Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











Circa NowFrom Goodreads: Twelve-year-old Circa Monroe has a knack for restoring old photographs. It’s a skill she learned from her dad, who loves old pictures and putting fun digital twists on them. His altered “Shopt” photos look so real that they could fool nearly anybody, and Circa treasures the fun stories he makes up to explain each creation.

One day, her father receives a strange phone call requesting an urgent delivery, and he heads out into a storm. The unimaginable happens: a tornado, then a terrible accident. Just as Circa and her mom begin to pick up the pieces, a mysterious boy shows up on their doorstep, a boy called Miles who remembers nothing about his past. The only thing he has with him is the photograph that Circa’s dad intended to deliver on the day he died.

As Circa tries to help Miles recover his identity, she begins to notice something strange about the photos she and her father retouched-the digital flourishes added to the old photos seem to exist in real life. The mysteries of the Shopt photos and Miles’s past are intertwined, and in order to solve both, Circa will have to figure out what’s real and what’s an illusion.

With stunning prose, captivating photographs, and a hint of magic, Circa Now is a gripping story full of hope and heart.

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This is an intriguing story that I think both middle grade and young adults will enjoy. It’s real enough in itself, but has an air of paranormalcy that young readers will especially enjoy. Very well written, it is a story of love, loss, and healing through memories and pictures, and I especially enjoyed the Shopt aspect of the novel, as the photos and stories the author created adding another tangible, humorous layer to this story of heartache.

Circa Monroe is struggling to put the pieces back together after her father, her hero, is killed in a tragic accident. Attempting a life of normalcy is hard enough without the constant reminder of her father staring back at her from his office, and not blaming others is an uphill battle for Circa. But as Miles comes on the scene, this novel takes on aspects of magical realism, and as Circa and Miles attempt to figure out what is real and what is a figment of their imagination, readers finds themselves intricately woven into the story, rooting for Circa and Miles as one Shopt photo after another begins to point to a different outcome. One where life and death aren’t set in stone.

While I tend to like novels with a little older heroines as the lease, Circa’s innocence makes her the perfect lead for this novel, and if you’re looking for something completely different, Circa Now is definitely the book for you.

4 stars

I received this novel from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.  This title releases today.

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Monument 14 Sky on FireFrom Goodreads: Trapped in a superstore by a series of escalating disasters, including a monster hailstorm and terrifying chemical weapons spill, brothers Dean and Alex learned how to survive and worked together with twelve other kids to build a refuge from the chaos. But then strangers appeared, destroying their fragile peace, and bringing both fresh disaster and a glimmer of hope.

Knowing that the chemical weapons saturating the air outside will turn him into a bloodthirsty rage monster, Dean decides to stay in the safety of the store with Astrid and some of the younger kids. But their sanctuary has already been breached once. . . .

Meanwhile, Alex, determined to find their parents, heads out into the darkness and devastation with Niko and some others in a recently repaired school bus. If they can get to Denver International Airport, they might be evacuated to safety. But the outside world is even worse than they expected…

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I absolutely adored the first novel in this series, and while this second novel is very well written, it just didn’t grab me like the first. While part of this has to do with needing to rekindle my relationships with the characters, and thankfully Laybourne gives readers all the reminders they need to get back on track, the main issue for me was the font. Normally, I don’t discuss layout or font when critiquing a novel, especially since it generally has no barring on the story itself—the author doesn’t control font in a big publishing house—but I just can’t get over it. The novel is split between two characters, Dean and Alex, as they branch off from one another and tell their stories as the days unfold. Dean and just a few young survivors are staying behind at the Greenway Superstore due to blood toxin issues, and so events unfolding there are told through his eyes, in a normal, every day font. On the other hand, Alex, Dean’s brother, and the rest of the young survivors have taken the bus and are driving 60+ miles to the airport in attempts to bring people to help rescue Dean and the other survivors who can’t weather the toxins in the air. And here is where the story lost me—I had trouble reading Alex’s point of view because the font changed, and it wasn’t a normal easy font for me to read. It was lighter than normal font, with the letters elongated and spaced out, and it really impacted my reading. One can’t enjoy something they struggle to read, and while I get the idea behind different fonts, I think it was a not so great move on the part of the publishers. I just couldn’t get into Alex’s story because I struggled so much to follow it.

This novel is actually rather short in the realm of things, sitting at 213 pages, and truthfully, not a whole lot happened. There were a few issues that arose, but our heroes and heroines were able to smooth things over quite quickly, which is good, but doesn’t leave much in terms of excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I did like the story, and I’m excited to see what happens next for the characters, but I hope there is just a little more substance and, of course, a normal font throughout. Three stars.

3 stars

I purchased this novel from Barnes and Noble.

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DesireFrom Goodreads: Now that Nara and Ethan are working together to uncover the Corvus’ secrets, they’re confident nothing can stop them.

But while they’ve learned to anticipate dark outside forces gunning for them, neither is prepared for the insidious evil that slithers its way into their lives, nor the new challenges that surface so close to home.

Despite all the chaos and turmoil around them, the one constant they can depend on is their devotion and loyalty to each other. But as their relationship moves into deeper territory, sometimes the toughest battles are the ones waged within.

While the hunt for answers unravels more layers in the Corvus world, they also uncover new truths about themselves and their intricate connection to the powerful raven spirit.

