Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











A Secret lifeFrom Goodreads: “I think you and I were meant to meet. I think all of this was supposed to happen. You are my destiny.”

She never thought that her life would be this complicated. Or this dangerous. Running from her past, Kat and her mom end up in a small Colorado town when Kat run’s directly into her future. She changes everything about herself to try and blend into the background, to go unnoticed. She pushes everyone away and erects walls around herself and her heart. As hard as she tries, though, Kat can’t seem to escape the pull that Cam has on her.

Cam has never been so intrigued by anyone. Not only is Kat the most gorgeous girl he’s ever seen but also the most mysterious. She’s hiding something and he’s hell-bent on finding out what it is. The only problem is that she’s trying to shut him out which only furthers his determination to get close to her.

When Kat learns that her past is catching up with her again she has to run, leaving Cam, and her broken heart, behind.

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I read this novel a few weeks back, and it’s stuck with me ever since. While I did find the insta-attraction portion of the novel just a tad cheesy in the beginning, as the novel progressed and the characters grew up, going from high school to college, I found myself rooting for the lovebirds, Cam and Kat, enjoying their antics and so happy that their attraction to one another lead to a much deeper relationship. Brownell tells their story in two parts, glossing over a few years in between in order to take her YA novel into the NA world while keeping it clean, and it works very well.

This novel has many different layers; many stories to tell. It’s about a mother and daughter in witness protection. It’s about first love. About danger. Crime. Grief. Protection. The FBI. Doing what’s right. Outrunning your past, and looking to the future. And I enjoyed this aspect of the novel very much. There is so much going on and Brownell slowly peels back the layers, providing a fun, easy, engaging read, though I will admit that I have many more questions than I have answers, and I think that’s one of the reasons this novel has stuck with me long after I finished it. I find myself trying to figure it out at random times during my days, and that’s a rarity for me as I read so many books and move from one to the next quite rapidly.

I am intrigued by Cam and his love for Kat. I love Kat’s tenacity and her yearning for a simple life. Together, they are perfect, insta-love aside, and I’m glad they found one another. What I don’t necessarily get is what happened during the climax of the novel–we’re led up to it, but as we’re looking through Kat’s eyes, and she’s not watching events unfold, we seem to miss everything as it unfolds, and as no one clarifies the event for Kat, we are left in the dark. All we know is that some very bad things went down, and I’m dying to know what happened to everyone. I need to know. And I also need to know how some of the people mixed up in it all got mixed up in it all. I’m not giving names nor explanations, because that’d be a spoiler, but I keep wracking my brain trying to figure it out. I need to know, and Brownell’s next novel in the series, Secrets and Lies, releases tomorrow… so here’s hoping for more. Four stars.

4 stars

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

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Strawberry WineFrom Goodreads: Ten years have passed since Tanya Smith’s last summer at Laurel Lake – the summer of Marie. Today Tanya is a confident, successful music promoter – a far cry from the naïve seventeen-year-old who showed up at the lake full of rosy notions of first love, lifelong friendships, and evenings spent sipping strawberry wine on the shore. That September changed everything, and as far as Tanya is concerned, there’s no going back. That is, until a mysterious phone call from Marie’s lawyer brings Tanya face to face with the past. Suddenly she finds herself returning to Laurel Lake and to everything she left behind there. Will the dark secret that haunts the lake break her heart all over again? Or will Marie’s legacy be the key that unlocks the future Tanya gave up on ten long years ago?

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Strawberry Wine is a NA/Adult novel with a splash of YA intermixed as the story focuses on both present day and the not-so-distant past. Revolving around Tanya, a 27ish, put together, self-made music promoter, readers are instantly drawn into her life as the novel opens with the death of her estranged friend Marie, a girl Tanya only knew for one summer during her high school years, a summer that for her is impossible to forget; a summer that changed everything. Almost instantly, the novel jumps from present to past, allowing readers to live through the events of that summer as Tanya begins to fall for Michael, explore the deeper recesses of love, and become friends with Marie, the quiet girl with abusive step-relatives. What starts off cute and carefree, turns jarring and sinister as the summer progresses, and everything abruptly comes to a halt when a few drunken decisions change everything for Tanya and Marie.

