Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

16006117From Goodreads: Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her…

She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy.

But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.

Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?

And what happens if she starts to fall for him?


This novel was phenomenal!  I was enraptured from the very beginning, watching Taylor walk into the depths of a violent gang to pass on the mark, noting her vast courage and fortitude as she attempted to trap a killer.  With her “them or me” mentality, drilled into her from a young age, Taylor runs the gauntlet of danger throughout this entire novel trying to stave off the Darkness, keeping it at bay one murdered soul at a time.

Enter Justin and his teenage followers: the popular crowd who enjoy nothing more than to plague Taylor at every turn.  They don’t know about the Darkness; they don’t know Taylor sees the dead, or that the murdered’s touch is the reason she wears gloves, hoping to cover the ever deepening black mark death leaves on her hand.  All the populars know is that she’s different.  And “different” in high school terms means the end of all social acceptance.  The brunt of their spiteful attacks and malicious slurs tend to fall on deaf ears, however, as Taylor is a strong female lead; she’s more interested in saving her soul than fitting in.  And I loved this about her.  She’s not afraid to assert herself or speak up against her tormentors, though it never brings about much good.  Yet when faced with the death of the most popular of her tormentors, Justin, Taylor has to do more than fight back—she must fit in in order to figure out the truth before it’s too late, before the Darkness comes for her.

The fact that her scientist father doesn’t believe anything Taylor says about her curse, chalking it all up to a disease he’s intent on curing, only adds another barrier that she must overcome in order to continue roaming the streets in search of murderers, attempting to keep away the Darkness and also convince her father she’s not crazy.  I can’t imagine being in her situation and having a parent disregard my words and insist on extracting my blood in attempts to heal me, but Taylor bares it quite well, following in her deceased mother’s footsteps, so it seems.  Now, there’s a story that’s highly intriguing!  Learning all about Taylor’s family curse, passed down from her mother’s side, was fascinating.  I loved the glimpses and stories we’re given as Taylor reads from her mother’s book, the one that explains how it all began and sets the stage for the upcoming fight with the Darkness that readers know is bound to come.

This novel is unlike anything I’ve read before, and  I loved the sleuthing Taylor undertakes, as well as learning the truth about Justin, the V Club, and watching Taylor risk her life in order to impede the Darkness. It’s very well written, and as I said before, I just adore Taylor and her inner strength.  Regardless of all the obstacles set before her, she diligently tries to do what is right and protect others.  Justin grew on me too, though I really hated him in the beginning, even though his side-kick James is actually the more threatening of Taylor’s tormenting group, made all the more sinister by the revelation of the V Club.

The whole idea of the V Club was fascinating, and it made me think of all those underground clubs that are rumored to have been in hiding for centuries, which only adds to the fun of it all.  Of course, V Club seems a lot more sinister than the underground clubs I’ve heard of (but then again, I wouldn’t really know because I’m not privy to their societies and all they do), and it was awesome watching Taylor attempt to infiltrate.  Likewise, we eventually learn more about the Darkness and, in this case, it’s interest in the V Club, which filled me with trepidation as we get an up-close and personal view of what lies beyond—which then begs the question, if all the murderers are sucked into the Darkness, what, exactly, are all these evil murderers going to be used for in the future?  Because… the Darkness is not hell, as one might assume.  So, what is it?  Five stars.

5 stars

Angry Robot and Strange Chemistry have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this awesome novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on August 6, 2013.


17977051 From Goodreads: For months, Jesse has been envious of her twin sister Bryn and even has a crush on Bryn’s gorgeous, popular boyfriend, Quinton. When Jesse awakens from a coma to learn that everyone thinks she IS Bryn, the option of actually taking over her sister’s life is beyond tempting, but there’s a downside. She’d have to give up Ethan, her best friend and the only person she trusts. Could she actually live as Bryn for the rest of her life? And if her family and friends found out, would they ever forgive her?


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a twin? I have. Whenever I see twins, I’m always wishing that I had one, too. Sisterly love, someone just like me to confide it. Someone with which to share my secrets, dreams, and ambitions… the glamorization of twins has always made me jealous of those with that special bond. But glamorization is just that. The grass always seems greener on the other side, and truth be told, I can do all the above with a good friend or sibling, if I wanted to. What I can’t do, however, is switch places with them. But Jesse and Bryn can…

Carling’s novel, Becoming Bryn, follows the lives of Jesse and Bryn, identical twins, as they battle the drama that is high school. Told from differing viewpoints, readers get an in-depth look into the hearts and minds of both girls, which was an ingenious idea as it allowed me to connect with both on a deeper level than had the story been completely from Jesse’s point-of-view, which is what I expected. Through this process, we learn about Jesse’s jealousy and Bryn’s heartache, casting a differing light on the twins as they live their lives. However, it doesn’t end there. As you know from the synopsis, Bryn dies, and it is here that the inevitable twist occurs.

