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Perfect: Brilliant Covers, Genius Series

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Perfect (Flawed, #2)

Celestine North lives in a society that demands perfection. After she was branded Flawed by a morality court, Celestine’s life has completely fractured–all her freedoms gone.

Since Judge Crevan has declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been a ghost, on the run with Carrick–the only person she can trust.

But Celestine has a secret–one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground. A secret that has already caused countless people to go missing.

Judge Crevan is gaining the upper hand, and time is running out for Celestine. With tensions building, Celestine must make a choice: save just herself or to risk her life to save all Flawed people.

And, most important of all, can she prove that to be human in itself is to be Flawed?

Flawed, Book 2
Dystopia / YA 

352 Pages
Feiwel & Friends/McMillan Children’s Publishing Group
Expected Publication Date:  April 4th, 2017
Preorder a copy here!

See my review of Flawed (Flawed #1) by clicking the cover below:

Flawed (Flawed, #1)

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Quick Reasons: this series has RUINED me; life-ruiner; my poor penguin heart is still pitter-pattering; emotional, dramatic, and horrifying; the moral implications are just spot-on; whoever designed these covers is BRILLIANT; I need this duology on my physical shelves

Huge thanks to Cecelia Ahern, McMillan Children’s Publishing Group, and Netgalley for sending me a free digital ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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Okay, penguins…. can we just TALK ABOUT the choices the cover designer made for this series?! I mean seriously…these covers? Say SO MUCH about the story without really saying anything until you’ve read the books. For Flawed, we see Celestine from the mouth down. She is sort of bland, an unknown from the beginning–until she steps up and sparks a revolution. In Perfect…she IS the revolution, so we see her from the neck up. The colors also sort of play on this. She was perfect, “pure”…until she was found NOT to be. It’s just…. GAH, whoever designed these covers? Did a fan-fracking-tastic job of it.

 

And this book? The closure to this poignant, powerful, intense duology? Delivered a hundred percent what I’ve been hoping it would. There are SO MANY moral and societal implications explored throughout each of these reads, but this second book brings everything to a head and makes readers STOP, SIT DOWN, and THINK about what’s going on. It horrifies; it disgusts; it wrenches and tears in two every thought, every assumption, every feeling a reader could possibly be having at any point in the read. Everything is examined; everything is called into question, and then studied more, and then flipped on its head. And there was a LOT of head-flipping in this book; I think I gave myself whiplash trying to keep up with all the rapid changes and out-of-nowhere twists.

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This is an intense read, though. The moral implications, the examination and redefinition of “society”….there are some tough, mature themes happening throughout this book. There is abuse of power. Obsession. Determination to “hide” or “right” a mistake. There is judgment, segregation, and political motivation/power struggles. All of this comes together in a fast-paced, important revelation. The characters are strong-willed and head-strong, the plot is heavy and nonstop, and the ending…while perhaps a bit TOO tidy…a poignant powerbomb. I just… I am in awe, and need this duology on my bookshelves PRONTO.

 

Overall, my first and second foray into Cecelia Ahern proved some of the best decisions I’ve ever made. These books changed my outlook on a lot of things, and are so, SO important in the messages they carry. This is a series I am proud to have picked up and fallen in love with, and I definitely recommend it to lovers of dystopians, political agendas, and intense reads. Perfect is bound to brand you, penguins–grit your teeth and wear the mark with pride. I know I will.

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Blog Tour, Excerpt, Giveaway, and Review: Lost Girls

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Lost Girls, by Merrie Destefano
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Publisher: Entangled Teen

Yesterday, Rachel went to sleep listening to Taylor Swift, curled up in her grammy’s quilt, worrying about geometry. Today, she woke up in a ditch, bloodied, bruised, and missing a year of her life.

She doesn’t recognize the person she’s become: she’s popular. She wears nothing but black.

Black to cover the blood.

And she can fight.

Tell no one.

She’s not the only girl to go missing within the last year…but she’s the only girl to come back. She desperately wants to unravel what happened to her, to try and recover the rest of the Lost Girls.

But the more she discovers, the more her memories return. And as much as her new life scares her, it calls to her. Seductively. The good girl gone bad, sex, drugs, and raves, and something darker…something she still craves—the rush of the fight, the thrill of the win—something she can’t resist, that might still get her killed…

The only rule is: There are no rules.

