[ARC] Finding Hope by Colleen Nelson

Title: Finding Hope
Author: Colleen Nelson
Expected Publication Date: March 19, 2016
Publisher: Dundurn
Format: ARC
ISBN: 9781459732452
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Pre-order: Amazon | Indigo | Barnes & Noble
Summary: Hope leaves her small town for a fresh start, but her plans are derailed by an online romance and the appearance of her brother.

Hope lives in a small town with nothing to do and nowhere to go. With a drug addict for a brother, she focuses on the only thing that keeps her sane, writing poetry. To escape, she jumps at the chance to attend Ravenhurst Academy as a boarding student. She’ll even put up with the clique-ish Ravens if it means making a fresh start.

At first, Ravenhurst is better than Hope could have dreamed. She has a boyfriend and a cool roommate, and she might finally have found a place she can fit in. But can she trust her online boyfriend? And what can she do after her brother shows up at the school gates, desperate for help, and the Ravens turn on her? Trapped and unsure, Hope realizes that if she wants to save her brother, she has to save herself first.

My Thoughts:
A huge thank you to Dundurn and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy for reviewing.

The book deals with several taboo subjects, which makes this a different and pretty refreshing read compared to other YA books. Several themes that are touched on include drug use, abuse, and a few others that were uncomfortable to read about, but very much absent in other books of this genre. What I appreciated most about Finding Hope was that it didn’t gloss over or sugarcoat anything. Nelson tackled issues that people tend to turn a blind eye to.

It’s not incredibly lengthy by any means; I finished it in about a day, without factoring in any breaks taken in between chapters. That’s where my biggest problem with this book lies. I felt like it was too short and there were several “quick fixes” to some major real-life matters.

In terms of characterization, I found that Hope was very naive and difficult to feel sorry for; difficult to connect with. But when it came down to it, I realized that this is likely a realistic depiction of what teenagers in her situation might do. There’s an immense amount of peer pressure that occurs with youth today, and in that respect, this just added to the appeal of the book and capped off the overall tone that Nelson was trying to achieve. The book is mostly about family. Her brother, Eric, is another narrator in this story, and though I didn’t have a much differing opinion about him as I did Hope, I kind of wished his story was fleshed out more; that we got more background on what he went through and what made him the way he was. His story has the potential to push the boundaries of YA storytelling, and if Nelson ever decided to write something like a sequel or a standalone with a similar storyline, I would gladly read it.

Her writing is captivating and truthful, and despite the lack of a few stars in my review (I was teetering between giving this a three or a four), I actually really did enjoy reading Finding Hope. There was a lot of promise in the book and it laid a foundation for what could have been a game-changer in current realistic YA fiction. Colleen Nelson is just as lovely a person as she is a writer, and I do believe it’s worth checking this book out if you’re looking for a different kind of read.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colleen Nelson is the author of YA fiction books Finding Hope (2016), 250 Hours (2015), The Fall (2013) and Tori by Design (2011). ‘The Fall’ and ‘Tori by Design’ both won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. ‘The Fall’ was also nominated for the White Pine Award. Currently living in Winnipeg with her husband, two young sons and three grown step-children, Colleen manages to eke out time to write everyday, but usually in the early morning after a strong cup of coffee. A junior high school teacher for ten years before having children, Colleen is familiar and comfortable with the tricky phase of life called ‘adolescence’. Now a Teacher-Librarian in Winnipeg, Canada, Colleen is constantly on the look-out for books that will catch the attention of her reading-reluctant sons. (via Goodreads)

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[ARC] The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen LoigmanTitle: The Two-Family House
Author: Lynda Cohen Loigman
Expected Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Format: ARC
ISBN: 9781250076922
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Pre-order: Amazon | Indigo | Barnes & Noble
Summary: Brooklyn, 1947: in the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born minutes apart to two women. They are sisters by marriage with an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic night; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and their once deep friendship begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy. Heartbreak wars with happiness and almost but not quite wins. From debut novelist Lynda Cohen Loigman comes The Two-Family House, a moving family saga filled with heart, emotion, longing, love, and mystery.

My Thoughts:
A huge thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy for reviewing.

Brothers Mort and Abe live in a single two-family brownstone with their wives, Rose and Helen, and their children in 1940s Brooklyn. The men couldn’t be more different from each other; the younger Mort is unsatisfied with his life while his older brother Abe is boisterous and admired by many. The story’s focus shifts when Rose and Helen have simultaneous pregnancies and go through everything together, including the birth of their children.

