Learning To Fall – Review

“As if conjuring my dream, the earth shook.”

The opening line of Learning To Fall reads as an omen. The earth shook and then Brynn’s world shook, leaving her to desperately try to hold on to everything she has ever known and loved.

Learning To Fall is a stunning debut novel that sweeps you into the world of horse show jumping. But to say that this is just a book about show horses is selling this exceptional book short. This book is about finding yourself when life seems determined to rip you apart.

Brynn Seymour is months away from graduating from a national prestigious veterinary program. She is focused on being able to provide a stable life for herself, and more importantly, her family. Horses have been in her blood, but her father’s dreams of winning the illustrious Million Dollar Gold Cup have always felt more like dreams than reality.

The day the earth shook, Brynn lost her father in an accident. With that loss, came the reality that his dreams were built on a far shakier foundation than she ever imagined possible. Now, she struggles to go to school, run the family business and desperately try to keep the ranch from being auctioned off piece by piece.

But the world of show horses is cutthroat, and as her competition begins poaching clients from her, Brynn realizes the only answer is to go after her father’s dreams herself. With the help of champion, Jason Lander, Brynn has to learn to let everything fall away before she can build back up.

“It’s not about losing control, it’s about giving up control. There is a difference.”

Clermont brings this competitive world into such vivid life, you feel as if you are there. Brynn is a very believable and real character. Even if you aren’t fighting to keep your family’s ranch out of debt, I think many women will relate to her. She isn’t just facing the outside pressure of her family’s financial situation. She’s also facing the internal fight over who she is and what direction she wants her life to go in. Show jumping may have been her father’s dream, but Brynn has to examine if it really is her dream as well.

Anyone who loves animals, and particularly horses, will enjoy reading this book. Clermont brings the horses to life as much as she does the people in her writing. Jett is one of my favorite characters, and though he can’t speak, (he is a horse after all), you can feel the warmth of his eyes, the softness of his ears, and the strength of his muscles in every scene he is in. You feel his pain, his calm, his joy. It isn’t just Jett that Clermont does this with, but every horse she mentions. They are as unique and identifiable as any other side character in the book and give the plot a much richer texture.

“Jett stared at me, his liquid eyes spoke of knowing, of understanding, a bond we’d shared for years. He didn’t care about his mane. What mattered was this. This unspoken love. If horses could smile, he’d be smiling now.”

The messages written into the plot are fantastic. Examinations of how fear holds us back in life, forces us to make decisions that continue to drive negativity into our lives. How we can let fear take over our lives completely if we let it. There’s a look at how to be yourself in a world that demands conformity. Of how difficult it is to do the right thing when bending rules and sliding by could yield greater short term results. It’s a much more difficult thing to stay true to yourself and what you believe.

Within these pages is a look at life and loss, love and heartbreak, forgiveness and guilt. This is a book that fully captures the essence of life, and the struggle that we all face in some form or another throughout our lives. We all have to face the idea of who we are versus who we want to be. Who we think we love versus who we really love. What love means, both in familial terms and romantic ones. And what we’re willing to accept, from others, from ourselves.

Learning To Fall is a title that wraps up so many ideas within three little words. Brynn must learn to fall in so many ways. She must learn to fall into the unknown, fall in love, fall off a horse, and simply fall into the current that is life.

“Accidents happen. We try, we stumble, sometimes literally. It’s part of life, to have problems and challenges, to deal with them and move on. We’ll never have no problems. Only new ones.”

This book will transport you. I read it in less than a day, the pages simply flying by. Each character is written to be complex, contributing to the plot but also giving it the same richness that people in our lives gives us. We never live life alone, and decisions or their consequences are rarely made in a vacuum. Clermont captures those layers in these pages. I ended the book feeling as if I were there, cheering, holding my breath, laughing and crying with them.

If you love stories about finding who you are, stories that mimic life in all the difficult and real ways, this book is for you. If you love horses or animals and enjoy a story where the animals are as much a heart of the book as the people, this book is for you. Whether you are familiar with the world of show jumping or not, by the end, you won’t be able to help falling in love with Brynn, Jason and of course, with Jett.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me this book to read and review!

Gridley Girls – Review

“Once upon a time there was a diary.”

Gridley Girls is a debut novel that reads part memoir, part fiction. The story is based on true events. Even though we get a look at a few aspects of the truth, we don’t know all of the truth versus the fiction. And because it’s based on true events, this novel read as a hybrid novel, with some pieces reading more as fiction and others more as a memoir. It’s easy to imagine that this was indeed very close to how the author grew up. Even if it isn’t, the writing is so distinct and full of personality, it feels as if you’re hearing her talk rather than reading a story.

Meg Monahan grew up in Gridley California. Like her parents before her, and their parents before them. She knows nearly everyone in the town. Secrets are hard to keep secret, yet somehow Meg is always the one people confide in, expecting that she keep their confessions safe.

“Mainly I just stay private. That’s hard for you to imagine since you live your life out loud, but it’s easier for us to be private.”