When boundaries are suddenly redrawn and control shifts, Ethan and Nara will be forced to make choices that could bring them closer together or rip them apart forever.

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P.T. Michelle knows how to pack a punch in her writing, and I’ve been in love with her Brightest Kind of Darkness since the very beginning. Not only are her characters absolutely amazing, but her plotline is also fascinating and enticing, sprinkling in elements of romance and realism into this fast-paced, action packed paranormal series, and I just can’t get enough.

Desire, the fourth installment in this riveting series, kept me on my toes and held my attention just like all those that came before it, and I’m already on pins and needles waiting for the fifth and final book in the series. The plot is thickening, as they say, and Nara and Ethan are facing even more peril as the Corvus world begins to take over, threatening all that they hold dear. With Ethan torn between his own love for Nara and the uncontrollable force of his Corvus, Nara struggling to make sense of her role in it all, and demons intent on killing the Master Corvus, time is of the essence, and something Ethan and Nara are running out of, as it were.

I love that over the course of the series, both Ethan and Nara have really developed and come into themselves. And in Destiny, Michelle takes readers into a more mature relationship between the two main characters. Now, while I’m not one who really condones sexual relationships in my novels, (hence I’d put a 16+ rating on this novel) it works. Ethan and Nara have been through so much in the span of four novels, and it is definitely time for them to take their relationship to the next level. Though I’m a prude, Michelle handles this relationship shift with care, and I suspect that readers who have been following the series will rejoice in this union as it hits full bloom in a more explicit manner.

I love how Michelle blends romance with action, keeping readers on their toes, especially with the climactic ending that will leave readers dying for more. Overall, Michelle is an extremely talented writer and I love living inside the pages with her true-to-life characters, and I highly recommend this entire series to lovers of all things paranormal. Four and a half stars.

4.5 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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SunriseFrom Goodreads: The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived the eruption has collapsed completely. The ham radio has gone silent. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors’ constant companions.

When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task requiring even more guts and more smarts than ever — and unthinkable sacrifice. If they fail . . . they, their loved ones, and the few remaining survivors will perish.

This epic finale has the heart of Ashfall, the action of Ashen Winter, and a depth all its own, examining questions of responsibility and bravery, civilization and society, illuminated by the story of an unshakable love that transcends a post-apocalyptic world and even life itself.
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This is the third and final installment in the Ashfall series, and while I do really like it, part of me is left wanting. Years pass by in this novel, and while it’s great to be back together with Alex and Darla—I do love them—I almost feel like not much happens in this final installment.

Yes, there are deaths. Within the first few pages, one character I really cared for died, but s/he was more so a minor character, so in the realm of things, my heart wasn’t broken for too long. In the greater spectrum of things, I feel like there was more of a rollercoaster effect in books one and two, and I was holding my breath a lot as I read those novels, but that didn’t happen as much in this third installment. Everything just tends to work out in the favor of the main characters from beginning to end, and while there is one scene that made me really cringe, again, Alex and Darla ultimately come out of it stronger than before.

This novel read more as a nice litter wrap-up, complete with bow on top, instead of an intense battle for survival, and I just felt like it all went too quickly and without too many hitches. At one point, Darla and Alex do the same thing four times, and each time they get away scott-free. Of course, the next time, they aren’t as lucky, but by that point, the build-up and let down had happened so many times that I didn’t really connect anymore.

I feel like this sort of sounds like I wanted the main characters to suffer more; that’s not the case at all–I’m glad life is finally working out for them, but with all the risks they’re taking (and not taking), it just felt like more should be happening. Instead, Mullin spends much time explaining the complicated green house and heating system that they’ve created, and that didn’t really pique my interest.

Of course, I hold some intense animosity for characters like Red, Petty, and Alex’s mom, but in the end, it’s all resolved very neatly… and yet, there really is no end. But in truth, could there really be an end? I don’t know that I’d be satisfied if everything was suddenly okay—if the ash had suddenly disappeared and life began to go back to normal, I don’t think I would have been satisfied, either. But the way Mullin leaves it opens everything to speculation more than anything else, and those endings aren’t really my favorite.

All in all, this series is really good; books one and two, Ashfall and Ashen Winter, captivated me and I fell in love with them from the get go, but this final installment left me wanting. Three and a half stars.

3.5 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Tanglewood Press has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its official release on April 15, 2014.

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FrenzyFrom Goodreads: 14-year-old Heath Lambert is spending his summer at Camp Harmony in the picturesque Cascade Mountain Valley. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the soothing calm of nature as he weighs a heavy decision. The camp offers distractions: his friends, Cricket and Dunbar, always up for trouble; his reluctant crush on Emily, one half of the beautiful Em & Em Twins; and hulking bullies Thumper and Floaties, who are determined to make him their punching bag for the summer. But no one rattles Heath like his creepy cabin mate, Will Stringer. Brilliant, cold and calculating, Will views the world as one big chess game, and he’s always three moves ahead of everyone else.

Heath soon learns there’s a much bigger threat to contend with. Something’s wrong with the animals in the surrounding forest. A darkness is spreading, driving them mad with rage. Wolves, bears, mountain lions-even the chipmunks are infected, spurred on in droves by one horrific goal: hunt and kill every human they find.

Heath and a ragtag band of campers are faced with a choice: follow Will’s lead and possibly survive, or follow the camp staff and die. But how do you trust a leader when you suspect he’s more dangerous than the animals you’re running from?

