Sneak Peek: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Oh, what an awesome surprise! A sneak peek and cover reveal for Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely is available on USA Today:

Exclusive cover reveal and excerpt: ‘A Curse So Dark and Lonely’ by Brigid Kemmerer

Isn’t that cover just gorgeous? Who else is excited to read this modern take on Beauty and the Beast? I can’t wait to follow Harper as she is taken into the cursed world of Rhen and Grey.

To find out more, visit www.brigidkemmerer.com.

Coming January 2019 from Bloomsbury.

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More Than We Can Tell is the best book of 2018

More Than We Can Tell (sequel to Letters to the Lost) by Brigid Kemmerer

Brigid Kemmerer, thank you for one of the best gifts I have ever received because that is what More Than We Can Tell is, a gift to every reader who cracks open the cover and begins reading. Once again, Kemmerer has given readers a beautiful story with characters who are deep and troubled and quickly steal our hearts.

I am so, so, so happy to be writing this review. I fell in love with Rev while reading Letters to the Lost and was so thrilled that not only was he getting his own book, but that we lucky readers would be getting even more of the best bromance ever. Rev and Declan have some great scenes together in this book. I really love their friendship. It’s beautiful and the kind of relationship that everyone needs in their lives.

Poor Rev has not had an easy life. He’s adopted because his biological father was an abusive nut job, and, despite a loving home with his adoptive parents, he’s conflicted over the lessons that his demented father literally beat into him. The conflict grows when Rev receives a letter from his father that makes him question if he’s himself or if he’s his father’s son.

Emma is a computer wizard and a gaming mastermind who has actually created her own online game to impress her workaholic father. Unfortunately, her brilliance at the keyboard can’t hold her parents’ failing marriage together. As Emma’s world collapses, she turns to Rev and her online gaming pal, Ethan, to take away some of her pain. But in the end, will they just cause her more?

You’ll have to read More Than We Can Tell to find out because I am not giving away anything and will not create any spoilers for this wonderful book. All I can say, is this story will not disappoint and will leave you wanting more of these lovely characters that Brigid Kemmerer has created.

Coming March 6th from Bloomsbury Children’s

“Giving Up” made me want to give up on it

Reviewed for Netgalley

Giving Up by Michelle Engardt

I guess I’ll be the bad guy here because other reviewers seemed to love this book, but not me. It was all I could do to keep reading it.

The beginning of this story moves too fast to really build up the characters into something realistic, and I found them to be simplistic and not believable. For example, Dylan knows Mandy for about 10 minutes before he reaches the conclusion that she’s “one of the nicest, most genuine human beings he had ever met,” but he doesn’t know her well enough to reach that conclusion. Sorry, but sitting with him for five minutes and offering to make a phone call for him doesn’t justify his feelings about her. And Dr. Robertson? Yikes! I really hope actual shrinks in this situation are more tactful. How in the hell is someone on suicide watch with no family or friends or job supposed to make living arrangements from a hospital bed?

I don’t find Dan to be a believable character. He just happens to be passing under a remote bridge while Dylan was bleeding out? And then he just happens to have every possible commodity that Dylan needs during his recovery? A rent-free apartment, furniture, a job? Sorry, but that seems like a fantasy to me. And at times, his dialogue sounds more like a suicide-prevention pamphlet than a genuine manner in which two young men would talk to one another, and other times he just sounds downright patronizing. There’s some hints to his character’s back story, but so much about him isn’t revealed until far too late in the story to give his character substance. As a reader, I didn’t know enough about him to be invested in him.

A third of the way through the story, I was completely sick of Dylan. I understand that he represents what it is like to be in the throes of depression and what it is like to live in that state, but he came across as whiny, and I found him irritating and unlikable.

