Friday, May 22, 2020

I COME WITH KNIVES by SA Hunt


Rating: A studded baseball bat to fight off monsters.

Summary: Things ramp up in the fight against evil in the continuation of the story begun in Burn The Dark as Robin and her friends make new allies to fight old enemies.

Would you read more from this author? Absolutely.


This is a direct conclusion to the installment before it and probably wouldn't make much sense if you haven't read the first book. If you have read the first book, though, you'll want to get your hands on this as soon as you can. Its publication is currently slated as July 21st, 2020. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy.

In my review of Burn the Dark I mentioned that it felt more paranormal than horror. Whelp, that is not at all true of Book 2. This book ups the gore, the violence, and the evil, making it generally more disturbing than the first half of the tale.

The full cast of the first book is back, although Wayne's friends see much less page time in this episode. I was glad that I really got to know these folks earlier, because they don't get built on much before everything goes pear-shaped and they're fighting not just for their lives but for an entire town of possessed people.

The returning cast shows a lot of growth from the gauntlet of trauma they must power their way through. Joel in particular made me feel like he was someone I knew and was proud of, but they all go up against massive obstacles that really test their grit, determination, and bravery.

The witches are less sympathetic than I found them in Book One and more outright evil. They're done with playing nice and being civil; they're ready to burn the town to the ground and destroy every living soul in it if it means defeating Robin.

There are some new characters in this book. At the end of Book One, Robin's mentor, Heinrich, arrived. I'm not sure if he's not as fleshed out as the earlier characters or if I just didn't like him as much. He makes a lot of bad choices, choices abysmal enough that I'm not sure how he stayed alive to be in this book, let alone taught Robin much of anything. He does a good job of showing the importance of not succumbing to hubris though and I think that his fate serves as a very valuable lesson to Robin.

We also meet the Dogs of Odysseus, a group of magic users who appear to be on the side of good, although I get the feeling that's mostly because it's convenient right now. They are interesting. Although I feel I didn't get to know the representatives of the group very well, I was certainly intrigued by them. There's some promise that they'll be relevant again in later books and this makes me very happy.
The action here is fast paced and seldom receding. If I were to make one complaint against this book, it would actually be that there is too much action. It begins dialed up to eleven, so where is there to go? The book starts out with a punch and never stops hitting, which means I never really got to process what was happening. It also had the odd effect of meaning I could put the book down, walk away, and not be drawn back because it was just too intense the whole way through and it kind of exhausted me. I'm pretty sure this is a personal problem for me as a reader and am absolutely certain that for a lot of readers, the nonstop adrenaline will be a major draw.

The ending is very solid. There's an indication of the direction Robin is heading in next, but it's not a cliffhanger that way Burn the Dark was. If this were the end of a duology and I didn't know there was going to be a continued series, I would have found it a satisfying place to stop. That said, I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

This is hands down a good book. It is also definitely not the type of book I usually read. What they did to those poor cats will haunt me for a long time. But I am glad that I read it and will be buying the next one when it's published. I received the copy I read as an ARC so that I could review it. I don't at all regret that come publication time the copy I preordered will arrive and expect that my husband will really enjoy learning the rest of the story when Book 3 drops this autumn.

I Come With Knives was meant to be published already. It has been delayed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and is currently slated to be released on July 21st. You can preorder it wherever you like to buy books and they'll get it to you when it's available even if that date shifts again. I encourage you to go ahead and do that should you buy the first book because when that ends, you'll want to know that the rest is coming soon.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

5% I'm not really sure why Robin's mom  is lying rather than telling her about everything. It seems obvious Robin isn't going to drop it and I'd think she'd be safer knowing what's happening. I guess she's just really used to the idea that it MUST all be a secret.

7% Alright. The cops have found the crime scene! Guess they'll be believing Joel now. I mean, looks like this officer might be getting killed, but people will have known he was going there. Of course, the cops seems corrupt in the first book, so who knowsif anything will.come of this. It's actually a bit odd anyone went out there.

13% Yeah, I'm pretty sure the "when you were a baby" part is wrong.

17% Interesting that Roy didn't kill Deliliah. I guess he figures she's too terrified to tell on him? Or he didn't realize she saw the dead body?

21% Ok, so at least one of the cops is corrupt.

27% Of, Leon...

28% Lost to dagger. Got his ass kicked. Looks like he's gonna die. I'm pretty disappointed with Heinrich. Although I think there's a decent chance of Roy dying, at least.

31% Okay. This is completely disgusting. I'm having trouble breathing right.

31% Finally confirmed Robin's half demon.

36% I am traumatized by what just happened to the cat. This book is definitely more gorey than the first.

37% So Big Red was not the gardener but a different redheaded serial killer?

39% All those poor kitties. :(

41% Did no one tell Kenway to draw runes? :(

42% So people can be released from the cats without dying. That's good.

42% Oh. It seems Kenway is dead anyway. :(

43% Nope! Kenway's alive! Yay!

45% Ah, okay, the redheads are identical. Twins? Doppelgangers?

46% Oh, Fish... I don't think he's miraculously surviving that.

49% Lol. Yeah, I've been there with voice recognition not know what the hell I'm saying even though people don't act like I have a speech impediment.

56% Word tentacle is weird. Is her arm trying to grow back or is this a parasite?

62% So if a section of powerline is banished from reality, what does that do to the power grid?

66% Really digging this demon appendage.

68% Hmmm... Why was Gez at the quary?

74% Glad I'm not phobic of spiders.

76% Reenacted the Crucification. Damn...

80% Little Bunny Foo Foo. ROFL.

83% That was pretty.

84% It kinda feels like the book is over right now.

85% Interesting that CPS let Wayne stay with nonrelatives instead of putting him in a foster home. When the school decides he's truant, is expect that to change. (I would assume the cops would tell CPS when a single parent is reported missing.)

89% Ok, action is turned back on again.

93% Dissolving the matron's illusion was awesome.

94% Wayne's mama isn't dead! I did not suspect that.

95% They drove to Alaska? I shudder to think what that cost in gas.

95% Ghost Annie. Cool.

96% THE END

I like the solidity of the ending. And I like that the hunting life goes on. I look forward to Book 3

Thursday, May 21, 2020

BURN THE DARK by S.A. Hunt


Rating: A delightful chill from a scary campfire story.

Summary: A kickass woman named Robin has a hit YouTube channel featuring chest-cam coverage of her hunting down evil and extinguishing it. Unknown to most of her viewers, this isn't fiction but her real life. When she returns to her hometown, she teams up with a fabulous pizza boy, a war veteran, and the young son of the new school teacher to try to kill the witches who stole her mother from her.

Would you read more from this author? Absolutely. (In fact, I have! See tomorrow's review to see how I like the sequel to this novel.)


First off, a disclaimer. I know S. A. Hunt online and think she is pretty much one of the most awesome people out there. I say this both to be honest and to explain why I picked up an adult horror novel. (Bought a signed copy of it even!)

That said, I'm absolutely confident I would have enjoyed this book even if I'd never heard of the author before. When I read her Outlaw King Series (not reviewed here, but I've been meaning to reread it and write about it) I saw a very obvious influence from Stephen King. That's here too. But beyond that, I consider Hunt's writing to be of comparable quality to the esteemed Mr King.

This is the first book in a series, but I feel it could also be labeled as the first book in a duology. Malus Domestica Books 1 & 2 form a complete story with a solid ending even though Burn the Dark Alone does not. My main criticism of Burn the Dark is that it ends with a cliffhanger. But the second book was set to be released a few months later, so this didn't bother me too much. The release date of the second book has been delayed by COVID-19, but you should still be able to get your hands on it this summer. (I actually scored an ARC thanks to this humble little blog. That alone justifies writing reviews.)