Purchase Links:
Amazon.com  | B&N iBooks | Kobo
Amazon.com.au Amazon.com/uk | Amazon.ca 

Excerpt:

Chapter One

I remember last night perfectly.

I know what we ate for dinner. I know my little brother didn’t do his homework. I know Dad drove me to my ballet lessons, then waited for me in the Starbucks across the street.

I know that, later in the evening, I fell asleep when I was supposed to be studying geometry, my earbuds in while I listened to Taylor Swift’s latest album.

That was my yesterday.

The problem is, everyone, from my parents to my teachers to the police, says that stuff didn’t happen yesterday.

It happened last year.

I went to sleep with music playing, curled up on my bed, and wrapped in the afghan Grams knitted for me when she was on chemo.

I woke up in a ditch, half-buried in a pile of leaves. I was shivering and wet, a soft rain falling, icy drops hitting me in the face and running down my neck. Trees towered overhead, black branches scratching the sky, wind howling, and from somewhere nearby came the muted sounds of traffic.

I sat up, confused and scared, grogginess giving way to an intense adrenaline rush.

Then I screamed, louder than I thought I could. The sound ripped out of my lungs and wouldn’t stop; it went on and on until I thought I would collapse because I knew I couldn’t breathe and scream at the same time. And then—when I was sure I would fall forward, bent over at the waist, my lungs empty and spots dancing before my eyes—then I found some way to yell

again. At first my shouts were primal and there were no words, just terror and pain and a black pit in my stomach that wouldn’t allow me to have conscious thoughts.

I began to cry the same thing, over and over.

“Help! Somebody help me!”

I tried to stand, but the gully was so slanted that I kept falling back to my knees, every stumble forcing me to become aware of another injury—the raw skin on my wrists and ankles, covered with dried blood and stinging with each drop of rain; the muscles in my legs sore and weak, like I’d been running for days; the soles of my feet aching, my tennis shoes ripped and stained with mud.

I stretched out my arms, latching onto tree roots to gain my balance, and I pulled myself up the incline, foot by foot. Fingers now coated with mud, I perched on the edge of a highway, nearly blinded by headlights whenever a car sped past.

There I stood, waving my arms and screaming again, not knowing that my hair was matted or that there was blood and dirt on my clothes or that my photo had been on the news for the past two weeks.

Lost girl. Disappeared on her way home from school. Anyone with information, please contact the Santa Madre police department.

Two cars drove past, headlights splashing me with brilliant light. I hadn’t realized until now that the sun tipped on the edge of the world, ready to disappear, or that twilight shadows were already stretching across the horizon. Great pockets of violet darkness yawned between each pair of lights that hurtled toward me, greedy fingers of darkness that wanted me to tumble back into that gully and remain hidden.

Please, somebody stop and help me.

I was screaming again and some sort of weird survival panic took over.

I walked into the middle of the two-lane southbound road and stood there.

Go ahead, run me over. I dare you.

Wait, what was I doing?

Several cars spun to a stop, skidding sideways, tires squealing, metal crashing metal and rubber burning. The old me, the girl who fell asleep listening to Taylor sing about a broken heart, never would have done this. What was wrong with me?

My heart thundered in my chest, but I refused to move, even when the wreckage screeched closer and closer, fenders crunching, bumpers twisting, windshields shattering. I stared all the passengers in the eye, glancing from one face to the next, coolly noting that none of them were hurt—nothing beyond a bump or a bruise.

You. Will. Stop. And. Help. Me.

Still the wreckage surged forward. I merely lifted one hand, palm up, signaling for them to stop. Like I was a traffic cop or something.

Everything finally slid to a stop, a few feet away from me.

Tears coursed down my cheeks and I began to shake uncontrollably. I sank to my knees, truly myself again. Frightened and alone and lost.

“Help me,” I begged, then buried my face in my hands.

Car doors opened: a strange cacophony of voices tumbled out, some yelling, some speaking in hushed tones.

“What’s going on?”

“Is that the missing girl from the news?”

“9-1-1, we have an emergency here—”

“Honey, you’re gonna be okay, don’t worry—”

An elderly woman with white hair and bright, pink lipstick pulled me close and draped her coat over me. When I glanced up I saw blood on her forehead, but she didn’t seem worried about herself. She smiled down at me, her face a map of connected wrinkles.