It got slightly better when Dan’s motivation for taking in Dylan is finally revealed, but I felt that it would have helped the story a lot more to have disclosed that early on. And, for me, by the end, it deteriorated even further with Dan and Dylan’s fight where two mild mannered characters were suddenly dropping F-bombs every other word. That seemed to come out of nowhere and be completely out of character for both of them.

The point in the story at which certain things were revealed just seemed to be oddly timed. A small example, 125 pages into the book, after he and Dan have shared countless meals of Chinese food, pizza and Christmas dinner with Dan’s parents, it’s suddenly revealed that Dylan has to order cheese pizza because he’s a vegetarian. So, what’s he been eating up to this point? And why is there suddenly a need to reveal this information two-thirds of the way into the book? And here’s a much bigger example. Halfway through the story, Dan and Dylan have a sex talk where Dylan reveals that he’s not into sex, and Dan suggests that he might be asexual, a concept that Dylan does not seem familiar with. Fast forward to almost the end of the story, and Dylan is talking about his past as if he had always known he was asexual. It just made no sense based on their earlier conversation.

Depression, suicide, and sexual identity are all very important for young people to read about, and there are many books out there that deal with these topics (Liane Shaw’s Caterpillars Can’t Swim is a beautiful example), but I can’t recommend Giving Up as one of them.

“Aaron Broom” is an entertaining adventure for younger readers

Reviewed for Netgalley

The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom by A.E. Hotchner

When I read the blurb for The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom, in my mind, I pictured The Sandlot if you just replaced baseball with a crime-solving caper. I wasn’t too far off the mark. The book certainly has an entertaining cast of characters from the wonderful Vernon who makes gourmet meals on a “beat-up smoky stove” to Augie, a newspaper selling kid who befriends Aaron and goes above and beyond in helping him solve the mystery of what really happened inside the jewelry store.

There’s an innocence to Aaron and to many of the characters that is a throwback to long-gone simpler times. Despite The Depression and the terrible situation that Aaron’s father and mother are in, Aaron never loses his spirit, his faith, or his soul. He finds complete strangers along the way who are willing to help him without any selfishness or expectation of getting something in return. The book has a beautiful nostalgia for a way a life and a sense of community that have been lost in modern times.

While adults will appreciate the way Hotchner captures the era of The Great Depression, I think it is teenagers who will really enjoy this crime solving caper.

Expected Publication: July 10, 2018

 

Burro Hills is a bleak coming out story that ends with hope

Reviewed for Netgalley – Mild Spoilers

Burro Hills by Julia Lynn Rubin

There’s no sugar coated way to say this. Jack’s life sucks. As in devoid-of-hope suckage. When even your best friend thinks you’ll turn out to be nothing more than a dead-beat stoner, that is a really crap life. Jack lives in a dying town with his alcoholic father and his unemployable (and possibly mentally ill) mother. His closest friend, Toby, is an ass and a drug dealer, and Jack and all of his friends do drugs to try and escape their going-nowhere lives.

The other force behind Jack’s drug use is a deeply buried secret that he can’t admit to anyone, including himself. This changes when new student Conner enters the picture. Connor comes with a reputation as a total bad boy who punched his last school principal and has been with just about every girl at his last school, so why can’t Jack stop watching him? And why does Connor return his looks?

It isn’t long before Jack has to stop lying to himself about his sexual orientation, but when a gay student is beaten and left naked by other students, Jack lets his fear destroy his relationship with Connor and almost destroys himself in the process.

As Jack faced one problem after another, I found myself wondering how he didn’t simply implode from the pressure of it all. No wonder he toked up as often as he did. His situation is just so bleak. He doesn’t see a way out of it and, as a reader, I found it hard to have any hope for him either. While I enjoyed the overall story, I do admit to becoming frustrated with some of Jack’s decisions such as his lack of defending Connor when he faces arrest because of Jack or when Jack, knowing what Toby has done to Jess, answers Toby’s distress call, putting himself and Connor in danger. Then again, teenagers make dumb decisions. It’s basically a requirement for growing up, so I can understand it no matter how irritating it was.