While the synopsis pegs this as a mystery, the twist actually becomes quite clear about halfway through the story. I was a little disappointed to have figured it out that early on. But that’s not to say it ever deterred my enjoyment of the entire narrative. The writing was exceptionally well-done; there’s emotion and heart at the very center of it all, and that for me personally made the story more enjoyable than the mystery aspect.

I really appreciated the familial aspect of the book, and I found that the most interesting thing in the novel was the relationship between Rose and Helen and the contrast alongside Mort’s changing relationship with Abe. The changes in all of these characters affected their relationships with everyone in the family, and their progression, particularly Mort’s, was fleshed out in such a poignant manner.

While it wasn’t as heavy and complex as I expected gong into it, I found the book very enjoyable in terms of the family dynamics and the breakdown of human relationships. Loigman really knows how to paint a picture with her words and make characters come to life; they’re relatable and real.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, MA. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She is now a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and lives with her husband and two children in New York. She is a failure at enforcing reasonable bedtimes. THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE is her first novel. (via Goodreads)

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[ARC] In Real Life by Jessica Love

In Real Life by Jessica LoveTitle: In Real Life
Author: Jessica Love
Expected Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: ARC
ISBN: 9781250064714
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Pre-order: Amazon | Indigo | Barnes & Noble
Summary: Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade. They talk for hours on the phone, regularly shower each other with presents, and know everything there is to know about one another. There’s just one problem: Hannah and Nick have never actually met. Hannah has spent her entire life doing what she’s supposed to, but when her senior year spring break plans get ruined by a rule-breaker, she decides to break a rule or two herself. She impulsively decides to road trip to Vegas, her older sister and BFF in tow, to surprise Nick and finally declare her more-than-friend feelings for him. Hannah’s romantic gesture backfires when she gets to Vegas and meets Nick’s girlfriend, whom he failed to mention. And it turns out his relationship status isn’t the only thing he’s been lying to her about. Hannah knows the real Nick can’t be that different from the online Nick she knows and loves, but now she only has one night in Sin City to figure out what her feelings for Nick really are, all while discovering how life can change when you break the rules every now and then.

My Thoughts:
A huge thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy for reviewing.

What drew me to this book was without a doubt the cover; I’m a sucker for good music-themed cover art. But as the old saying goes: never judge a book by its cover. Which is why I went into this book a blank canvas and tried not to expect certain things like I usually do (a habit I really have to break). I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this book. It’s seriously very, very cute, guys; cliché, but in the best way.

My only quip would have to be the two main characters. I would have given it a higher rating if I didn’t feel such a disconnect with both main characters. I feel like a lot (a lot) of problems could have been avoided if they just talked through it. There’s one point in the book where Hannah’s best friend Lo lay a much-needed smack-down on Hannah (with her words; always use your words, folks) and I actually found myself physically nodding in agreement at this book like I was crazy. But then again, these kids are young, I certainly had a similar mindset at their age.

That aside, though, it was an enjoyable read. The overall pace of the story was realistic — everything took place in a matter of days — and didn’t drag one bit. The ending was a bit too cliché for my liking, but that didn’t take away my enjoyment of the whole thing. This is definitely a book for the millennials, with the aspect of online relationships and communication driving the plot; something I’m sure a lot of people can relate to in this day and age. Definitely pick this up if you’re looking for something light-hearted and youthful.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Love is a high school English teacher who lives in Southern California with her husband and their two tiny dogs. She’s working on her Master’s Degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Spalding University, and her big love is contemporary YA romance. Jessica spends all of her free money on concerts, constantly tries to prove that blondes have more fun, and is pretty much always on the internet. (via Goodreads)

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[ARC] Beyond the Stars by Stacy Wise

Beyond the Stars by Stacy WiseTitle: Beyond the Stars
Author: Stacy Wise
Expected Publication Date: February 8, 2016
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Format: ARC
ISBN: 9781682811009
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Pre-order: Amazon | Indigo | Barnes & Noble
Summary: Most girls would kill for the opportunity to work for Jack McAlister, Hollywood’s hottest actor, but twenty-one-year-old Jessica Beckett is ready to kick him out of her red Ford Fiesta and never look back. She should be spending her junior year in France, eating pastries and sharpening her foreign language skills. Instead she’s reluctantly working as Jack’s personal assistant, thanks to her powerhouse talent agent aunt.

