejection of her new self, and that’s a stumbling block. Trevor does make it up to Shannon, and Shannon fits into their group of Okinawa friends without too much issue. There are some quakes in the personnel, however, and Shannon’s the center of some anti-trans sentiment that’s sweeping the base, including members of Pastor Larson’s congregation. It’s upsetting for all, but Trevor’s more confused about his changing feelings for Shannon. They shared a deep friendship as kids, and now when he thinks back, he doesn’t see “Brad” in those memories, he sees Shannon, and he’s not sure what to do with his growing attraction to her. What if they break up and become enemies, as some of his buddies have with their exes?

This book is told from Trevor’s and Shannon’s point-of-views and that’s really interesting. I liked how culturally-competent the characters’ inner thoughts, actions and dialogue are. These are kids who are have fought hard to maintain friendships, and they aren’t willing to toss Shannon aside because of her transition. In fact, all of Trev’s pals accept her wholeheartedly into their group, and their girlfriends invite Shannon on shopping trips and makeovers. The kids also stand up for Shannon when she’s accosted in public or put-down in conversations they overhear. Trevor’s mistakes with Shannon come from his own insecurity, and aren’t related to her transition.

The intimacy that develops between Trevor and Shannon is cautious and tender. Trevor just got his best friend back…he doesn’t want to mess things up by being a bad boyfriend. He’s never even dated a girl before; realistically he’s sure he’ll mess up and they’ll stop speaking again. Shannon’s never dated and she is insecure about her body, and how a partner would view her body. It leads to some discord between them, that has a good resolution in the end.

This is a YA read, so expect YA-levels of steam, and nothing more. That said, there are some unique experiences here due to Shannon’s physiology and that provokes some valid and frank discussion. I liked how sensitively that was handled, and the introspection both Trevor and Shannon demonstrate is valuable for people who have concerns about trans-persons and their relationships. Shannon didn’t expect to find a partner who could love her as she is, and has a reasonable fear of fetishization, though she doesn’t think Trevor sees her as a fetish. She’s also nervous that he’ll be unhappy with her physical state, and that’s an anxiety-triggering situation. Trevor’s more afraid of being a bad partner, given his lack of experience. It was really endearing and felt realistic. The military aspect of this story likewise felt well-informed, and I could absolutely see all the sights in Rota and nearby, just as Shannon did. Yet another locale to put on my travel bucket-list. Readers who enjoy teen romance, or trangender stories, will really enjoy this one. I know I did.

Interested? You can find HAVING HER BACK on Goodreads and Amazon US or UK.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a backlist book from LA Witt.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Ann Gallagher is the slightly more civilized alter ego of L.A. Witt, Lauren Gallagher, and Lori A. Witt. So she tells herself, anyway. When she isn’t wreaking havoc on Spain with her husband and trusty two-headed Brahma bull, she writes romances just like her wilder counterparts, but without all the heat. She is also far too mature to get involved in the petty battle between L.A. and Lauren, but she’s seriously going to get even with Lori for a certain incident that shall not be discussed publicly.

Visit her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Hard To Survive CRACKED OPEN–A Review and get a free book!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a fantastic new YA dystopian novel from Susan Kaye Quinn. CRACKED OPEN is the fifth book in her MindJack series and I’m pretty much breathless for the next book already. You can start the whole series with OPEN MINDS, which is free and fantastic, but you absolutely must read LOCKED TIGHT before jumping into CRACKED OPEN.

About the book:
Zeph always knew he was a weapon. He didn’t count on being a spy.

But he made a dangerous bargain with the Director of the Jacker Technologies Division of DARPA–he’d let Wright test his mutant mindjack ability if she’d release his parents. Simple. Occasionally painful. And the screams of his victims fill his nightmares. But it will be worth it as long as she can’t crack open his head and find out his sister, with her super-surge jack-ability, is still alive. And if his parents are finally set free.

Once that happens, he’s gone. Even if it means giving up everything he’s just now getting back. A home. Friends. A girl who believes in peace and love even when the world is falling apart.

My Review:
This is the fifth book in the MindJack series where humans have evolved the ability to broadcast their thoughts–but the new wrinkle is mindreaders who can hijack your brain. These “mindjackers” are a super powerful minority, being hunted for experimentation and extermination. And Zeph, a “locksmith” mindjacker who can lock and unlock the toughest minds, will do whatever it takes to keep himself and his family safe.