Thought to be the popular twin, Jesse is mistaken for Bryn, and when her feeble attempt to explain the truth to her mother falls flat and Bryn’s beautiful boyfriend Quinton comes to visit, the idea of becoming Bryn takes hold. But one can’t just become another overnight, twin or not. What I loved about this transition is that, even though Bryn is dead, we still get her point of view from the afterlife. She has yet to cross over, and we struggle with Jesse’s decision to take over Bryn’s life right alongside Bryn. We also learn that Bryn’s life wasn’t as perfect as Jesse thought it to be, and that Jesse’s life wasn’t as dull as she herself thought her own life to be, and it’s a wonderful portrayal of growing up, making life-altering choices, and having to deal with the lies and deceits we’ve spun. Though Jesse seemed a little like a whiner and many of her choices made me angry with her, I get it. And so does Bryn as she thinks over her interactions with her sister in the months leading up to her death. Being a twin doesn’t mean you know everything about one another, and maybe it’s better that way.

This is a story of love, healing, and redemption, and I really enjoyed it. I recommend a box of tissues as you read, because the ending will leave you a little bit raw. I listened to the last fifth of the novel on my Kindle as I drove down the highway on my way home from a conference because I couldn’t wait another moment to find out what happened, and let me tell you, I had to pull over and get myself together because the tears and overwhelming sense of joy and sadness made it impossible for me to function, so don’t follow my example there, don’t read and drive–the ending will leave you a happy mess. But do read it, because it’s great. Four stars.

4 stars

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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12579262From Goodreads: Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.


Written through a mixture of prose and verse, this novel is unlike any I’ve ever read before. One aspect that really set it apart from others I’ve read is the online journal that begins every chapter. Kate is a blogger, albeit a private blogger, and she records her thoughts and feelings on the site (seriously, go look at it!) from the very beginning, before she ever begins her year at Beacon. Each new entry has a “Today’s Truth” statement that sets the stage for the blog entry and the chapter, and I really enjoyed this, although I didn’t realize just how important these journal entries were until it really came down to it all.

The novel begins in August and ends in January, opening and closing with Kate’s initial and final words on the blog, and I found this extremely interesting and well-rounding, a great final touch for closure. This is also the portion of the novel that is written in both prose and verse, and while I’m not necessarily a verse guru (I shy away from verse as much as possible in my every day life), it was awesome to see Kate’s thoughts and feelings thrown on the page in such an unconventional way. It’s completely different and extremely powerful.

Alpine’s novel follows Kate as she moves to Beacon and finds instant popularity, something she’s never had before and, as we all know, popularity makes people do crazy things. Over the course of the story, Kate changes, as her brother Brett points out, and it’s not for the better. But what I really enjoyed was that, though blinded by her need to fit in and feel loved, she didn’t forget her family, and when her “friends” said rude and nasty things about her brother and his girlfriend, Kate stuck up for them. Now, while it’s true that that’s about all she did, it still shows that she hasn’t lost all her humanity trying to fit in with others.  Though the newest addition to the popular group, she told them how she felt and had no qualms standing up and walking away when the comments became increasingly rude concerning those not in the “popular crowd,” and I loved watching this strong will of hers because it foreshadows her will power that we’ll see later on in the novel.

Now, I know the synopsis says it, but I feel the need to point it out again: there is an assault, an attempted rape, in this novel. The good news is that it’s late in the novel, it’s not graphic, and Kate is able to fend off her attacker.  The bad news is that any type of assault leaves the victim wounded internally, regardless of physical pain. Now, the reason I wanted to draw potential reader attention to this is I tend to shy away from novels where I know that rape or sexual abuse will be portrayed, but I’m glad I didn’t with this novel, and I suggest you don’t let that stop you from picking it up, either. It’s a powerful story, and although Kate loses everything–her friends, popularity, even her father’s protection–she remains strong and ultimately must make a choice: to protect her father’s job and the basketball team who will probably continue to attempt and succeed in harming women, or to tell the truth, face the taunts of the school, and stand for what is right.  It’s powerful; a great story that I highly recommend. Four stars.