Jack is private, prickly, and downright condescending. Jessica pushes his buttons—she’s not the type of girl to swoon over celebrity heartthrobs, precisely why her aunt thought she’d be perfect for the job—and Jack pushes right back.

But as she begins to peel away his layers, Jessica is shocked to find she craves her boss’s easy smile and sexy blue eyes. The problem is, so does the entire female population. And what started out as the job from hell soon has Jess wondering if a guy like Jack could ever find love with a regular girl like her.

My Thoughts:
A huge thank you to Entangled Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy for reviewing.

Life doesn’t always go as planned, so when Jessica Beckett’s college dream of studying in France falls through, she’s looking for help from her talent agent aunt and winds up being the personal assistant of Hollywood heartthrob, Jack McAlister.

In true “boss/assistant storyline” fashion, she seems to be the only girl in the vicinity who’s not impressed by his good looks, and he’s an ass. Along the way, they discover the other isn’t all that bad and lo-and-behold, something blossoms between them. I’m all for this trope, so of course I was pretty stoked to read it. Jessica and Jack are lovely characters when it comes down to it, but there weren’t any life-changing obstacles in their way, so their story was kind of… ordinary. Nice, but ordinary. But oh, this story has a pig — I’m not talking about a disgusting male character; an actual pig. Let that sink in. It’s actually a charming little storyline.

While I wasn’t blown away by the book, I enjoyed the pacing of how things progressed. My only issue was that, while I appreciate a good “the journey is more important than the destination” story, the journey to their inevitable relationship took up a majority of the book and we didn’t really get to witness any of the results. I guess that’s me wishing that the book was longer, because I did enjoy their relationship and wanted to see more of it.

I feel like I’m so drawn to angsty love stories that I don’t know when to stop and take a breather. I already knew, judging by the synopsis, Beyond the Stars was anything but. So I thought it’d be a nice change from my choice of gut-wrenching reads as of late. I definitely wasn’t wrong. If you’re looking for something nice, quick, and fluffy, pick up this debut novel from Stacy Wise.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stacy Wise is the author of BEYOND THE STARS (Entangled Embrace, 2016). She has a B.A. in Communication Studies from UCLA and a Masters in Teaching from Chapman University. She lives in California with her husband, four children, two dogs, and an ever-changing number of fish.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Stacy worked in television casting on shows including Party of Five, The X Files, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and Married…With Children. When she’s not dreaming up stories, you can find her beating up the bag at a kickboxing gym or walking her dogs, Bailey & Rex. (via Goodreads)

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Kaleidoscope Hearts by Claire Contreras

Title: Kaleidoscope Hearts
Author: Claire Contreras
Series: Hearts (Book #1)
Publication Date: January 8, 2015
Publisher: Claire Contreras
Format: eBook
ISBN: 9780986416705
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Summary: He was my older brother’s best friend. He was never supposed to be mine. I thought we would get it out of our system and move on. One of us did. One of us left. Now he’s back, looking at me like he wants to devour me. And all those feelings I’d turned into anger are brewing into something else, something that terrifies me. He broke my heart last time. This time he’ll obliterate it.

My Thoughts:
“Older brother’s best friend? Forbidden relationships? Second chances? Yes, yes, and yes. I’m in” was my initial reaction when I came across the summary for this book. I’m such a sap for these kind of stories. It centers around Estelle (Elle), who has to move in with her older brother, Victor, after her fiancé passes away. Being around her brother everyday again means being around his group of friends — one of whom is Oliver, Vic’s best friend. Oliver also happens to be the guy who broke her heart years before.

There are hundreds of books written with these tropes, but Claire Contreras writes it in a way that really hits your emotional core. She’s gained a fan in me after this one, despite certain things that didn’t really sit with me. But there was more to love in Kaleidoscope Hearts than there was to dislike.

Oliver and Elle have a history, which I enjoyed because things made sense. They already had a foundation built and we get a glimpse down memory lane through flashbacks in order to get the context of their present-day relationship.

My biggest issue was how increasingly difficult they made their relationship when honestly… it shouldn’t have been. They kept going around and around and around and around in circles. It seemed like their biggest conflict was Elle’s brother not finding out about them. But when he did, well… that was that. Not even a big deal after a while. That, coupled with Elle’s back and forth between wanting to be with Oliver and not wanting to betray her deceased fiancé’s memory by moving on lost some points with me. I understood her inner turmoil early on, but when Oliver was so supportive of her, she kept pushing him away and it was incredibly frustrating. And then Oliver would randomly become indecisive and I’d be ready to pull my hair out. Because I really, really loved their chemistry and just wanted them to for the love of all that was holy own up to it.

