Always the New Girl by Kelly Vincent

Always the New Girl by Kelly Vincent
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Knitting nerd Sarah Redmond is always the new girl, never the popular one.

Moving all over the country with her flighty mom seemed to be her lot in life, but her junior year at Sierra Vista High School feels like it could be different.

She’s finally on the verge of a social breakthrough.

But when she gets publicly punked at her first party, she and her new friends find a creative way to use their shared obsession with knitting to exact sweet revenge.

And when their efforts lead to a lucrative business, Sarah knows she’s set.

But when her deadbeat dad comes back around she starts to wonder if she should try for a different life, instead of following the paths her parents have chosen.

She’d always half thought her small-time knitting channel could grow into a big-time knitting channel, but maybe college as a backup plan isn’t such a ridiculous idea, after all.

But is that something a girl like her can really make happen?

This is a look at a girl who is determined not to follow in her mom’s footprints. Ms. Vincent has a gift for putting herself in the life of teenagers and sharing that life with us. Written in the first person, we are right with Sarah when she moves, with her mom to Sierra Vista, following yet another boyfriend, to start her junior year of high school. After some mean kids set her up (why do kids do that?), she is able to find friends who really like her the way she is.

The book is written in six parts with each part reading like a short short story. This can be a bit disconcerting, because there are times she refers back to something that happened in the previous part – like when you are reading the next book in the series. Other than that, which tended to take me out of the story briefly, I liked the pacing of the story.

Each section of the book had its own conflict, which kept the action moving and gave a good luck at the relationship she has with her friends. And, there is relationship drama – as an aside, I love the character of Alex and only wish all teenage boys were as mature as he is in the book.

The characters are well-drawn and three dimensional, which leads to a richer experience. I admire the main character a lot. She went through a lot during her life, and I enjoyed hearing how she became her own person in the two years this book covers.

Recommended for all teenagers.

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Seduced by a Selkie by Lauren Connolly

Seduced by a Selkie by Lauren Connolly
Folk Haven Book One
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Paranormal, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

All Delta needs is a cozy home, an odd dog, and a coffee shop with good wifi. She does not need a shifter bent on seduction.

Delta Novac hates her house on Lake Galen. The old place in the small town of Folk Haven is a reminder of her father’s mental decline in the last few years of his life. She’s just come to town to clear the thing out and get it ready to sell. Delta never even planned to dip a toe in the water until a prone body floating has her diving in to save the swimmer.

A selkie will know their mate when they are rescued.

Calder MacNamara wasn’t in need of saving, but he certainly appreciates the effort. Especially when the hands on his bare skin warm him to his core. The moment he meets the woman’s piercing stare, his gut tells him she’s his fated mate. But he soon finds that if Delta feels anything toward him, it’s annoyance. Accidentally insulting her dog doesn’t help his case.

With Delta’s focus on the road out of town, Calder scrambles to discover what, if anything, could make her stay. He’s willing to use all means of pleasure at his disposal to convince his mate that Folk Haven is the perfect place to call home. Especially if you’re a mythical creature.

Lauren Connolly’s Seduced by a Selkie, the first book in the Folk Haven series is a short, entertaining romance read. If you’re a fan of Kresley Cole or Gena Showalter, or you’re just on the lookout for a quick, entertaining cross between paranormal romance and urban fantasy book then this one’s for you!

Delta has returned home to the small town of Folk Haven after the death of her father. After she gets there, she sees a body floating in the lake one day and immediately goes into action to save them. Things get very awkward, however, once she realizes the man is not in fact drowning and is actually teaching a swimming class. The chemistry between Delta and Calder is evident from the start, but Delta is not interested in staying in Folk Haven and Calder has his work cut out for him to make her believe in their mythical bond before it’s too late.

One thing I love to see in romance novels is an emphasis on the importance of consent, and Calder in particular is a consent king. The relationship between Calder and Delta is one of ‘fated mates’, and from the moment they meet, Calder’s focus is on Delta’s comfort and pleasure (which includes making sure she’s comfortable with everything they are doing). Once the consent is there, the romance is spicy and hot (bordering on erotic romance, given the detailed scenes). I would not recommend this for younger readers – mature adult readers only, folks!

I’m a big fan of mythology and fantasy, so it was exciting to see that this book features the lesser known selkies. For those who might not be familiar, a selkie is a figure from Celtic and Norse mythology who is able to change forms between a human and a seal. Mermen are definitely more common in urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and I was quite amused when Calder grumpily referred to them as “fuckboys” (he’s obviously not a fan). In terms of worldbuilding, the author did a great job painting the picture with the setting. She also did a great job explaining how the bond dynamics work. There was some missed potential, however, with the actual folklore surrounding the selkies and other mythical creatures present in the universe of the Folk Haven series. This extended to being lost at times with how the dynamics between the various “mythics” in Folk Haven works. I hope to see the worldbuilding expanded in subsequent books so it’s not an issue in the future.

