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JenniferLane

Jennifer Lane Books

Hi, I'm Jen, a psychologist/author (psycho author) in Columbus, Ohio. I write romantic suspense for adults and new adults. And I'm a voracious reader of romance and fiction. I love laughing, swimming, volleyball, and Grumpy Cat.

Currently reading

Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women
Patricia J. Ohlott, Marian N. Ruderman
The Space Between
Victoria H. Smith
Chasing Hope
Kathryn Cushman

Carol Oates' review of The Darkest Part by Trisha Wolfe

Reblogged from CarolOates:
The Darkest Part (Living Heartwood) - Trisha Wolfe

 

I started reading this the other day, got 2 chapters in and got sidetracked. I couldn't wait to get back to it. I spent today just inhaling the words. So, so good. I feel like the author ripped my guts out and fed them through a pasta maker, then patched me up and gave me cuddles, kittens, and ice-cream until I was all better. I've always loved books by this author but, by gum, this is one fantastic, thoroughly researched and well written story.

I loved the romance, but what really got me was the brutal honesty of the story and the descriptions of how far grief can suck a person down.

Highly recommended, especially for those who love slow burn or second chance romance with realistic characters.

 

The Darkest Part (Living Heartwood) - Trisha Wolfe     

Fix You - Beck Anderson Fixated on This Story!

How does a woman move on after the death of her husband? Having two adorable sons and supportive parents helps. But what really does the trick is falling in love with a humble movie star who needs some fixing of his own.

So goes the romance of Kelly and Andrew, who meet when Kelly breaks down sobbing on a run. Andrew's in town for a film shoot, and he feels sad to learn it's the two year anniversary of Kelly's husband's death. They gradually get to know each other. Can a famous actor and a down-to-earth widow make this long distance relationship work? It'll be tough, given Kelly's lovable neuroticism, Andrew's shady past, and initial exchanges like this:

He fishes his cell phone and sunglasses out of the car. "Can I get your number?"
"You don't want my number."
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't." Seriously, is he kidding?
"Do too." He shakes his head. "This is insane. Why not?"
"Look at you. Come on."
He stares at me with those very blue eyes. "Don't be ridiculous. Give me your number."


I loved the unique setting of Boise (said with an "s", not a "z"!) and the realistic characters. But what I loved most of all was the humor. MAJOR props for the mention of that Saturday Night Live skit "Master Thespian!" As well as these quotes:

Starting the first day I get little texts each day:
"Development meeting in 90210. Lady across from me has taken 'bee stung' lips to a horrifying new level."

"You'll fly down here. A quick visit. Now go, make the phone calls. Make it so."
"I will see what I can do, Jean-Luc Picard. You're a huge nerd."
"You're the one who knows the name of the captain."

The salesgirl is done giving me the up and down. "Size six is the largest we go."
"I'm sorry, I missed it. Did the sign above the door say Big Heads on a Toothpick R Us?"

If my life were a movie this'd be the part where the montage begins. You know, they'd play a kicky song like "Walking on Sunshine," and there'd be shots of Andrew and me getting ice cream, riding bicycles through the park, playfully doing lots of things as a happy couple.


Ha ha ha!

The only part of the story I didn't eat up was when Kelly reveals something about her deceased husband Peter toward the end of the novel. That part of the story didn't quite seem to fit as essential, unless I'm missing something.

Kelly and Andrew admire Ernest Hemingway, and it appears author [a:Beck Anderson|7178862|Beck Anderson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1374114599p2/7178862.jpg] does as well, evidenced by her short sentences and overall clean writing.

Spend some time with Kelly and Andrew and you'll enjoy them as much as I do!
Visitation Street - Ivy Pochoda I Don't Want to Visit This Street

This was a book club read that never grabbed me emotionally, which made it difficult for me to finish. But I did want to see the resolution of the mystery, so I plodded through.

Valerie is a fifteen-year-old who lives in Red Hook -- an impoverished harbor town within sight of New York City. She and her friend June grow restless on a hot summer night and take a flimsy raft out onto the water.

Cree is a young man (19ish?) who also is restless, and he follows the girls' floating journey with fascination. Cree's father was killed in a neighborhood shooting years ago, and his mother now talks to the dead. He has dreams of attending college but worries about his mother and his family making it without him. Although sensing a presence watching him that night, Cree jumps in the water to join the girls, but the swift current blocks his advance and he loses sight of them.

