Leaving Romance for Mystery

Since April 2014, my reading has stayed–almost exclusively–within the romance and new adult genres. But before that, I loved reading authors like Alex Kava, Sandra Brown, and Chelsea Cain, who are known for their mysteries/thrillers.

So I’m taking a short break from romance to read Mary Burton’s Cover Your Eyes, which I’ve received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Looking forward to a change!

mary burton cover your eyes

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Newest NetGalley Novella

The Long Way HomeI’m still new to NetGalley. Unfortunately, since I don’t have many followers, this means that my requests for novels frequently get declined. So my latest tactic is to read and provide quality feedback on as many reads as I can get approvals for–even if they’re not my top picks.

The blurb for The Long Way Home by Kathleen O’Brien isn’t much to go on. Thus far, I’m pleasantly surprised as to the quality of the writing and the compelling nature of the story. Stay tuned for a full report!

Book Review: Collision by Kate L. Mary

CollisionCollision by Kate L. Mary

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Collision combines two of my favorite things: the new adult genre and mystery/suspense. Unfortunately, I had to work this week, or I would have read the novel in one sitting. (I received a copy from the author on Monday, through a “read and review it” thread on Goodreads.) In general, it’s a fast-paced read that held my attention, giving me characters and a storyline to care about.

After sustaining multiple injuries in a car accident, Kara Jones (our protagonist) learns a startling family secret. This new information launches her on a search for the truth…and right into the arms of Derek Miller.

While their relationship escalates quickly, I found it to be believable. Derek had admired Kara from afar during high school, and, having had crushes of my own during those formative years, I know how long-lasting and powerful they can be. I mean, he admits to attending every football game to see her cheer, which I thought was incredibly sweet. It struck me, too, that although the two ran in different social circles—she was popular and he wasn’t—Kara made a lasting impression on Derek due to her kindness:

“You said hi to me every morning and whenever you caught me staring—which was a lot—you smiled. You didn’t make me feel bad for thinking you were pretty. You didn’t act like I wasn’t good enough for you. You treated me like a person. That was the most I could have hoped for back then.”

As for Kara, her high school boyfriend (Bill) set the bar pretty low, so it seems clear to me that she’s ripe for a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.

And speaking of exes…I’m really confused by Steph’s role in the novel. At first, Derek won’t even disclose her name, and I don’t fully understand the reason behind his secrecy. Does he know they’ll run into her during their trip to Kent? Is that why he’s so willing to go? Since we don’t ever hear from Derek’s point of view, I struggled to get a grasp on his feelings toward her. We know, through her conversation with Kara, that Steph was in love with Derek. But we don’t know whether he returned those feelings…right?

His dialogue and actions aren’t entirely helpful either. In the coffee shop, he tells Kara, “I don’t like her being so pissed at me. I didn’t do anything to her. She broke up with me.” But in a subsequent scene, Kara narrates: “Steph’s appearance has done something to Derek. He had his arm around me before she showed up, but now that she’s here he can’t seem to stop touching me.” Does this stem from an effort to make Steph jealous? Or is this Derek’s way of demonstrating that he’s serious about Kara—to her, to Steph, or perhaps to both of them?

The novel’s epilogue seems to lend itself to a sequel. If so, maybe Steph will make an appearance and, in doing so, answer some of my questions. Or maybe not. Maybe a sequel would focus entirely on furthering what Kara has learned about her parents. Either way, I would jump at the chance to read more from Kate L. Mary.

Additional thoughts:
I find it refreshing that Kara knows she is attractive: “I’m not ashamed to say I think I’m pretty. It’s confidence, not vanity.” For better or for worse, it has become commonplace in new adult reads for female protagonists to be insecure about or oblivious to their own good looks. Frankly, I never quite know how to picture this type of character, because the girl’s perception of her outward appearance is at odds with others’ perceptions of the same thing. In Collision, I appreciate the straightforward manner in which Kara is described.

Another thing I appreciate about the novel is its humor. Despite its more serious subject matter, I liked the flirtation, teasing, and jokes that pass between Kara and Derek. Furthermore, Kara’s ongoing uncertainty when it comes to Dex’s sexual preferences is really funny.

Finally, I have to address this line from Steph: “You can’t seriously tell me you like him. You were a cheerleader in high school.” Really? I understand what she’s going for here, but as an AP student, I’d expect her to move beyond superficial labels and/or stereotypes, and to evaluate someone based on more than a single high-school-based affiliation. (I had really strong feelings when it came to Steph. Can you tell?)