After she is chosen to be a peer counselor her freshman year, this confidence gets pushed to the limits as she receives information that is simply too much for her to handle on her own. It’s easier to keep a secret when it’s your choice. Meg finds that the expectation of confidence, combined with the heavier secrets, makes the burden that much harder to bear.

The novel is told through the eyes of an adult Meg, deciding if she can stomach uprooting her family to the unthinkable reaches of Minnesota, and a teenage Meg going through her freshman year of High School. The events that unfold during her teenage years all carry through and show their relevance to her adult life as the book progresses.

We are all shaped by the things that happen to us growing up. Tragedy and triumph alike can leave indelible marks and shape the adults we become. For Meg, these secrets that her peers trusted her with became nearly too much. When she confides in a trusted friend, and is overheard, that guilt follows her into adulthood.

“In my mind, I was out of control. Who was I going to tell next? My parents? The mailman? Nothing was stopping my giant mouth. My fears were ruling my life.”

This book is a hybrid in another sense. The pieces of Meg’s high school years are very fitting for a YA novel. Not just because she is an adolescent. But because there are some very good lessons and messages written within those pages. Topics like teenage sex, struggling to reconcile your religious beliefs with the reality of life around you, abortion, homosexuality, death and mental illness are all brought up and examined in a thoughtful way.

The messages aren’t preached to you, and they aren’t drilled down or overly dramatized. Some are more dominant than others, and not all of them have lessons learned or even closure written to them. But they are excellent conversation starters and serve to open the door for closer examination.

They hit home because they are told in first person, from the eyes of a teenage girl. Her reaction is what you would expect them to be: scared and confused. This allows for her to ask for advice, and to analyze her own thoughts to try and process how to feel. It was an excellent representation of how confusing adolescence can be.

It’s balanced with the adult years, and the lesson that life doesn’t always make sense once you reach adulthood. There are still struggles and tragedies mixed in with the good times and triumphs.

“I guess that’s the whole point: the attempt to understand, the attempt to love. It’s when we stop trying to understand and stop trying to love that everything falls apart.”

This book is a very fun read, and at the end, First throws in a guide to seventies pop culture. This will be especially helpful to younger readers who may have no idea what actors, shows, music, or even general culture references are made during her teenage years. For those who do remember, this book will be a fun blast into the past.

Sometimes pop culture can be tricky to write into a plot without sounding out of place or forced, but First writes it in fluidly, making them part of the scenery and not overly obnoxious. It feels very natural, because it stems from Meg. Of course that’s how she would make sense of her world, because it is her world.

It did take me a few chapters to adjust to the writing style. It can feel a bit choppy, and you feel that while reading. Once I got to know Meg a bit, and realized that an adolescent girl who talks a mile a minute when she’s nervous probably would talk like that, it became more natural to read. Again, because it reads part fiction and part memoir, the fluidity of the writing does change a bit between chapters. It requires the reader to adjust to the tone of the chapter, and in part to the change between Meg as a girl and Meg as a woman.

Overall I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of humor in First’s writing, both as a teenager and as an adult. She tackles very real topics, not just about growing up, but the world at large. These make the book full of depth. I didn’t grow up in the 70’s, but even still, I felt a lot of nostalgia reading through her experiences. Any teenage girl, regardless of the time and specifics, all feel awkward, and scared, and overwhelmed, and confused during those years. She’s relatable and easy to identify with. Which I think makes this a good book to start conversations with teenage readers. Not to mention, just being able to ask your mom about some of these trends and references to pop culture will definitely start some good conversation, along with some memorable laughs, I’m sure!

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

Exquisite – Review

“I was suspicious of love and what it did to people – those dark depths of anguish and horror; the thought of it all made me shudder.”

Bo Luxton has the life everyone wants. A successful writing career, loyal husband and two adorable daughters. She is the very picture of happiness and contentment. All she wants is to share her happiness with others. To help guide fresh new talent into the literary world, giving back to the world that has given her so much.

Alice Dark is young and lost. Full of hidden but unused talent, she writes an entry to a writing retreat, expecting it to end in nothing but disappointment like every endeavor before. To her surprise, she is selected and given the chance at everything she’s ever wanted.

From the moment Bo read Alice’s words, she knew this was the young talent she had been looking for. And from the moment Alice spoke with Bo, she knew this was a woman whose wisdom could guide her. Mentor and mentee. Two paths destined to cross and become entwined. So how does it all go wrong?

This book is breathtaking in it’s intensity! Every page has you swept into the story, the suspense building with a subtlety that is, well, exquisite. You know something is off, but it’s difficult to put your finger on it. For the life of me, I could not tell which direction Stovell was taking me. I only knew it was going to be a dark and twisted path.

“There’s only one direction this can go, and that is straight to hell.”

We are given the story of Alice and Bo in parts. The first is a story, a woman in prison, but where and when is yet to be determined. Is she a narrator, a story from one of the writers, or a third party yet to be presented? And then we get chapters from both Bo and Alice’s perspectives. These are alternating until after the retreat, where we get only Alice and then only Bo. And then back to alternating as we get closer to the truth.