The cast of this novel is amazing. Robin can be arrogant and rash, but she is nevertheless highly likable and easy to pull for. (The arrogance comes from insecurity and the rashness from passion.) She has a complicated history and a lot of potential for the future. I think I'm really going to enjoy reading more stories about her. And her plush mosquito, Mr Nosey. (I HAVE to love a woman who can kill with her bare hands yet travels with a plush animal. And I may need to crochet a plush mosquito in Mr Nosey's honor.)

Robin's childhood friend Joel (pronounced Jo-elle) is remarkably fun. Although he did remind me a little much of Lafayette from True Blood when we first meet him, he soon became his own person. He also has a complicated past and personality, and as a gay man of color in rural Georgia his life is not an easy one. Over the two books, I think he's the character who shows the most growth.

Kenway is a remarkably believable combat veteran, which is a category of person I frequently find poorly written. I suspect this is because Hunt herself falls under this heading. Kenway is also an artist, which I felt was an interesting combination. He's a strong male who probably deserves the label alpha, but he is consistently compassionate and concerned with helping others. When Robin starts to develop a romantic relationship with him, it's very easy to understand what she sees in the guy.

One interesting thing in this book is the existence of Wayne. He and his friends give off a Stranger Things vibe that seemed to me like something we could have seen from Stephen King. He and his dad, Leon, have just moved into Robin's old house, right across the street from the villains of our tale. Wayne's relationship to the evil witches is really fascinating and it's a lot like Robin's used to be when she was a kid. To children, they seem like nice old ladies. In fact, Robin once believed one of them was her actual grandmother. Wayne doesn't exactly disbelieve Robin that the ladies are evil, but he has trouble reconciling that idea with what he's witnessed of them.

The villains are as complex and intriguing as everyone else. They're witches. It's made very clear that Robin has no problem with the common neo-pagan type of witch we see in the real world and that these witches are something else entirely. They were human once, but it's fair to say that aren't now. And they go around doing things like turning people into trees, then watering the tree's roots with the blood of murder victims. In fact, they have to do this, because the fruit of such trees is what makes them immortal. These ladies though... They seriously border on likable. They go for chapters making the reader go, "Well, they don't seem so bad..." and then -bam!- murdered children or some such. Their ability to garner sympathy is probably the most terrifying thing about them.

The plot is compelling and the style of writing is highly engaging. Although when I gave the book to my husband, he said it felt a lot like reading something I had written, so I may be biased on the issue even though I personally didn't really see what he meant. He also reported enjoying the book, but didn't give a detailed critique of it. I didn't let him see the ARC of Book 2, so he's going to have to wait for the copy I preordered to show up to see what happens next.

Although this series is horror, I felt Burn the Dark was more in the paranormal camp and would compare it to Supernatural. However, I will tell you that you need to be okay with horror levels of gore if you're going to read the second book.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you what I thought of the continuation.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

5% A plush mosquito who's seen better days. I like that our kick-ass witch hunter owns this.

7% I like Joel, but feel he should hyphenate his name if he wants people to say Joe-elle. Also... He seems more like a "they" to me, but it's not my business to gender other people.

9% I want to live in a copula! Although I also really need to NOT have a spiral staircase between me and the bathroom at night...

13% Hey, black Monte Carlo. Nice.

25% Okay, evil thing in the bathroom was creepy.

37% Vomited a cat. Oh... Ugh. That is just gross.

38% I appreciate that good witches are a thing.

46% Hmmm ... Something powerful enough to scare the elder witches... I'm suddenly wondering if that thing following Robin around actually means her harm or if it could be protecting her.

51% I was not expecting a giant clown face in the middle of the woods. The kids are right; that is creepy. I wonder what a rollercoaster car is doing or there ... Abandoned amusement park. Cool. (Is the monster really just the grumpy old man who ran the place in a mask? Probably not...)

53% Ah, shit. That was a copperhead, wasn't it? Bit by a copperhead is some bad business.

57% Drugged by a tender hookup. Also bad business. (And was that the gardener? I can't remember his name, but he's tall and red headed and dresses like that...)

68% Ok, that illusion was gross.

69% If I were in Joel's situation, I don't my think I'd go get my car without a cop... Although I guess he is taking a combat vet and a witch slayer. That might actually be better. ... Also, he says the guy doesn't know where he lives but seems to have forgotten that the guy DOES know where he works.

74% Saying that Wiccans worship Hecate seems a hair misleading. She is sometimes invoked as an aspect of the Lady, but she's not a primary focus. And, of course, saying neopagans worship someone should ALWAYS have the word "some" before neopagans because "neopagan" an umbrella term.

77% They are going to take a cop to get the car. Good call.

85% Hmm... Maybe Wayne's mom was a different sort of witch? Something Asian that gets its powers in a different way? (Not sure what all this about Chinatown is. Her name is Japanese... As are yokai, although those could be a concept Japan got from China centuries ago. And in a lot of cities, Chinatown is just generically Asian.)

91% So Robin's biological father is a demon? Interesting.

95% THE END
Very abrupt. Very much leading straight into the second book.

Monday, March 23, 2020

PROMISED BY PROM by Jessica Bucher and M.F. Lorson



Rating: A cozy sweatshirt with your high school mascot on it

Summary: Nora's goal for spring her senior year is to find a serious romantic relationship by the end of the year so that she'll be less upset her friends are going to college in other places and she isn't. And to not be distracted by her friend's brother, because he's off limits.

Would you read more from these authors? Absolutely.

This is the third of the Squad Goals series, and my favorite. It ties everything up in a way that had me misty eyed, leaving me feeling like my actual friends were about to separate and go on adventures apart from each other. It's pretty amazing how much I grew to care about these kids over the course of the series.

Like the first two books, Hot by Halloween and Nerdy by New YearPromised by Prom focuses on a group goal. In this case, Nora wants a serious boyfriend by the end of the year in hopes it will make her feel more like she has a local life when her friends leave for college. So she decides to find some guys who aren't leaving town and go on some dates.

Meanwhile. Max is the brother of one of Nora's squadmates. This puts him off limits, although he doesn't want to be and although he's a year behind them in school and planning on going to the same community college as Nora rather directly into a four-year university and thus will be in town for several years. And he doesn't like this goal at all, which he knows about because he snooped in the book they write it all down in a few novels ago when his sister had it. He's always been the amusingly goofy younger brother of her friend, but he's a friend of Nora in his own right, too. It will have been obvious for some time to readers of the series that the two belong together, and Max is aware of it from the start. But Max knows he can't force Nora's heart, so he watches her go on a series of dates and comforts her after the ones that go all wrong.

Nora likes Max. A lot. But she's never considered dating him for two reasons: 1) She thinks his sister will flip and 2) she thinks he's a bit of aplayer. She's actually right about the first one. But it's quickly apparent to the reader that the reason Max has a string of casual relationships that he cuts off the second he gets the impression the girl is getting attached to him is because he's been in love with Nora for years. He's not sure how to explain that to her without freaking her out though.

The shifting relationship between Max and Nora is incredibly sweet, extremely tender, and sometimes heartbreaking. It's one of those books where you're pretty sure the couple will end up together, but it still hurts to see them make choices that keep them apart.

The resolution is a happy one, although it was also bittersweet. There's a gathering in one of the closing scenes where Nora watches her friends and their boyfriends reflecting that this may be the last time they're all together. And she's right. No matter what, they're unlikely to ever be as close as they are in that scene again.

The book concludes with the Squad Goals notebook being handed to a younger sister who is told to form her own squad and continue the tradition. I hope she does. Maybe if we're lucky we'll even get to read about it.

This book is a great entry in the fields of friendship-to-romance and forbidden-partners-romance. It also also concludes a fantastic series about positive female friendships. I highly recommend readers start with the first in the series and read all the way through for the fullest impact.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

6% Well, yeah, Max, you could try to make the goal go away. Or you could just make sure it applies to you, you doof.

10% Now you're on the right track, Max.
Also, I'm loving the dynamic Gray and Simon have developed.

11% I know someone who likes your weird, Nora...