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A top 10 list of books that have influenced my life…

The_Reader_cover sea of tranquility the-gargoyle2

I’m sure many of you have been challenged on Facebook to list ten books that have influenced you in some way. Here are mine:

  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  • Summer of my German Soldier by Bette Greene
  • Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
  • The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
  • Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • A Different Blue by Amy Harmon
  • The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • He’s Just Not That into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

On my currently-reading shelf…

Remember whenCollisionCover

I’m 63% of the way through Remember When, and my experience reading it so far has been very positive. The main characters  graduate from high school in 1991, and since I began high school in 1999, the references aren’t too foreign. In general, the description of the social landscape during those four years is spot-on. I vividly remember similar cliques formed upon shared interests (athletics, theater, etc.), but our protagonist Layla is more mature and objective in her evaluation of them than I was at 17 and 18. *Copy of Remember When generously provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

As for Collision by Kate L. Mary, a limited number of copies were distributed via Goodreads to read and review. While I’ve already received my digital copy of the work, I haven’t started reading it in earnest yet. Based on the blurb, though, I predict it will be a good one!

Two more new adult reads to consider…

Teenager Carrying His Girlfriend

“Love is tricky….It can convince you to act stupid or make terrible decisions that you’ll regret , or it can help you realize what’s important and make you deliriously happy.”

scratchcover

“He did something to me, something I’d never experienced before. He made me crave.”

In all honesty, I found both of these to be worthwhile reads. If I had to compare the two, I guess I’d admit to liking the first one–Since Forever Ago–better. Its subject matter and tone are more lighthearted than those in Scratch, and the characters kept me laughing throughout. See the following link for my full review of Besse’s novel:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1057014726

Scratch certainly has its own merits. It’s a story of learning to love and trust again after enduring a traumatic experience.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have read one or both of these novels!

*Copies provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Chelsea Fine and the Finding Fate series

BEST-KIND-OF-BROKEN-Cover1 chelsea-fine-perfect-kind-of-trouble-finding-fate2b right-kind-of-wrong-by-chelsea-fine

Since I finished reading this series recently, I thought I’d write a quick post on its merits.

First off, I should mention that I received a copy of Right Kind of Wrong (Finding Fate, #3) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; I gave the NA novel three stars. (The female protagonist frustrated me to no end, or I would have given it a higher rating.) In any case, the narrative made me interested in its secondary characters: two couples who are featured in Best Kind of Broken (Finding Fate, #1) and Perfect Kind of Trouble (Finding Fate, #2). I found both of them to be better than the third installment, with the second one being my favorite! All of them are quick, satisfying reads that fans of the new adult genre should enjoy.

Book Review: Aspen

AspenAspen by Rebekah Crane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, I’ll admit it: The blurb on this novel didn’t win me over.

But since author Jessica Park raved about Aspen on her Facebook page, I decided to give it a chance—especially when I saw that it was available through NetGalley. And the rest, as they say, is history.

This powerful narrative of self-discovery, friendship, and love completely blew me away. Aspen, our heroine, is a phenomenal character. But the secondary characters are equally compelling. While I can certainly accept this as a standalone, I’d love to see a sequel featuring Kim and Cass (with glimpses of Ben, Ninny, and Aspen, of course).

The first thing I noticed about Crane’s novel was its realistic portrayal of teenagers and the high school experience. The author establishes a disparity between Aspen’s perception of herself and how others see her, which—while always the case to some degree—is perhaps most evident during these formative years.

Aspen is notably insecure regarding her appearance, especially her hair—”the curly, dirty blonde mess that protrudes from my head, like a perm on a troll doll”—which prevents her from blending in with her peers. Nevertheless, she is relatively content with her status on campus: While she has a small group of loyal friends, she’s not what anyone would term popular—that is, until an unfortunate accident catapults her into unwelcome stardom.

Navigating this new phenomenon only adds to her list of problems, which already consists of dealing with stress-induced migraines, processing her reaction to the trauma, and hallucinating a dead person. So her emphasis on using the right word(s) is indicative of a need to restore order to a chaotic, unpredictable life. After all, definitions are black and white (quite literally, in fact, if one considers how they’re printed on a dictionary page).