Each side is presented, with their own slant told. And Stovell is masterful in her writing, never giving us enough clues to get a grasp on what’s actually taking place. Page after page has us feeling as if we are trapped in a cage of quicksand and fog. Nothing is steady, nothing is sure, except that someone is lying.

“The thing about being hurt badly is that the only person who can make you feel better is the person who hurt you, and so you keep going back and they keep making you better, but then they hurt you again, and so it goes on.”

Exquisite kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I never knew who to trust, who was the victim and who was the assailant. Even when Stovell unveiled the details, the truth was so sinister, it hits you in the gut, hard and unexpected. Again, the word exquisite fits so perfectly, because that level of story telling is exquisite. You know something is coming, and yet it still manages to hit you by surprise. The title perfect in so many ways.

I am a huge fan of psychological plots, especially where the characters are so deeply complex it’s difficult to fault them for their flaws, and Stovell does not disappoint. But there’s also a deeper villain uncovered, and the cold, sinister motivations are chilling and pathological. We are introduced to someone unrelenting and unapologetic in their behavior, and that persona is truly terrifying. To be lulled into complacency, into sympathizing with someone this evil in nature gets under your skin. Stovell has given us a villain that really does make you stay awake at night because this is the type of villain that is real.

If you are a fan of psychological suspense or thrillers, you need to get your hands on this book. It is masterful in it’s suspense, brilliant in it’s psychology, and breathtaking in it’s twists. In all, this book is exquisite.

Thank you Orenda Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Turtles All The Way Down – Review

“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”

There are about a million different thoughts rushing through my brain about this book, but there’s really only one that’s important. If you’ve ever known someone to struggle with mental illness, this book helps open a window into understanding. And if you’ve ever struggled yourself, read this to know that you are not alone.

Aza has OCD. She can’t help but think of the billions upon billions of bacteria that reside in her body and how any one of them can hijack the system, completely taking over and possibly ending in her death. One thought can lead to another, and before she can stop, she’s being pulled into a thought spiral, which she calls invasives.

“It’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure exactly what that makes you.”

When we first meet Aza, we meet her best friend Daisy along with all of their lunch table friends along with her disorder, all at the same time. It’s an amazing introduction. We are seamlessly submersed into the world of Aza and her friends. We also learn that there’s a billionaire fugitive on the loose with a sizable reward for information leading to his capture. Which would be simple lunchroom gossip, except, as Daisy is insistent to point out, Aza once knew his son.

This novel is a stunning coming of age, both vivid and breathtaking. But what sets it apart isn’t the raw honesty regarding living with mental illness. It’s that Green explores issues of substance, that anyone of any age can relate to in some fashion. This novel is wonderfully complex. It isn’t only when we are teenagers that we question the nature of our existence, or the meaning of love in all it’s beauty and consequence. But there is a certain poignancy in framing these questions not just in an adolescent perspective, but also in the specific view of mental illness.

“But I also had a life, a normal-ish life, which continued. For hours or days, the thoughts would leave me be, and I could remember something my mom told me once: Your now is not your forever.”

I don’t have OCD. But, I do have my own struggles, and everything Aza thinks and goes through is so relatable. The parts that aren’t relatable, are presented in such a raw way that they are easily understandable. I don’t know if others with anxiety or depression have them, but I really relate to thought spirals, things that invade my mind and paralyze me for moments, hours or even days at a time. They aren’t about bacteria or germs, but they are there nonetheless. It’s hard to explain them sometimes, and Green brings them to life, in all of their weird intensity.

More than that, Green is unflinching in his portrayal of the guilt, the loneliness, the fear and the uncertainty, and all the complex emotions that go along with mental illness.

“I know you’re not trying to make me feel pressure, but it feels like I’m hurting you, like I’m committing assault or something, and it makes me feel ten thousand times worse. I’m doing my best, but I can’t stay sane for you, okay?”

This is something that I rarely come across in books about mental illness. The way you feel like you have to be okay, even when you’re not, because people around you are worried about you. The pressure to make everything seem fine. It isn’t that they’re asking you to lie, necessarily, but the worry and the fear are palpable to you. It’s hard to explain why you can’t just be better. Why you can’t just be normal. So sometimes it becomes easier to just try and cover it all up. They don’t mean to add pressure, and you feel terrible for even suggesting that they’re making it worse. But they do, and sometimes they are.

This isn’t a book where we get a superficial look at the relationships in Aza’s life either. The relationship with Daisy was one of the best, in my opinion. Being best friends with someone is an intimate relationship. In some ways, even more intimate than a romantic one. I adored Daisy. She’s fun, sassy, funny, loyal and driven. But she’s complicated and struggles to understand Aza. Even more important than understanding her, is simply loving her and accepting her.

“What I want to say to you, Holmesy, is that yes, you are exhausting, and yes, being your friend is work. But you are the most fascinating person I have ever known.”

This struggle felt so real, because living with mental illness is exhausting sometimes, and loving someone with mental illness can be just as exhausting. It doesn’t need to be excused or justified or apologized for. And the honesty it took to examine this aspect of their relationship is heartbreaking and amazing.