4 stars

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Canary releases on August 1, 2013.

17325147From Goodreads: What does it take to rise from life’s depths, swim against the current, and breathe?

Weighted down by the loss of her parents, Blythe McGuire struggles to keep her head above water as she trudges through her last year at Matthews College. Then a chance meeting sends Blythe crashing into something she doesn’t expect—an undeniable attraction to a dark-haired senior named Chris Shepherd, whose past may be even more complicated than her own. As their relationship deepens, Chris pulls Blythe out of the stupor she’s been in since the night a fire took half her family. She begins to heal, and even, haltingly, to love this guy who helps her find new paths to pleasure and self-discovery. But as Blythe moves into calmer waters, she realizes Chris is the one still strangled by his family’s traumatic history. As dark currents threaten to pull him under, Blythe may be the only person who can keep him from drowning.

*This book is intended for mature audiences due to strong language and sexual content.


I read some reviews about Left Drowning prior to reading it, which is something I hardly ever do, but as the note above states that it’s a novel for mature audiences as it includes strong language and sexual content, recommended for Ages 17+, I wanted to do a little research first.  Those of you who have read my reviews on the blog over the past few years already know that I’m a bit of a prude, and those of you who haven’t read my reviews, well… I’m a bit of a prude.  And, as the New Adult genre has become more prolific (and I love it), I’ve learned to research my novels with the above warnings prior to reading them because I don’t want any surprises.  That being said, I feel like the reviews I read prepared me quite well for this novel’s delving into the sexual aspect, but not so much for the intensity of the characters as they bare their souls.

This read is intense.  The characters are extremely deep and their plights really moved me. Both Blythe and Chris are extremely raw inside, running from their pasts, and it’s hard to keep from crying as you read through their situations. And it’s not just them, it’s every character.  Park reels her readers in with the authenticity of her characters, splitting them wide open and forcing them to work through the pain, face their pasts, and triumph or die trying.  Originally I thought this novel was just about Blythe and Chris, but really it’s about them all: Sabin, Eric, Estelle, Zach, and James… each one playing an integral part in this story; each one is hurting, and though it takes a while for protective walls to come down around the characters for the reader to really see their true selves, it’s there, it’s raw, full of emotion, and I just loved how Park portrayed them, forcing them deep into my heart and making me feel like I truly know them. The fact that this novel took place over a few years was an ingenious idea that further connected me to the characters as I watched them graduate from college and begin living lives on their own, and while I don’t agree with all the decisions the characters make, it’s absolutely beautiful.

Honestly, I really enjoyed this novel, even more than I originally thought I would, and it all has to do with Park’s undeniable ability to create characters and events so real that the reader cannot walk away untouched.  Park focuses on some very difficult topics in this novel and she does so with extreme care, and though my emotions were all over the place as I read, I wouldn’t have it any other way (make sure you have tissues nearby). The one aspect I, personally, could have done without, though, were the very graphic “mature” scenes that I felt were a bit too long (I really prefer fade to black sequences, but to each their own), but overall, the power of the novel really overrides that aspect for me.  Four stars.

4 stars

Amazon Publishing has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on July 16, 2013.

15998997From Goodreads: Annie Fleet, master scuba diver and history buff, knows she can’t fight her nerd status as a freshman at her Los Angeles private school. And she doesn’t care—except for the fact that her crush, Josh, thinks she’s more adorable than desirable. Annie is determined to set him straight on their school trip to Mexico. But her teacher has other plans: he needs Annie to help him find Cortez’s lost-long treasure.

Suddenly, Annie finds herself scuba diving in pitch-black waters, jetting to Hawaii with Josh, and hunting for the priceless Golden Jaguar. But Annie and Josh aren’t the only ones lured by the possibility of finding the greatest treasure ever lost at sea. Someone else wants the gold—and needs Annie dead. In deeper danger than she ever imagined, can Annie get the boy and find the Jaguar, or is she in over her head?

Critically-acclaimed author Coert Voorhees delivers breathtaking romance and non-stop action in his newest novel, the spirited and captivating In Too Deep.


The beginning of this novel was a bit slow for me.  Voorhees spends much time setting up the scene and the characters, so there isn’t much action until about 35% into the novel, when the treasure hunting actually begins.  From here, it’s a whirlwind of stop and go action as Annie and Josh embark on a mission to find Cortez’s treasure before those out to kill her succeed.  I’m not interested in the specifics of diving, so the details explaining exactly how to do so were a little overbearing for me, but the thrill of the adventure was great once it really got started.

