Book Review: Kissing Max Holden, by Katy Upperman

kissing max holden
Image belongs to Swoon Reads.

Jillian Eldridge has lived next door to Max Holden for years. They grew up together, going through life as friends who just happened to live close. But lately, they haven’t been so close. Not since Max’s dad had a stroke, and Max took a dark detour as he struggled to deal with the way his life has changed. When Max climbs through her window one night, lost and looking for a friend, Jill just can’t turn her back on him, and her dad catches them kissing.

Jillian knew it was a terrible idea even before her dad caught them. Max has issues. And a girlfriend. But the lost look in her friend’s eyes made her forget all of that. Her parents are fighting all the time and she has a new sibling on the way, so Jillian needs someone she can turn to. She’s not sure Max is the right person for that, but she’s not sure she can resist finding out.

A lot of people think YA books just deal with romance and popularity contests, but that just isn’t the case. Kissing Max Holden does have romance, of course, but it deals with deep issues:  family tragedy, troubled marriages, hard decisions. Jillian is a great character, driven and determined, who faces obstacles to her dreams that she never imagined. Max is struggling with almost losing his father and the immense changes in his family, and he copes by turning to things he knows he shouldn’t. Max and Jillian help each other with the battles they face, as their friendship turns to something more. Sweet with the spice of adversity, Kissing Max Holden is a great read that will keep you turning the pages long after you should be sleeping (ask me how I know).

Katy Upperman is a writer who loves country music and Instagram. Her debut novel is Kissing Max Holden.

(Galley provided by Swoon Reads via NetGalley.)

Book Review: All Things New, by Lauren Miller

all things new
Image belongs to Three Saints Press.

Jessa Gray is seventeen, with a boyfriend she loves, a few friends, and a place she belongs. At least, a place she looks like she belongs:  living with her mom and hanging out with her boyfriend’s crowd. But inside, Jessa is a mess, suffering horrible panic attacks that medication and therapy haven’t helped, and always feeling like an outsider. When a terrible accident leaves Jessa with a brain injury, she sees bruises and scars on everyone around her, and thinks she must be going crazy for real. The chance to move to Colorado with her dad and start over is Jessa’s lifeline.

Instead of being the haven she was looking for, the move makes Jessa’s anxiety worse, until she meets Marshall, the quirky boy with a heart defect who makes her see life a whole new way. Though Jessa starts to feel like she belongs in this new life, she still sees wounds on everyone around her, and wonders if she’ll ever be “normal” again.

I’ve never suffered from anxiety quite like Jessa did, although I do have the occasional panic attack that sends my brain into a frenzy and throws the world into chaos. All Things New captures the pandemonium of anxiety and panic attacks, and shows readers just what if feels like to live with these issues. More importantly, it shows what it’s like to survive with them, and to grow. Jessa is entirely relatable, she doesn’t think she’s normal, but she is:  everyone is dealing with something, which she eventually learns. Marshall is funny and sweet, and he helps Jessa look at the world without the veil of her anxiety. Both humorous and heart-wrenching, All Things New is an enthralling read, bursting with vivid life.

Lauren Miller grew up in Georgia, studied at Yale, and now lives in California, where she writes and works. The author of Parallel and Free to Fall, her newest novel is All Things New.

(Galley provided by Three Saints Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky, by Summer Heacock

awkward
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

 

 

Running a successful bakery takes time. Lots of time. So much time that Kat is astonished to realize it’s been almost two years since she’s had sex with her boyfriend. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to, but last time they tried, it proved physically painful and impossible. And Kat’s been so busy, she forgot to follow up with her physical therapy. Oops.

With their anniversary looming, Kat gives Ryan a break from the relationship, while she works on her physical therapy, with a little—okay, a lot—of advice from her best friends/business partners. Their best customer is Ben, who just happens to be a physical therapist, so Kat enlists his help in her crusade. But Ben isn’t interested in just being a means to an end, and Kat has to figure out what is really important to her (besides cupcakes).