In LOCKED TIGHT, book four, Zeph allied himself with some horrifying persons in the government and private enterprise–people who truly want to hunt down and kill “jackers”–in order to find his missing sister and parents. He’s also infiltrated the jacker population, attempting to get close to the young, powerful and charismatic jacker senator. Hiding his jacker nature from readers has made Zeph a loner, by necessity, and his plan to rescue his family and go back on the run is upset by the new connections he’s made. What if there could be a balance between the jackers and the readers? Could he then find sanctuary instead of isolation?

In CRACKED OPEN, the battle lines have been clearly drawn. His employer, a MindWare developer who hired Zeph as a bodyguard to his daughter, believes Zeph’s a reader, and shares all sorts of anti-jacker tech with Zeph, by way of relating how it will help Zeph be a better guard. The government’s shadow lab, run by Dr. Wright, is preparing a jacking operation on the highest levels of government–to destroy any sympathy the President or populace might have for jackers. Once Zeph recognizes how dangerous all of this has become, he reaches out to Kira Moore, one-time spokesperson for the defunct Jacker Freedom Alliance, to offer his services as a mole.

Zeph had rescued his sister in the previous book, but things aren’t all quiet on that front. Her powers are raw and untrained, making Olivia a fourteen-year old walking weapon. Now, Zeph’s trying to find his mom, and he knows Wright has her locked up somewhere. In fact, Wright agrees to release her if only he’ll assist with the grand scheme she’s cooked up. Zeph knows it’s a bad job, but he has no choice if he wants his mom freed. This time, however, he’s got friends who can assist him–and he calls them.

Fundamentally, the MindJack series is about discrimination, and surviving intact after the powerful have sought to crush you. It’s an allegory to the current political climate where discrimination by the government (of any marginalized community) has been lauded by a segment of the population who allow themselves to be led by fear, instead of community. For readers, it’s a chilling journey into discovering what the experience might be for a marginalized population, if the government ideologically decided that (insert your personal minority) was Public Enemy Number One, and needed to be studied and eradicated. And yet, throughout, it’s a humanizing story. One of hope and desperation, and succeeding against all odds against your most feared, armed, bully.

CRACKED OPEN marks the midpoint of Zeph’s three-book story and clearly articulates his rage and fear at the situation he’s in for no other reason than being born different. But mostly, it’s filled with Zeph’s resolve to save his family, and to help all the other jackers out there lead whole lives, not the half-life he’s lived. For being roughly 17-18 years old, Zeph’s survived a lot of bad, bad stuff. And that’s formed him into a weapon. Unlike a gun, however, Zeph has the presence of mind to keep his targeting mechanisms on the bad guys, to ensure he does the most good. Expect things to go from bad to worse, however, and for Zeph to make mistakes–because he’s working within a narrow framework. The day might be lost, but the battle continues. Cannot wait to get my hands on the next book!!

Interested? You can find CRACKED OPEN on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo and GooglePlay.

Get yourself a FREE book!
The MindJack universe began with OPEN MINDS, the story of Kira Moore, a sixteen year-old jacker learning about herself and prejudice she’s been born into. Kira is a strong MC, and her steadfast commitment to doing the right thing, even if it’s hard, gives readers a protagonist worthy of respect. It’s a super-fast read that tackles real societal problems with grace and confidence. I read this book in a day. Mostly because I couldn’t stop until I knew Kira was safe.

The great thing? OPEN MINDS is a FREE on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, GooglePlay and Kobo. OPEN MINDS is the first in a trilogy, but has a satisfactory ending that resolves completely while leaving room for the companion books to develop.

About the Author:
Susan Kaye Quinn is a rocket scientist turned speculative fiction author who now uses her PhD to invent cool stuff in books. Her works range from young adult science fiction to adult future-noir, with side trips into steampunk and middle grade fantasy. Her bestselling novels and short stories have been optioned for Virtual Reality, translated into German, and featured in several anthologies.

She writes full-time from Chicago, inventing mind powers and dreaming of the Singularity. You can find out what she’s up to by subscribing to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!).