Jonathan is a music teacher alcoholic who stumbles upon Valerie's injured body the next morning and brings her to the owner of a local convenience store: Hafi. Jonathan and Hafi get her to the hospital.

But where's June? What happened to her?

The story weaves together the lives of Red Hook residents -- White, Black, Latino, and Muslim. It's gritty and raw, and well written. It deftly explores the gray of humanity. But I have two complaints:

1) Visitation Street is mired in depression, with no sense of hope.

2) I didn't emotionally connect with the characters.

This book has received positive critical reviews, so you may enjoy it more than I did.
The Summer Garden - Paullina Simons AMAZING Series!

*Sigh* Alexander Barrington is my favorite book boyfriend. He's tall, dark, and brooding, with an intense love for his Russian bride Tatiana. He's just so real, with all of his flaws (chain smoking, jealousy, and difficulty learning from the past). This book--the third installment in [b:The Bronze Horseman|83144|The Bronze Horseman (The Bronze Horseman, #1)|Paullina Simons|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327921996s/83144.jpg|12615171] series--shows Alexander at his worst, but I still love him.

After Tatiana moved mountains in [b:Tatiana and Alexander|83143|Tatiana and Alexander (The Bronze Horseman, #2)|Paullina Simons|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1171036640s/83143.jpg|594714] (book two in the series), she and Alexander are finally ready to start a life together. No more Dasha, no more Dmitri, no more war...

Sadly, the war isn't behind them. Alexander is a shell of a man after years of serving in a penal battalion and enduring beastly treatment in prisons, and he takes out his traumatic stress on his young wife and son. But if anyone can heal a man, Nurse Tania is the one.

There's a part of this story that's horrifying, testing the foundation of their marriage. I wanted to slap Alexander for his stupidity. But Tatiana has her own penchant for stubbornness that doesn't smooth out the conflict either.

This was a series re-read so I skipped the scenes of a young Tatiana at Lazarevo. I don't believe they add much to the story. I also found the family gathering at the end of the story rather cheesy. I love Paullina Simons's writing when she focuses on her hero and heroine. But the family interactions at the beginning and end of the series seem corny to me.

If you're looking for a gripping, emotional read, then check out this series! It stays with you for some time.
Unmade - Carol Oates The Link Between Science and Horror

[a:Carol Oates|3988619|Carol Oates|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1289245108p2/3988619.jpg], you have officially horrified me with this taut, suspenseful novella.

Lincoln (Link) Downing is a young man who becomes intimate for the first time with his girlfriend Nancy, after senior prom, only to crash his car and suffer a near-fatal head injury. Luckily neurosurgeon Matthew saves Lincoln with his revolutionary brain treatment.

Dr. Matthew still pines for Lincoln's mother Kathleen, who married another man when Matthew left town to study medicine. Here, Matthew observes Kathleen:

She'd twisted her rich, caramel hair into a knot at the back of her head, highlighting the gentle sweeping curve of her long throat. She wore a black, form-fitting shift dress that stopped just below her knees, displaying her shapely calves and slim ankles. Matthew couldn't deny she'd aged well, showing only a few fine lines around her eyes--eyes that seemed sad and tired now.

I love Carol's descriptions.

While grateful to Matthew for saving his life, Lincoln doesn't feel quite himself. Are the brain treatments working like they should? He starts to have vicious nightmares of a monster killing its prey aka Lincoln's friends.

Are those nightmares merely dreams? Or REALITY? Mwa ha ha!

Check out this chilling tale!
Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater Lingering Longing

Despite paranormal romance not being my favorite genre, I've been wanting to read this book forever due to praise I've heard from Goodreads friends. And it didn't disappoint.

Grace is an old soul stuck in a teenager's body. She and her parents live in the frigid Minnesota wild, on the border of a forest where she sees wolves watching her. One yellow-eyed wolf stands out in particular -- maybe he saved her once from the pack killing her?

When the wolf shows up on her back stoop, naked in his human form after being hunted in the woods . . . that's when the fun begins. Sam and Grace already have a deep connection and they barely know each other.

I loved Sam's poignant, vulnerable voice:

I was suddenly struck by how dissimilar we were. It occurred to me that if Grace and I were objects, she would be an elaborate digital clock, synced up with the World Clock in London with technical perfections, and I'd be a snow globe -- shaken memories in a glass ball.

Describing yourself as a snow globe? That is so cool. The descriptions in this story are lyrical and vivid:

His lips tasted cool and sharp, peppermint, winter, but his hands, soft on the back of my neck, promised long days and summer and forever.

and

It was as if I had thought all along I was a complete picture, and Sam had revealed that I was a puzzle, and had taken me apart into pieces and had put me back together again. I was acutely aware of each distinct emotion, all fitting together tightly.