“We’re gonna get you home to your parents,” she said. “Do you want to call them?” She handed me her cell phone, but my fingers were shaking too much to dial. I told her the number and she punched it in, waiting while it rang. When a voice answered on the other end, the white-haired woman said, “I have someone who wants to talk to you.” Then she handed me the phone.

“Hello? Who is this?” It was my mom, a frantic tone in her voice that brought fresh tears to my eyes.

My words came out shaky, with long pauses between.

“Mom?”

Neither one of us could talk, not for a long time, because we were both crying. Then she finally whispered my name, like it was a magical word that could change the world.

“Rachel? Rachel, baby, where are you?”

I looked around. “I don’t know.”

“You’re on the 39, just north of Azusa,” the white-haired woman told me.

Flashing lights spun in the distance and sirens blared. An ambulance and a fire truck and two police cars were headed toward us. I blinked at the brightness, shielding my eyes with one hand.

“Rachel? Are you still there?” It was my father’s voice now, calling me back to the cell phone.

I pressed it against my ear. “Daddy?”

“Honey, when the ambulance gets there, you get inside and you stay there. Do you hear me? Don’t get in a car with anyone else!”

“I will—I mean, I won’t. I’ll go with the paramedics.” My teeth were chattering and I was shivering so much I could hardly hold the phone. I think I may have started talking gibberish, half-sentences with little meaning. I remember saying something about my geometry test and worrying that I wouldn’t make it to class tomorrow and I may have mentioned something about my biology class, too, because Dad interrupted me.

“Rachel, are you talking about the class you took with Miss Wallace?”

“Yeah. She always gives exams on Wednesday.”

There was a long silence. I wondered if we had gotten cut off. Meanwhile, the ambulance doors opened and someone wheeled a stretcher toward me.

“Honey, you had geometry with Miss Wallace last year. When you were a sophomore.”

I frowned. “But I’m a sophomore now.”

“Baby girl, you’re a junior. Don’t worry about it. All this will get straightened out when you get home—”

I dropped the phone. My hands were shaking too much to hold it. I glanced down at my hands, at the chipped red nail polish. But I hadn’t been wearing nail polish last night and I never use this color. I turned my hands over and discovered a tattoo on my inner wrist.

A tattoo?

Always and forever. That’s what it said. But there was no redness or swelling. I didn’t get this tattoo anytime recently.

The paramedics helped me onto the stretcher, and then the world was rushing past me, rain falling on my face, people staring down at me as the stretcher wheeled by, the air thick with the smell of oil and gasoline and burned rubber. Then another smell came suddenly and violently—a memory.

A thick, cloying scent of pine and cedar.

My stomach lurched and I couldn’t stop.

I started screaming again.

Check out the TOUR SCHEDULE here!

Giveaway Information:

Blog Tour: All prizes listed below will be given to one prize winner.
Prizes listed are for a US winner only; if an International winner is chosen, the prize will be a $50 Amazon gift card.
• 1 – Kindle Fire Tablet, black: 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB, 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, with the Alexa cloud-based voice
service—just press and ask.
• 1 – digital Kindle copy of LOST GIRLS
• 1 – Pack of 14 vintage-style Swan Lake postcards
• 1 – pr. Black Swan earrings, handmade by author
• 1 – “Always” temporary tattoo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

giveaway

About the Author:

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CURRENTLY A FULL-TIME NOVELIST and magazine editor, Merrie Destefano’s next novel, LOST GIRLS, releases on January 3, 2017. Her other novels include AFTERLIFE and FEAST, both published by HarperCollins, and FATHOM, which was self-published. The editor of Victorian Homes magazine, she has also been the editor of American Farmhouse Style, Vintage Gardens, and Zombies magazine, and was the founding editor of Cottages & Bungalows magazine.

With 20 years experience in publishing, she worked for a variety of publishing/broadcasting companies that include Focus on the Family, The Word For Today, and PJS Publications (now Primedia). Besides editing and writing, her background includes print buying, writing/producing radio promos, directing photo shoots, developing new products, writing jacket copy for books, creating sales media packets and organizing direct mail campaigns.