Heath came to Camp Harmony to be surrounded by nature. He’s about to get his wish.
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What would happen if the land-dwelling animals of the world suddenly lost their fear/love of humans and began outright attacking us? It would be like a zombie apocalypse, but with animals, which in my opinion, is even more scary… and that’s exactly what Lettrick pens in his exciting novel, Frenzy. With an airborne virus that spreads an altered version of rabies, animals of all shapes and sizes are infected, shedding their fears and lusting for blood–mainly, the blood of humans.

Enter Heath, a young man who’s already staring death in the face due to a resurgence of cancer, and the prospects don’t look good. But at least he has this last summer pretending everything is okay. That is, until a brood of animals begins slaughtering his campmates.

With the river as their only respite from the hoards of animals intent on obliterating their existence, Heath and his “friends,” Cricket, the Ems, Will, Dunbar, Miles, and a handful of others find themselves trapped and running out of options fast.

This is a fast paced read that I highly enjoyed, and I think most MG and YA readers will feel the same. There is a lot of death within the novel–animals are quick, as it is, but even so, it’s a believable and enticing enough read–and thankfully it’s not too graphic.

While there are a lot of characters, Lettrick makes it easy to tell them apart and their plights are believable. It’s awesome. Four stars.

4 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Disney-Hyperion has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on April 8, 2014.



Blood DutyFrom Goodreads: In a remote mountain valley, a scout is tortured and killed in a brutal rite of summoning. An army of demons will soon be on the move. Fellow scout Jessup Inntour wouldn’t care very much if the empire he reluctantly serves is attacked, but the woman he loves is another matter.

Tamra Dervon, Captain of the Guard of Wayfare Keep, thinks her biggest problem is her love affair with Jessup. The scout is holding things back from her, and she doesn’t know what. But when the seemingly unbeatable army of demons invades, Tamra’s personal problems look very small. Tamra and Jessup find themselves leading a last-ditch defense. Their army is defeated. Jessup disappears in the retreat. As Tamra continues the struggle to defend her homeland, she discovers that another duty lies ahead — to face a demon horde alone.
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For those who really enjoy Fantasy novels, I highly suggest this book. Although my tastes have changed over the past few years and I’m no longer a fantasy fanatic, this novel definitely piqued my interest and kept me captivated from beginning to end. It’s a fast paced novel full of battle scenes and preparation as a blood-lusting King and his army, full of dark magic, march across the land, leaving no survivors. Bent on taking the kingdom of Ilkasar as they approach, the dark King and his mages torture and kill those in their paths, using magic to bind the dead to huge creatures of the dark. Jessup and Tamra, the two main characters of this novel, work to battle against the incoming force, but the army they are up against is much more than they can handle, and it will take an offset of strong magic to break the dark King and his army from taking over all the land.

I really enjoyed the imagery in this novel, and for me, it was like the battles of Helms Deep and Gondor (Lord of the Rings Series) in my mind. With the lumbering monsters and the evil army attaching the forge, it played out in my mind much the same, and it was great fun to read, especially as the defending kingdom is caught completely unawares. The Ixich is a great beast full of magic, and I could see it in my minds-eye as it attacked, using magic of its own to take down the enemy… in this case Tamra and Jessup and their army.

I also liked that in this world, woman fight as warriors alongside the men, and while Jessup is a talented scout, Tamra is the leader of the Keep’s army. She is a great warrior, though tied to her duty even though she wants nothing more than to ride off into the abyss with be lover, Jessup. I love that she is strong and that both men and women alike are shown as strong entities in this novel—it was a fresh change from the many fantasy books I’ve read where the women are helpless and the men must care for all.

Overall, this is a great novel that I highly recommend. Four stars.

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Crows Row (Crows Row #1)

(Re-edited & new content!)

Release Date: April 11th 2014

Crow's Row

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For college student Emily Sheppard, the thought of spending a summer alone in New York is much more preferable than spending it in France with her parents.

Just completing her freshman year at Callister University, Emily faces a quiet summer in the city slums, supporting herself by working at the campus library.

During one of her jogs through the nearby cemetery while visiting her brother Bill’s grave, Emily witnesses a brutal killing—and then she blacks out. When Emily regains consciousness, she realizes she’s been kidnapped by a young crime boss and his gang.

She is hurled into a secret underworld, wondering why she is still alive and for how long.

Held captive in rural Vermont, she tries to make sense of her situation and what it means. While uncovering secrets about her brother and his untimely death, Emily falls in love with her very rich and very dangerous captor, twenty- six-year-old Cameron. She understands it’s a forbidden love and one that won’t allow her to return to her previous life.

But love may not be enough to save Emily when no one even knows she is missing.

 

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Scare Crow

(Crows Row #2)

Release Date: April 16th 2014

Scare Crow

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unnamedNineteen-year-old Emily Sheppard is losing her sanity.  

Ever since her mob king boyfriend, Cameron Hillard, abandoned her for her own good, Emmy has been attempting to move on with her charmed college student life as if nothing happened. Now rejected from the underworld and left grieving over Cameron’s alleged death, Emmy realizes she belongs nowhere.  Worse yet, she is now keeping a dangerous secret. 

After just a short time with Emily, Cameron has lost control over his world. 