The author does mention the trigger warnings at the beginning of the book (which is appreciated). Still, I feel compelled to note in my review that potential readers should be aware that the book includes discussions of parental death, hoarding, and drowning. If any of these are potentially triggering, please take caution while reading.

Overall, Seduced by a Selkie was an engaging and interesting book. This series seems to be a set of interconnected standalones, so I’m curious to see where the author will take the story in the next book of the series, Sucker for a Siren.

Ugly by Kelly Vincent

Ugly by Kelly Vincent
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: YA
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Sophomore Nic Summers tries to ignore the taunts of “ugly lesbian.”

Because she’s not sure they’re entirely wrong. But she also has bigger concerns for now, including prepping for the school’s art contest. And while she isn’t certain of her sexuality, she does know her life is on the verge of falling apart when her best and only friend, Sam, drops the bomb that her family’s moving to Scotland. Together, to soften the blow and distract themselves from the inevitable, they start Operation Social Interaction for Nic—or OSIN for short—to try to find her some new friends.

But it’s an uphill battle for the introverted teen artist.

As Sam’s last day nears, Nic’s self-confidence wavers even more, and she starts questioning everything. If lesbian doesn’t feel quite right, maybe she’s transgender? It isn’t until she stumbles across the label “gender nonconforming” that things start to make a little more sense, and fall into place. But finding the right label doesn’t really tell her what to do next, and before she knows it, Sam is gone.

Mustering all her resources, Nic realizes she needs to find her own path and live her own truth.

What a heartrending book about a girl who doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone. Nic doesn’t feel like a girl, but doesn’t feel like a boy either. She’s confused. Her self-confidence is nonexistent. She’s carrying a secret burden. And, on top of it all, her best (and only) friend is moving away.

I enjoyed the book. I liked the growth that Nic makes through the story, and the way she is able to open up and see that there is more to life for her. Even though I’m way past the target age, I was able to remember back to my own high school years and remember the feelings of not quite fitting in. Thankfully, though, I never had to go through the bullying that she did… even from people she didn’t know. It did make me wonder if there weren’t any nice kids in that school.

I think it’s a book that all kids could benefit from reading… no matter how they feel about themselves. Kind of a “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” kinda thing. This would be an excellent book for discussion.

I’ve not read anything by this author before, but I’m looking forward to reading more. Thanks for a job well done, Ms. Vincent.

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Born to be Naughty by Hina Nauman

Born to be Naughty by Hina Nauman
Hanna the Guardian of Nature Book 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

How naughty can one child be? Did you ever put lizards in the food to end some boring adult party or did you ever wear a secret ink ring to mess with kids who annoy you, did you ever had this motto :

If someone gives you pee to drink, simply give them a potty to eat.

Imagine a kid like this.

And then imagine a kid like this makes her naughtiness double with a perfect addition of a best friend forever in her life.

If you have imagined all this, then it’s time to meet Hanna from the series Hanna the Guardian of nature. Hanna’s mischievous spirit is about to press her to one of her most daring thrills in these summer vacations.

Don’t confuse your head with Guardian and naughtiness going hand in hand. Simply read the book and let the confusion rest in peace.

Getting into trouble is easy when the adults aren’t paying attention!

Hanna was such an amusing main character. I adored her spirited personality, limitless energy, silly sense of humor, and cleverness. She was the sort of kid who made everything exciting and unpredictable. I could never guess what sort of mischief she was going to get into next or how the adults in her life would react to her hijinks! There was a lot of room left here for character growth, and that’s something I always like to see in the beginning of a new series. Hopefully, future sequels will spend more time exploring her personality and showing how she will change as she grows up.

It would have been helpful to have a tighter storyline in this book. The narrator often wandered off into tangents about Hanna’s early life, explanations of why Allah created so many different skin colors for people, or other topics. As interesting as they were to read, they were also a distraction from what was currently going on in her life. This was the only thing holding me back from giving a full five-star rating.

The relationship between Hanna and her parents made me smile. They were loving and accepting of her no matter what was going on in any of their lives. This isn’t always an easy thing for grownups to do when looking after an intelligent and hyperactive child, so it was nice to see her surrounded by understanding people who knew the difference between misbehavior and exuberance.

Born to be Naughty (Hanna the Guardian of Nature Book 1) was a funny and heartwarming read.