Including the temperature readings under each title was a nice touch since temperature played such a big role in the werewolf lore of this story.

Other readers have told me this series disappointed them after book one, so I'm not sure I will continue. If you've read all three books, what did you think?
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me - Ellen Forney She Lost Her Marbles (But Found Them Again)

Graphic novels and I don't get along well, so the fact I'm rating this one with four stars tells you how much it pleased and surprised me.

Ellen Forney is a cartoonist and teacher who begins to suffer severe mood swings in her twenties. It rocks her world to receive a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. What does an artist turn to in order to deal with such earth-shaking news? Well, ART, of course. This graphic novel documents her journey through therapy, medication and life with this daunting diagnosis.

In this case, the drawings, doodles, and other images clarify and uplift the story rather than distracting me (like in other graphic novels). Ms. Forney has a keen sense of humor, humility and insight that drive the story. And for those diagnosed with Bipolar I or II, I imagine this book can enlighten their journey as well.

This story explores the link between mental illness and creativity . . . are the two inextricably linked? Will medications like lithium and Lamictil silence one's artistic voice? This question reminds me of [b:A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man|7588|A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man|James Joyce|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309376772s/7588.jpg|3298883], which posits that perhaps suffering is necessary for art. Does that suffering entail untreated mental illness, though? I believe Ms. Forney answers this question in a satisfactory manner.

I liked the thick pages and clever drawings so much that I bought a copy of my own.
The Redemption of Callie & Kayden - Jessica Sorensen This Redemption Fell A Bit Flat

[b:The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden|16113791|The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden (The Coincidence, #1)|Jessica Sorensen|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1353550763s/16113791.jpg|21930423] was such a wonderful read that I had high hopes for the sequel. Unfortunately, I felt disappointed. Fans of this series clamored for book two after book one ended on an evil cliffhanger. I wonder if the author rushed the release of [b:The Redemption of Callie and Kayden|16718083|The Redemption of Callie and Kayden (The Coincidence, #2)|Jessica Sorensen|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1366785115s/16718083.jpg|22957415] as a result.

Every book will have a typo or two no matter how polished, but my ebook is rife with errors. The beginning dragged for me, so the pacing needs work. I also thought the exposition needs tightening.

Kayden's in residential psychiatric treatment at the beginning of the story. The introduction of his therapist certainly didn't impress me.

"Tell me how you feel," the therapist says.
He says it every God damn time.
And every God damn time I give him the same response.
"I feel fine."


Really? This nincompoop therapist supposedly has a Ph.D. from Berkley? Thankfully he gets a little better, but this inept portrayal ticked me off at first.

When Callie says 10% into the book "Maybe it's time to quit being so scared," I thought AMEN. Too bad it takes her so long to follow through with action. It seems like weeks that she's apart from Kayden, with no real purpose for their separation (other than to keep him with the ninny psychologist).

Here's an example of my struggle with the writing style:

Seth starts thrusting his hips wildly as he flicks the end of his lighter and puts it up to the tip of the cigarette. The paper curls in and turns black as he takes a long drag.

I'm not an editor but I think this could be stated more economically, something like Seth thrusts his hips as he lights his cigarette. He takes a long drag." or something like that. The extra verbiage distracted me.

I did love moments like these:

I start to shove my finger down my throat, when suddenly I see Kayden lying on the floor. Helpless. He needs help...I might not be able to take away Kayden's past pain but maybe I can help with his future pain. I move my finger from my mouth and it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Callie really knows how to help Kayden. And Seth is a wonderful character.

"No, but I've never been one for wise ideas," Seth says. "I believe in irrational, fleeting decisions that keep life interesting."

Callie makes great progress in securing her redemption. But Kayden's story feels unfinished. Instead of feeling buoyed from these characters triumphing over pain, I felt "meh".

Ms. Sorenson does an excellent job evoking emotion with her characters. She tackles tough issues like self-mutilation and eating disorders with rawness and accuracy. That's why the poor editing bugs me, because this story has so much potential.
The Sea of Tranquility - Katja Millay Beautiful Story

The Sea of Tranquility Cookie

A pretty girl leaves her parents' house to live with her aunt, and to attend a different high school for her senior year. She wears thick, black eyeliner and hooker clothing, and she calls herself Nastya yet has no Russian heritage. Although she doesn't speak, she radiates rage.