Here, the novel once again jumps back to the present, and it is also here that Adams sends readers a curveball, one I never saw coming, but in retrospect, should have. With the death of Marie, Tanya’s entire world is upended, altering the course of her world, should she so accept it, and in doing so, allowing her to go back to those carefree summer days and claim what she lost. It’s a beautiful tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed that present to past to present narration—it’s not back and forth, but steady, almost like a circular novel, but continuing on once it comes full circle to give readers deeper insight into current events.

From carefree to brokenhearted, from on top of the world to uncertain, from safe to vulnerable, this novel spans the gamut of emotions, and they’re a very tangible aspect of the novel. Although the story itself sometimes flows a bit clipped in terms of transitions, it’s well done just the same, and as surprise and fear edge their way into the story, so does the reliance on God—though not preachy. I wouldn’t say this is a religious novel by any means, but when faced with a bad situation, as Tanya finds herself in after the death of Marie, one does tend to rely more on God. For me, this was all a bit sudden, but understandable as the plot thickens, lives are threatened, and a sinister danger lurks on the horizon.

It is said that we write what we know, and Adams definitely does this in that Tanya is a music promoter, as is Lee, and a deadly kidney complication comes in to play—something Adams has also dealt with as a donor. Although fiction, Adams’ own personal experiences come through in the novel, adding validity and giving the novel extreme realism, which is an aspect I highly enjoy in my stories. Overall, this is a very well-done novel—and if you’re looking for an alluring summer read, I highly suggest adding Strawberry Wine to your reading pile. Four stars.

4 stars

I purchased this novel from the author at Martinsburg Chocolate Festival and Book Fair.

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Eleanor and ParkFrom Goodreads: TWO MISFITS. ONE EXTRAORDINARY LOVE. 
It’s 1986 and two star-crossed teens are smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love–and just how hard it pulled you under.

 A cross between the iconic ’80s movie Sixteen Candles and the classic coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska, Eleanor & Park is a brilliantly written young adult novel.

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Set in the 1980s, this is a very cute throw-back story of first love.  Though I was just a little girl in the 80s, the references and details of the time period still hit home for me, and I loved this look back in time, especially as most YA books nowadays are set in either the present or future, therefore making Eleanor & Park a refreshing and unique read.

One aspect that I really enjoyed about this novel is that neither Eleanor or Park are particularly unique.  Instead, they are average, just like a majority of the world, and it was especially nice to read about a semi plump girl and a misfit boy because most books I pick up tend to have the ultra-perfect hero and heroine.  And while I enjoy those books, there really aren’t that many perfect people in the world, so I don’t always find myself connecting with those characters.  But with Eleanor and Park, I was able to connect.  I am that plump little girl who doesn’t necessarily fit in—and it doesn’t bother me.  Some of my best friends in high school were Asian, and I dated a few of them, though my school was an international boarding school in the 90s, so it’s a little different, but the idea is still the same.  It was great to just read about average high schoolers living a little less than average lives, and I really felt for the characters, especially Eleanor and her nightmare home situation.

Eleanor is a no nonsense young woman.  She pushed her way into Park’s heart, unintentionally, and though he tries to fight it and is less than accommodating at first, he eventually falls hard for her.  It’s a little different from Eleanor’s perspective.  She reciprocates, but non-verbally, and I really liked this slow paced “first-love” story.

The ending, however, is what really got me.  I, personally, didn’t see it as being real.  Suddenly their lives are thrown into chaos and everything is upset, which is understandable, but how Park’s parents dealt with it struck me as odd.  Now, remember, everyone experiences different things growing up, but my parents and my friends’ parents wouldn’t have reacted the way Park’s do, and so that’s why I see it as unbelievable on my end.  That’s not to say it couldn’t happen; I just haven’t experienced it so it sits a little heavy on my heart.  Likewise, the ending was left completely open to interpretation, and while I’m always telling my students to infer, to read between the lines and figure it out, I don’t want to do that with this ending.  It’s just… I need closure.  And while, yes, I can go back through and make an educated guess about what happens, it’s still my interpretation, and this is one of those books where I don’t want my interpretation; I want to know exactly what happens, exactly what the author was thinking.  Of course, I can’t have that, and I’ll accept it, but it did leave me hanging in the end, which left a twinge of bad taste in my mouth.  Overall, however, is was a cute little story that I enjoyed.  Three stars.

3 stars

I borrowed this book from the library.

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