I’d sigh with relief when other things were brought up besides their, at this point, non-issues. The tiniest break from the drama was very much welcomed, like the little mentions of Victor’s job as a lawyer and hints of Mia and Jensen’s past relationship. The friendship between the group of friends was a strong point for me in the book. So imagine how happy I was to find out this was followed up by a novella and sequel focusing on other characters, because I really do enjoy Contreras’ writing.

Overall this was a lovely read and I enjoyed it enough to look into the author’s other books. Throes of fans of second chance loves, childhood friends into lovers and other related clichés will definitely walk away with a smile on their face.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claire is caring, smart, witty, and funny as heck. Despite being a New York Times Best Selling Author of a popular contemporary romance series, Claire doesn’t read many romance novels. However, when she sits down to write, those are the ones that pour from her fingers. Much to her displeasure, we like to say she’s a romantic at heart.

She is a breast cancer survivor who lives in Miami with her good looking husband, two adorable boys, three bulldogs, and two stray cats that she refuses to admit are hers (even though they live on her porch and she continues to feed them). When she’s not writing, she’s always lost in a book (the more suspenseful, the better). (via Goodreads)

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The Air He Breathes by Brittainy C. Cherry

The Air He Breathes by Brittainy C. CherryTitle: The Air He Breathes
Author: Brittainy C. Cherry
Series: Elements (Book #1)
Publication Date: September 25, 2015
Publisher: BCherry Books
Format: eBook
ISBN: 151738799X
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Purchase: Amazon
Summary: I was warned about Tristan Cole. “Stay away from him,” people said. “He’s cruel.” “He’s cold.” “He’s damaged.” It’s easy to judge a man because of his past. To look at Tristan and see a monster. But I couldn’t do that. I had to accept the wreckage that lived inside of him because it also lived inside of me. We were both empty. We were both looking for something else. Something more. We both wanted to put together the shattered pieces of our yesterdays. Then perhaps we could finally remember how to breathe.

My Thoughts:
I’ve read a lot of reviews praising this book, so I wanted to see what the big deal was and check it out for myself. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm by the end of it didn’t compare to the slew of 5-star reviews posted on Goodreads. I liked the book, sure. I actually really, really liked it. But there were a few things that I just couldn’t get into that affected my enjoyment during different parts of the story.

Let’s get the not-so-good out of the way first. This honestly could have been one of the most amazing books in its genre this year. Two extremely broken people getting second chances at love and life after a chance meeting is the perfect formula for a timeless romance. The last quarter of the book, however, just got really over-the-top that I had to go back and check if I was still reading the same book (I exaggerate, of course). And okay, I forgive the predictability early on in the story, but once my suspicions were confirmed, everything just took a downward spiral after that. It turned into one of those soap operas that I used to watch with my grandma when I stayed home from school.

But for what it’s worth, Cherry did an amazing job with her two main characters. She wrote with this fluid and metaphorical tone that cemented how right Tristan and Elizabeth’s relationship could be if they gave their hearts a chance. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there was one point fairly early on that made me stop reading and lay my head down on the table for a few seconds because oh my God above, it was the sweetest thing ever. Feathers. That’s all I can say. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. The way they coped with their pasts together bordered on destructive; I could feel how shattered they both were, but it was so fascinating and heavy and just raw. If you’re a fan of angst, have at this book. It’s chock-full of it.

I wish the book stayed consistent in its entirety. Unfortunately the last bit got really chaotic and rushed that I couldn’t even comprehend what was going on while I was reading it. I might have even skimmed over a few pages just to get to the epilogue (which maybe redeemed another half star, by the way). It’s upsetting for anyone when you have to resort to that. I would’ve rated it 5 stars otherwise, because it really was incredibly good to start off with.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittainy C. Cherry has been in love with words since the day she took her first breath. She graduated from Carroll University with a Bachelors Degree in Theatre Arts and a minor in Creative Writing. She loves to take part in writing screenplays, acting, and dancing–poorly of course. Coffee, chai tea, and wine are three things that she believes every person should partake in. Brittainy lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her family. When she’s not running a million errands and crafting stories, she’s probably playing with her adorable pets. (via Official Site)

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