Why does she do this?

So begins the mystery of The Sea of Tranquility. This book sucks you in and doesn't let you go.

When I read:

My eyes are drawn to the old-school metal hand-crank pencil sharpener on the principal's desk. I focus on the ring of adjustable pencil holes and wonder idly if my pinky finger would fit into any of them. I'm contemplating how much it would hurt to sharpen it, and how much blood there might be...

...I knew Nastya had experienced something horribly nasty in her life.

At the "highly unsupervised hell dimension" otherwise known as lunch, Nastya notices a boy who everyone avoids, like he has a force field around him. His name is Josh, and he loves woodworking. Josh has pain of his own, having suffered the deaths of his parents, sister, and grandparents.

Nastya jogs at a punishing pace in the Florida heat in order to calm her agitated mind. On one run, she stumbles upon Josh doing carpentry in his garage. He doesn't say much, and she doesn't talk at all. But a few nights later Nastya returns to watch him work. She's constantly observing, taking in every movement.

The sob-fest started for me when Josh makes her a chair. I had the great fortune to win cookies for this book (see the cover cookie above). Check out this gorgeous quote about this momentous event in their relationship:

Place to belong

Josh is friends with man-whore Drew, and by extension, Nastya becomes Drew's friend too. I loved the complex characterization. To say Nastya doesn't trust easily is the understatement of the year, yet somehow she allows both Josh and Drew into her circle of trust. These teens are smarter and wiser than their years. Listen to this astute observation Nastya makes:

I stayed in therapy long enough to know that nothing that happened to me was my fault. I didn't do anything to invite it or deserve it. But that just makes it worse. Maybe I don't blame myself for what happened, but when they tell you that something was completely and utterly random, they're also telling you something else. That nothing you do matters. It doesn't matter if you do everything right, if you dress the right way and act the right way and follow all the rules, because evil will find you anyway. Evil's resourceful that way.

Chilling yet true. We have trouble accepting that bad things aren't all fault because when we do, we give up all control for preventing the bad stuff from happening again.

I also loved the snarky voice of the author, like:

Immoral people debating the existence of God is always a crowd pleaser.

Josh refers to Nastya as "Sunshine", LOL.

Sunshine

But when Nastya and Josh share a moment of connection, her face does shine like the sun:

description

Thank God there's not a cliffhanger after all the pain these characters endure. Thank God for resolution and healing -- realistic healing, like:

I'm trying to see the magic in everyday miracles now: the fact that my heart still beats, that I can lift my feet off the earth to walk, and that there is something in me worthy of love.

Amen, Nastya and Josh. You're both quite lovable.

I implore you to pick up this book and fall in love with these characters just like I have.
The Siren - Tiffany Reisz The Dark Call of the Siren

This beautifully written story was insightful and deep, but ultimately too hopeless for my tastes.

Nora is an erotica author whose most recent manuscript holds the promise of making her not just a successful writer, but a great writer. She needs a crack editor to make that happen. Englishman Zach isn’t thrilled when he’s assigned to edit her “gutter-snipe” writing, but he soon finds Nora is classier and deeper than any writer he’s known.

Nora’s assistant is a young college boy, Wesley…an interesting pairing. She’s a sex goddess, and he’s a virgin.

Nora says this about Wesley:

”He’s a Methodist. He’s trying to save me. Methodists are all about saving people.”

That cracked me up since I’m a Methodist too. ;-)

Wesley is disgusted when Nora shows up bruised and beaten following an anniversary meeting with her former Dominant, Soren.

Soren is one of the hottest and scariest book characters I’ve ever encountered. His profession shocked me, and his presence in the story made the pages fly by.

Nora was in Soren’s arms, his mouth on hers. He tasted like fire and wine. She pressed into him, the dawn of her body meeting the horizon of his.

If you seek a philosophical understanding of the BDSM lifestyle, this book provides it. Why do certain individuals seek pain? Why does pain, both giving and/or receiving, turn them on?

”That’s why I believe, Zach,” Nora continued. “Because of all gods, Jesus alone understands. He understands the purpose of pain and shame and humiliation.”
“What is the purpose?” Zach asked.
“For salvation, of course. For love.”


Or as Soren explains to Zach as he shows him his playrooms:

“Pain is a gift from God. It imparts understanding, wisdom. Pain is life. And here we give pain as freely as we give pleasure.”