As he miserably attempts to return to what is left of his life and unravel the mess he has made of the underworld, Emily’s hate turns to desperation. She needs to kill the kingpins responsible for Cameron’s death before they come looking for her. As Cameron secretly observes Emily, he has no idea of the danger he has placed her in—or that it may already be too late for him to save her.

Scare Crow is a tale of revenge, terror, and love as Emmy and Cameron embark on separate journeys to face enemies, correct past mistakes, and………….. find their way to their destinies.

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A former germaphobe and clean-freak turned mother of two, Julie collects enough tears and snot in a month to recreate Slimer Monster from Ghostbusters. Other than playing devoted wife and mama, Julie is the funniest person in the room (according to the 3 year-old and 2 year-old in said room) and can build the most awesome Lego rocket ship you’ve ever set your eyes on (according to her). Oh, and she has a full time career and has also written a bestselling novel. Superhero, or just downright insane?
 

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Love Letters to the DeadFrom Goodreads: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.

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Love Letters to the Dead spans Laurel’s 9th grade year as she tries to sort through her life—her older sister May has only recently died and the circumstances behind her death remain shrouded in mystery as the novel unfolds, spurring readers on as Laurel relays many different facts about her life.  This is an extremely well written epistolary novel that captured my attention immediately.  I really adore novels told through letters, diary entries, and the like, and Dellaira does a superb job getting Laurel’s voice across using this writing style.

When the novel first picks up, Laurel is writing a letter to Kurt Cobain, and as she begins to relate to him through their shared experiences, she starts to tell the story of her sister, and soon finds herself working her way through multiple letters and truths about the past, present, and future.  With the death of May, Laurel’s family fell apart; her mother now lives in California, and Laurel splits her time between the homes of her father and aunt, yet none know the truth as Laurel does.  And as the story unfolds, readers learn that there are many heavy underlying truths that Laurel must eventually face in order to move from the past and begin living in the present.  I will admit that it took me a little while to warm up to Laurel, but as she pours out her heart, I found it impossible to not connect with her and her experiences, both trials and triumphs.

One aspect of this novel that I truly love is that, as Laurel writes letters to the dead, she connects the dead’s lives, music, accomplishments, and decisions with those that she is currently experiencing.  It flows together seamlessly, and helps bring validity and emotion to the novel as Laurel tells her story, asks her questions, and struggles with the answers.  The letters show how Laurel is on a downward spiral, and as it all comes to a head, we learn what Laurel really knows of the night her sister died, and why Laurel has slowly allowed herself to become someone else as the school year progresses.  It’s an intriguing, heartfelt read that I highly recommend.  Four stars.

4 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on April 1, 2014.

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{February 27, 2014}   {ARC Review} Panic by Lauren Oliver

PanicFrom Goodreads: Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

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Initially, this story started like any other, and while interesting, it took a while for it to build, but build it did, and by the end I was on the edge of my seat in fear and anticipation.  Oliver knows how to pack a punch, and I was taken with this story as the characters went deeper into the game, as their secrets came out, and as the stakes went higher and higher.

While some of the situations in Panic may seem a bit far fetched, I have no doubt that, given the proper setting, they could indeed be very real.  It is said that the brain does not fully develop until around age 25, so it is no surprise that our teens in this novel make many rash decisions—some spurred on by the want of money, others by revenge, and still others in anticipation of finally breaking free of their provincial lives—paying no attention to the risk factor, or thinking through the actual consequences of their actions.  As the stakes rise, I found my stomach coiled in knots, yelling at the characters through the pages as they make ill decision after ill decision, and I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.  As an adult, it’s easy to say I’d never ever play in these games, and I feel that, as a teen, I wouldn’t have either, mainly because I just wasn’t a risk taker, and I wasn’t wild, but there is something about mass hysteria, or the mob mentality, that makes me wonder, just what would I have done had something underground like the game Panic been going on in my town when I was a teen.

I’m not sure how I feel about Heather, Dodge, and all the other characters in the book (and there are many).  Their choices at times drove me batty, but I was rooting for them the entire time, especially as we learn more about the tragedies that has befallen them both.  Overall, I found this to be a great read that I highly suggest to anyone who likes intense competitions and novels like The Hunger Games. Four stars.

4 starsIn exchange for an honest review, HarperCollins Children has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Edelweiss, prior to its release on March 4, 2014.

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Be sure to pre-order this one now–you don’t want to miss it!



The TroopFrom Goodreads: Lord of the Flies meets The Ruins in this frightening novel written in the bestselling traditions of Stephen King and Scott Smith. Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons. Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other.

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I’m sorry to say that this novel is just not for me.  Truth be told, I was not ready for the graphic, nauseating images that are released on readers in this one. Nor was I ready for the awful animal abuse described.  This is a very graphic novel, and it made me ill–especially in terms of the worms and the psychotic/sociopathic nature of some of the Troop (Shelley) that is brought to light before everything even begins to go downhill . Things go from bad to worse quickly in this novel, and while it was interesting in the beginning, it ended up making me physically nauseous at times, and turned me into a bit of a hypochondriac as I read. I really enjoyed the concept behind it, but didn’t care for any of the characters–they’re all kind of jerks–and absolutely hated the sections where the lab documented the test subjected on the animals. Wow. Animal abuse is not okay, and I had a really hard time reading a lot of these scenes.