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky is a hilarious romp of a novel, filled with awkward—of course—moments, lots of friendly banter, and cupcakes. So. Many. Cupcakes. I laughed so hard at Kat’s escapades with her friends: she has a knack for open-mouth-insert-foot, usually loudly and when Ben can overhear. If you need a laugh, a dose of friendship, or an appetite stimulant, this is the book for you.

Summer Heacock writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her newest novel is The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/MIRA via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Trust, by Kylie Scott

 

trust
Image belongs to Kylie Scott.

 

Edie’s just your normal, everyday, shy, overweight teenager picking up snacks for a late-night movie marathon with her best friend, when a man with a gun takes her hostage at the gas station. In an instant, Edie’s life changes and everything takes a sharp left turn. Edie and John are the only ones left standing. In the publicity hype that follows, Edie walks away from her best friend and fights back against the girl who’s been bullying her for years. Shy, quiet Edie chucks her private school career to go to public school, where she hopes she’ll fit in better.

Of course, the hype follows her to her new school, but this time it’s because of her connection to John, school bad boy and now-former weed dealer. Edie makes new friends, but finds it hard to open up. With no one else who understands, Edie and John are drawn together and become friends, bonding over that fateful night. Soon Edie finds herself wanting more than friendship with John, but someone like him could never be interested in her.

I loved this book! Read it straight through in one sitting. Edie is a kick-butt heroine. Smart-mouthed and droll, she stands up for what she believes in, no matter what, and her wry observations frequently had me laughing. Her friendship with Han was fantastic, with none of the petty jealousies and insecurities I’ve come to expect in YA. John is beyond fantastic. The way his character grows in this story is enthralling, and seeing him evolve as he and Edie grew to trust each other showcased just how much people can change. Tons of witty banter, joking, and hijinks here, but there’s a serious side to this novel, too. I give this 5+ stars!

Kylie Scott is a NYT and USA Today best-selling author. She lives and writes in Australia. Her newest novel is Trust.

(Galley provided by author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Mourning Parade, by Dawn Reno Langely

the mourning parade

Natalie DeAngelo is grieving the loss of her two sons in a school shooting. Even after a year, she still finds herself the focus of far too much attention, and lives with her memories and her despair. Then she hears about a sanctuary for elephants in Thailand, and decides on a change of scenery for a year to help with her healing.

As soon as she arrives, Natalie is caught between the animosity of a fellow vet and the rampages of an injured elephant named Sophie. Everyone else sees the elephant as a danger, but Natalie knows she’s just hurt and scared. Natalie puts all her effort into healing Sophie’s body and mind—and hopes that she just might do some healing herself.

The Mourning Parade is a fascinating book focused on enigmatic animals. The setting is rich with detail, and so vivid you can almost smell the steamy climate. The elephants are just as much characters in the novel as Natalie is, and the bond between Natalie and Sophie is incredible. I loved this book. It was emotional, but healing and inspirational, too. Highly recommended!

Dawn Reno Langley loves to write novels, essays, poetry…she just loves to write. The Mourning Parade is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Amberjack Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Nearest Faraway Place, by Hayley Long

TNFAP
Image belongs to Hot Key Books.

Griff and Dylan—Thomas, like the poet—are almost back from vacation with their parents when the unthinkable happens: a horrible car wreck kills their parents and injures Griff. Now the two boys are alone in the world and struggling with grief and tragedy. Dylan is just worried about Griff, who’s not dealing well with their reality, and Dylan must make sure his brother gets through this in one piece.

When an aunt and uncle they’ve never met offer them a home in Wales, the boys end up in a world they’re not used to, still reeling from the loss of their parents. Griff bravely starts to adjust to their new reality, but he’s not the only who needs to be brave:  Dylan has to face up to something if he’s ever going to embrace his own reality.

So. This book. This book. It’s sad, I’m not going to lie. I expected that, but I did not expect the wrenching sadness of both boys, and Griff’s horrible grief. The brothers are so different, and yet the same, and the memories threaded throughout the book—the nearest faraway places—are poignant and make the reader aware how great the boys’ parents were. The writing is strong and evocative, pulling the reader right into every single emotional moment. This is well-worth reading.