Born in the Midwest, she currently lives in Southern California with her husband, two German shepherds, a Siamese cat and the occasional wandering possum. Her favorite hobbies are reading speculative fiction and watching old Star Trek episodes, and her incurable addiction is writing. She loves to camp in the mountains, walk on the beach, watch old movies, listen to alternative music—although rarely all at the same time.

Website |Twitter |Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram | Pinterest | Blog


5Penguins
Quick Reasons: life ruiner alert!; this book swept me up in a tidal wave of emotion, and refused to let go; awesome use of unreliable narrator; the mystery and intrigue was so beautifully-written and complex; this is a race head-first toward an explosive ending, and I adored every second of it; I need more of Merrie Destefano’s writing in my life

Huge thanks to Merrie Destefano, Entangled: Teen, Netgalley, and the crew at Chapter by Chapter for granting me free access to a digital ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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After TWO MONTHS of no 5 Penguin reads…I’m closing out 2016 with a very high note. It’s New Years Eve for another hour, penguins (or at least, it is for another hour where I’m living now), and I’ve just closed the page on this read…and let me tell you, it was QUITE the whirlwind journey. I started this read this afternoon, thinking I’d get partway through it as this review goes live next week on my blog…and found myself instead finishing it off in one sitting. And OH, my heartstrings. This book? This book is life-ruiner material, and it RUINED me.

 

So let’s talk nitty gritty, yes? I promise, I’m going to do my VERY VERY best to stray away from the icky spoilers territory…hopefully I can manage to convey how much I enjoyed this book, and the reasons why, without dropping some huge spoiler bomb or other. Hopefully. So…characters first, yes? Rachel is possibly one of the BEST, most effectively-written characters suffering from memory loss I’ve encountered in books in recent years. While I know this is a bit of a cliche trope…Merrie Destefano handles it so beautifully and makes it SO realistic, you’ll find yourself racing toward the answers instead of feeling bogged down by what little you actually know.

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The focus on relationships throughout is also astounding and deliciously done. There’s a thin line between trust and paranoia that gets played on throughout this read, especially in Rachel’s case. She is, for all intents and purposes, the perfect unreliable narrator–and that makes it so easy for readers to both be enthralled by her, while also side-eyeing her. I give HUGE kudos to Merrie Destefano for managing this so beautifully; humans are complex and confusing creatures even on our best days, so adding in memory loss and internal conflicts only heightened such vast emotions.

 

I was blown away by the complexity of this read, penguins. Rachel–and her relationships with those around her–goes through so many shifts and changes, so many trials and tribulations, you’ll find yourself biting your nails, sitting on the edge of your seat, needing the answers as much as being scared of them. And the ending! The ending was just… I have to admit, I didn’t see where the plot was going until we were already on the downhill track and racing fast to the crashing point. This book surprised me–immensely. That’s not such an easy thing to do, in my world.

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I am just… Speechless, might be the closest way to explain how this book left me after the close. Merrie Destefano explored some heavy-handed, important subjects (which I won’t get into, because SPOOOOOILERS, people) and wrote a complex, beautifully engaging whirlwind of emotions and life-ruination. I definitely recommend this to lovers of contemporary novels with huge bite, strong-willed characters who know how to keep fighting, and life-ruining reads that will leave them thinking, “woah.” THIS is one book you don’t want to miss out on in 2017; pick it up, and let the fight for survival begin!

 

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The Bone Sparrow: Poetic Prose, Heart-Breaking Plot

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The Bone Sparrow

The Bone Sparrow

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.

Middle Grade/Diverse Reads/Contemporary
240 Pages
Disney-Hyperion Publishing
Publication Date: November 1st, 2016
Get a copy here!

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: GOODNESS, this book is so important; diverse characters/settings; this is a mid-grade novel with HUGE bite; super important moral/societal statements are made throughout this read; I just… I can’t find the right words; this is a MUST read; gorgeous, poetic, lyrical prose

Huge thanks to Zana Fraillon, Disney-Hyperion Publishing, and Netgalley for granting me free access to this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

I want to start this review off… with the dedication, because it’s gorgeous, and says so much in so little about what readers will find between these pages (or, at least, a small part of what they’ll find):

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Penguins… If you haven’t picked up a Disney-Hyperion book in the last year, you need to drop whatever you’re doing and GO DO IT. Right now. Go on. I’ll wait right here. Seriously, I have read a good number of books from them this year so far, and every. single. one. has pushed me, challenged me, and shown me the world from unexpected and diverse perspectives. Disney-Hyperion strives not just to bring a beautiful story to readers…but to shove readers off the cliff of comfort and make them see the world differently.