Catch up with Susan on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Growing Through LESSONS IN FALLING–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance from Diana Gallagher. LESSONS IN FALLING is a story about growing up and making your path, even if it means outgrowing some relationships.

About the book:
LESSON ONE: Playing it safe beats taking chances.

After an injury ends Savannah’s dream of a college gymnastics scholarship, she quits
despite her parents’ protests. She won’t risk breaking her body—and heart—again.

LESSON TWO: Catch your best friend when she falls—or regret it forever.

Rules are meant to be broken, according to Savannah’s best friend, Cassie—and it’s more fun to break them together. But when Cassie attempts suicide, Savannah’s left wondering how well she really knows her.

LESSON THREE: Leaping forward, not knowing where you’ll land, is the hardest of all.

Falling for Marcos wasn’t part of the plan. Not only did he save Cassie’s life, he also believes Savannah can still achieve her dreams. Except Cassie thinks Marcos and gymnastics will only break Savannah’s heart.

As Savannah tumbles and twists through toxic friendships and crushing parental expectations, she realizes you never know who will be there when you fall.

My Review:
Savannah is a sixteen year-old former gymnastics champion who’s still recovering from the knee injury she suffered six months ago. She’s had surgery and physical therapy, and can’t imagine going back to gymnastics because she can’t be perfect.

She lives in a small coastal New York town that’s having a social crisis over the large number of immigrant Mexicans and DREAMers who’ve taken up residence in this locale. Savannah’s always been sheltered by her family–her father’s a teacher at her high school, an d her best friend, Cassie–who’s loud and audacious. Cassie stayed at Savannah’s bedside as she recovered from injuries and surgeries, and shes’ struggling hard, but Savannah’s too caught up in her own misery to really notice, until Cassie attempts suicide.

Then, Savannah starts to question all their interactions, Cassie’s newer friendships with kids from the migrant community, and why Savannah can’t just get past her paralyzing fears. Part of this is re-envisioning her life, and letting in new people, like Marcos, who help Savannah see that sometimes the relationships we hold dearest aren’t the most healthy.

For me, this was an okay read. I liked the parts where Savannah challenged herself to get back on the pommel horse and rehab completely. She had more friends in her life than she’d first let on, and Cassie was a good-ish friend, I thought. She struggled, sure, but her affection and compassion were unquestioned. Savannah seemed way more self-centered than I was comfortable with, and Marcos urged her to be even more so. I wasn’t really upset about that, because it is important to find one’s own path, but Savannah’s actions came off as callous and borderline negligent. I do understand that some friendships are co-dependent and unhealthy, I get that, but the manner of Savannah’s reckoning and reconciliation were awkward and unkind. Considering how attentive Cassie had been to her, Savannah’s own actions felt mean by comparison.

The subplot of anti-immigrant sentiment and violence was odd, and Savannah’s interaction on this front was, uh, nutso? That’s probably not a clinical term, but how she behaved was beyond rational and the resolution of that crisis was entirely too convenient.  I also had an issue with elements of the timeline. Savannah’s family life was weird, and her brother’s experience in the military was intimated to be far longer than the actual year that it would have been, if a reader (like me) did the math. There’s a little bit of romance, and lotta bit of rehab–both physical and emotional–with Savannah finding her true path back to her old life. This time she has some new pals, a boyfriend and a college plan. It’s got heartwarming moments, even if Savannah reads as analytical and cold.

Interested? You can find LESSONS IN FALLING on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local library. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Though Diana Gallagher be but little, she is fierce. She’s also a gymnastics coach, writing professor, and country music aficionado. She holds an MFA from Stony Brook University and writes about flipping-related activity for The Couch Gymnast. Her work has also appeared in The Southampton Review and on a candy cigarette box for SmokeLong Quarterly. She’s represented by Tina Wexler of ICM Partners.

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse May 2017–IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE-A Review

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

This month I’m featuring a YA romance from Christina June. IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE is a bittersweet story of one girl’s perspective shifting dramatically when she’s grounded for the summer–for a crime she didn’t commit.

About the book:
Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client).

When Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.

My Review:
Tatum Elsea is a sixteen y/o girl caught in a bad situation. Her rebellious bestie was dating bad boy–and she’s just been charged as an accessory to grand larceny when the idiot steals four iPhones from a store and jumps into Tatum’s car.