For me, the novel wasn’t a scary read by any means—instead, I found it disturbing and, as I’ve said, overly graphic.  Because of this, I don’t have a set group I’d recommend this novel to.  I enjoyed Lord of the Flies, which is one of the reasons I picked up this novel to begin with (the other was the original cover, but it’s since been changed to this more drab, bloody one), so I can’t say that if you enjoyed The Lord of the Flies, you’ll enjoy this one, but perhaps you will.  Just go into this novel knowing that, while very well written, it deals with graphic blood and gore, animal abuse, and disturbing images. Two stars.

2 stars

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on February 25, 2014, in exchange for an honest review.

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My Name is JoeFrom Goodreads: When Joe’s doctor advises him to get his affairs in order, he faces two choices: leave this world full of regrets, or seek forgiveness for a life unlived.

An unexpected thing happens on Joe’s path to redemption. He meets Rebecca, a young, single mother struggling with guilt over the death of her own mother. They soon come to realize that the other may hold the key to forgiveness and salvation — if they can muster the courage to trust one another.

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This relatively short read takes an in-depth look at one man’s life once an end date is unceremoniously stamped upon it.  Like Queen Latifah in Last Holiday, Joe has just learned that he is going to die.  But unlike the comedic movie, Joe does not have a happy ending—there is no mistake made here.  Suffering from pancreatic cancer, he is instructed to get his affairs in order, sending him on a spiraling journey that surveys his contributions to the world, or lack thereof.  Compelled to reminisce about his past as he looks bleakly at his short future, Joe begins to assess his life and make amends, learning to finally live in a world he has for so long allowed to pass him by.

While this is a somewhat depressing look at the end of one man’s life, it is also an inspirational one—powerful in that it lays his soul bare and allows him to finally experience all that he never knew he missed.  With the help of a good-hearted, young, single mother, Joe learns what truly matters in life and no longer has to face death alone.  And while readers already know what the end of this tale will hold, it’s a touching look at the human spirit that, though tears are shed, will leave readers feeling triumphant.  Four stars.

4 stars

I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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SacrificeSacrifice: Book 5 in the Elemental Series

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Releases: September 2014

One misstep and they lose it all. For the last time.

Michael Merrick is used to pressure.

He’s the only parent his three brothers have had for years. His power to control Earth could kill someone if he miscalculates. Now an Elemental Guide has it out for his family, and he’s all that stands in the way.

His girlfriend, Hannah, gets that. She’s got a kid of her own, and a job as a firefighter that could end her life without a moment’s notice.

But there are people who have had enough of Michael’s defiance, his family’s “bad luck.” Before he knows it, Michael’s enemies have turned into the Merricks’ enemies, and they’re armed for war.

They’re not interested in surrender. But Michael isn’t the white flag type anyway. There will be blood on the ground tonight…

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Brigid Kemmerer HeadshotBrigid Kemmerer was born in Omaha, Nebraska, though her parents quickly moved her all over the United States, from the desert in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to the lakeside in Cleveland, Ohio, and several stops in between, eventually settling near Annapolis, Maryland. Brigid started writing in high school, and her first real “novel” was about four vampire brothers causing a ruckus in the suburbs. Those four brothers are the same boys living in the pages of The Elemental Series, so Brigid likes to say she’s had four teenage boys taking up space in her head for the last seventeen years. (Though sometimes that just makes her sound nuts.)

Brigid writes anywhere she can find a place to sit down (and she’s embarrassed to say a great many pages of The Elemental Series were written while sitting on the floor in the basement of a hotel while she was attending a writers’ conference). Most writers enjoy peace and quiet while writing, but Brigid prefers pandemonium. A good thing, considering she has three boys in the house, ranging in age from an toddler to a teenager. You can learn more about Brigid and the Elemental boys at www.brigidkemmerer.com.

Follow Brigid:

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Kemmerers Books____________________________________________

Elemental Kindle | Nook
Storm Kindle | Paperback | Nook
Fearless Kindle | Nook
Spark Kindle | Paperback | Nook
Breathless Kindle | Nook
Spirit Kindle | Paperback | Nook
Secret Kindle | Paperback | Nook

Sacrifice Kindle | Paperback

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Book Depository | iBooks | IndieBound

Pre-order your copy of Sacrifice today!



Doing HarmFrom Goodreads: “It’s amazing that there are so many different ways to die in a hospital that have nothing to do with being sick…”

Steve Mitchell, happily married with a wife and two kids, is in line for a coveted position at Boston’s University Hospital when his world goes awry. His over-reaching ambition causes him to botch a major surgery, and another of his patients mysteriously dies. Steve’s nightmare goes from bad to worse when he learns that the mysterious death was no accident but the act of a sociopath.  A sociopath he knows and who has information that could destroy Steve’s career and marriage.  A sociopath for whom killing is more than a means to an end: it’s a game.  Because he is under a cloud of suspicion and has no evidence, he knows that any accusations he makes won’t be believed. So he must struggle to turn the tables, even as the killer skillfully blocks his every move. Detailing the politics of hospitals, the hierarchy among doctors and the life and death decisions that are made by flawed human beings, Doing Harm marks the debut of a major fiction career.

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This was a good mystery novel, but it takes a while for it to really get going.  From the get go we are immersed in Steve Mitchell’s life, learning about his daily routine, his hopes and fears, and his extreme talent for surgery.  He has a great life, though perhaps he’s a little too cocky about his abilities, which in turn causes him to begin making mistakes–mistakes that cost lives and put him under intense scrutiny and his job on the line.  It’s very interesting tale of espionage and betrayal, but the reader really has to wait for it to begin.