Nora compares a preference for Dominance/submission to a language one speaks:

Her instincts told her to throw him on his back, tie him down and have her way with him. Lying there so passively while he touched and kissed her felt so unusual, as if he was making love to her in a foreign language, a beautiful language to hear, but one she didn’t understand.

Editor Zach is new to this pain/pleasure dynamic, but even he understands:

But there was nothing but the cold, hard truth that loving someone and being loved back was only the beginning, not the end, of the pain.

How true! There were some fascinating thoughts in this novel.

Nora has three men in her life (Zach, Wesley, and Soren), and it’s unclear which one she’ll choose. It’s unclear which one she should choose.

When Soren touched her she became his. When Wesley touched he, she became herself.

The unique characterization of each man is definitely a strength of this novel. I also enjoyed the faltering relationship between Zach and his wife:

Zach paused. How could he describe his wife to anyone? To him Grace was the open arms he fell into when he crawled into bed at 2:00 a.m. after staying up reading a new manuscript. She was the laughing water thief in the shower at least one morning a week. She was the quiet comfort and the hand he’d been unable to let go of at his mother’s funeral three years ago.

There are brief glimpses of light in this story, like:

“You men,” Nora said. “The bra clasp defeats you every time.”
“I think a demonic engineer must have designed these things. I may have to get the bolt cutters.” Wesley finally got the clasp undone.
“Watch out. Bras are often booby-trapped,” Nora warned.


But ultimately, this novel left me feeling heavy and sad. I like to end with more of a sense of hope in people and in the world.
On Dublin Street (On Dublin Street, #1) - Samantha Young This Time the Woman Has Commitment Issues

This story engrossed me until the last few chapters, when I thought Jocelyn's commitment issues dragged on a bit too long.

Jocelyn "Joss" Butler is an American living in Scotland, a recent college graduate, who seeks an apartment after her best friend and roommate moves out of town. On her way to view a posh place on Dublin Street, Joss shares a cab with a hot business man she nicknames "The Suit".

Their meeting is fantastic. I was drooling over The Suit just as much as Joss was:

Perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, the Suit wasn't classically handsome, but there was a twinkle in his eyes and a curl to the corner of his sensual mouth that, together with the rest of the package, oozed sex appeal. I could tell from the lines of the extremely well-tailored expensive silver-gray suit that he wore, that he worked out. He sat with the ease of a fit guy, his stomach iron flat under the waistcoat and white shirt. His pale-blue eyes seemed bemused beneath their long lashes.

A strong, masculine face stared into mine--sharp jawline, a cleft chin, wide cheekbones, and a Roman nose. Dark stubble shadowed his cheeks, and his dark hair was kind of messy. Altogether, his rugged unkemptness seemed at odds with the stylish designer suit.


*fans self* He's surprised Joss doesn't ask him for his number (arrogant arse), and she dishes it right back to him. Love their banter!

All too soon the cab ride is over and Joss meets her new roommate--a friendly woman named Ellie--in the Dublin Street flat. Ellie explains that her brother built the gorgeous flat and gave it to her. When Ellie leaves for a grad school class, Joss christens her new home with a luxurious bubble bath. But whoops, she forgot to bring a towel into the bathroom. When she emerges naked into the hallway, who is there catching a glimpse?

The Suit! Oh, shit. Turns out The Suit is Ellie's older brother Braden.

Despite Braden having a bitchy girlfriend, he has his eyes on Joss. But Joss wants nothing to do with him. Or so she wants to believe.

All I could think about was Braden shirtless, with me wrapped around him like a tortilla.

Joss has a horribly sad past. Her entire family died in a car accident, and her best friend from high school died too. Poor lass has panic attacks whenever she thinks about her family. Like any trauma survivor, she's hesitant to disclose her losses, and avoids getting close to others at any cost.

Too bad she and Braden have such an intense attraction to each other.

"Braden, I don't want anything to happen between us."
He raised an eyebrow, clearly unconvinced. "Tell that to your damp knickers, babe."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "You are such a dick."
He grinned and leaned down to brush a soft kiss across my lips. "I'll see you tomorrow."


One reason I enjoyed this book is that Joss attends therapy, and the therapy scenes seem realistic to me. I like Dr. Pritchard, and I cheered when the psychologist told Joss:

"What I'm trying to say, Joss, is perhaps you should stop being a martyr. Perhaps what is best for Braden is having you in his life."

Amen! Too bad Joss takes such a long time to realize this. But change is hard.