*Catching Quinn by Jennifer Bonds

*Catching Quinn by Jennifer Bonds
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

What’s a girl have to do to lose her virginity around here?

When I decided to ditch my V-card, I figured Greek Row was a sure thing.

I didn’t count on Cooper-the-cockblocking-jockhole-DeLaurentis or his misguided sense of bro code putting an embarrassing end to my hookup. After all, Waverly’s star wide receiver is the most notorious player on campus.

He’s arrogant. Infuriating. Sexy as hell.

Just ask him.

Worse? He’s made it his personal mission to scare off every guy who shows an interest in me. But I’m not about to be outwitted by a hypocritical baller with more ego than sense. I may be a hot mess, but I’m no pushover.

Two can play this game, and I’m playing to win.

This is a delightful story and I thought Jennifer Bonds did a wonderful job of capturing college life. I felt as though I was right there with Cooper and Quinn and I had so much fun being along for the ride.

While Cooper and Quinn attend the same college, their experiences are very different. Cooper is a star athlete on the football team and enjoys all the perks that come with that status. On the other hand, Quinn is studious, enjoys writing and isn’t into the party lifestyle. Even though Cooper and Quinn are so different from each other, they are perfect together, but they have to go through some ups and downs before everything works out.

This story is about growing up and learning to make important decisions in life that will affect the future. It is well written, I easily connected with the characters, and it held my interest from beginning to end. I enjoyed all the banter between all the characters and the dialogue was spot on. Cooper and Quinn have incredible chemistry, are great together and I enjoyed all of their interactions. This is another wonderful story by Jennifer Bonds.

Wild About Violet by Sara Blackard

Wild About Violet by Sara Blackard
Wild Hearts of Alaska Book 2
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Falling for my fake fiancée? Nope. Not gonna happen. I’m not about to ruin a great friendship with her over a pretend relationship.

Honestly, I had no idea the whole fake relationship front was a thing. When my biggest sponsor for my snowboarding career wanted to partner me up with my stalker teammate for a race around the world, I panicked and claimed my fiancée wouldn’t approve of me teaming up with the lunatic. Normally, I’m not big on lying, but, seriously …the psycho snuck into my hotel room during last winter’s Xtreme Games! Totally creeped me out.

My friend Violet didn’t bat an eye when I begged her to go along with the farce. She’s cool like that, willing to help out, even if it’s something ridiculous like pretending to be engaged. Probably because it gives her a break from the dating game.

You see, Violet hasn’t had the best luck with men lately. I’m betting it’s because of her silly notion that with one kiss, she’ll know if the guy is her one true love. I have no idea how she came up with that idea, but she’s determined it’s foolproof.

So, now we’re racing the globe together, doing insane stunts and puzzles, trying to win ten million dollars for my sponsor’s nonprofit. We’re having a blast, but I’ve got a major problem. I don’t think I want my fake fiancée to be fake anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m wild about Violet. But how do I convince her that her one kiss rule needs to be broken?

I thought the first book in the series was good, but this one is even better! Wild About Violet is not what I was expecting based on the blurb – it’s so much more!

Violet and Kemp are best of friends. They support each other, they have a history of enjoying sports adventures together and they think the world of each other. Their relationship is positive, wonderful and enjoyable. Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s the surface view. The story delves into some fascinating issues when it comes to Violet, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Violet’s family basically welcomed Kemp into their fold because they are that kind of loving, generous and giving people, whereas Kemp’s family was rich, snobby, controlling and judgmental. Not that readers will have to slog through any scenes showing that level of dysfunction – its aftereffects on the hero’s upbringing comes into play during the telling of the story. The author felt no need to add scenes creating unnecessary angst and I have to agree; the story is much better off without it. But knowing about it was helpful. It explains some of Kemp’s choices.

Now, Violet is the most interesting heroine I’ve ever read about. Her career in search and rescue is something to be respected. Her art is as unusual as she is, and just as beautiful. But there is a personal issue she has that is something she keeps close to her vest. Even some of the people you would expect to know, don’t know about it. I’m going to switch gears, and I hope this won’t be considered a spoiler. There’s this paranormal romance series I’ve been following for many years. There’s a character named Ethan who has this paranormal ability to memorize things at a glance down to the nth degree. You want to know how many shower tiles are in your bathroom? He can tell you, all he needs to do is glance at it once and he ‘knows’. He can remember everything in all its details down to the time, the colors, smells, what was said and what multiple people wore in that memory. I am sharing all of this because I thought such a thing didn’t exist, that it was truly a ‘paranormal thing’. Guess what? There’s FACT to back up the fiction! How it truly manifests in regular people and how it can affect their lives is at once fascinating and scary/sad at the same time. Ms. Blackard took this unknown-to-me ability and humanized it and made a reader feel the rollercoaster of emotions that such an ability creates in the person who has it. I won’t give the condition a name because Violet has her own reference to it that is unique. But I felt I had to share this in the review because it’s what makes the heroine’s character stand out from most heroines I’ve read about in the past couple of years. It’s also a contributing factor in the momentum of the story. So, yeah, it’s quite effective and important.