The first 30% or so of the novel focuses on Steve and his surgeries, and there are many gritty detailed descriptions as he cuts into people and feels around in their abdomens… cutting through fat, slicing apart muscle, and really digging his fingers in there.  If that makes your squeamish, then you may want to skim those parts, because there are quite a few in the beginning, and they’re somewhat long.  I also recommend reading this the old fashion way and not listening to it on tape. I was listening to the novel on my Kindle using the text-to-speech feather when I was blindsided by these gory descriptions and had to nix that straight away.  Perhaps it’s just me, but there was something exceptionally creepy and nerve-wracking about a mechanical voice reading off the details… so this would be a book that I definitely recommend you read as opposed to listen to…

Detailed descriptions and long introduction aside, though, this novel really begins to take off as the Steve begins making bad decisions in terms of his family due to the pressures at work.  Thus, he and soon finds himself in a race against time to save people’s lives within the hospital, especially once the truth comes out about who has been sabotaging him and the rules are set on the table.  As the novel progresses, it becomes apparent that Parsons really knows his way around the medical field and, apparently, around special opts as well. He did a great job fleshing out the scenes, explaining procedures, and putting into play some key special opts scenes that really made the novel an intriguing read, and I highly suggest it if you like murder mystery novels.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  Four stars.

4 stars

St. Martin’s Press has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on February 4, 2014.

Amazon | Kindle | Barnes and Noble



VengeanceFrom Goodreads: Falcon Lake wants vengeance. And so, it seems, does someone else . . . An intense, heart-rending psychological thriller to accompany the chilling and seductive Fracture

When Decker drags his best friend Delaney’s lifeless body out of the frozen lake, he makes a deal: Anyone but her. Everyone but her. The lake releases her. It takes another . . .

All their friends blame Delaney for Carson’s death. But Decker knows the truth: Delaney is drawn to those who are dying, and she would have tried to help Carson.

Or so Decker believes until a body lies in front of him in a pool of water on his kitchen floor. Until he sees in Delaney’s eyes that she knew this would happen too – and she said nothing. Until he realizes it isn’t the lake that is looking for revenge – Delaney is part of someone else’s plan.

This powerful and emotionally charged psychological thriller follows Megan Miranda’s stunning debut Fracture.

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I haven’t read the first novel in this series, but Miranda does a great job keeping the reader on track, giving just enough information that we understand what went on in the first novel so we’re able to stay on top of everything in this second novel. I never felt like I was missing information and, while I do plan to go back and read book one eventually, I don’t feel like it is a prerequisite in order to read this second installment.

Whereas the first novel details the budding relationship between Decker and Delaney, Vengeance does just the opposite.  With the death of an immediate loved one at the start of this novel, Decker begins to harbor an extreme hatred for Delaney, thus, breaking up their perfect relationship.  Quickly dropped by the only person who really understands what happened to her on the ice at the end of book one, Delaney forges on, trying to find her place in the world while Decker trys to forgive and get over this monumental “betrayal,” as he sees it. And if the demise of Decker and Delaney is not difficult enough for the pair to endure, someone or something is terrorizing Decker and his group of friends—and won’t stop until more lives are claimed.

I really liked the mystery within this novel, and I never saw the truth coming.  I think Miranda did a great job pulling it all together, and I loved the ending.  But, I did find the novel a bit slow towards the middle of the book.  While I understand Decker’s hang ups and feelings after an immediate family member dies, I felt like there was a little too much time spent on his and Delaney’s relationship and less on the action sequence that entices the reader forward.  Suddenly, the actions seems to stop and it’s touch and go in the relationship department, and while I do understand that Decker and Delaney need to clear the air in terms of their relationship, I found myself wishing more was happening in terms of the mystery.  I wasn’t a fan of Decker’s obsessiveness and his indecision, and I would have liked that section to be paired down so there was a little more focus on the mystery aspect of it all.  But that might just be me. Overall, this was a very good read, and I can’t wait to read the prequel.  Three and a half stars.

3.5 stars

Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books and Walker Childrens have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on February 4, 2014.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble



6665671From Goodreads: Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.

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While I enjoyed the mystery behind this novel very much, I was less than pleased with the ending.  King presents readers with the story of Vera and Charlie, two childhood friends who drift apart due to many different circumstances, but the main one, according to Vera, is his new set of friends and their drugs/alcohol.  But there are so many different sides to Charlie and his life that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is it, and when he dies, there is much speculation.  According to Vera, she knows the truth; she knows why Charlie died, what he was responsible for, and what others were responsible for. However, by the end, I felt it was still all a bit unclear.

I really enjoyed Vera’s voice, but I still feel like I don’t know anything, and I’m not really sure that the story itself made much sense.  I lost all respect for Charlie as the story went on—he’s a real jerk—and I just can’t get over the end, which isn’t an end at all.  Charlie is dead, but why?  We’re given an idea of what might have happened, but I’m not sure I believe it, and therefore, everything is still up in the air in my mind, which is unfortunate because the whole reason I picked up this novel was due to the mystery.  I wanted to know what happened to Charlie.  Now, while I enjoyed the novel overall, Charlie’s character, his actions, and that of his friends, really left me with a sour taste in my mouth, which is fine, but it was the lack of a conclusion that really made me lose much of my gumption over the story.  Maybe I missed some vital sentence somewhere that spelled it out for me, but since Vera claims to know the truth, I really expected the truth, and not just another speculation.  Three stars.