We fight with our moms, our friends, people we know, sometimes people we don’t. Yet, when people know you struggle with mental illness in any facet, this fight tends to be held back. Your actions are excused, or justified, or worse, relationships get distant and fragile. So when you find people that will confront you, and fight with you, and make you feel normal (even when it makes you feel awful) it can feel monumental. Green gets that, and captures it beautifully.

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

I still feel that there is so much more to say about this book, but honestly, I don’t think I can capture everything in one blog post. This book made me feel so many things. I laughed, and cried, and flagged quote after quote. It is beautiful and necessary and such an important contribution to the conversation about mental health.

It isn’t easy to admit to mental illness. It’s even harder to describe that struggle. To open yourself up exposes you to the world in an intimate vulnerability that is difficult no matter who you are. John Green opens a piece of himself up to us by writing this gorgeous book. Aza is fictional, yes, but the truths written within her character are very real. So to him, I say thank you. Thank you, for writing a book that made me feel seen. That made me feel understood. That just made me feel.

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

 

Ocean’s Fire – Review

“Your beliefs shape the world we see. Change your beliefs, change your world.”

Ocean’s Fire follows the journey of Skylar Southmartin picking up the pieces of her life after her mother’s death. Choosing to stay closer to home to finish her degree, Skylar wants to figure out why the plan to resurrect her mother didn’t work. She did everything right, and still it didn’t work.

The good news is that her position at the local University reunites her with her childhood love, Argan, and their connection from childhood graduates to a far more adult relationship. Unfortunately, local rockstar, Joshua, also has an alluring connection to Skylar that she can’t seem to fight. To top it all off, there is a powerful force working to ensure a centuries long prophecy comes true.

“Everyone is capable of great love and great destruction. You feed one flame or the other.”

I am decidedly on the fence about this book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the supernatural premise and mysticism that the author created. On the other, there were so many side plots and rushed character development that I spent most of the book very confused.

I’m not against romance, or love triangles, or even a steamy sex scene in books. However, they have to serve a purpose in driving the plot forward. The triangle between Joshua, Argan and Skylar just felt like it was there to write a few sex scenes (a few that bordered on abusive in nature), and nothing else. I understand what the author was trying to do with these characters and the tension, but I just didn’t feel it.

The pacing of the story also lends to the rushed feeling. We jump forward in time quite a bit, so we are told that dramatic things are unfolding, but we don’t really feel it. The emotional connection to the entire story, and specifically to Skylar’s struggle wasn’t there for me at all, which made the book feel very flat and one-dimensional to me. Insane things happen but rather than build into these discoveries, we are presented them in a sentence or two and everyone accepts it and moves forward. It’s a case of too much “telling” and not enough “showing”. We are told a lot, but the depth of emotion just isn’t shown so that we feel it along with the characters.

There were a lot of great moments in the book. And for those parts I was swept away into the reading. But there was just so much happening in this plot, it was hard to stay in that swept away feeling.

It’s difficult to give examples of what I liked and what I didn’t, because they are so mixed together and intricate to the plot, that I feel I would be giving away massive spoilers if I tried. I really think this is an example of why Stephen King famously says, “Kill your darlings”. There is a lot to process, in terms of plot, unnecessary characters and side interactions that don’t drive the overall story forward or help with individual character development. This book could have been so much better with those moments removed and the plot line tightened up so that we felt this tension and stress and more of the supernatural feel of the novel. Too much of it felt like a contemporary novel with the characters playing at mysticism, rather than actually being about the mysticism.

Ocean’s Fire is the first in a trilogy, and perhaps the second and final book will help develop the characters to be more in depth so that all the details in the first book make sense. I am curious about how the story progresses, and what happens next. Especially that with the ending we are given, who is good and who is bad seems a little undefined. I’m not sure if that’s to set up for future redemptions but would like to find out. I hope the original disaster that we are presented with gets more explanation too, as I really have no idea what happened there.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending a copy to read and review.

Blade’s Edge – Review

“Was it impossible to hide who you really were forever?”

What an incredible book! Blade’s Edge is such a phenomenal story. A fantasy world built with similarities to feudal Japan, but written with such intensity that it mirrors a dystopian novel. I was immediately swept into the enormity of this world and immersed in the beauty and horror of these characters lives.

To be a woman in Gensokai, the island that this story takes place on, is a terrible fate. We don’t know the details, but learn that the actions of one powerful female Kisoshi have damned the future of all females for the past one thousand cycles. It is dangerous to be a girl. Even more dangerous to be born a girl with any detectable kiso.

“Fear can be a powerful destructive force.”

Kiso is the ability to manipulate energy. People have various levels of kiso and some are stronger than others. Once trained, they test to become kisoshi and can move up to higher ranks. At the beginning of the book, we get a glossary of terms and even a forward by the author ensuring that while this may feel and sounds like pieces of Japanese history and culture, this is entirely fantasy.