12% Max is coming really close to being honest with Nora already. And she clearly likes him, even though she doesn't seem to know it. What would happen if he followed Simon's advice and just talked to her?

16% Hah. Kid sister Nina knows the score.

23% But WHY haven't you considered dating Max, you silly person? .... Apparently it's 100% that Addy would freak. Well, Addy can get over that.

27% Ok, and she thinks Max is a player. Which I guess makes sense as she doesn't know why he hasn't been serious with any of these other girls.

31% He's totally not wrong that a date should be as easy as hanging out with a friend. He was also right that she didn't actually need rescue in this case. She really was free to drive home.

33% A more astute girl might wonder why Max remembers the guys she's gone out with better than she does... Ah, there we go. "I had no idea you were paying such close attention."

38% lol. Even Nora's dad knows. Daaaamn.

42% There are a lot more typos in this book than the others. Did they fire their editor?

44% He's going to confess his feelings this weekend... But we're only at 44%, so... It may not go well. If it happens. Or it does happen and go well but then Addy is a problem...

45% Sharing a tent... That... Makes things more complicated, doesn't it? There's nowhere to go if you get shot down. So, yeah, it definitely needs to wait until the end of the festival. Which could make the ride home awkward... Maybe this weekend isn't a good idea.

47% Why doesn't Nora want Max to say he loves her? She's looking for a serious relationship, so it's not that that's too much. I guess she's just scared. It is a scary place to be.

50% um... Not to stereotype, but "Mr Perfect" works in a dress shop and knows what was worn by whom to which awards show. Why are people assuming he's straight?

52% Ah. It's his mom's store. That reads slightly less gay, I guess. But, still...

53% Andrew doesn't make her feel anything. So, yeah, friend material only even if he isn't gay.

59% Yeah, Nora really didn't handle that very well. Poor Max.

60% I like the Avett Brothers a lot, but wouldn't pick them to cheer me up if my heart was breaking. I am really sad for Max.

60% I guess Andrew is straight. Go figure.

65% I'm guessing that expression was Addy realizing she's messed up trying to keep Max and Nora apart.

83% Addy called in the strawberry shake. :)

87% Oh, my gosh! That scene was so sweet!

93% Wait, I am confused. It's been 90 days since prom and graduation is next weekend? Who has prom that early???

94% I'm sad about Gray going to school in California. That's going to suck.

95% Max is friends with Andrew now. Nice. The guy really is likable.

96% Dammit, I'm crying. Talk about bittersweet.

98% And the squad goals are passed on... The End.

I'm happy for Max and Nora. I think they have a good shot at being permanent. I'm unsure about Gray and Addy. Going to school in different time zones is going to really strain their relationship, so Nora may have been right that the party was the last time all six of them would be together. But I guess most people don't marry their high school loves even if I did, and most people seem to thinking picking schools without taking your significant other into account is reasonable.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

NERDY BY NEW YEAR by Jessica Bucher and M.F. Lorson


Rating: A glass of sparkling non-alcoholic cider

Summary: Years ago, Lucy betrayed her best friend Simon and they've hardly spoken since. Her goal this fall: make things up to him and regain his friendship.

Would you read more from this series? I have, in fact, already read the entire thing. :)

This is the second in the Squad Goal series. Like the first, Hot By Halloween, it features a trio of friends coming together to help one of them with a life goal. In this case, we're working on Lucy's goal to regain the trust of her once-best-friend Simon after two years of estrangement. This involves joining the service club he leads and making an effort to show that she can be nerdy. (Or geeky as I prefer to think of it.) Losing Simon has haunted her their entire separation and she's willing to do anything to get him back. Either as a friend, or as she suddenly realizes she'd like, as a boyfriend.

Having read the description of this book, I started out thinking Lucy was going to be a mean girl. She wasn't though. Not at all. In fact, she's very nice to everyone and is popular because she's likable rather than because she's worked the system and made people afraid of her. Her concern for the birds at the rescue she starts working at midway through the book is beautiful. And the betrayal of Simon from years ago wound up being something that it seems like they could have resolved back then if they hadn't had the instinct to avoid each other. It was a mistake more than a calculated action, a matter of trusting someone she shouldn't have and then not knowing how to properly resolve the problem.

Simon was also easy to cheer for. His main issue is that he hide from conflicts rather than resolving them, so when his best friend hurt him at the start of their sophomore year, his response was to not talk to her for for two years. It's an interesting contrast to the fact that he heads the school service club, working hard to solve problems that his peers too frequently ignore. But I suppose he isn't the first person to find it easier to wear yourself out cleaning up riverbanks and helping charities than it is to make yourself emotionally vulnerable with the people you care about.

Both Lucy and Simon grow over the course of the story. When it looks like the same thing that originally tore them apart is happening again, they initially react the same way, but quickly realize what doing that before cost them and work to resolve their problem without losing each other again.

Once again, the Squad is an important element with Lucy's friends and her younger brother (who isn't Squad, but is somewhat Squad-adjacent) playing strong roles. The girls really go the distance in this one, even when it means doing humiliating and embarrassing things in front of the entire school. I continue to love the degree to which they have each other's backs.

This book is a good stand-alone and can be read without the other two in the series. In fact, it was the first one I read. The entire series is worth reading though, and it would be better to read them in order. I recommend this novel for  fans of cute teenage rom-coms and the series is excellent for those wanting to see positive female friendships in action.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

1% I'm with her on goals. Everyone talks about how important they are and that having them is actually more important than meeting them, but it's depressing how often I fail to reach them.

2% Okay, so her friends are mean TO HER. They must be horrid to everyone in general. Lucy probably is to, but she has already said she feels bad about her ex, so she seems more redeemable. And possibly not so bad. She may just go along with the bitchy rather than actively contributing, which, of course, reminds me of Rina and makes me think she could be okay.

3% Now they don't seem so mean. And they like making amends as a goal. So maybe they aren't awful?

4% Yeah, I definitely relate to Lucy's mom.

17% I haven't figured out what "the incident" was, other than something so bad that best friends stopped speaking to each other for years. I like that Lucy thinks she deserves to feel weird but wishes that Simon didn't have to as well.

20% Wow. Trevor is an asshole. I'm not sure he deserved an apology.

40% Things seem to be progressing really well. They both are aware they're into the other. Is it really going to take another 60% of book for them to realize it's mutual or is something going to mess things up? Asshole Trevor maybe?

 60% Nice first kiss. Read it twice. Still wondering what is going  to provide a challenge for the rest of the book though.

67% Is the obstacle to overcome in the closing third going to be the pneumonia Lucy catches wearing something with spaghetti straps to a rooftop New Year's Eve party?

71% Yep, Trevor strikes.

80% The text says Simon pointed to start the playback, but I think it was probably Max...

85% Owl? I thought that it was a hawk.

86% It is a hawk.

THE END
Very sweet. I am happy. I'm going to read the other two. It'll be a challenge to read the first one though. I want to jump into the third.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

HOT BY HALLOWEEN by Jessica Bucher and M.F. Lorson


Rating: A plastic pumpkin full of candy

Summary: Addy gets it into her head that her ex dumped for for not being hot enough, so she joins the swim team to get fit and find a new guy to make him jealous. Meanwhile, Gray needs to make a big enough splash to nab a college swim scholarship but finds himself distracted by the girl he's tutoring in swimming.

Would you read more from this series? I have, in fact, already read the entire thing. :)


If you're cringing over the premise of this book, ie that a teen girl decides she needs to be hotter to make her ex jealous, it might help to know that the response of everyone who learns of this goal is to tell her something along the lines of, "You're already hot! But swimming will make you healthier and it's good to try new things, so I'll support you."