3 stars

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

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18052849From Goodreads: If I Stay meets the movie Ghost in this first book in a teen duology about a teenage-girl-turned-ghost who must cling to the echoes of her former life to save the people she left behind.

Ashes to Ashes is author Melissa Walker’s sweeping, romantic, and emotionally rich story about the things that torment and tempt us, even from the Great Beyond. This book is perfect for fans of Die for Me and Imaginary Girls, and its breathtaking ending will leave readers anxiously awaiting the series conclusion, Dust to Dust.

When Callie’s life is cut short by a tragic accident, she expects to find nothingness, or maybe some version of heaven.

Instead, her spirit travels to the Prism, an ethereal plane populated by the ghosts she thought were fictional. Here she meets a striking and mysterious ghost named Thatcher, who is meant to guide her as she learns to haunt and bring peace to the loved ones she left behind.

However, Callie uncovers a dark secret about the spirit world: The angry souls who always populate ghost stories are real, dangerous, and willing to do whatever it takes to stay on Earth, threatening the existence of everyone she ever cared about.

As she fights to save them, Callie will learn that while it may no longer beat, her heart can still love-and break.

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While I had high hopes for this novel, especially with its claim to be a mix of the novel If I Stay and the movie Ghost, I felt like Ashes to Ashes moved much too slowly for me.  Likewise, I didn’t really feel any connections with the characters.  Callie dies before we really get to know her, or her friends, for that matter, and once she’s dead, she behaves very much as you would expect a young child to behave when told they can’t have something.  She throws some tantrums and goes off and does whatever she wants, pushing caution to the wind, over and over again.

In truth, I spent much of the novel highly annoyed with Callie because she continues to make the same stupid mistake while ignoring not only her inner conscious, but also her guide, Thatcher.  The fact that Thatcher continually keeps Callie in the dark, refusing to supply answers or clarification, did little to put him in my good graces, either.  Instead, he only frustrated me because there seems to be a disconnect and readers don’t know why.  And, instead of answers, the same scene plays out many a time, nearly lulling me to sleep: Callie messes up and is really sorry.  Thatcher is angry; he tells her not to do it again without really giving any concrete reasons why.  They make up.  Then, Callie does it again and is really sorry….  By the third time this sequence occurred, I was ready to put the book aside.  I just felt like nothing was truly happening in the novel; I had no connections with anyone, and we rarely saw Callie attempting to comfort anyone still left on earth—the aspect I really wanted to see.

And then? Walker surprised me with her quick and fast ending—one I wasn’t expecting but that, in retrospect, makes sense.  I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t, and this surprise actually brought this novel up a notch in my esteem, clarified a lot of my original issues, and interested me to the point that I actually would like to read the sequel when it comes out.  So in the end, while I did finds it someone trivial and stagnant, Ashes to Ashes did throw me for a loop, and as it only takes one small event to really change a person’s perspective of a novel, I liked it, overall.  Three stars.

3 stars

HarperCollins Publishers has been extremely gracious in giving me an ARC of this novel, during NCTE, in exchange for an honest review prior to its release on December 23, 2013.



18052849This is a spur of the moment flash giveaway–a one day deal!  I have an ARC of Ashes to Ashes by Melissa C. Walker up for grabs for someone who would like to honestly review this title.  It releases December 23rd, which is coming up fast, hence the quick turn around on this giveaway.

Synopsis:

When Callie’s life is cut short by a tragic accident, she expects to find nothingness, or maybe some version of heaven.

Instead, her spirit travels to the Prism, an ethereal plane populated by the ghosts she thought were fictional. Here she meets a striking and mysterious ghost named Thatcher, who is meant to guide her as she learns to haunt and bring peace to the loved ones she left behind.

However, Callie uncovers a dark secret about the spirit world: The angry souls who always populate ghost stories are real, dangerous, and willing to do whatever it takes to stay on Earth, threatening the existence of everyone she ever cared about.

As she fights to save them, Callie will learn that while it may no longer beat, her heart can still love-and break.

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To enter this giveaway, you must:

-Be 16 years or older (or have parent/guardian permission)

-Fill in the mandatory questions on rafflecopter (extra entries optional)

Click this Rafflecopter Link to Enter!

This giveaway is open to USA and Canadian entrants only and will end at 12:01am EST on December 10th. Please only enter once. The winner will be announced later on December 10th, and will receive email notification! Please read my giveaway policy and leave me a comment!



13646394From Goodreads: The zombie apocalypse is nigh!

The trouble is, Alex Cronlord is the only person who knows it. She is a Weaver — one of a group of superhuman children who are able to see the future — and she can still remember the vision she had just weeks ago of being chased by a shambling undead horde. But that’s all she’s seen of the coming horror, and lately, her visions have mostly been confusing. Dead bodies in dumpsters, a strange place called “Pinnacle,” and no sign of a Xorda anywhere. At least, not at first.

As Alex struggles to make sense of these bits of information, a stitch-faced assassin surfaces with a vendetta against Ainsling Cronlord, Alex’s mother. Ainsling is a member of the enigmatic Wells Society, a secret order of women who genetically mutate their own children to turn them into fighters against the Xorda. She is the person who gave Alex her Weaver powers. And she is the person Alex can least afford to trust.