Tatum’s parents are supremely disappointed, not that she’s ever felt like anything less than a disappointment to her perfect stepmother. Tatum’s friend is furious, and missing-in-action after her fed-up father ships her off to a boarding school. Tatum’s charges are dropped in exchange for 100 hours of community service and a $500 fine, which she has to pay herself. And, she’s essentially under house arrest for the entire summer. Sure, her step-sister Tilly is home, but they hardly ever speak. Tilly’s gifted, and a dancer at an elite high school for the arts–that disappointing Tatum didn’t gain acceptance into. Her beloved father is away on a diplomatic mission to Africa, too, so it’s just Tatum, Tilly, the step-monster and Blanche, her step-grandma. Blanche is a free-spirited gal, though, and proves to be one speck of happiness in an ocean of frustration, as far as Tatum’s concerned.

This is a bittersweet story that ends up being really awesome. The beginning is all about separation–Tatum’s support networks all disappear–but she cobbles together new ones, and forges better connections within her world as a result. Tatum’s got a lot of trouble in front of her, and it’s not exactly all her fault. I could really sympathize with her anger over the way her parents treat her. It’s not as if she planned the arrest; she was being a friend to her bestie, and had no idea the boyfriend was a thief. And, I also thought their treatment of her was overly harsh. As an outsider to Tatum’s life, the narrative is structured to throw her stepmother into the harshest light possible, which is misleading. The lack of communication was frustrating, for me as a reader and mother. I can’t imagine being so high-handed and never explaining why. Sorry. That said, I liked how Tatum found constructive ways to survive her punishment, and earn her fine payment. She’s a great girl who’s in need of a hug, probably several everyday. Her life, though it isn’t terrible, hasn’t been easy wither, and she could have used some counseling at some point. Or, hey, a human conversation every now and again. I get that her step-mom had issues, but be an adult, for goodness sake. Even her daughter was terrified of her critique.

In the midst of this summer, Tatum recognizes that she’s making friendships–and perhaps more–with the few people with whom she’s interacted this summer, both in community service, and her new business venture. It’s sweet seeing Tatum vindicated in the end, with her bestie making all the right moves better late than never. And, a little romance, too. Tatum’s summer that started with goodbye ends up ending with bliss. Sweet, innocent and having strong themes of making it through hardship while dealing with overbearing parents, this book will appeal to most YA readers.

Interested? You can find IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo and your local library, no doubt.

About the Author:
Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor. She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters. Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland. She lives just outside Washington DC with her husband and daughter.

Her debut novel, IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, was published by Blink/HarperCollins in May 2017. You can find Christina on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and be sure to check out my fellow reviewers’ fave books of May in the Coffeehouse.

Updating the Classics: SEEKING MANSFIELD-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly-released YA romance from Kate Watson. SEEKING MANSFIELD is a contemporary re-telling of MANSFIELD PARK, an Austen novel I haven’t read.

About the book:
Sixteen-year-old Finley Price has perfected two things: how to direct a world-class production, and how to fly way, way under the radar. The only person who ever seems to notice Finley is her best friend, the Bertram’s son Oliver. If she could just take Oliver’s constant encouragement to heart and step out of the shadows, she’d finally chase her dream of joining the prestigious Mansfield Theater.

When teen movie stars Emma and Harlan Crawford move next door to the Bertram’s, they immediately set their sights on Oliver and his cunning sister, Juliette, shaking up Finley and Oliver’s stable friendship. As Emma and Oliver grow closer, Harlan finds his attention shifting from Juliette to the quiet, enigmatic, and thoroughly unimpressed Finley. Out of boredom, Harlan decides to make her fall in love with him. Problem is, the harder he seeks to win her, the harder he falls for her.

But Finley doesn’t want to be won, and she doesn’t want to see Oliver with anyone else. To claim Oliver’s heart—and keep her own—she’ll have to find the courage to do what she fears most: step into the spotlight.

My Review:
4.5 Stars for this contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s MANSFIELD PARK.
Finley Price is sixteen and living with her godparents, the Bertram’s, now that her famous actor father has died and her abusive alcoholic mother is in jail. The Bertram’s have three kids, Tate, Juliette and Oliver—who is Finley’s best friend—even though he has a giant crush on Finley. Juliette is mean and petty, and their aunt is spiteful and awful, pretty much telling Finley she ought to behave like a servant in the Bertram household.