This is the first book in the Squad Goals series, although it was the second one I read. Overall, I loved the series, although this wasn't my favorite of the three. Every school year, each girl in the squad trio makes a personal goal for the year. They then divide the year into three parts and assign each goal a time frame. Next they focus as a group on helping the current girl achieve her goal. The first book has Addy saying her goal is to be hot by Halloween. Her steps to this include joining the swim team and finding a new guy so the old one will see them together and regret what he gave up.

The plot is a classic sports romance. Girl meets boy. They help each other get better at their sport. They fall in love. There's a misunderstanding and everything comes to a head a big sports event. It worked really well for me.

There is a lot to admire about Addy. While the whole "I must get hot!" mission is questionable, what is certain is that it takes bravery for her to join the swim team for her senior year when she's never swam competitively before. And she really throws her whole heart into getting decent at the sport when it would have been very easy to give into the pressure to quit. She also does a great job of helping Gray learn that you can be serious about a sport without being uptight about it. And she shows a lot of development over the course of the story, both as a swimmer and as a human being.

Gray, who shares narration duties, is also highly likable. He's a general good guy who is trying to take care of his divorced mom while getting enough attention at swim meets that colleges will send scouts. He just moved to town and he's upset at the start of our story by how uncompetitive his new team is, especially new girl Addy, who is apparently bad enough to bring down the entire team's scores. At first, he wants to get Addy to quit, but he quickly shifts to mentoring her instead, trying to make her a strong enough swimmer that she can hold her own. His main flaw is taking everything way too seriously, but he works on it over the course of the novel.

The Squad is also an important element. They're Abby and her two best friends. Both they and their families play strong supporting roles and I really appreciated how dedicated the girls were to building each other up. And, like I said, they supported Abby's swimming while reminding her repeatedly that she didn't need to be "hotter" let alone be "hotter" to get at her ex, but that it was awesome she was going out and doing something new and challenging. Seeing them waving their signs in the stands cheering their friend on made me smile every time.

This book was a fun read that I recommend to those who enjoy a good sports romance. I also recommend the entire series as a positive example of female friendship.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

12% A senior trying a new thing doesn't have a less valid excuse to not know what they're doing than a freshman. In fact, I admire them more because it's harder to get out of your regular zone senior year

24% I wouldn't have thought Gray needed his mom to point out that tutoring is good on applications or that getting someone who could hardly swim to be competitive would be the kind of miracle ability coaches beg for. But at least he knows now.

27% The bell's ringing already? Addy's been in the cafeteria for like five minutes.

34% It's been established that Gray's mom works weird hours, but why doesn't Addy's family expect her to eat with them?

37% I really love how supportive Addy's friends are.

38% Oh, man. That was brutal. Stupid brat with the kazoo.

57% The scene on the dock was adorable.

59% But, Gray, you'd be an awesome shark!

61% So I'm guessing the conflict in the second half of the book is going to be Gray being upset about the squad goals. But I don't know what's in there that would be upsetting. That she was swimming to be hot? Isn't to get in better shape a valid motive for taking up a sport? Does it specificallysay something like "Make Mitch jealous" that Gray can stretch into including hanging out with him?

63% Oh, Addy... Honey... I just want to hug this girl.

66% That was so sweet!

69% I very much enjoyed that retelling of the previous scene.

69% Ah, yeah... I can see why Gray isn't going to be happy finding a tickmark next to "Find arm candy to make Mitch jealous."

72% Ouch.

78% way to fix things, Gray! Threatening not to swim if she doesn't when there's a scout there. Daaaang!

83% Moms are wise. Boys should listen to their moms.

88% Nice makeup scene.

89% Nice lead into the next book. Although I guess Gray didn't read the other girls' goals for the year or he would have known what was up with Lucy and Simon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

MELT MY HEART by A.R. Perry


Rating: A fuzzy robe and a room with a snowy view

Summary: Sammy spends most of her senior year spring break ski trip in the lodge, where she meets an intriguing new boy who might be enough to distract her from the fact that she's hopelessly in love with her best friend.

Would you read more from this author? Yes.


Sammy has two problems at the start of this novel: she's in love with best friend (who has no clue) and she's committed to going on a ski trip even though she doesn't like skiing. The fact that she doesn't like skiing was hard for me seeing as my family loves it to the point we're building a house at a ski area. I was also saddened by the fact that the author has obviously either never skied or did it so long ago that she doesn't remember details and thus doesn't realize things like if you're hurting your ankles you have a very serious problem with your boots and it's really hard to fall on your tailbone skiing without having a serious knee injury. (You fall on your side. Falling either backward or forward is hampered by the skis being on your feet. And your ankles are held in place because the boots are tight and hard. First day complaints are much more likely to be about being cold from the snow, being hot from overdressing, hurting your wrist because you don't fall properly, hitting your hip too often, or causing all your leg muscles to hurt because you keep tensing up. Sore ankles and a bruised tailbone sound more like first day ice skating problems to me.) And Sammy's resistance to going to her prepaid lessons had me wanting to throttle her. (PSA: Your first several days skiing should involve a professional instructor. In the States, look for someone who is PSIA certified. Also, when your parents already spent money on lessons, it's pretty bratty not to take them just because you don't feel like it.)

So... Yeah. Sammy came across as a bit of a brat at first glance. Does she think her parents have infinite money that they can throw around on buying her ski passes, lessons, and equipment rental? Even before she got hurt, she clearly didn't intend to ski. Even if she wanted to go on the trip to hang with her friends when they got off the slopes, she could have saved a LOT of money by refusing to buy any of the other stuff she wasn't going to use. (Yegads, I feel old saying all that! But seriously, kid.)

Other than the selfish wasting of money, which is pretty easy to explain by "She's a teenager" I liked Sammy alright. She's the bookish shy-type who undervalues herself and makes me think of teen-me. She'd rather read a book than party and would have bailed when the friend who she trusted to help her on the trip got banned from it if she wasn't such a sucker for Cole's pleading.

I liked Cole more than Sammy herself. He was a good guy who got along with almost everyone, almost to the point that it was a flaw. He tried to get Sammy out of her comfort zone when she needed it and let her hermit-up when she didn't. And I guess he reminded me a bit of my husband with his enthusiasm for skiing and easy distraction at parties, where he would beg Sammy to go but then wind up fluttering around talking to other people and ignoring her. (My husband does that all the time. It has nothing to do with his feelings for me and everything to do with his puppy-like enthusiasm for being around people.)

Potential Love Interest Hudson rubbed me wrong from the get-go, but that could have been because it was so obvious Sammy was going to end up with Cole. Conversely, the guy who was supposed to be an obnoxious jerk struck me as decent and having good intentions overall, but that could have been because I liked Cole from the start and figured he wouldn't hang with someone who actually was an asshole.

The plot had few, if any, real surprises for me, but I don't mind a certain amount of predictability. This is one of those books that isn't about where things are going but how they're going to get there, and as such was a fun and comfortable read that I honestly enjoyed. I recommend it for YA romance readers looking for something cozy and cute.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

2% Ski trip! Wooohoooo!

9% I'm assuming Cole doesn't date because he wants to be with our narrator and hasn't figured out she thinks of him like that yet. Also, I fully relate to whole "He ignores me when we go places" thing. My husband has always done the same thing. It has nothing to do with lack of affection.

12% Yeah, Cole wants to be alone with Sammy. And I don't thinks it's because he had a fight with Eva.

20% I'm not sure Ian is as awful as Sammy thinks he is.

29% Um.. Something is wrong if she's hurting her ankles. They shouldn't be moving much. And you don't really fall on your tailbone skiing, that's more of a snowboarding thing. You fall on your hip and you hurt your knees. ... And, yeah, she should have waited for the instructor.

29% OMG! Why aren't they wearing helmets??? How is their school allowing that?

40% There's something about this guy I don't like. I don't think it's just that he's not a skier.

45% Yeah, I was pretty sure it was Cole texting.

67% I think Ian is honestly trying to be helpful here. Here's obviously trying to get Cole and Sammy to admit to get like each other.

69% A sports car is appropriate for winter if it's a WRX. She has a point about Mustangs though.