I will say that this is an instance when having the physical copy would have been enormously helpful. I find it a pain to toggle to an index with a kindle, and would have preferred to simply be able to turn the pages.

That said, the terms and their uses are so thorough that I didn’t feel lost while reading, or really feel that I needed to flip to know the terms. You learn them quickly as you read and by the end, they are as much a part of the story as if you had known the definition all along. That is quite an accomplishment in writing!

The story is written entirely from two main characters, Taka and Mishi, both female. We do get a third perspective thrown in from a woman we are introduced to who plays a larger role later in the book. Given how dreary this world is from a female perspective, it was a nice touch to only show us the viewpoint of female characters. It really focuses on how awful and male driven this society is. It isn’t just the power that the men hold. It is the way they look down on women, dismissing them as not being worthy of any respect or worth the air they breathe.

“It was clever work really, the work that the instructors put into making the girls fearful, then timid… wouldn’t that timidity eventually lead to self doubt?”

This book reads a bit like The Last Airbender blended with The Handmaid’s Tale. The fantasy portion of this book is incredible. Amazing world building with such vivid descriptions of the sweeping landscapes that you practically smell the forest and feel the mountain breezes. The elemental magic and magical beings are very creative and come to life on the page. But the portions that depict life as a woman, are so bleak, it’s nauseating. The contrast between the beauty of the land and the horror of life as a girl is stark and severe.

While there aren’t any graphic scenes, this book tackles incredibly brutal topics. Abuse, rape, murder, slavery, war. These are the horrifying realities of this world. With each new truth revealed as the girls grow into their own powers, the more you are chilled to the core at how this society functions.

“She hadn’t understood it very well when she was still living under Haha-san’s roof, but over the cycles since then she had come to understand the cruel fate that produced the girls with the empty eyes.”

Regardless of the brutality and dark nature of their surroundings, the girls Taka and Mishi are incredible characters. Both strong in their own unique ways, the journeys their lives have taken them on give us a broad view of this country and society. Even though Mishi’s journey seems easier than Taka’s in some aspects, they both have an incredibly difficult road in their futures. Regardless of the difficulty in their paths, though, they are smart, strong, funny, resilient women.

Even though we see only from the perspective of Mishi and Taka, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a good idea of the people in their lives. We are introduced to a wide array of men and women, some good, some evil. They are all complex and unique. The side stories are well developed and even though we don’t know their thoughts, we get a really good sense of who they are based on dialogue and the girls’ observations. Again, this is solid writing.

The main accomplishment of this novel, (outside of the brilliant character development and fantastic world building, is that throughout the very dark and brutal topics woven into this society), these girls never lose hope. This is such an amazing novel of the strength of finding yourself and resiliency. No matter what is thrown at them, they never lose faith that they are fighting for a better future. And it made the book an amazing read!

“How can anything about me surprise you, when you know absolutely nothing about me?”

In addition to creating this divine landscape and these incredible characters, the book itself is gorgeous. Each section has a haiku written for it, and the chapters have Japanese characters depicting the timeframes they take place in. It just feels balanced and beautiful. The physical layout of the book is as poetic as the writing.

I haven’t been as enthralled in a world like this in a long time. This novel is simply phenomenal. As both a fan of fantasy and dystopian, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves either genre. The themes and topics are difficult but eerily relevant to not just history, but our present as well. This book would be fantastic for a book club. There are so many detailed and complex topics to explore. I cannot wait to dive into the second book, and will be looking for this author in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Rockstar Book Tours to read in preparation for for m participating in their tour of the sequel, Traitor’s Hope. I was not required to review it.

 

The Cresswell Plot – Review + Giveaway

THE CRESSWELL PLOT

I am very excited to be a part of this tour to celebrate the release of this gorgeous paperback! Thank you Rockstar Book Tours! Be sure to click the link above to check out all of their ROCKING books and don’t miss the rest of the fabulous blogs on this tour (links below)!

“The woods were insane in the dark, terrifying and magical at the same time. But best of all were the stars, which trumpeted their light into the misty dark.”

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings-Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem- know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.

Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice. 

Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

First, I loved this book! 4.5/5 glowing stars!

Readers should know going in that there are some issues that could be uncomfortable for them. This is a book about extreme religious beliefs, bordering on cult-like behavior. I honestly don’t know the rules to define a cult, so while this family doesn’t recruit new members, they have some fairly insane beliefs. There are incest issues, although nothing graphic, the idea of siblings being paired to be married in the afterlife may creep some readers out. And there is lots of physical abuse. Again, it isn’t graphic, but it isn’t pleasant either.

“Because I didn’t feel abused. Only I didn’t know. I didn’t know what abuse felt like because I didn’t know whether I was experiencing it or not.”

That said, the intensity of this book is necessary and forms a very well rounded story. Growing up with Castley’s father wouldn’t be a walk in the park. And you won’t have stable, rational children. The representation of the fear combined with the doubt in each of the Cresswell children felt very accurate. It is the fear that keeps them in line, even when they want to push back. Fear coupled with doubt is any abusers greatest weapons. And Wass writes this internal and external war vividly. It is physical warfare, yes, but it is also a twisted psychological war as well.