This book is no different in this regard, though it might be my favorite one so far this year. This is a middle grade read with a HUGE amount of bite, guys–this book sucks you in with the lyrical, gorgeous prose…and holds you hostage throughout. Subhi immediately endeared himself to me–his voice is unique, often hilarious, and (for a large portion of this read, at least) filled with that which so many of us go seeking in our later years: hope. This book takes a challenging, important societal flaw and puts it under a microscope–and forces readers to step outside their comfort zone in the process.

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Zana Fraillon broke me into a thousand tiny penguin pieces with this book, guys–and I am honestly just SO awed and glad to have been given the chance to experience this. The characters and setting are diverse and hard-hitting; the plot, while filled with the naive humor of children and told from a young perspective, takes on a dark and hopeless tone throughout. But above all else, this book makes you ask WHY.

There is a lot of abstract imagery and oral-narrative feel to the prose, so I suppose this isn’t the book for everyone. Personally, I adore stories that are poetic and haunting and abstract–they allow me to see the world in my own way, while still seeing it from another’s eyes. And when handed a topic as important–as heart breaking–as this one, sometimes the more abstract the better. This doesn’t mean the book shies away from the hard truths, or sugarcoats–it doesn’t. Not once. These characters are handed some terrible situations; they fight for their lives, for their memories, and for their rights to be seen, to be heard, to EXIST.

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Just… trust me, penguins. Disney-Hyperion is doing beautiful things with their books lately, and I’m loving every single journey. If you’ll let them, books like this will open your eyes…and put a fire in your soul. If you’ll let them, books like this will change you for the better. I recommend this to lovers of lyrical prose, hard-hitting middle grade novels, and beautifully diverse reads with important things to say. I cannot wait to see what Disney-Hyperion–and Zana Fraillon!–do next. For now, I’m off to sweep my pieces off the floor and attempt to put myself back together.

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Untitled Beauty: This is a Hard Read…But SO Super Important

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Untitled Beauty (Somewhere-in-Between #1)

Eleven. A name. A title. A sentence passed. If you aren’t a Beauty, you’re less than a person. You’re a commodity known as a Potential… and you only have so many chances to qualify as a human being.

In her seventeen years, Eleven has seen the best and worst in humanity. She’s been passed around and abused by the bad. She’s hoped and dreamed for the good. And she’s despaired for the hand she’s been dealt. Now she’s been purchased by a wealthy man who has the ability to improve her life and help her become a Beauty – if she can put up with his erratic and controlling personality for long enough, that is. Complicating things is the appearance of a stunningly beautiful young man with amethyst eyes who treats Eleven to the rarest form of attention for a Potential: kindness.

Does Eleven trust her powerful owner to help her escape this life of servitude and enslavement, or does she gamble everything on the enigmatic young man who seems to offer her more than she could ever imagine possible?

Somewhere-in-Between #1
Dystopian/YA/Romance
151 Pages
Expected Publication Date: October 13th, 2016
Get a copy here!

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Quick Reasons: LIFE. RUINER.; C.E. Wilson tackles her most challenging, disturbing subject matter yet; warning: mature readers only, this book handles very sensitive subjects; realistic, emotionally-charged plot; characters that tug at your heartstrings, that disgust you, that perplex you, that enrage you; every facet of human nature and emotion is touched upon in this book

A very HUGE thank you, as always, to C.E. Wilson for granting me early access to this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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I feel I need to start with the most important bit of this review first for this book: trigger warning! The plot contains and touches upon very sensitive subject matter, including: human trafficking; slavery; physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional degradation; and violent, traumatizing scenes. If you are a sensitive reader and are triggered by any of the above, PLEASE take this into consideration. I had quite a bit of trouble with some of the scenes, myself, and I am not as easily triggered as others. Please stay safe, penguins!