Hayley Long lives in Norwich with her husband and her rabbit. The Nearest Faraway Place, available July 13th, is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Hot Key Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Dream Me, by Kathryn Berla

dream me
Image belongs to Amberjack Publishing.

Babe is always the new girl in town. Always. So, when her family moves to Florida one summer, she doesn’t expect much, just a regular life working for the local country club and its upper-class members. But she makes friends and starts to imagine a life there. Then the headaches start, terrible, blinding ones that seem to be caused by the dreams she has every single night.

Zat is a dreamer from a far distant future where people no longer dream and Earth is dying. In his dreams, he sees red-haired Babe and longs to experience the life she embraces. Instead of leaving Earth with his family, he chooses to travel back in time and live in Babe’s dreams, but he never imagines those dreams will cause her so much pain. While Babe clings to their dream life together, Zat tries to pull away so he no longer hurts her. Soon they must make a choice between dreams and reality.

I’ve read some great books lately, and Dream Me is one of them. The whole premise is unique, since Zat only exists in Babe’s dreams, but the characters are so vivid they feel like I know them personally. Zat’s bleak existence made me feel sorry for him, and I could relate to Babe’s tough exterior, caused by her challenging life. These characters are deep and compelling, and the novel blends YA with fantasy seamlessly, with an added does of mystery—what is Zat hiding? Will they find a solution? Even the setting—the steamy Florida coast—lives and breathes on the page. If you love YA, fantasy, romance, or sci-fi, you should read this!

Kathryn Berla lives in San Francisco. Her newest novel, Dream Me, hits shelves on July 11th.

(Galley provided by Amberjack Publishing in return for an honest review.)

Books I Read in June

June was a really good reading month for me:  I read 16 books, and started two more that I stopped reading. Several of these books I thought were fantastic!

the rules of half

The Rules of Half, by Jenna Patrick. (Read to review.) Loved this! It deals with mental illness respectfully and accurately, and the characters were great:  flawed and believable.

internet famous

Internet Famous by Danika Stone. (Read to review.) I liked this a lot. I liked the MC–and envied her life–and found the whole set-up of her being a famous blogger being persecuted by a troll very interesting.

the sixth victim

The Sixth Victim, by Tessa Harris. (Read to review.) I was intrigued by the Jack the Ripper connection, but found this just “meh”.

Love, Alabama

Love, Alabama, by Susan Sands. (Read to review.) A cute romance with a history, plus a narcissistic, manipulative ex-husband, set in a small Southern town. Enjoyable.

patchwork

Patchwork, by Karsten Knight. (Read to review.) Loved this! Unique concept with likeable characters, and a neat twist on the phoenix mythos.

Silence Fallen, by Patricia Briggs. (Just because I love this series.) Yep. Love me some Mercy Thompson.

Part ofthe Silence

Part of the Silence, by Debbie Howells. (Read to review.) Another “meh” read, although I loved the Cornwall setting, and the mystery was somewhat interesting.

murder on black swan lane

Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose. (Read to review.) A pretty good read, with a Regency-era murder mystery. The interactions between the two main characters were very entertaining.

girl on the verge

Girl on the Verge, by Pintip Dunn. (Read to review.) Another book I loved! A multi-cultural MC who struggles to bridge the gap between her cultures, plus a creepy-as-all-get-out “friend” who tries to be just. exactly. like. her. and take over her life.

All the Feels:  All is Fair in Love and Fandom, by Danika Stone. I read this because I enjoyed Internet Famous, and found this to be an entertaining read as well.

Being Dead is Bad for Business, by Stanley A Weiss. (Read to review). Stopped reading about 5% in due to a lack of interest in the character. He was pretty self-absorbed.