In the beginning, it is Mortimer who is the rebellious one. Always pushing, always causing trouble. Castley is only starting to wonder if the things she is told are true. She is only beginning to test her own boundaries. These small rebellions felt normal. What teenager didn’t push boundaries with their parents? The difference is the fear of the consequences. Their consequences were much harsher and potentially more dangerous.

“She looked like my soul, battered and twisted, afraid to move. And I felt terror grip me, in tight hot fingers around my throat.”

Castley is fantastic! I adored her. Her growth throughout this novel felt so real to me. And she was very relatable. She makes some incredibly insightful observations about people and human nature. It is this sharpness that makes her strong. It also makes it understandable that Castley would be the one who sees through the litany of lies and veiled threats her and her siblings have been indoctrinated with for their entire lives.

“One person tells a story about themselves and then the other person does the same thing, and neither of them realizes they’re not even talking to each other. They’re just talking to themselves out loud.”

The suspense was brilliantly written. By the end, I was clutching my dogs and climbing the walls, nearly breathless, as I honestly had no idea which direction Wass would take the ending. It could have gone in so many directions, it was difficult to even try and predict how it would all play out. I would have liked a little more detail, as some plot points were vague, but maybe that’s just because I was really emotionally invested by the end. I wanted to know every minor detail.

If you’re looking for creepy YA suspense, look no further! This book is full of cultish creepiness, adolescent angst and some serious terror for good measure. I will for sure be placing her next book on my wishlist and waiting for it’s release!

Once again, thank you Rockstar Book Tours for including me on this tour! I had a blast! Keep scrolling for links to the book, the author and a chance to WIN a copy of this awesomely creepy novel!!!

 

cresswell pbk hi resTitle: THE CRESSWELL PLOT Paperback

Author: Eliza Wass

Pub. Date: October 10, 2017

Publisher: Disney Press

Pages: 288

Formats: Paperback

Find it: AmazonB&N,  TBDGoodreads

Eliza

About Eliza: 

Eliza Wass is an author, journalist and the wife of the late musician Alan Wass. Her debut novel, The Cresswell Plot, was published in 2016 to critical acclaim by Disney-Hyperion. She has contributed articles to The Guardian, Grazia, NME, Shortlist and THE FALL.

​Her second book with Disney-Hyperion, The Life and Death Parade, will be published in June 2018.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

 

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE CRESSWELL PLOT Paperback, US Only. Click the photo below to enter!

giveaway

Please be sure to check out the rest of the lovely blogs on this tour!

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

10/2/2017- Tales of the Ravenous Reader– Interview

10/2/2017- The Book Nut– Review

10/3/2017- Novel Novice– Guest Post

10/3/2017- Eli to nth– Review

10/4/2017- Sugar Dusted Pages– Interview

10/4/2017- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

10/5/2017- The Hardcover Lover– Excerpt

10/5/2017- Kourtni Reads– Review

10/6/2017- BookHounds YA– Guest Post

10/6/2017- Lattes & Paperbacks– Review

Week Two:

10/9/2017- Tez Says– Guest Post

10/9/2017- JustAddaWord– Review

10/10/2017- Rainy Days and Pajamas– Excerpt

10/10/2017- RhiReading– Review

10/11/2017- Blushing Bibliophile– Interview

10/11/2017- Savings in Seconds– Review

10/12/2017- Omg Books and More Books– Guest Post

10/12/2017- Jena Brown Writes– Review

10/13/2017- For the Love of KidLit Interview

10/13/2017- Bibliobakes– Review

We All Fall Down – Review

“I stay in the car because I’m not welcome at the door.”

From the very first sentence we see the tension built into the backstory of this YA thriller. Theo and Paige have been friends forever. Paige battles anxiety and Theo battles ODD, ADHD and a number of other disorders. Together they can face anything.

Except Paige’s parents think Theo is a negative influence. Except Paige has had a crush on Theo forever, and has decided to leave the unrequited feelings in the past. Except, they aren’t unrequited.

“Paige checks her phone and teeters in her pretty sandals, and my mind is popping and buzzing, but there’s not a thing I can do. I’ve had all the time in the world. If she likes this guy, I need to suck it up and deal.”

Theo doesn’t deal with things though. He gets drunk. The party is at an old bridge, and Paige is pushed to climb the bridge by her date. When she starts to have an anxiety attack, Theo is too drunk to help. Instead he gets in a fight. But when he hauls his fist to take a swing, it isn’t her date’s face his fist collides with. It’s Paige.

Talk about an explosive opening act.

When we meet Theo and Paige again, several months have gone by. Theo is back near the scene of the crime, so to speak, working for his Uncle, trying a new assortment of meds and living in a pit of regret. Paige is attending a summer Science program on the opposite side of the bridge for college credit. She is working on forgetting Theo, accepting that he is bad news like her parents told her all along.

They both want to forget. They both want to move on. But something keeps bringing them together. Something keeps reminding them of the one night they both want to forget. Something won’t let them move on.