That being said. OH. MY. GOOD GRACIOUS PENGUINS! I have read several of C.E. Wilson’s works in the recent past, and have so so enjoyed how unique and inventive her ideas are. She always, ALWAYS layers a real-world issue (prejudice being a key one in her books) with a more abstract, often fantastical world-building. This helps both to soften and enhance the subjects she has chosen with such delicate care. BUT THIS BOOK. This book is raw, and gorgeously crafted. This book is hard to read, penguins–the subject matter is just so brutal. I mean basically, it’s human trafficking reimagined and molded to fit the world being built within these pages. It’s terrifying, and it’s plausible, and I struggled so hard with my emotions while feeling compelled to keep reading.

I did not step out of my comfort zone for this book; this book pushed me off the cliff and dove down after me. Were this book a parachute, it would have taunted me during the fall: “I can save you…but it’s going to hurt a little bit, too.” These characters are vibrantly alive…and realistically traumatized. Their emotions are raw, seeping from the pages to settle like an aura over every word, every sentence. The prose refuses to take prisoners, instead promising a sea of broken, sobbing readers left numb in its wake.

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This book is, above all, the most painful…and the most IMPORTANT…novel C.E. Wilson’s put out so far, in my opinion. The subject matter is approached with sensitivity and handled with care, crafted to both break readers and leave them thinking, leave them scarred, leave them changed. If you’ve promised to step outside your reading comfort zone at least once this year, you might consider picking this book up! I definitely recommend to mature readers; those seeking powerful and poignant reads; and lovers of real-world subjects with slightly abstract world-building. C.E. Wilson continues to take me by surprise; I cannot WAIT to see what she does next!

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The Counting-Downers: Inventive, Perspective-Changing, and Beautiful

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The Counting-Downers

The stunningly poignant and life-affirming debut novel by A.J. Compton

Imagine if we could see how long everyone around us had left to live. But we weren’t allowed to know our own numbers…

Trying to make sense of life after the death of her beloved father, free spirit Matilda Evans meets Tristan Isaacs and discovers a marrow-deep connection with him.

No stranger to grief himself, lonely artist Tristan is in awe of Matilda’s fun and philosophical approach to life. With every second spent in her presence, he finds his views on life and loss changing, and begins to embrace the beauty of being alive.

As their friendship turns into something deeper, lessons are learned, memories are made, and legacies are created.

But with both of them knowing how long their soulmate has left in this lifetime, important questions have to be asked and tough decisions have to be made before time runs out.

The Counting-Downers is an inspiring story about life, loss, love, and making the most of every moment.

Goodreads Rating: 4.27 Stars
Contemporary/New Adult/Romance/Sci Fi/Fantasy
344 Pages
Publication Date: July 24th, 2015
Get a copy here!

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Quick Reasons: life-ruiner!; this book is just… SO many feels, SO much to ponder, SO powerful; a poignant, beautiful story of life, loss, love, grief, death…but most importantly, LIVING; there are no words for how much I love this book; gorgeous, atmospheric prose; beautifully description scenes; a landscape painted of words and emotions; this book touched me, deeply

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Firstly: JUST LOOK AT THAT COVER, oh my penguins it’s so exquisite and gorgeous and just… gaaaaah, so much yes!

I just… I mean, it’s a bit early in my relationship with A.J. Compton to be certain, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found a new favorite author. A new auto-buy. A new person to watch out for with impatience and childlike wonder in the future. Because A.J. Compton? speaks to me, so deeply. I’ve read two novels by her so far, and have been ABSOLUTELY blown away both times. Why? Because she leaves me thinking. She challenges me to view the world, and the subject she’s chosen to focus on, in different and vastly unique ways. She challenges me to think outside the box, to examine my reactions, and to WONDER. And that is a gorgeous, wonderful, awe-inspiring talent, in my opinion.

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This book? Focuses on some very difficult and abstract subjects. Time, for one thing–and how to handle the passing of it, when you can see exactly how much time everybody but you has left. The subject and plot of this book is so uniquely different from anything I’ve ever read before, because the characters start this book KNOWING that the world around them is dying. Knowing that they, too, have a finite number of minutes, even though they don’t know that number exactly. These characters are flawed, but courageous despite their fears. These characters are well-rounded, vibrantly written…and so, so heart-wrenching.