Readers are kept in suspense regarding the real story behind the accident, and it’s only through the combined effort of Aspen, her newfound friends, and her therapist, that our title character is able to piece together the night’s events.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel is the witty dialogue that takes place between Aspen and her friends, and between Aspen and Ben. I laughed out loud at how unexpected and comical some of these conversations were. (If only I could be so clever! Alas, I’m unsure how to cultivate or hone this skill.) But beyond being funny, these exchanges demonstrate how smart, well-informed, and good-natured this cast of characters is at its core.

For me, Aspen is the perfect balance of light and heavy. Both Ninny’s eccentricity and the playful banter between characters seem to counter the novel’s darker moments, while the supportive Suzy and Kim counteract the venomous Olivia and Claire. In addition, Aspen treats concepts such as identity, friendship, romance, and family with the honesty and reverence they deserve.

Overall, Aspen is a gripping, emotional read that is so real, so profound in its simplicity, that it will have you reading compulsively until the very last page.

*Provided by author/publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

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Book Review: How We Deal with Gravity by Ginger Scott

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How We Deal with Gravity is my second Ginger Scott novel to read. The story and characters were so compelling that I couldn’t put it down; it took only a day or two to finish.

I found this a more complex read than Scott’s This is Falling, which features college freshmen. In How We Deal with Gravity the main characters—Avery and Mason—are older (25ish), and they naturally shoulder more responsibility than teenagers do. The former is a single mother whose son has autism; she works and attends college classes in addition to caring for him. The latter is a musician who has squandered away his success through a series of poor choices.

Nevertheless, the two find themselves drawn together as if by gravitational force. Fortunately, this metaphor—in which a scientific principle is likened to romantic attraction—isn’t overdone. In fact, only two direct references to the title are made:

“Max is always telling me about gravity, and how it pulls two masses together. Gravity. That’s what I’m feeling right now” (from Avery’s perspective at 26%);

and

“Gravity is a natural force that gives weight to an object. It is the force that attracts all heavenly objects to one another” (from Mason’s perspective at 42%).

But it is interesting how these two very different personalities deal with the pull they experience. For Avery it’s instinctive to remain guarded. She almost uses Max’s autism and her past relationship experience as reasons to avoid romantic involvement. For Mason, though, having real feelings for someone matures him and (with one notable exception) influences him to make wiser choices. Their characters also illuminate the dichotomy of selfishness and selflessness. Interestingly enough, the narrative hints that even selflessness, praised as a virtue, can become unhealthy when practiced to the exclusion of pursuing one’s goals.

Overall, this is certainly a worthwhile read that I highly recommend. Although a couple of the plot twists were hard to believe, and although Avery cried A LOT (far more than I thought necessary), How We Deal with Gravity addresses some thought-provoking issues and gives readers a cast of characters with whom they can identify.

Book Review: This is Falling by Ginger Scott

This was my first experience reading a Ginger Scott novel, and I have to say I’m impressed. I will definitely include her other work on my to-read list.

This is Falling provides readers with two compelling main characters: Nate and Rowe. Both have admirable qualities, so I was invested in their collective happiness and well-being. I found myself reading more slowly than normal—not because I wasn’t captivated, but because I didn’t want their story to end.

The author’s use of “this is” statements is subtle and artistic. In addition to referencing the title, they serve as a motif throughout the novel. The brief declarative sentences—“This is flirting,” “This is jealousy,” “This is falling” (hence the title), “This is desire,” “This is love,” and “This is living”—go deeper than they appear. Each defines a concept or feeling for readers, in addition to making us feel a part of the action. Since the story is narrated in first person, from dual points of view, I felt like I knew and identified with both characters on a personal, in-depth level. While Rowe blushed more than I thought necessary, I cringed (and turned red with her) several times. The tension, embarrassment, and anxiety she experienced were palpable to me as well.

Regarding the novel’s plot, I did not see that last scene coming. The fiction within any given genre runs the risk of becoming predictable, but I did not feel that way regarding Scott’s novel. The playful banter between characters was unexpected and funny, and it was refreshing (albeit nerve-wracking) not to be able to anticipate the narrative’s next turn.

I appreciate that the author spent most of her time developing the characters’ relationship on an emotional level rather than a physical one, which is appropriate in light of the trauma Rowe has experienced. But when Scott does describe the intimacy they share, the scene is both realistic and touching.

My only complaint is that the story ended a little too abruptly for my taste. However, since Cass and Ty’s story is next in the series, I hope we’ll see more of Nate and Rowe in future installments.

Overall, This is Falling is suspenseful, intense, emotional, and gratifying. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy NA and romance reads.

(This is Falling generously provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)