Julia Lynn Rubin has a lot going on this story, but she manages to encompass the endless issues that youth face in schools today, from peer pressure to drug and alcohol abuse, to bullying, and hate crimes. She captures the insecurity, immaturity, and need to be accepted that every high school student endures. One of the strongest themes of this book is Jack’s struggle to accept who he is, which is a huge challenge in the conditions in which he lives and the toxic environment where he goes to school. Rubin does an excellent job of showing the fear and anxiety that youth face when deciding to come out. Fortunately, the ending isn’t as hopeless as the beginning, and Burro Hills is a solid coming out story about a boy who has to learn to overcome fear and become he who is truly is.

 

Hutchinson’s Stages is a heart wrenching tragedy with a sliver of hope in the end

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is tragic in a way that could dissolve into nothing but despair, depression, and hopelessness. Andrew has lost his entire family – mother, father, sister – in a car accident. To say his life changes completely in that moment would be Master-of-the-Obvious-level stupid, but his world not only changes entirely, it shrinks down to the confines of the halls of Roanoke Hospital. The outside world disappears and all that remains is the daily grind of emergency rooms, and children’s cancer wards, and late night donut runs at the nurses’ station. Andrew withdraws from everything he has ever known: his identify, his dreams, his life outside of the gray, antiseptic walls. He becomes stuck in the present with a past he can’t deny and a future he won’t accept.

All while Death chases him.

I enjoyed the way Shawn David Hutchinson uses this character of Death as a metaphor for life. In life, Death is always chasing us, but it is what we do with the time we have before Death catches us that truly matters. Andrew is so lost in his present, so busy trying to cheat Death, that he is losing the time he has to truly live. He is stuck in a nightmare of not moving on and even the cast of supporting characters, from nurses who mother him to cancer patients who befriend him and a burn victim who loves him, he cannot break the cycle of grief, guilt and fear that traps him within the confines of the hospital, within the dead-end of his present.

But to remain there means Death wins. It would mean that there is no hope, no future, no way forward for Andrew. The breaking of the cycle is terrible and heartrending, but in the end it allows for the tiniest sliver of hope to emerge, like the slimmest ray of sunshine glowing around the edges of a thunder cloud. And that hope is what saves Andrew and allows the story to be more than heartbreak and gives us readers the silver lining we so desperately need after a story of such shattering loss.

Read this story for Andrew, for the wonderful supporting characters, and for the ending it leaves us with, but keep the tissues close by!

Where Death Meets the Devil is Pure Escapism

Reviewed for Netgalley

Jack Reardon’s 35th birthday is not going as planned when he comes to tied to a chair in the torture shack owned by the same criminal Jack was sent deep undercover to infiltrate over a year ago. And when Ethan Blade, world renowned assassin and ruthless killer, enters the shack, Reardon doubts he’ll be making it to his 36th birthday.

L.J. Hayward’s story of a former SAS soldier on an assignment gone terribly wrong and the world’s 7th deadliest assassin is total entertainment from the get-go. The story shifts each chapter from Then, when Reardon first encounters Blade, to Now, one year after the pair met and had to fight their way through an army and a desert together to survive. These shifts enhance the suspense, dropping hints in the present about what happened between the two in the past and then returning to the Then to expand on those hints and set the story for what is happening in the Now and why. It created an excellent pace for the story and a momentum that would not have been present had the story been told in a linear fashion.

And while events near the end require some Fast-and-Furious-level suspension of belief, Jack is well developed and complicated, having doubts about himself, his mission, and Blade. He’s a former Special Forces soldier whose mind still carries the scars and trauma of all that he has been through, and it shows in the doubts he has in his current agency and the decisions he makes.

I enjoyed the characters, the action, and the non-linear story telling. I look forward to more works by Hayward and hope she’ll bring Jack and Ethan back in a sequel.