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Can't Look AwayFrom Goodreads: Donna Cooner establishes herself as our own Jodi Picoult in this timely tale of sisters, loss, and redemption.

Torrey Grey is famous. At least, on the internet. Thousands of people watch her popular videos on fashion and beauty. But when Torrey’s sister is killed in an accident — maybe because of Torrey and her videos — Torrey’s perfect world implodes.

Now, strangers online are bashing Torrey. And at her new school, she doesn’t know who to trust. Is queen bee Blair only being sweet because of Torrey’s internet infamy? What about Raylene, who is decidedly unpopular, but seems accepts Torrey for who she is? And then there’s Luis, with his brooding dark eyes, whose family runs the local funeral home. Torrey finds herself drawn to Luis, and his fascinating stories about El dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

As the Day of the Dead draws near, Torrey will have to really look at her own feelings about death, and life, and everything in between. Can she learn to mourn her sister out of the public eye?

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This is an interesting read that depicts the life of a teen beauty vlogger, a wildly popular young woman who posts to YouTube, which I admit is a channel I personally rarely visit. My students are obsessed with youtube videos, so I definitely wanted to check out this novel and see if it brought on any insights, because truth be told, vlogs tend to drive me insane. I don’t think I’ve been able to watch very many straight through, because the spontaneity and bloopers of it all just isn’t for me. But, that’s exactly what Torrey does, or did, prior to the novel’s beginning, and as Torrey looks back on her past life, one where her little sister still existed, we begin to see just who Torrey Grey truly is, both now and then.

I definitely enjoyed this novel, and it did make me tear up a time of two, but I personally don’t follow why people are blaming Torrey for her sister’s death, or why they feel the need to write nasty comments on her vlogs. I get that trolls exist, and over the past three years as an online reviewer, I’ve seen some pretty nasty comments left on both author and blogger accounts alike, but I don’t quite understand the why behind it, and while I think this novel attempts to answer this question, it really doesn’t. Why are people so callous and rude? Torrey fought with her sister, just like all siblings do. She was mean, just like all siblings can be. But she didn’t push her sister into the street, and she certainly didn’t cause the accident, so I don’t see where anyone has the right to bully her, or why they would ever think to, in the first place. Of course, it seems that that is what humanity is good at doing; putting others down anonymously, and this happens to Torrey, though I have to say that I really felt like this was more the background story than the forefront, and I really wish this aspect of online life, with the trolls and wannabes, was dived into more deeply as it’s the main aspect I was more interested in.

Now, as I said, the story focuses on Torrey, and she’s definitely going through a hard time at the moment, and she struggles to pull herself together. Her attempt to piece her life back together, hanging with the popular crowd, is a farce, an attempt at healing—if only things could go back to the way they were, but unfortunately they never do, and Torrey has to learn this the hard way. I respected this about her, but she rubbed me the wrong way on some occasions, snubbing her true friends in order to make a name for herself… I think we’re all probably guilty of this in some way or other, but it did leave me a bit disappointed in Torrey, though she does eventually seem to get her head on straight.

I really liked Luis and enjoyed the Dia de los Muertes references and make-up tutorial (I’m so doing this), but again, never really understood why people were bashing on Torrey, or why the popular crowd at her new school disliked her so much. As I said, I liked the idea behind this novel overall, and the story is indeed well written, it’s just a little beyond me; I don’t really understand why anyone acted the way they did within the novel. Three and a half stars.

3.5 starsI received this novel from the publisher, via Netgalley, prior to its release today.

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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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17571742From Goodreads: Kacey Cleary’s whole life imploded four years ago in a drunk-driving accident. Now she’s working hard to bury the pieces left behind—all but one. Her little sister, Livie. Kacey can swallow the constant disapproval from her born-again aunt Darla over her self-destructive lifestyle; she can stop herself from going kick-boxer crazy on Uncle Raymond when he loses the girls’ college funds at a blackjack table. She just needs to keep it together until Livie is no longer a minor, and then they can get the hell out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But when Uncle Raymond slides into bed next to Livie one night, Kacey decides it’s time to run. Armed with two bus tickets and dreams of living near the coast, Kacey and Livie start their new lives in a Miami apartment complex, complete with a grumpy landlord, a pervert upstairs, and a neighbor with a stage name perfectly matched to her chosen “profession.” But Kacey’s not worried. She can handle all of them. What she can’t handle is Trent Emerson in apartment 1D.

Kacey doesn’t want to feel. She doesn’t. It’s safer that way. For everyone. But sexy Trent finds a way into her numb heart, reigniting her ability to love again. She starts to believe that maybe she can leave the past where it belongs and start over. Maybe she’s not beyond repair.

But Kacey isn’t the only one who’s broken. Seemingly perfect Trent has an unforgiveable past of his own; one that, when discovered, will shatter Kacey’s newly constructed life and send her back into suffocating darkness.

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It’s been four years since the accident that irrevocably changed Kasey Cleary’s life, sending her on a downward spiral, unable to connect with others, let alone shake their hands. Insistent on doing right for her younger sister, the novel really begins with Kasey and Livie arriving in Miami via bus, side-stepping the catastrophic event that sends them on the run, their uncle’s attempt to sleep with Livie. This was a godsend; I am always nervous when a synopsis hints at sexual abuse being a part of the story, and it was this that actually stopped me from picking up the novel for such a long time. But there is no sex abuse in this story. Uncle Raymond laid down and Livie took flight to Kasey’s room directly, as Tucker tells her readers fairly early on, which was an extreme relief for me. So, if that’s what’s keeping you on the fence about reading this story, don’t let it stop you. In fact, the entire first paragraph and a half of the synopsis has already happened when the story begins, and readers learn very limited things about Kasey’s aunt and uncle as the main focus is on the now, on the arrival in Miami and the girls’ attempt to create a normal existence.

I have to admire Kasey. She works hard to protect her sister and keep her own emotions in check, however, she is extremely damaged inside, pushing everyone away, exuding extreme hatred for the drunk driver and the boys in the car that crashed into her and her family that fatal night. Consumed by her fear of touch and her hatred of for the boy who livid, she runs the gauntlet of emotions, never realizing just how much she is hurting the one she loves most: Livie.

Of course, Trent was a very swoon-worthy character and I loved the interactions and angst between him and Kasey. They are great for each other, and watching him wear down her barrier was amazing. I was thankful, as well, that Tucker utilizes the “fade to black” style when dealing with most of the sexual interactions, and that she didn’t linger on the ones that provided more details. Less is more, and I’m more interested in the plotline in my stories than in the sexual deviances. Tucker totes this line very well, and I give her kudos for keeping the focus on the emotional upheaval of Kasey.

Tucker sets up the story so that readers will very quickly realize what Trent’s secret is, and though I would have liked to be more surprised, I enjoyed the focus on healing from past wounds of the soul. This book is really about healing and less about the secret and sexual angst between the characters, and I enjoyed how well Tucker fleshed out all her characters throughout the novel.

While the ending of the novel was very tidy and quite nice, I was sort of hoping it would end differently as, for me, it would have seemed a little more realistic. However, I think that’s my jaded sense of life coming through, pessimism, really, so don’t mind me. Three stars.

3 stars

Atria Books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read this novel via Netgalley.



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