This is a sensual, closed-door romance. Lots of kissing and yearning, and close calls. The reasons they both resist taking the next step made perfect sense and made me respect them all the more. The whole plot of the story would have been compromised if the author took the easy path and used bed scenes as fillers. Instead, the main characters had to work through their differences, worries and doubts all while trying to win a race that took them through many countries and cultures.

Speaking of the race. That’s another thing I appreciated about Ms. Blackard’s approach to storytelling. She didn’t overdo, or info dump, nor skimp on the important things. She targeted her descriptions to create the atmosphere of the locales without diverting a reader’s attention from the romance, the focus of the story. It’s a fine line to walk and this author does it with ease. There are humorous encounters with the locals. There are many times I smiled, (chickens) and a few made me glassy-eyed, and one scene of extreme suspense and worry. I really felt for both Kemp and Violet and I not only wanted them to win the race, but I wanted them to win with their romance too. It’s true what the description says about Wild About Violet, it is a rom-com, it is fun and funny and it is heartwarming. But it only works because the author is a strong wordsmith who knows what her audience wants, and she delivers.

The story is told in first person point of view, but it takes turns telling it from Kemp’s side, and then from Violet’s. For me, it worked and I had a great time reading this novel. In fact, I can’t believe how fast I read it. Thank goodness there was an epilogue. Then again, the epilogue once again set me up for impatience. I met the hero for the next book and I can’t wait. One thing’s for sure, this guy is starting from zero in the opinion department because he wasn’t a nice guy back when they were all in school together. It’ll be very interesting to see how he not only wins the heroine over, but her whole family. This is going to be good.

Wild About Violet is a romance worth reading and I highly recommend it. It’s great entertainment, an awesome way to spend an afternoon and it made me feel really happy at the end.

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel by Rob Roy O’Keefe

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel by Rob Roy O’Keefe
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Satire, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

One town is just like another.

Except when it’s the focus of a wild experiment gone off the rails.

Duncan and Maya Small have just moved to an out-of-the-way town full of odd characters, quirky customs, and a power-obsessed local official who believes he should be declared emperor. Duncan is sharp enough to know something needs to change, and delusional enough to believe he’s the one to make it happen. The only thing standing in his way are feral ponies, radical seniors, common sense, and Duncan’s inability to do anything without a list. Oh, and an entire town that won’t take him seriously.

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel, is a tale of power, bake sales, manipulation, the Welcome Wagon, deception, and yes, diabolical forces at work in the shadows, although the Smalls soon discover nothing is as it seems. One thing is certain – there’s something funny going on here.

Everything has a rational explanation, right?

My favorite scenes were the ones that dug into the unexpected results of small town politics. Sometimes conflicts with the lowest and pettiest stakes can be the most interesting because of how personally invested people can be in making sure that they receive recognition for their work or that someone they dislike is not chosen for a particular position or award. The author did an excellent job of portraying how frustrating and unintentionally hilarious these moments can be, especially to outsiders who are not yet aware of how seriously some folks take these matters.

I had trouble following the plot due to how often it veered off track to explain all sorts of random bits of information that were loosely related to what the characters were currently doing. This is something I’m saying as someone who generally enjoys these sorts of rabbit trails in stories. They can be a great deal of fun to read, but they happened too often here for this reader’s tastes.

The dialogue was funny and well written. All of the characters had natural speaking voices, and I could easily imagine their conversations happening in real life. This was true even for the zany ones that talked about things like how to keep pufferfish out of their community even though no pufferfish had yet been found there. People do sometimes talk about silly things like this, and the way they spoke in this book rang true to me.

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel made me chuckle.

She’s the One Who Won’t Behave by S.R. Cronin

She’s the One Who Won’t Behave by S.R. Cronin
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Rose

Gypsum, the sixth of seven sisters, has always been a rebel. Yet no one thought she would go so far as to join the reczavy, a group living in tents on the edge of the desert and known for their sexual promiscuity and playful ways.

But as the date of the Mongols’ return draws near, Ilarians of all types must work together if they are to have any hope of surviving. And the reczavy, for all of their odd ways, do have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. Well, up their sleeves whenever they are bothering to wear clothes, that is.