Betrothed, by Wanda Wiltshire. (Read to review.) Stopped reading after about 20% because the characters seemed too juvenile for YA, and because the whole plot felt too “done” (I’m tired of the fated lovers concept, to be honest, at least done like this, plus she only knows him from her fluffy dreams….come on.)

Dream Me, by Kathryn Berla. (Review forthcoming.). Another great read! Ironically, this, too, has the MCs knowing each other in their dreams, but this one is totally different, with one of them being from a desolate future earth who chose to try to come back in time instead of escaping with his family.

The Nearest Faraway Place, by Hayley Long. (Review forthcoming.) Okay, so….This is about two brothers who lose their parents in a horrible car wreck and have to learn to live with their new reality. I…figured out what was going on about 60% of the way through, and just didn’t know what to think. This is a good book, but it is sad/emotional, so be warned if you pick it up.

Crazy Love, by Francis Chan. (Spiritual book of the month.) Awesome read.

Across Many Mountains, by Yangzom Brauen. (From the TBR pile.) Interesting look at Tibet’s culture.

Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. (Classic book of the month.) How have I never read this before?

Pastel Orphans, by Gemma Liviero. (Cultural book of the month.) Set during the Holocaust. Not an easy book to read.

 

Book Review: Girl on the Verge, by Pintip Dunn

girl on the verge
Image belongs to Kensington Books.

Kanchana doesn’t look like anyone else in her small Kansas town, and even her friends say things that prove they don’t think she belongs. At home, her Thai grandmother tells her she’s too westernized. The only place she’s comfortable is when she’s designing and making clothes in secret. When her mother brings home a teenage girl named Shelly, Kan thinks she’s finally found a true friend.

At first, things are great, with Shelly admiring everything about Kan, including the boy she likes. But soon it’s like Shelly is trying to take over her life, including copying Kan’s appearance. So Kan investigates Shelly’s past, and finds dark secrets about Shelly—and her own family—that she never imaged.

I read Girl on the Verge in less than 24 hours. I could not put it down! I loved how Kan struggles to bridge the gap between her heritage, and the culture she lives in (Okay, I don’t love the struggle, but I love that it’s depicted.). The relationship between Kan and her grandmother is full of layers and a deep love, but secrets abide there as well. The creepiness of Shelly and her fixation on Kan grew slowly, and the ending was very well-done. Fast-paced with several twists, I highly recommend this book!

Pintip Dunn lives in Maryland and writes YA fiction. Girl on the Verge is her newest novel, on sale today.

(Galley provided by Kensington Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

 

Book Review: Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose

murder on black swan lane
Image belongs to Kensington Books.

The Earl of Wrexford isn’t your average aristocrat:  for starters, he has a keen scientific mind and an interest in chemistry. Secondly, he has no time for fools and doesn’t care what the rest of society thinks of him. When Reverend Holworthy publicly condemns him for his wickedness, he retaliates, and the war of words escalates, and cartoonist A.J. Quill uses the feud as fodder, drawing even more attention. Then the reverend is found dead, with chemical burns, and Wrexford finds himself the primary suspect.

Charlotte Sloane is a talented artist, but knows the public would never follow a female cartoonist, so she uses her late husband’s pen name to put food on the table…at the expense of the rich and famous she scathingly depicts. When the Earl of Wrexford figures out her identity, she’s afraid he’ll expose her. Instead, he seeks her help in solving the mystery of the reverend’s death before he swings for the crime. But the crime has roots in dark secrets, and the perpetrator will stop at nothing to see that they fail, even adding more victims to the list.

Murder on Black Swan Lane is a richly-detailed story set in Regency England. Charlotte is an engaging character, full of curiosity and a secretive past, but determined to make her own way in the world. Wrexford is fascinating, with his dry sense of humor, brilliant mind, and disdain for traditions. Together, the two of them enter a dark and twisted world full of secrets that takes them places they’d never imagined.

Andrea Penrose is a romance author who writes under several pen names. Murder on Black Swan Lane is her newest book, the first book in the Wrexford & Sloane Regency series.

(Galley provided by Kensington Books in exchange for an honest review.)