Overall a funny, sexy, sweet story!
Dare You To - Katie McGarry Dare to Break Free of Family Cages

I adored Katie McGarry's first novel in this series ([b:Pushing the Limits|10194514|Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits, #1)|Katie McGarry|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1322770025s/10194514.jpg|15093690]), so naturally I was eager to read book two. And Dare To You did not disappoint. The gripping elements of secrets, poverty, family dysfunction, and brilliant characterization of mismatched lovers weave a common thread through both books.

Beth Risk doesn't take risks with her heart. She's been burned too many times. Beth points to the past boyfriend who used her for sex as the source of her mistrust, but more likely it's her parents' abandonment, neglect, and abuse that have molded her dark view of the world. Beth's mother is a drug addict who keeps returning to her asshat boyfriend Trent despite his penchant for beating Beth and her mother. When Beth takes the fall for her mother and gets arrested, her long lost uncle Scott shows up to yank her out of the mess.

But Beth is far from grateful for living with her wealthy ex-pro-baseball-player uncle because now she can't make sure her mother stays alive. To add to her heartache, Uncle Scott wrenches her away from her friends Isaiah and Noah. Beth is miserable at her new school. Even the handsome star baseball pitcher Ryan Stone can't bring her out of her funk. Beth thinks his life is perfect, so why the hell would he be interested in her?

In reality, Ryan's life is far from the perfect image his parents project to the small town Kentucky community. When Ryan's older brother came out to his parents, his father disowned him. Now there's hidden conflict between Ryan's parents. Ryan has to decide whether to try to go pro or go to college on a baseball scholarship. His father doesn't care what Ryan wants to do--he cares only about appearances.

Beth's mother is some piece of work. I HATE her. Listen to what she tells Beth:

Mom throws her head back as she drinks. "You're right. I do blame you. Your father would never have left it it wasn't for you."

Wow. She gets my vote for worst mother of the year. Yet Beth keeps returning to her, which is frustrating but realistic. Beth continues to search for the love she never received.

Beth intrigues Ryan because she's so different from him. He follows all the rules. She breaks them. He strives to please authority figures. She couldn't care less. He can't get her out of his mind. How can she be so hostile? Why does she dye her beautiful blond hair black? (The reason is devastating). Is there any sense of vulnerability hidden deep down beneath that frosty exterior? As he describes it:

Like other predators, Beth can smell fear.

Ha ha! Ryan is a great mixture of strength and softness. As a sports fan, I loved the element of baseball in the story.

It's hard to pinpoint but there seemed to be a little lag in the pacing toward the end of the story, which was the story's only negative for me.

Katie McGarry opens the novel with this Chinese proverb:

"It is the beautiful bird which gets caged."

What a deft metaphor for this heartbreaking couple busting free of their respective families.
Crank - Ellen Hopkins Just Say No to Crank

What a harrowing read! Crank is based on author Ellen Hopkins' daughter descent into drug addiction -- her dance with the "monster" otherwise known as methamphetamine.

I wish I didn't read the spoiler in the author's note because I knew what awaited Kristina, the good-girl-turned-drug-addict. And it wasn't pretty.

The writing is in verse. At first I wasn't sure I'd like it but then the raw emotion of the poetry drew me in. I think poetry is actually the perfect choice for a descent into hell like this. It made the fall faster and more horrifying. Here Kristina contemplates seeking the monster again:

And it occurred to me for one uneasy moment
that every move I had made lately might have
started a landslide.

What if I couldn't go back? What if I died in the crash?

Almost immediately, the monster soothed
me, confused me with a deeper question
What if the ride was worth it?


Hopkins perfectly captures the angel and devil sitting on the addict's shoulder. Sure, drug addiction is hell, but who wants to be an angel all the time? What if the fall down to hell is fun and free?

Question to those who have read this: what does GUFN mean? Kristina refers to GUFN when she gets grounded but I missed the explanation.

Kristina's father is an addict himself, and his abuse/neglect infuriated me. Her mother and stepfather Scott try to stop her from using, but they battle an uncontrollable monster.

Mom and Scott believed
they'd bitten the bullet
Little did they know
I hadn't yet fired
off the full
round


Another aspect of addiction is tolerance . . . needing more and more of the substance to feel high, until you use not to feel good but just to get to baseline. The way meth destroys the brain, pretty soon nothing brings pleasure.

You know how spotting an eagle
cruising low over
the treetops,
or watching a baby finally master
the try-try-again
of walking makes you glow all over?