Gypsum is touched when her oldest sister Ryalgar comes to call, and brings an olive branch with her. Ryalgar recognizes that the reczavy have as much to lose as anyone, and as much to contribute. Will Gypsum accept a key role in the plan to stop the invasion? Of course she will.

Unfortunately, her playmates don’t all feel the same sense of urgency. Many would rather simply enjoy the time they have left. A few claim to be allergic to long term planning. And some are too busy with their own poorly-timed plans to overthrow the government Ilari already has.

Good thing needlepoint is the one traditional skill at which Gypsum has always excelled. She will need to thread a fine needle in order to coax this recalcitrant group into becoming life-saving warriors of a very different kind.

Another great installment in the Seven Troublesome Sisters series! This time we get a look at Gypsum and her life with the reczavy, a free-spirited group who are very accepting and inclusive … they appear to be a very loving group. This volume tells how they fit into the overall plan of saving their land.

I really enjoyed the special power that Gypsum has with her needlework. What a lovely talent that would be! I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll let you discover that on your own.

I’m very excited about how the seventh book is going to tie everything together. Again, no spoilers, but this book came to a very satisfying conclusion.

Give the series a try…do start at book one, though. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

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*Tight Ends & Tiaras by Lex Martin

*Tight Ends & Tiaras by Lex Martin
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Football is one hundred percent the focus of my life—until a squawking toddler, with a temper to rival my own, lands in my lap and flips my life upside down.

I’ll never be Dad of the Year. Anyone will tell you that. Except maybe Sienna, my sister’s former roommate, who somehow manages to make my broody ass laugh and sees something in me no one else does.

When Sienna offers to let me and my little princess move in with her, I’m not sure if it’s to help or because she wants revenge on my teammate and long-time rival, who broke her heart.

Either way, I’m game. Because I need to get my ex off my back, and Sienna doesn’t mind pretending to be my girlfriend.

Only neither of us is ready for the sparks that fly between us or the consequences when they do.

I love everything Lex Martin writes, so I was excited to read her newest book in the Varsity Dads series. Tight Ends & Tiaras, is heartwarming and so much fun to read. I was quickly turning the pages to find out what would happen next.

I love stories about college athletes and this one is about Ben, a sensitive football player, who is surprised to find out he is a father. Ben is smart, charming and an all around good guy. He easily captured my heart and I loved the way he treats Sienna.

Sienna is also easy to connect with. She is strong, compassionate and always sees the best in everyone.

Ben and Sienna are wonderful together and I enjoyed all of their interactions. They have so much chemistry, it literally jumps off the pages. Unfortunately, they both have jealous, conniving ex’s who like to cause trouble.

This is a well written, intoxicating story that immediately pulled me in. It has realistic character development and a plot that held my interest. Lex Martin made this story come alive and I devoured every word.

His Heart’s Home by Susan Carlisle

His Heart’s Home by Susan Carlisle
Modern Masters of Their Castle, Book 3
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

When opposites attract…sparks ignite!

Historical architect Jordan Glass moves to rural England in her continued effort to escape an affair gone wrong that included losing a baby while in college. Eight years later still vowing to steer clear of relationships, she takes on a job rebuilding a damaged manor knowing it’s the perfect place to live in solitude. What she doesn’t plan on is Craig Lewis the owner arriving before the work is finished. Worse he brings his daughter along and they must share temporary lodging with Jordon.

Craig is shocked when his ex-wife drops their pre-teen daughter on his doorstep – permanently. He struggles to relate to his angry child and desperately wants to gain her trust. To give her a secure place to live he decides to renovate a wing of his family home Llywelyn Hall. Life is further complicated by him being sexually drawn to the beautiful architect. Equally frustrating is Jordon communicates with his daughter far better than he.
Craig’s family struggle tugs at Jordon’s heartstrings. Against her better judgement, Jordon is pulled deeper into their lives, tipping friendship over into desire.

A world of hurt, lots of money, but lots of love…if they’re willing to take it.

I love the books of Susan Carlisle and this one didn’t disappoint. I think it’s my new favorite. I loved the characters, loved the writing and loved getting swept up in the story. It was a great escape for a few hours.

Jordon isn’t looking to get involved with anyone and Craig has tons of his own problems–including now being a single father. I liked the way the author wrote the push-pull between father and daughter. It was easy to see the characters and know they loved each other, even when they had a hard time of showing it. I liked the wait Jordon helped the situation, too. She’s the perfect ointment. Plus, the chemistry between her and Craig is great.

If you’re looking for a wonderful romance read, then this is the one for you. Recommended.