Voorhees has done a great job making the entire story work, since our main characters are high school students.  The story begins in California, and our characters, Josh, Annie, and the rest of the gang, attend a private school for the “rich and famous.” There’s a school trip to Mexico for a humanitarian experience, and Annie is an expert diver.  Honestly, the set up is perfect because the characters need money, the know-how, and the ability to travel.  The family set up is perfect, too, making it so that everything works together, from the high school humanitarian trip to the Hawaii one.  Like I said, Annie is an expert diver, her father a history teacher at the private school who loves the treasure hunt, her mother a dive shop owner.  Who better suited to hunt for treasure than Annie?  Josh is the son of an actress, the golden child, able to make things happen on a whim, such as travel to Hawaii, which is why the story itself is able to flow in a believable manner.

Annie is a bit more naïve than I’d like her to be, though.  A freshman in high school, she tends to follow the crowd in order to be close to Josh, and her inability to tell her parents the truth about the people chasing her irked me a bit.  I know teenagers don’t tell their parents everything, but I like a good story in which the teens trust their parents, and I’d especially like to see that when a life is on the line.  But to make the story work, Annie did need to keep the secret, and it all worked out in the end. Three stars.

3 stars

Disney Book Group has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on July 9, 2013.

16096307From Goodreads: Sisters uncover an unbelievable family secret.

Barbara “Babie” Bunting is constantly mistaken for her sisters, but she’s determined not to end up like her family. She doesn’t plan to stick around Shallow Pond after graduation, and she certainly won’t be ruined by a broken heart. That is, until fellow orphan Zach Faraday walks into the picture, and Babie can’t deny their chemistry.

When her oldest sister, Annie, comes down with a mysterious illness—initially dismissed as “love sickness”—Babie and Zach start investigating what exactly killed the girls’ mother and why their late father became so consumed by grief. What they find changes everything.


This is a very interesting mystery novel in which Babie works to uncover the truth about her parentage while trying to deny her feelings for Zach, a young man drawn to Shallow Pond to find his benefactor.   I loved that Babie was a strong female lead for most of the novel, refusing to succumb to her friends’ attempts to fix up her love life and her sister’s inability to leave Shallow Pond.  She has set goals for herself to which she adheres, and it’s awesome to see her push on, even though her heart really does belong to Zach.  However, she lapses for a time, which, based on the secret itself, is understandable, but was also somewhat frustrating for me as a reader.  Babie goes from being a cool, calm, collected person to someone who is falling apart in a matter of minutes, and while I can completely see the validity in this reaction, it irked me a little because I personally don’t see it as such a big, terrible issues like Babie does.  I can’t say I’ve ever been in her shoes, and I know all readers will react differently to the big reveal, but I personally didn’t see it as such a big deal, so her complete attitude shift was difficult for me.

So, the secret.  I can’t tell you what it is, or it’d ruin the story, but just know that there is a huge secret in this novel, one that I never saw coming.  I loved that Grosso kept me guessing and that the foreshadowing wasn’t over the top like it sometimes can be in novels, and I especially loved that once the big secret was revealed to readers (there are multiple small ones as well), everything else just fell into place.  However, I’m a little on the fence in terms of the authenticity of the secret itself.  It’s a really cool idea, but as the novel has a very realistic feel throughout, this jarred me a bit.  It’s extremely interesting, but I’m a skeptic and I feel it’s more on the impossible side than that of reality, but I also don’t pay much attention to the scientific world, and part of me says that yes, it could happen.  Advances are being made as we speak, so… perhaps.  But secret aside, this is where Babie’s breakdown happens, and her strong shell cracks to the point that she lost a little of my respect.

Zach is a great male lead: he’s patient, kind, compassionate, and he understands Babie like no other.  He has no family aside from a mysterious benefactor who has more than provided for him, and he’s content to wait for Babie to come around to his side of things, to learn that it’s okay to fall in love, and that love won’t force her to stay in Shallow Pond.  He’s a good guy.

The end of the novel sped up a little too much for my liking, jumping an entire year, and then jumping further again.  It felt like one of those movies that ends and then shows pictures of the cast with a blurb telling you what happened to them after the movie, and while I enjoy that very much in my movies, I would like my novels to keep fleshing out the story.  It’s a personal thing, though.  I could read all day every day, but can only sit so long in front of a TV, so I assume most readers won’t mind the quick succession of the ending all that much.  Three stars.3 stars

Flux Books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on July 8, 2013.

et cetera
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