The world A.J. Compton has written within these pages is both believable and vibrant. There are some grammatical errors–things like missing words are a bit of an issue, though it’s easy enough to figure out from the context what words have been dropped, and it didn’t in any way hinder or take away from my reading. This journey–the growths, the strengths and weaknesses, the love of these characters–took me for a wild, thought-provoking ride. This is yet another book that’s bound to haunt me for years to come, and I adore that so much. I adore how much this one read has changed my perspective, has made me reconsider the world.

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If you guys haven’t picked up an A.J. Compton book yet… GO DO IT! Seriously, what are you waiting for?! Her writing is descriptive and vibrant, her characters are heart-wrenching, and the journey is ALWAYS inspiring and perspective-shifting. A.J. Compton knows how to make her readers think…and that’s a beautiful talent to have. I definitely recommend this book to lovers (or haters) of time; to readers seeking an unexpected but beautiful journey; and to those who think they need a new outlook on living and dying. Seriously, guys–don’t waste any more time. Pick this book up NOW; I swear it’s worth the risk!

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Everything That Makes You: Is Everything that BROKE Me!

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Everything That Makes You

Goodreads Rating: 3.80 Stars
346 Pages
Katherine Tegan Books Publishing
Publication Date: March 17th, 2015
Get a copy here!

One girl. Two stories. Meet Fiona Doyle. The thick ridges of scar tissue on her face are from an accident twelve years ago. Fiona has notebooks full of songs she’s written about her frustrations, her dreams, and about her massive crush on beautiful uber-jock Trent McKinnon. If she can’t even find the courage to look Trent straight in his beautiful blue eyes, she sure isn’t brave enough to play or sing any of her songs in public. But something’s changing in Fiona. She can’t be defined by her scars anymore.

And what if there hadn’t been an accident? Meet Fi Doyle. Fi is the top-rated female high school lacrosse player in the state, heading straight to Northwestern on a full ride. She’s got more important things to deal with than her best friend Trent McKinnon, who’s been different ever since the kiss. When her luck goes south, even lacrosse can’t define her anymore. When you’ve always been the best at something, one dumb move can screw everything up. Can Fi fight back?

Hasn’t everyone wondered what if? In this daring debut novel, Moriah McStay gives us the rare opportunity to see what might have happened if things were different. Maybe luck determines our paths. But maybe it’s who we are that determines our luck.

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: I don’t… I can’t… WHAT did I just read?!; there might be tiny pieces of my heart embedded in the carpet where it dropped out of my chest while reading; why isn’t this book talked about more?!; beautifully heart-wrenching; I LOVE the juxtaposition of these two “what if” situations

I don’t… Guys, I don’t know how to write this review and make ANY semblance of sense. I’ve been sitting here SCREECHING in my head for the last twenty minutes and I cannot… CANNOT…make this review come out coherently. This book, guys… This book twisted everything that is me into teensy tiny pieces and then made paper cranes out of them to string from the ceiling. I do not even know… I just… Screw this, okay?! Bear with me if things get a little bit confusing.

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Okay. Seriously, guys, the juxtaposition Moriah McStay employed throughout this book? PURE. GOLD. I seriously, I have never in my life… Okay, that’s a lie. We get a teensy, tiny taste of this juxtaposition in The Love That Split the World, by Emily Henry. But THIS BOOK! I don’t know what it is, but somehow this book did it BETTER. Which is crazy talk, because I adored Emily Henry’s version too, but… THIS BOOK IS BETTER! Er. Somehow? I think, honestly, it has to do with how the side characters were handled. In TLTSTW, we weren’t given much in way of side characters–we focused mostly on the main ones. In THIS book, though, we get ALL the characters–in both versions–and are able to see the many different ways time can branch off and change people, change relationships, change everything.

 

And that… THAT is what I think needs to be taken from this read. We make tiny decisions and big decisions alike every single day…and sometimes, those decisions change literally everything. Sometimes, those decisions change people and situations we, ourselves, don’t ever see. Sometimes, those decisions don’t change anything at all. There is a poignant, beautiful moment in this book where I literally stopped, gave in to the cold chills, and understood EXACTLY what Moriah McStay was trying to say with this book. It’s a moment I feel every reader needs to experience.