Finley is a theater aficionado, and been working stage crews for years. Her deepest desire is to be a part of the Mansfield Theater Program, but she lacks the confidence to apply—and to ask for help. Oliver wants to send the application in for Finley, but listens to his father’s advice on the subject. Oliver just wants what’s best for Finley—and for her to seek it for herself. New neighbors, Emma and Harlan Crawford arrive, and their status as teen movie stars is exciting to everyone but Finley. She’s used to blending into the background, and is afraid Harlan will make things difficult. He once starred in a movie with her father.

New friendships and relationships develop, with power-brokering happening too. Emma is sweet on Oliver, but she recognizes that Finley needs to be a priority in his life. For me, it seems manipulative, and the blurb gets it right that Harlan pursues Finley mostly out of boredom and the desire for a challenge. That said, Finley isn’t easily won over, and there are lots of peaks and valleys in the myriad love stories that are taking place. It’s kind of a love-square (as opposed to a triangle) situation and I know that’s not cool for all readers. For me, the love angles can be summed up thusly: if you can’t be with the one you love…(honey)…love the one you’re with.

I really liked Finley, and those who’ve read Mansfield Park all agree that she’s a far more interesting and strong heroine than her model (Fanny Price). Finley’s survived a lot of challenges, and she faces new ones with compassion and strength. For all the love stories in the book, this is a clean read with just kissing on the page. That said, there are allusions to off page sexcapades, which form the base of the final conflict.

As a YA book, it felt accessible and interesting. I think teens will be interested in the theater aspects and celebrity issues, which update the plot for modern readers. The HEA comes on the closing pages, and it seems like there could be more of this story to tell.

Interested? You can find SEEKING MANSFIELD on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Kate Watson is a young adult writer, wife, mother of two, and the tenth of thirteen children. Originally from Canada, she attended college in the States and holds a BA in Philosophy from Brigham Young University. A lover of travel, speaking in accents, and experiencing new cultures, she has studied in Israel and lived in Brazil, the American South, and now calls Arizona home.

Her first novel, SEEKING MANSFIELD, debuts in Spring 2017, with the companion novel to follow in 2018. She is also a contributor to Eric Smith’s Welcome Home adoption anthology coming in 2017.

Find Kate on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Making Friends With A BOY WORTH KNOWING–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a YA M/M supernatural romance from Jennifer Cosgrove. A BOY WORTH KNOWING features a socially-isolated clairvoyant high school senior, and the new boy in school who befriends him.

Catch the excerpt below and enter to win a free book in the giveaway, too!
About the book:
Ghosts can’t seem to keep their opinions to themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Nate Shaw should know; he’s been talking to them since he was twelve. But they aren’t the only ones making his high school years a living hell. All Nate wants is to keep his secret and keep his head down until he can graduate. That is, until the new boy, James Powell, takes a seat next to him in homeroom. James not only notices him, he manages to work his way into Nate’s life. But James has issues of his own.

Between dead grandmother and living aunt, Nate has to navigate the fact that he’s falling in love with his only friend, all while getting advice from the most unusual places.

Ghosts, bullies, first love: it’s a lot to deal with when you’re just trying to survive senior year.

How about a little taste?

James didn’t bail in the upcoming week. Or the one after. And Horror Movie Sunday seemed to be well on its way to becoming a thing. I’d gotten better at ignoring the ever-present shade of James’s brother, mostly because all of my attention was on James. Yeah, it was bad. Really bad. I was setting myself up for disappointment, but my heart didn’t seem to give a damn what my head said.

That was unbelievably sappy. I had a huge crush on my only friend, and I didn’t know what to do about it except ignore it. Sounded like a plan.

At least at first. I calmed down a bit and kept the awkward at bay as we spent more time together. It became a regular thing to text each other stupid stuff before bedtime, when we’d talk about anything and everything. The regularity of it made the butterflies calm down when I saw him in person during the day.

Then one Saturday, he asked if he could stay over. I didn’t ask why, but I got the impression something had happened at home, and he wasn’t ready to tell me. And I had no idea if I should ask. Was it really my business?