But when the stitch-faced man steps up his campaign against the Cronlord family, Alex begins to realize she may not have a choice. As she learns the disturbing truth behind her recent visions, Alex must decide how far she is willing to go to save the world.

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This sequel to the thrilling novel, Weaver, picks up soon after the first ended, thrusting readers back into the melee that is Alex Cronlord’s life.  Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Alex must now face the truth of what her mother did to her, and decide if knowing the future in order to protect those she loves is more important that her own sanity.  It also begs the question… is she a reject or a Weaver?

Whereas the first novel focuses on that of the future through Alex’s visions, this second novel back tracks and begins to show readers glimpses of the past, a power that scares Alex as she believes she’s losing her edge; that she won’t be able to help anyone battle the Xorda without the serum her mother was testing on her.  And slowly, readers begin to piece together what Ainsling’s life was like prior to becoming a part of the Wells Society. With the special forces of the FBI at her back, Alex learns important information that just might save them all, if only she could cross the planes of their colliding worlds.

This is an intense read that sweeps readers up and carries them along in this fast paced, action packed novel.  Alex is, of course, a kick butt heroine, but her need to protect others will be her downfall if she doesn’t decide which side she wants to be on, because lying to those around you never works out well in the end.  Four stars.

4 stars

I purchased this novel from Amazon.



Between Shades of GreyFrom Goodreads: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

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My book club picked this novel as their first read of the school year, and let me tell you, I was not happy. I didn’t want to read this book. I teach about the holocaust, WWII, Stalin, and I really didn’t want to read another book on the topic.  Not at the beginning of the school year.  I didn’t want to deal with anything depressing—and truth be told, I was completely sure I wouldn’t like it, that it’d be like all the other books I’d read about the holocaust.  So I put it off, and I put it off… until the night before our first meeting and we’d talk about it.  What kind of Book Club advisor would I be if I didn’t at least try to read the book?  So I began reading it, and do you know what happened?  I couldn’t stop.  Between Shades Of Grey is absolutely amazing—it’s a haunting tale that is unlike any I’ve ever read on the subject, and it’s beautiful.  It’s a story few really hear because Stalin’s reign of terror and his “camps” are usually swept under the mat—not many really know what he did to his people.  Yet Sepetys lays it bare for her readers, and this story, her message, can’t be ignored.

This is a novel that will catch readers unawares, ripping out your heart and leaving you raw and bleeding for Lina, her family, and all those she comes in contact with as the story unfolds.  It’s heart wrenching, and yet, it’s a must read.  Even if you don’t want to cry, even if you don’t want to feel raw inside, you need to read this novel.  Sepetys’ writing is breathtaking, as is her story of fear, hatred, rejection, and redemption.  The characters will melt your heart and you will cry out at the injustice of it all, and you will remember it long after the final page.  And we need to remember.  For all those who experienced this.  For all those who died.  Remember.  Five stars.

5 stars

I borrowed this novel from the library.



GameFrom Goodreads: Follow the rules and everybody gets hurt . . .

One Sunday morning after a long night of partying, Henrik “HP” Pettersson, a slacker with a lot of ego and very little impulse control, finds a cell phone of an unfamiliar make on a commuter train. Through insisting and slightly uncanny messages that refer to him by name, the phone invites him to play a game. HP accepts without hesitation.

The rules are that HP must complete tasks that range from childish pranks to criminal acts, as allocated by the mysterious Game Master. HP is the perfect contender & alienated from society, devoid of morals, and desperate for fame. His completion of the assignments are filmed and uploaded onto a protected server where viewers rate the Players performances.

The Game starts out innocently enough and then becomes increasingly risky, threatening the safety of someone close to HP. He is determined to become a superstar, but when the dark and tragic secrets of his family’s past are at stake, HP must make a choice. Will he suffer the humiliation of defeat, or will the need to win push him to the limit no matter the cost?

First in a fast-paced and riveting trilogy, Game will leave you guessing. Follow the rules, and everybody gets hurt . . .

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I’m sorry to say that this novel didn’t captivate me as I’d hoped.  With the beautiful cover and the intriguing synopsis, I went into this novel with high hopes.  Unfortunately, I came out of it a little less than impressed.  It started out really interesting, but as the story unfolded, it began to lose steam. While HP was in the game, I was highly interested in the outcome and the scenarios happening around him, but once he was out of the game, which happened all too quickly, if you ask me, everything just sort of petered out.  HP became extremely petty and hard to digest.  His character is quite obnoxious, and as the story mainly follows him, it became difficult for me to care because he was such an awful person.

The novel also through me for a loop as is also follows HPs sister, who is also a cop.  Initially I confused myself thinking they were lovers, but then realized they were brother/sister and that there was another man involved in her life, which made more sense, but also proved to be a little less than interesting as her life somewhat droned on and I didn’t really care for her, either.  Overall, this novel wasn’t exactly for me as it lacked likeable characters and lost my attention fairly quickly.  I am hoping that it picks up in the second novel, which I do plan to read, and its outcome will determine if I read the third installment.  Two stars.

2 stars

Atria Books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on December 3, 2013.

The Game TrilogyUpdate: I have read all the books in this trilogy AND I really enjoyed BUZZ and BUBBLE.  I suggest you try this series and see–books two and three definitely made up for book one.



et cetera
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