The representation of mental health issues in teens is phenomenal in this book. It isn’t just how accurate and relatable Richards makes Paige and Theo. It’s the details. How Paige’s parents are typical helicopter parents, constantly hovering and interfering. How Theo’s have simply written him off as too much trouble and too much work. Both are very real reactions from parents when dealing with adolescents who struggle with disorders.

Even though we don’t see a lot of Paige’s parents, their influence is felt throughout the entire thing. I think this is also very accurate and was well done. Whether it’s the over involvement or the complete disappearance, these reactions shape both Theo and Paige and how they react to various situations. It is also extremely well written because it is these small details that build the tension and suspense within Paige.

“Alarms flare in my mind. I shouldn’t have said his name. Shouldn’t have talked about his at all. What if she says something to my parents when they pick me up?”

As far as Theo goes, we see very little even in the background of his parents. Rather it is his Uncle Denny who is his main parental figure for the summer. Denny has a construction business and is letting Theo live with him and work, to keep him out of trouble. Denny is actually a decent Uncle. He tries, but is clearly in over his head with Theo. He doesn’t even know where to begin. But you can tell he cares, and Theo cares about what he thinks as well.

“He nods slowly, still ruminating whatever armchair-therapist crap he was about to spit out. He must think better of it, because he adjust his cap on his thinning hair and sighs.”

But no matter how many meds Theo forces his therapist to prescribe or how many times he promises to stay away from Paige, some force seems to be pulling them together. Whether it’s mysterious noises drawing them to the bridge, or remnants from the party long thought discarded mysteriously appearing; something is happening. And it always leads back to the bridge.

This part of the novel was especially enjoyable for me because I think bridges are creepy in general. Yes, they are beautiful from a distance. And romantic. And historical. But really. Driving a car over something that could collapse at any moment is terrifying to me. So I completely get the anxiety and trauma associated with this bridge. Throw in some weird supernatural nonsense. I would be out of there super fast!

But what I really enjoyed was how Richards was able to weave the supernatural in to play against both Theo and Paige’s natural dispositions. If you constantly question everything, how do you know when you’re being haunted or going crazy? It’s a fine line, and the suspense both of them felt at legitimately not knowing the answer was brilliant.

“The arsenic is there because rivers are full of icky things. And because no matter how deep you bury them, they find their way to the surface.”

This is excellent YA suspense. It deals with relevant issues and, perhaps, gives a new light and perspective on how kids dealing with those issues feel. It also is a bloody good haunting novel. Whether real or imagined, the ghosts we believe to be real will always be as powerful as we allow them to be. I absolutely loved how this was handled, and explored and ultimately, how this story ended.

I won this book in a giveaway from Teen Reads and am thrilled I was able to read it!

 

 

The Cottingley Secret – Review

“The soul of the fairy is its evanescence. Its charm is the eternal doubt, rose-tinted with the shadow of a hope. But the thrill is all in ourselves.”

The Cottingley Secret is part historical novel, part contemporary novel, where the two stories intersect and meet together in the end.

In 1917, two girls brought together by the Great War find a little bit of magic in the garden by their home. Frances Griffiths was ripped from her home in South Africa when her father was called to war. She and her mother move to Cottingley, England, where she and her cousin Elsie Wright become as close as sisters.

Present day introduces us to Olivia Kavanagh. Olivia finds herself back in Ireland after the death of her grandfather. She learns that she inherits his bookshop, Something Old, and with it, a number of financial problems. Somehow, her grandfather knew she would need time and space to set her course, and also leaves her a manuscript. Olivia finds herself falling into the past and reliving the grip of a nation in a frenzy over fairies.

This book is simply magical. Personally, I am a fan of books that take two different times and somehow write a compelling story that makes them relevant to each other. Something about connecting the past to the present is really appealing to me. Gaynor executes the weaving of these two times and these two stories so beautifully. Each is it’s own story, but also reliant on the other. You want to know what’s happening in both, and wonder all the way through how they are connected.

It isn’t necessarily a mystery, as enough large clues are given so that you can draw the conclusions on technical relationships. But it is the mystery of magic in both stories that make them so unique and such a pleasure to read.

“It is only by believing in magic that we can ever hope to find it.”

I didn’t know going in to this book about The Cottingley Fairies. As I was reading, I found myself going online and reading more about it. This is one of my favorite things when reading historical fiction. When an author takes real events and works them into a story. It feels so much richer to me when you read about a time, or an event, or a person and get to immerse yourself in a possibility of the past.

What I find so completely magical about this book, and about the original story, is that it really becomes less about the actual fact of the fairies and more about the idea of believing in the fairies.

“If we can believe in fairies, perhaps we can believe in anything, even in an end to this damned war. And wouldn’t that be something.”

I loved that at every turn in this book, it didn’t matter if you believed in fairies or magic or not. It became about the ability to believe in possibility. Francis needed to believe in the possibility of her father coming back. She had to wish for it, and in order to wish for something, you have to believe in magic. For Olivia, her wishes required less magic, but belief nonetheless. She needed to remember that she can be whoever she wants, and do whatever she wants. She simply needs to believe that she can.