James walked in without knocking—that had gone by the wayside a few weeks before—and plopped down in a kitchen chair. He looked utterly miserable.

“Hey.” God, what had happened? His voice was flat and even his hair looked dejected. Should I say something or let it go? I just wanted to be a good friend.

“Um. Hey.” Very eloquent, Nate. You suck.

James looked up, smiling weakly. The reflection off his glasses made it hard to see his eyes, but they seemed to look okay. Maybe they weren’t as sad as they were a moment before. The smile fell away, but he didn’t look quite as bad as when he’d walked through the door. “Sorry, not having a good day.”

Ask. Don’t ask. Ask. Don’t— Oh, the hell with it. “What’s going on? You want to talk about it?” God, I was terrible at these kinds of situations.

He looked up at me, and for one horrifying moment, I thought he was going to cry. His mouth did a weird crinkly thing that I never wanted to see again. James looked away

and took a few deep breaths, obviously trying to get himself back under control. He took his glasses off and swiped at his eyes with his sleeve. “Sorry.”

I wavered for a few seconds before pulling out the chair across from him and sitting down. Deep breath. “Look, there’s obviously something going on. You don’t have to tell me, but I just want you to know that you can. If you want to.” Where did that come from?

“Nate, I—” He looked down at his hands, picking at the edge of a thumbnail.

A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention; his brother’s ghost was standing there, looking at me. Expectantly. Like I was supposed to know what to do. I blew out a breath and waited. I wasn’t going to push.

Finally, James gave me a small smile. I breathed a sigh of relief; he wasn’t ready to talk about it, and I wasn’t quite prepared to help him. “No, I’m—I’m good. Thanks again for letting me stay here tonight.”

Relief washed over me. “So, what do you want to do?”

My Review:
Nate Shaw is a high school outcast, ostracized by his schoolmates and his own mother–all because he sees and speaks with ghosts. It’s a lonely life for Nate, living with his aunt and having no friends in his small Ohio town. He’s got a good sense of humor and he’s endearingly sweet, despite his busted heart.

James is a new student and immediately turns to Nate for friendship; the mean girls want a piece of James, but he’s not interested. His family relocated from Cincinnati after James’ brother David was killed in a car wreck. Nate’s intrigued by James, and wary of David’s ghost who clings to James like a glowing shadow. James is a kind boy, who seems to want friendship with Nate, for reasons Nate cannot fathom, but he’s eager to make the most of this opportunity. And it doesn’t hurt that James is good looking, smart and loves old school slasher flicks just like Nate.

Over time, James spends more time at Nate’s home than his own, and he begins to confide in Nate regarding David’s death. Nate feigns surprise, mostly because David had already told him the sordid tale, trying to get Nate to dissuade James from searching for motives and a possible cover-up. He’s a grief-stricken kid, wishing someone besides David was responsible for David’s death. Nate is a great friend to James, and harbors a quiet crush. It’s rather deflating when James starts dating a girl, though. Well, until James learns that Nate is interested.

This is a sweet and mostly innocent YA romance with lots of supernatural elements, because Nate meets several ghosts in the story. I really enjoyed the snappy prose and self-deprecation. Nate’s a survivor of sorts, and totally admirable. James makes some missteps, mostly because he’s oblivious–according to David’s ghost. The characters all come off as decent people, excepting the mean girls and Nate’s ridiculous mother. It was an interesting twist that Nate’s mom kicked him out for speaking with the dead, not his sexuality. That said, it’s a good read with a very happy ending. It’s “mostly” innocent, because James and Nate spend a little bit of time making out, and a very little bit of time exploring each other sexually–like a page or two. It’s all teen appropriate, and the respectful way they treat each other–and the adults treat them–will be appealing for all readers. I really liked this one, and would definitely recommend it for readers who enjoy teen romance, and positive diverse books.

Interested? You can find A BOY WORTH KNOWING on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a book of your choice from Nine Star Press.
Good luck, and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Jennifer Cosgrove has always been a voracious reader and a well-established geek from an early age. She loves comics, movies, and anything that tells a compelling story. When not writing, she likes knitting, dissecting/arguing about movies with her husband, and enjoying the general chaos that comes with having kids.

Catch up with Jennifer online on her website, twitter, and Goodreads.