72% I strongly suspect Hudson has a girlfriend.

78% Ok, maybe not a girlfriend. But hooking up with other people at the lodge is close.

81% Finding on the slopes when you can ski is hard enough, chica. Wait by the lifts if you must, but going up without knowing what you're doing isn't a grand gesture, it's just dumb.

81% Wait, she's taking steps in the lift line? Is this a gondola? (It isn't. The shuffling behaviour of a newbee in a lift line was just poorly described.)

82% Oooh. Didn't lift her tips. You can get really hurt that way... And they usually stop the lift when someone does that.

82% PIZZA? SHE'S SNOWPLOWING! This is painful to read.

87% Yay! We have resolution! :)

90% Yep, Ian was trying to help. And has been for years because he's not actually an asshole.

91% Yeah, I didn't think Dad would be oblivious.

94% Im glad they're still happy after a year. But I cannot stress enough how much Sammy needs an actual ski instructor.

99% THE END
That was really sweet. I like this book. But they really need to contact PSIA before Sammy really hurts herself or someone else.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The STARK SPRINGS ACADEMY series by Ali Dean


Rating: A sweet pair of new skis and your favorite snow conditions.

Summary: Ski racer Roxie starts her junior year of high school at the prestigious Stark Springs Academy, known for turning out some of the hottest winter-sports talent in the world. There she takes her skiing up several notches, makes new friends, develops a few enemies, and finds true love.

Would you read more from this author? I definitely plan on it.


I bought this series as a set and read them back-to-back, so I am going to discuss them all here. Honestly, you could read the first one and leave it at that if all you want is to learn what happens when a spunky ski racer from Vermont moves to Colorado to meet her hot but arrogant match. You'd be making what I would consider a mistake though as I found the third book in the series to be the strongest, but also the one that stands alone the least.

We start with Black Diamond. New girl Roxie is starting at Stark Springs Academy as a junior even though most of their students start in middle school. It quickly becomes obvious that the rules in the student handbook her parents signed off on aren't the real rules here. The real rules are whatever Ryker Black says they are. And Ryker has taken an obvious interest in Roxie. She's attracted to him, but doesn't want a relationship that's only on his terms. Besides, she's here to ski.

The next novel, Double Black, builds off the first but focuses more on Roxie as an athlete than Roxie as a potential love interest. By this book I was really appreciating that the author seems to understand not only sports in general, but snow sports specifically.

We conclude with Black Ice, which starts with the death of one of the characters being investigated as a murder. The entire series shifts in feel as we begin to learn more about why things that happened earlier happened and start to understand how deeply sensister some of the background world is. With a mystery full of soap opera-like twists, this was my favorite of the three books and took the series solidly into the category of things I loved.

Throughout the series, I enjoyed reading about Roxie. She's strong, but not so strong that she doesn't suffer from self-doubt and occasional reluctance to commit to a course of action. She's one of the best ski racers of her generation, but she starts the series confused as to how she qualified to attend Stark Springs, let alone got offered a scholarship there. Watching her grow more secure with her talent was as much fun for me as watching the development of her relationship with Ryker.

As for Ryker... He starts out larger-than-life and a tad bit hard to believe in. At twelve his mother died, by fourteen he'd taken over as CEO of her company. His parents had him ski racing competitively as a child, but when he was eleven he started teaching himself how to snowboard. Now eighteen, he's running an international corporation as well as competing internationally in snowboarding. Oh, and attending a school for elite athletes that his family happens to own. One character describes him as the mafia boss of winter sports. It's a bit much, honestly, but it reminded me of an anime setup, so I was willing to go with it. He's soon revealed to be vulnerable under his bravado, in true romantic hero fashion, and proved impossible for me to dislike. By the end, he seemed like someone I knew in real life.

Both Roxie and Ryker come with friends who prove interesting. Some of them are likable, some aren't supposed to be. I found the villainous mean girls a little over-the-top in the first novel, but like Ryker they seemed like actual people rather than cutouts by the end.

The main villain shifts a little across the story. In the first book, it's the mean girls. Ditto in the second book. But the third book not only reveals a new villain but explains some of why the mean girls were so mean.

Overall, I highly recommend this series for any readers of Young Adult fiction who like or are interested in snow sports, but also for those who like intrigue or sports in general.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes


Black Diamond

1% I can think of a very long list of ski areas I'd name my kid after before Telluride. Mammoth is the only one I can think of that could be worse and even then I'm not sure. Telly is cute. But I really wouldn't want the word 'ride' to be in my daughter's name. (Note: my husband came up with worse places. Germany's Mount Wank is now in first, although "wank" appears to have a different meaning in German. Pennsylvania's Blue Knob would also be bad, although not if you only used the Blue part, in which case it would merely be weird. Honorable mention goes to Misery Mountain in Alberta.)

3% Yeah, I really don't understand how this guy has so much power. Over other students? Okay. But he deactivated her dorm keycard?

4% The mafia boss of winter? That sounds intriguing...

10% Okay, so he's presumptuous. But at least he's into consent.

12% I wonder what the Olga story sounds like from Ryker's POV.

14% They have snow machines? Those are rare in CO, I think, although I can see why a snow sports academy would want some.

15% It's not weird that he pretends not to know her in public. He set that condition to appease her. And, yes, he does feel his position means he has to act all tough.

15% OMG. He brought her ice cream because she looked upset. I wasn't sure about this guy before, but my heart just melted.

17% Ah. So it was the girls that framed Olga. That makes more sense than Ryker doing it.

23% Vermont girl meets 14 inches of CO powder. It's beautiful. I hope we get to see her on a several-feet day. I would like to interject here that I really appreciate that the author is actually familiar with skiing.

27% As I suspect these girls are the ones who framed Olga, I'm uneasy about the idea of hanging with them at a secret place at night.

27% Um... Yeah... Ditching her in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm could actually kill her. Presumably she lives, but it still seems like attempted murder could be on the menu. And I don't think Ryker knows they're doing it, so they're going to get blackballed hard even if they don't go to jail.

27% Yes, when lost in mountains, go downhill. This is smart. Much smarter than going out with these people without telling anyone.

28% I really think she's making an assumption about Ryker knowing they ditched her in the wilderness. I think when he says "that night" he just means their disagreement.

30% Yeah, I really don't think Ryker wants her out of his life. He could easily have had her scholarship revoked and he didn't. Surely she'll figure this out eventually. Presumably in a big blow up after she beats Petra in this race.

30% Vermont is, in fact, an excellent place to train for ski racing for exactly the reasons gotten into here. If you can conquer East Coast Ice, nothing CO can throw at you will trip you up.

 31% We've seen no evidence that Sven and Player were involved in the attempted homicide.

32% Yep, the boys were totally innocent and are now pissed off.

32% I really like how even with all his arrogance, there's only been one time Ryker kissed Roxie without asking first.

33% THE END

Nice ending. Things are going to change and we got there with a nice progression. I appreciate the accurate sports talk and the gradual changes in Ryker and Roxie. Overall, I really liked this book. I wonder if the next one is about them or one of the other guys... Sven and Ingrid perhaps? :)


DOUBLE BLACK

37% I say, do nothing to extract revenge except ostracize them and don't tell them nothing else is coming.

38% I admit to being a little confused as to why Ryker hasn't left school. He's already running a company so who really cares if he graduated high school?

40% So Brad is going on the Europe trip... I wonder if that will be the big source of conflict this book. Because so far all we have is that Roxie is a little freaked out to be realizing how serious her relationship with Ryker is 

54% That's the second time she's referred to someone snapping out of their boots in a situation where taking off ones boots doesn't make sense. I believe in both cases what the character actually did was step out of her bindings. I'm not sure what's up with that. The first time I figured was a brain fart or the result of changing wording and getting muddled. With twice I'm wondering if the author's brain frequently misfires on the word "binding" or if this a weird ski racer phrasing I'm unfamiliar with. (Post reading note: I mentioned this to my ski instructor husband. He's never heard of snapping out of your boots being a phrase. It's only occurred twice in the history of the internet prior to now and both times were about people taking their boots off. So it was a weird brain-fart I guess. I can't say much; I released a book in which people refer to a eating in a 'dinning room' in multiple spots because apparently I think 'dining' should have another 'n' in it.)