You know how singing a beautiful song
with dead-on pitch,
or getting every test answer right,
including the extra credit
brainteaser,
makes you feel like you could take on the world?

Somewhere on my stroll
with the monster.

I'd lost these things.


Kristina loses just about everything. To answer her earlier question, I don't think it was worth it. Not at all. But this read is definitely worth it. It's gripping, gritty, and real.
The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden (The Coincidence, #1) - Jessica Sorensen Healing From Pain Together

Thank you to Mitsy for recommending this soul-crushing read. She knows I love tortured heroes, and Kayden is one of the best. And oh goody, the heroine Callie is tortured too! *claps*

Callie just finished high school, where she was considered "the Anorexic Satan Worshipper", especially by mean girls like Daisy. Daisy is the girlfriend of popular high school quarterback Kayden. Callie discovers a secret about Kayden in the first chapter that challenges her former unidimensional view of him. Later, she likens their meeting to this quote:

In the existence of our lives, there is a single coincidence that brings us together, and for a moment, our hearts beat as one.

Almost too scared to hope, Callie seeks a fresh start at college. Luckily she meets quirky gay friend Seth, the fag to her hag. I love when Seth tells Daisy off:

"I don't know what you're being so cocky about girl," he says. "Take away that push up bra, fake tan, dyed hair, and fancy clothes, and all you'd be is a slightly overweight girl with a really bad nose job."

Kayden is the youngest of three athletic brothers, and his secret is that his alcoholic father has abused all three of them. Here's a typical night when Kayden was twelve:

He stalked toward me, his pupils swallowing his eyes, and I could smell the alcohol on his breath from clear across the room. He was bigger than me, stronger than me, and he had a look on his face that let me know he was about to use it to his full advantage and there was nothing I could do about it.

I knew the drill. Get up and hide, otherwise he wouldn't have time to cool off. But I couldn't move. I kept thinking about my brothers who were gone and had left me behind like an old t-shirt. We used to be in this together, now it was just me. I started to cry like a f-ing baby, and I knew it was only going to piss him off more.


How Kayden deals with his low self-esteem is horrifying--a self-destructive behavior more common in girls than boys.

Callie has a secret too. There's a good reason she doesn't feel worthy enough to nourish herself with food. There's a good reason she dresses in dark, baggy clothes. These characters have been through hell. As Kayden says, "I can handle scars, especially ones that are on the outside."

Gah! This story had me hooked from page one, and I cried several times. It's a sweet romance, not cheesy or predictable. I loved how Callie and Kayden help each other through devastating pain and fear.

How about that cliffhanger? It was magnificent but enraged me all the same when the author included an excerpt from [b:The Forever of Ella and Micha|16055475|The Forever of Ella and Micha (The Secret, #2)|Jessica Sorensen|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1363575595s/16055475.jpg|21840842] instead of the next book in the series. Who cares about Ella and Micha? TELL ME ABOUT CALLIE AND KAYDEN RIGHT NOW!!!

(Actually, I do care about Ella and Micha--I've already bought the ebook. I'll read anything by Jessica Sorensen!)
Me Before You - Jojo Moyes Still Sobbing From This Brilliant Book!

Do you like books that make you cry? I definitely do, and my house is now depleted of tissues thanks to Jojo Moyes' gripping Me Before You. *shakes fist at author* Talk about a book that makes you FEEL. I totally dived into the characters' lives, and I continue to feel gutted a day after finishing.

Twenty-six-year-old Lou (Louisa) comes from a working-class family in small-town England. Other than an ancient castle attracting tourists, the town doesn't have much going for it. Lou loves her job waitressing at a cafe, until the owner informs her he's shutting it down. Without skills or much of an education, Lou has trouble finding a job. Fortunately, a disabled man living nearby needs a caretaker.

When Lou meets the quadriplegic thirty-five year old Will Traynor, she cringes from his harsh criticism and disdainful attitude. He's a proper arse, and she'd love to quit but her family desperately needs her income. Will was a wealthy venture capitalist who sustained a horrific accident that severed his spinal cord. He pines for the adventurous, elegant life he once led. To boot, he's in chronic physical pain.

Turns out Lou has a tragic past of her own, and if two souls ever needed each other, these two do. But they get off to such a rocky start that it doesn't seem possible for love to bloom in this dark place. Another barrier is Lou's long-time boyfriend Patrick, who had "the kind of face that became instantly invisible in crowds". Patrick is a compulsive exerciser, training for triathlons and neglecting Lou for the most part.