It’s books like these that make reading so magical to me. We are always urged to grow up and to focus on reality. We forget that there’s a magic to life, even if we don’t expect fairies to greet us in every garden. There is a gift in not knowing what’s going to happen next, and we can find enormous power in simply believing that anything is possible. It’s a wonderful reminder to read a book and be gently reminded that we can create magic in our own lives every day.

“Make-believe keeps us going at times like this. We have to believe in the possibility of happy endings, sure we do, otherwise what’s it all for?”

Francis and Olivia both need to believe in their own happy endings. Which is true of all our lives. We are the bearers of our own magic. We can determine if we believe in the possibility of something, or if we can’t. And our fates will follow our beliefs. So many things we take for granted today would be considered magic centuries ago. Lights that turn on with a switch, or movement. A machine that allows us to talk to anyone in the world, anytime we want. Movies, television, phones, heat, air conditioning. These are all things no one would have dreamed of. Until someone did.

This is the magic that Gaynor brings to life in her book. It is the magic of what could be. The magic of what we can’t imagine yet. It tells a tale of fairies, yes. It weaves a story about a little girl who saw fairies and the choices she made afterwards. It is fiction, wrapped with a touch of reality. Yet it still pushes us to close our eyes and remember the days of our own youth. When we believed in magic and possibility.

Were the fairies of Cottingley real? Was it all a hoax? And, really, does the answer matter at all? Like any good story, it isn’t the details that matter. It is how we feel when we close the pages. We each have magic inside. We simply have to choose to ignite it.

Thank you BookSparks and William Morrow books for sending me a copy to read and review for FRC 2017.

The Bad Dream Notebook – Review

“That’s what Americans are supposed to do. There’s no excuse for hanging on to negative emotions in this country.”

The Bad Dream Notebook is a novel about grief, loss, addiction and recovery. Erica Mason just lost her husband. Her daughter Mona just lost her dad. Chronic back pain turned out to be terminal cancer.

The book starts after John’s death, with Erica doing community service. Except, it isn’t her crimes she’s doing penance for. It’s Mona’s.

From the beginning, we get the sense of grief Erica is under. Her grief is not just for her husband. But for the daughter she lost as well. Mona is alive and kicking, but addiction has taken her away from Erica nonetheless.

“Living with an addicted child is a form of warfare leading almost inevitably to some form of PTSD.”

Its difficult for Erica to simply grieve for John. She feels guilty for the days leading to his death, as most people struggling with long-term illness do. Did she do enough? Did she make the right decisions?

Those emotions alone would be difficult enough to deal with. But you add in her daughter’s spiraling addiction, which triggers it’s own whirlwind of guilt and grief, and Erica is struggling to keep herself together.

“If one more person asked how she was feeling these blank, black days, she fantasized about turning on them like a wild animal, screaming.”

All of these emotions weigh heavily on Erica, and since she struggles to deal with them consciously, her subconscious takes over. In order to make sense of her dreams, she begins to keep a notebook. Sometimes written descriptions, sometimes fast sketches, but she keeps them in order to make sense of them.

We get the book not just through Erica’s memories and perspective, but we also get a few chapters via Mona. The transition from memory to present is a little jarring at times, and I did find myself having to backtrack and reread to figure out the timeline quite a few times. It could have been written that way deliberately, as a way to show the erratic nature of Erica’s mind and how seamlessly she slipped into memory versus staying in the present. If so, it does give us the jarring effect of how living with the stress of illness, both John’s cancer and Mona’s addiction can wreak havoc on everyone in the house.

We get a very really sense of the difficulty in having an addicted child. Erica displays very codependent behaviors. Some of these are surprising given her own experiences with addiction, but perhaps not so surprising. Mona is her only child. After losing her husband, the fear of losing her child and really becoming alone must feel so big and terrifying to Erica.

“That’s my girl. Mona Grey, their, liar, unemployed – unemployable – dropout, skin-and-bones nightmare of a daughter. Who I produced. My fault. My misery. My little girl.”

It’s true that both an addict and the people that surround them need to hit rock bottom before change happens. Dahl takes us through how bad life can get before that bottom is hit. For both Erica and for Mona. Because it isn’t just the addict that addiction impacts. It effects everyone around them. Dahl captures the horror and helplessness that fuels both of their negative spiraling emotions.

The Bad Dream Notebook is a very raw, emotional journey into the pain that many people struggle with every day. At times infuriating, at times heartbreaking, Dahl doesn’t try to sugar coat the emotions or decisions that both Erica and Mona make.

I did like how each chapter gave us a glimpse into some of the dreams that both Erica and Mona had. They are brief and give us more a feel of the nightmares rather than the details, which I really liked, since that’s how most people remember their dreams. In snippets and snapshots.

This book may be difficult for people who have either struggled with addition, or known someone close who has struggled. It may also be hard if you’re going through any kind of grief. But, this is a book that may also help examine your own internal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes reading a similar experience can help us not feel so alone.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC 2017!