55% I'm starting to wonder if Rocco is Ryker's biological father... I'm almost certain he was sleeping with Ryker's mom.

58% I was really worried that whole race!

59% Oh! I think I knew she was going to be hurt. It was just a question of when. I wonder if Petra did something to her binding... I don't know why she would have popped out like that otherwise.

59% Well, it certainly sounds like SOMEONE did something to her bindings. Petra seems the obvious culprit. She had already proven a willingness to kill Roxie.

60% I don't like how "I don't like you talking to guys I don't trust" the dudes in this story are.

61% Yep, Petra did it. And is getting suspended from racing for at least the season. And is lucky Roxie isn't involving the police.

63% Nice entrance, Ryker!

64% Ok. Paternity test says Ted was the baby daddy. But there's more to this for it to be a big secret... Was his mom's death murder?

65% Oh, wow. His mom's death was murder. And he's never exposed that fact. I can see why he'd be worried about Roxie knowing that. (Although Rocco saying he'd seen the antifreeze documentary already seemed suspicious to me, especially combined with her being poisoned the day after she told him she wasn't leaving her husband for him.)

66% Petra's dead. Shit. That went from really happy to ominous awfully fast.


BLACK ICE

67% Petra died in a car crash? So no one is under investigation for murder or guilty they drove her to suicide or anything dramatic? Bit of a let down really.

67% Ah. Roxie does think something hinky happened the night Petra died and thinks there's an ongoing investigation. I wonder if Ryker's dad killed her thinking it would make Ryker happy. Or that Roxie would be blamed and he could get rid of her that way.

67% I'm pretty confident it wasn't Ryker who killed Petra. But suspecting him of murder is a nice tension for the book.

68% Someone cut the brakes on Petra's car. I'm surprised they kept that quiet for six months. But Ryker telling everyone that makes him seem innocent of involvement to me. (And he obviously didn't do it himself as he was in another country at the time.)

69% It was on Ryker's insistence that the police examined the car. Yeah, that definitely implies he want behind it.

71% I suspect Ryker suspects Winter and/or Aspen. The idea did occur to me that they could have wanted revenge for her idea getting them blackballed. ... Rocco might also fit the "I'm disappointed in you and capable of murder" profile if he was the one who killed Ryker's mom rather than Ted doing it.

72% Roxie clearly doesn't think Ryker's the one who left his mother's journal in her room. Who else could it have been? Rocco or his sister maybe? Why? Could Coach Hoffman have had it and be trying to leave clues that can't be traced to him? How would any of these people have gotten it?

78% The sequel to the first journal... Interesting.

79% What she is describing is gropple, not hail. Why do people call all icy things falling from the sky hail?

80% Olga sounds like trouble. I don't know why, but I'm trusting Aspen's account of her.

86% So either Olga or Winter would have been able to cut Petra's brake lines. And they both had motive.

87% Ryker got the third journal. Interesting.

88% TED was having an affair? With Nadia Hoffman? Whoa. Could she have been the one who killed Ryker's mom because Ted wouldn't leave her and then killed her own daughter for embarrassing her? This book is such a soap opera! I love it!

90% I'm increasingly thinking Ted didn't poison his wife. And I'm wondering if he's the one who gave the kids the journals.

91% Yeah, Petra seems pretty well redeemed. Although maybe she reminds me of my character Rina. (Rina was sidekick to the mean girl in OF FUR AND ICE but unlike Petra wasn't involved in the worst thing her bestie did. She was then the lead in OF SNOW AND WHISKERS, which was largely about how abusive her relationship with said bestie was.)

91% I'm not sure why they waited so long to have sex. They've been together a full year, declared themselves in love ages ago, and sleep next to each other all the time. I do like the handling of the actual sex though. No play-by-plays, just it happened and everyone is happy.

92% How does Nadia know where Petra took Roxie? Did Petra tell her mom? And this seems really obvious...

94% How does one secure a hostage to a snowmobile and still be able to drive it? Asking for a friend...

96% If Nadia had those journals at some point, she really should have burned the last one.

98% So Nadia's still messed up. It's curious that someone so deranged isn't considered insane enough to plead instantly. I agree she wouldn't be, but it does make you question the naming if the defense.

98% THE END
I like it. It leaves me optimistic about Roxie and Ryker's future. A nice happy ending.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

WHILE YOU WERE SKIING by Lucy McConnell


Rating: A comfortable sweatshirt from a local ski area

Summary:  After a lift attendant's skier crush is saved by her quick actions, he tells people they're engaged. Then he falls asleep for days as our poor liftie is left trying to determine what she should do.

Would you read more from this series? This series seems kind of weird. There are several authors writing to it, some of whom describe their work as Christian fiction and others of which, like McConnell, write secularly. I might read some them if I get back into Kindle Unlimited ( I signed up for three months for $3 but can't justify a regular subscription.) but I'm not leaning toward purchasing them. And I can't request them from my library because they are indie published and on Kindle Unlimited.

Note: This is an adult romance, but does not contain sex scenes.


This title had my full attention as soon as I saw it. My mind went, "While You Were Sleeping at a ski resort! Yes, please!" It both was and wasn't a retelling of the movie, though.

The book starts similar to to the film with a first person narrator talking about what her father tried to teach her before he died. It then switches to third person, which makes sense if you think of it as a movie, I suppose, but which I was a bit jarred by. And we never see anything aside from Mia's close third, so it could have been told entirely in first. Perhaps that doesn't fit into the series, though.

The main character in the movie, played by Sandra Bullock, is a Chicago subway worker named Lucy. I see why the name was changed for this book. The author is named Lucy, so here we get to follow someone named Mia. Mia is a lift attendant at a local ski hill in a vague mountain range. She has a crush on a guy named Ryder, who is somehow a skier rather than a snowboarder. He's a season pass holder who likes to flirt with her as he passes by but they haven't really talked very much. Nevertheless, when a pair of kids who should have banned from the resort months ago jostle him off a ski lift and he falls to the ground, he tells responders that she's his fiancee.

Those familiar with the film will recognize that this is an important deviation of plot. Although the base problem of "People think they're engaged when they're not" remains, the misconception now comes from the man lying about it (or possibly being so confused by a concussion that he's delirious) rather than the woman saying something that is misunderstood.

A second vital deviation then occurs. Just before being given something that knocks him out for the next several days, Ryder begs Mia, "Don't tell my family." And this is a problem because she already knows, and is close to, his estranged family. In fact, she's kind of half-dating his brother despite there being no sparks between them.

Mia now has to figure out whether Ryder really believes they're engaged and what it means if he does. And she feels she needs to take care of him. And she gets to worry about whether it's really okay not to tell his dad when she sees him, because he's always been really good to her and treated her like a daughter.

Nothing is really resolves when Ryder wakes up and continues to insist they're getting married. Mia can't tell if he really believes it or if he's messing with her, and doesn't want to risk upsetting him by asking because the doctor said he should avoid excitement.

I spent most of the book being uncertain if I was happy I remembered the source material so well or dismayed I'd ever seen it. There are a lot of Easter Eggs for those who know the film, my favorite of which is the conversation about leaning, but so much of the story is completely different that I felt somewhat as though I might have been happier without my brain constantly comparing the plots. It was a little like if I expected the plot of The Princess Bride and got something about someone named Bluebelle who was kidnapped by the Dread Pirate Bob but was actually in love with Prince La-dee-da, who sends the four fastest ships in his navy to rescue her and get her back to the castle in time for their wedding. I think I actually enjoyed the experience, but the comparisons were distracting.