Other than the compelling characterization, I loved the realism of this story. It's gut-wrenching but never sappy or predictable. And the humor is a welcome relief from the intense sadness. For example, Will bonding with Lou's father by laughing over all of her faults brought a smile to my face. (Her father likes to refer to Lou as "lardarse".)

One of my favorite scenes is when Will takes Lou to her first classical music concert:

The conductor stepped up, tapped twice on the rostrum, and great hush descended. I felt the stillness, the auditorium alive, expectant. Then he brought down his baton and suddenly everything was pure sound. I felt the music like a physical thing; it didn't just sit in my ears, it flowed through me, around me, made my senses vibrate. It made my skin prickle and my palms dampen. Will hadn't described any of it like this. I had thought I might be bored. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.

When Lou discovers a family secret, she creates an "anti bucket" list that's full of love and hope. Will she succeed in her mission?

Lou narrates from her point-of-view but a few chapters enter the heads of other characters, which I think adds to the story.

I still haven't worked out the title in relation to the story. Does anyone have insight?

[b:Me Before You|12649718|Me Before You|Jojo Moyes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1359617637s/12649718.jpg|17763198] and [b:Hopeless|15717943|Hopeless (Hopeless, #1)|Colleen Hoover|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1353489892s/15717943.jpg|21389085] have been my favorite reads of 2013. If you like emotional reads, get this book now!
Divine Temptation - Nicki Elson Deep and Affirming

Nicki Elson, author of the fun and flirty college romp [b:Three Daves|7743801|Three Daves|Nicki Elson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1314885501s/7743801.jpg|10561734], heads in a different direction for this adult spiritual romance. I loved the realistic characters, the suspense, and the deep questions this novel provokes.

Maggie Brock is reeling after her husband Carl divorced her. Together they have a daughter Kirsten and a son Liam, and Maggie has to figure out how to proceed as a single mother. She takes a job as administrative assistant at her Catholic church, and tries to tolerate Carl's new girlfriend establishing a relationship with her children.

Nightly dreams of an angel visiting her bedroom intrigue her, until she awakes one night and realizes this male angel is real. Quiet, lean, and handsome, he invites Maggie to give him a name: Evan. It's not clear why God sent Evan to protect Maggie, but it is clear she is in some sort of danger. Eek!

Complicating matters is the arrival of a prissy, suspicious priest to oversee the workings of the church, aka the Monsignor. Maggie gets bad vibes from him. Is he the malevolent force Evan is supposed to thwart? When Maggie runs into the monsignor and he questions her, she keeps Evan secret.

For all she knew, the monsignor would attempt to incarcerate Evan E.T. style to study him.

Ha! Maggie struggles with her attraction to Evan, knowing God would disapprove of her getting it on with one of His angels. I have a little crush on Evan too, I must admit. Poor Maggie!

Evan provides this heavenly advice: "Stop trying to control what you feel and just feel it. Trust."

Meanwhile, ex-husband Carl woos Maggie back into bed. I wonder how common it is for divorced couples to sneak sex again? That happened in a recent read [b:Blue Shoe|91700|Blue Shoe|Anne Lamott|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309202388s/91700.jpg|906539] but I enjoyed Divine Temptation far more than Blue Shoe. Maggie and Carl's sexy reunion leads her to think that maybe they can make it work again, until Carl bursts her bubble. Their ensuing argument is painful to read:

"You know what?" Maggie fumed. "Thank you, Carl. Thank you for reminding me of all the reasons we didn't work. You're absolutely right---we're so much better apart. Because you never ever did anything wrong. Ever. I t was just mean old Maggie telling you things were wrong. I just made it up in my crazy, little mind, but really, you were perfect in every way."

I love the shades of grey in the characters. Maggie's no saint--she's just trying to do her best--which makes her imminently likable. I'm impressed how Evan comes across as both sweet and powerful, matching my view of divinity. Kirsten is a whiny pre-teen who pushes the limits like a teenager but needs those limits like a child, and Liam adores video games like Mario Bros. Maggie's friend Sharon is direct and funny. Even Father Tom and the Monsignor have their obvious faults.

The plot twists and turns, leading to a creepy showdown between good and evil. This is one of my favorite quotes from the story:

"You might not believe in the devil, but do you believe evil lurks in this world?"

Wow, that gets to me. I view God as a loving force, and at times I question the presence of hell and the devil. But I have witnessed evil in this world--no question.

You can tell how much this angel story affected me. I encourage you to let Maggie and Evan into your heart as well!