Mia is a unobjectionable young woman who is trying to figure out her values. She's happier as a liftie than she is working in the marketing office, but the marketing office is a year-round position that utilizes her college degree and pays enough she can think about buying a house. But which is better for long-term happiness, a job she loves or financial security? To her credit, when a relationship with Ryder becomes something that could happen, she never once goes, "Well, he already owns a house... I could marry him and keep my outdoor job..." But she really doesn't seem to know much about him other than she's attracted to him and he doesn't get along with his family before she decides she's in love with him.

Ryder isn't a particularly deep character. He doesn't get along with his family because... I don't know. There was something about how he felt his step-mom was meant to be a replacement for his dead mother. He never clicked with her and resented his dad for remarrying. And just ignores his half-siblings because... I never really figured that out. They were all super nice people who showed no indication that they were anything other than loving and supportive of him. Nor did I figure out why he lived in this small town when he wasn't talking to his family. He's likable enough, though. He has a likable dog and isn't a slob, although he doesn't know how to cook. He has a job, although I don't think he's very good at it. (He's a lawyer, but signs an agreement not to sue the ski area over his accident even though they were grossly negligent in not kicking the kids who caused the accident off the mountain. The kids had been doing the same thing that got him hurt for months and the lifties had reported it to management as a serious safety concern. I can think of no justification for their passes not being revoked and them not being banned. Even after they nearly killed someone, there is no mention of them not being allowed back next season.)

This book is rather short, only 120 pages, so I'm classifying it under the tag novellas rather than calling it a full novel. And that's probably a lot of my problem with it. 120 pages isn't enough time to explore much depth, to get people from "We flirt some" to Happily Ever After with any believable detail. The conflicts are all easily solved, tension never gets built up about anything, and I was left feeling a bit disconnected. Oddly enough, the film that inspired this is also short and light, not to mention the fact that I've seen it at least a dozen times, but it always has more of an impact on me when I watch it than this did. But maybe I just like Bill Pullman?

I picked this up assuming I'd be tagging it with "sports" but it merely gets "snow." Mia is actually a skier and seems to understand the sport alright, but we never see any actual skiing. Oh, well. It is pretty cool to have a book about a lift attendant as it's a vital job in the ski industry but also not very glamorous.

So, to summarize... This book is a solid "alright" to me. I had hoped for more since the title promised it was going to combine two things I love, but I'm not upset I spent the time to read it.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes


I'm assuming this is a retelling of While You Were Sleeping

3% Starts out with dead dad instilling wisdom just like in the movie. The exception is the daughter is adopted by a B&B by a ski resort instead of left to her own devices in Chicago.

4% Shift from first person to third is off-putting. I guess it mimics the movie, which had a first person voice over delivering the backstory but was obviously third person as it was a movie. Mia is a liftie rather than working public transit, but she'll have the same "He passes me and smiles" thing going I assume 

6% These kids should have their passes revoked. Both of them, so it doesn't matter what their names are.

13% So he's the one who claims they're engaged and it isn't just a misunderstanding. Interesting change. It's he confused about who she is or has he been crushing on her all season?

22% Wait... She's been on dates with the brother?

31% I'd going to the movies isn't a date with Carter, then what were the dates they've supposedly been on?

52% He's awake! And still pretending they're engaged. Presumably he's hoping she'll go along with it long enough to decide she wants to keep him?

55% Why is she asking what he means about leaning? Has she not seen While You Were Sleeping?

83% Okay... So Ryder has made up with his family without Mia doing anything. Good for him?

89% Preserved the "I'm in love with your son. No, not that one.." bit.

92% Proposal on the ski lift. Nice.

94% "When did you fall in love with me?" "While you were skiing." I guess that's accurate, because I didn't see her do it in the book.

95% The End
It's cute. I was never quite sure why they decided they were in love rather than attraction, but it was a sweet story.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

JUST JULIET by Charlotte Reagan


Rating: A rainbow jumper that doesn't quite fit me

Summary:  A highschooler realizes she's bisexual when she meets and is dazzled by the new girl in school.

Would you read more by this author? Possibly, but I'm not rushing to.


This book has been recommended to me a lot, so I was rather disappointed that I failed to love it. It covers the entirety of Len's senior year and just never seemed to develop much urgency in my opinion. The only things keeping the girls apart at the start was that Len needed to break up with the guy it was obvious she was going to break up with and she didn't realize she liked girls, but it was quickly clear she liked Juliet and while she spent a while being preoccupied about identifying her sexuality, she never seemed to have much issue with it. She didn't realize she was bisexual, but wasn't upset to learn she was.

This book felt like a retelling of a year of someone's life more than it really felt like a novel. Things happened, but it's hard to really call them a plot. So, basically, the book was just really character driven and light on things to fight against or overcome or achieve. Some people really like that type of romance and wouldn't have spent half the book going, "That's nice, but why am I reading this?" I'm just not one of them.

And the ending? I was solidly "meh" over it.

Len and Juliet were likable enough, I guess. I say "I guess" because I never really accepted Len's sense of humor. She and her friends are constantly attacking each other, calling each other nasty names, and being generally mean. They proudly self-describe as bitches, and it just really didn't work for me. It went beyond teasing and well past the point that they seemed really toxic and like people I'd be alarmed to learn my kid was hanging out with.

The two characters I really did like were Juliet's cousin and his boyfriend. There's a companion novel about them that I actually am tempted to pick up as it sounds like they had a lot more drama to overcome in their early relationship. But, well, I'm not sure the cousin was really very likable when not seen being cute with his boyfriend, so I hesitate.

Overall, I don't exactly regret spending the time to read this book. I did manage to finish it. But if it served any purpose for me, it was to prove that I'm right in wanting to revise a stronger plot for my work-in-progress.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

6% The fact that London's plays aren't on Broadway brings Juliet's narrative into question. I'm assuming her mother isn't actually dead.

9% I wonder why Juliet is going to the new school...

12% Scott and Lakyn really are too adorable.

13% Yes! No one takes an intolerance seriously! That's exactly why I tell people in allergic to bell peppers.

37% Well, that coming out was odd. I can't figure out if I love the playful bitchiness this friends group has or hate it.

39% Apparently Juliet's mom really is dead. Go figure.

44% Ok, that was adorable. I'm not sure how the tension for the rest of the book will go. Will there be an argumentduring the date? Or will it just be trying to figure out how to come out to everyone? Lacey already knows, but the other friends and parents don't.

45% Hmm... Does Mom suspect something?

56% I'm not sure why she's so scared to tell her parents. They seem to know already. And if they had a problem with it, they'd have pressed the subject rather than waiting patiently for her to feel comfortable enough to come out.

71% I clearly was wrong to expect better of her parents. They didn't throw a fit, but they seem overly concerned.

80% I'm increasingly uncomfortable with all this "playful" hate speech the characters direct at each other.

84% This vacation is cute, but I'm not sure what the point of all this is.

92% Juliet is going to London. Bet she'll be really confused when she asks for directions to Broadway.

94% And now they're breaking up to go to different schools. Why did people tell me to read this thing?

95% At least Len's living with Lakyn and Scott.

100% Hooked up again at the boys' wedding. And hopefully are now over the "me first!" attitude that split them up.

THE END
Overall, just not my type of book I think. No conflict. No excitement. And then they decided their relationship wasn't as important as doing whatever they hell they wanted without regards to the other party, getting back together only when it was convenient for them.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The BEDEVILED Series by Shani Petroff


Rating: A  jewel-encrusted pitchfork in sparkling pink hues

Summary: The daughter of the devil fights against the evil world that is middle school.

Would you read more in this series? I would, but as the last one came out in 2010, I don't anticipate there being any more.

I read this series in one big burst and decided to just do one big review of all of them because I'd be saying largely the same things about them all. Each book has a very similar plot: Angel uses the powers she inherited from her dad, Lou (AKA Lucifer) to try to help herself or her friends, things get messed up by the powers either being too literal or not literal enough, Angel runs around trying to fix the situation, and things eventually work out somehow. The repetitive nature didn't really hurt my enjoyment of the stories though. It reminded me a lot of the Melissa Joan Hart version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which I adored despite being an adult before it debuted.

The series is solidly Middle Grade and stars a cast of eighth graders led by Angel, who learns on her thirteenth birthday that her mother wasn't being hyperbolic when she described her dad as the devil. (He had agreed to stay out of Angel's life until she was an adult, then said thirteen counted because several religions say so and because US states frequently try thirteen-year-olds as adults in court. In fact, they're in Pennsylvania, a state which has tried at least one twelve-year-old as an adult, so he could have played this card a year earlier.) By the end of the first book, she has realized she inherited his supernatural powers and is causing chaos with them.

Angel is a vibrant character. Although she sometimes makes shallow and rash choices, it is very easy to excuse them with the explanation that she's thirteen. Her best friend is very similar. When the third book saw her getting all of her wishes granted, she delved into a more selfish place than I expected her to, but I think maybe one of the wishes changed her attitude toward life.

Angel has a love interest who she feels she must hide her powers from. I never figured out why she felt she couldn't tell him. (Again, I was reminded of Sabrina, who did eventually tell Harvey what was going on, but took her time about it.) He was a nice kid, popular but not a jerk. I got a little tired of hearing about how cute he was, but it's hard to fault a tween narrator from getting wrapped up in her crush's cuteness.

The mean girls who pick on Angel are incredibly shallow. I kept expecting to see a hint of more from them and never did. I like to think that if the stories continued into high school, they'd eventually grow into better people. Or at least more complex ones.

The character with the most change over the series is a guy called DL. We never learn what DL stands for, although I have a theory. (His last name is Helper, so my guess is Devil's Little Helper.) He is the boyfriend of the chief mean girl and comes in acting truly awful. But he shows moments of genuine concern and at several times seems to be more aware of what Angel is than he should be. By the end of book four, he seems to be sick of his girlfriend and possibly moving on to Angel's bestie. I found him really intriguing because I never could figure out what he deal was.

Overall, I found the books on the simple side, but was okay with that since this is Middle Grade literature with a young narrator who hasn't learned to see the world in shades of grey yet.

I would be very interested in picking up this story a few years later, maybe looking at Angel's senior year of high school. I'd also actually be interested in seeing Angel's parents star in a romance. At the end of things, they clearly still care about each other and I think it would be fun to see a single mom learning to trust her daughter's father again even though he's literally the devil.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes


26% I didn't take notes in the first quarter because my phone was dead and the power was out. It went by quickly. I was a little surprised that Angel is only 13 and in middle school since one of the later books mentions prom in the title. Maybe she ages. Or maybe it's a middle school prom?  (Correction: it's and UGLY dress rather than a prom dress. And is for a middle school formal.)

So far, Angel is alright but I'm liking Lou. The devil usually is a show stealer. :)

Also, Angel is crushing on Cole, but I predict Max will be her object of affection by the end of the series.

27% Angel LIKED having the entire stadium sing her Happy Birthday? I would have died of embarrassment. Also, did these girls sell their souls to be rock stars or something?

29% I'd say begging on his knees for his daughter to talk to him is overly dramatic, but Lucifer is typically over-the-top with the drama.

40% Lucifer's face on a volley ball is straight up weird.

60% Yeah, Cole is possibly really shallow. Although it's also possible that he didn't know what else to talk about so stuck to something they have in common.

64% At least she made the right choice when pressed.

65% Why is she believing Lou quit? He told her mom the same thing and was lying then. ... She figured it out it quickly. Ok.

77% The meanness has really escalated.

86% Yeah, you really should listened to your dad, you silly middle schooler.



THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY DRESS

40% I don't seem to be taking notes on this book... Not sure why.  Anyway... I don't know what's up with Cole. But if he doesn't like Angel anymore, it's because of her powers. The bit where they respond to thoughts and fears as well as voices desires is harsh. I would argue she should be homeschooled while she figures them out.

41% Damn, DL is Super Douchebag, ain't he? On the plus side, he'll probably do something awful to Courtney eventually.

42% Mom's cleansing ritual involves vanilla, lavender, and mint, but no sage? No wonder the devil just pops up at will.

57% The dance is two weeks away and being advertised already. I feel it should already have a theme.

80% The adults at this school really seem to enable bullying.

90% Not sure why Cole suddenly has a problem with Jayden being mean to people, but whatevs.

THE END Well, that was abrupt.



BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

1% Picking up from the last book like that was a scene break and not a jump between novels... The last ending really did just cut off.

7% He said he'd stop messing with innocent souls. Why assume this guy's innocent? ... And the claim it was a joke is actually plausible since "Meant to put him in the major leagues and now he's a ballet dancer/Senator who's trying to outlaw the name Susan" seems like a level of screw up that wouldn't actually happen.

11% Ok, so the cock up really did happen. I don't think Gremory is a good successor...

18% I like the spine Angel is growing.

20% I'm not sure being popular is Max's wish...

35% I'm fairly confident that when Angel said Gabi would get a boyfriend too, her powers decided to give them the same boyfriend...

61% I'd been figuring the band sold their souls.  Being demons works at least as well though.

68% I'm not exactly sure why Gabi has gone so evil. I'm guessing maybe the wishing she was a star altered her personality.

75% Yeah, the big boobs wish wasn't well thought out.

82% I'm increasing curious as to who/what DL actually is. This isn't the first scene he's seemed to know way too much in. And maybe he just embraced meanness because it went with his camp persona, the one he named Courtney with. (Could his ID be related to his weird name? DL Helper... Devil's Little Helper? I mean, what kind of name is DL?)

95% I'm was willing to grant that maybe ten years ago kids still knew who Barney was, but recognizing the "You've got mail!" chime from AOL? That seems like a stretch.

96% I'm not really surprised Lou knew what was going on the whole time. He'd be a pretty crappy devil if he didn't, really.


LOVE STRUCK

10% I'm tempted to have a panic attack imagining being in this crowd.

17% Hmm... I wonder who Lance's manager is. Clearly someone who recognizes Angel and has powers herself.

18% Oh, dear. Angel is madly in love with herself. And not in a healthy way. You'd think she'd learn to stop doing this stuff.

19% Oh, dear. EVERYONE is in love with Angel. Everyone who was behind her, I'm guessing. Because I don't think Lance is.

24% Lance's mom is a guardian angel. Cool.

36% Teen parents. Ha.

37% If I were in this situation, I'd go find that guardian angel who's hanging around. But Angel has shown a lot of reluctance to get help.

38% I guess Lou only cured Angel, not everyone hit with the spell. Oops.

38% Point of fact: I never minded seeing my parents kiss. I really don't understand why anyone is bothered by that.

49% What's gross about mice? Mice are cute.

51% wow, Harmony is a crap angel, isn't she? Not a very good mother either. I mean, she's just leaving her son as a mouse? ... Ok, she helped. Good 

61% And now Harmony helped fix the problem she helped make. And isn't fixing the rest, but seems to think it'll work out okay.

95% Gabi and DL, huh? Yeah, I'd love to see Courtney react to that.

98% I'm not going to lie, I'd love to see this universe revisited from Maggie's POV. Can she trust the man she used to love, who clearly adores their daughter and still loves her, even though he's the the devil?

THE END
That ending certainly seemed more solid than the earlier ones. I'd be interested in continuing to learn about Angel's life. Maybe flashforward to her senior year of high school or something? She has more control over her powers, but something big happens? Her dad goes missing and she has to take over Hell. Or her baby brother is kidnapped by people who think he's the Antichrist and are trying to start Armageddon, and they transfer all of Lou's powers to the toddler so that Angel has to save both her brother and the world without her dad's help.