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No, Fiona/Fi are NOT the same character. Each side of her was written and constructed in a uniquely individualized way, catered to and molded by a vastly differing series of events. With this, every relationship they forged throughout was called into question, reshaped and reconstructed–redeveloped entirely, in certain instances. Moriah McStay knew, without a HINT of doubt, what she was doing when she ventured down this journey–and she made it into a gorgeously human experience that every reader can empathize with and grow from.

 

Don’t get me wrong–there are no real “pulse-stopping” dramatic moments. This is a more subtle, quiet read on the plot-mountain scale. Yes, there is tragedy. There is heartache, and angst, and drama. There are moments you’ll question everything, including yourself. There ARE moments your heart will skip a beat. But overall, this journey? It’s meant to be felt with the heart, not with adrenaline. It’s meant to seep deep beneath your skin and BREATHE there. It’s meant to make you think–and it will, if you let it.

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I don’t know why I waited so long to pick this book up. This book literally is tied for “top favorite read of 2016” right now–it is SO, SO good. It is SO, SO life-altering. I’m not afraid to admit that it totally broke me into about a trillion pieces. If you dig contemporaries, juxtaposed “what if” scenarios, and earth-shattering reads…this book is for you. Pick it up. Pick it up now. Don’t wait.

2

Book Tour (Review), Excerpt, and Giveaway: Sticks & Stones

Sticks & Stones

Sticks & Stones

A feel-good middle grade debut with just a hint of magic about a girl who has a rare disorder that makes the words other people say about her appear on her body.

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.


Excerpt:

WORDS

Some people don’t think that one word can make a difference.

They’re wrong.

Sure, some words need to be around other words to make sense. They need to hang out together in a book or a song or a text message, or else you’re stuck wrinkling your nose like HUH? That doesn’t make any sense.

But some words don’t need others. They have big-time serious meaning all by themselves.

I knew that better than anyone.

Like when it came to talking about me going to middle school this year. Mom said it would be different. Dr. Patel said it would be challenging. Dad said it would be fine.

They just needed one word each to sum up what they thought a whole year would be like … and, so far, they were right.

One word nobody used, though? Mysterious.

And right now, that was the most important word of all.

I reached into my pocket and dug around until I found the folded blue paper again. Maybe it was a letter from a secret admirer or a gift certificate to Soup Palace, otherwise known as the Best Place on Earth.

Maybe it was nothing at all.

But it had to be something. It had my name on the front, after all, and was taped to my locker. I was dying to open it, but even if I found a way to read it sneakily, Ms. Sigafiss would probably see me and read it to everyone or rip it up or something. And that was if she was in a good mood.

I looked around the room, thinking about words.

Different.

Challenging.

Fine.

Mysterious.

They were just words, but they could change my whole life.

In fact, they already had.

 

Text copyright © 2016 by Abby Cooper

GIVEAWAY

Prize: Win (1) of (10) finished copies of STICKS & STONES by Abby Cooper (US Only)–Click the Image!

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5Penguins
Quick Reasons: oh. my. penguins!; topics covered in this book: chronic illness, different family dynamics, bullying, friendship, growth and changes, self-acceptance, self-love, depression (in a more subtle way); this is mid-grade, but something I feel EVERYONE should read; snarky, sassy, stubbornly awesome character; reading from Elyse’s POV was like finding my way into myself

Huge thanks, first off, to Abby Cooper; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Publishing; and The Fantastic Flying Book Club for granting me early access to this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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And let me just say, guys, in the words of Elyse herself–HOLY HIGH HEELS, this book is so freaking great! First off, our MC: Elyse is so snarky, and darkly-humorous, and just in general a fantastic character. I had a TON of fun reading from her point of view, mostly because it was a bit like stepping into myself–from the outside. I was granted a glimpse into who I imagine a lot of people see when looking at ME…and it was hilarious, endearing, and sort of enlightening all at the same time. I stepped outside of myself for almost 300 pages…and had several things I learned the hard way, years ago, reaffirmed.

 

This book is SO super important, especially in regards to chronic illness. There were SO many moments I stopped and thought, “Yes. YES, exactly that!” Elyse does not just find a way to manage her disease at the end of this book–she takes it by the stubborn horns and takes charge of it. There are just so many wonderful, powerful messages in this book that I feel a large audience can empathize with and relate to–and most especially those who, like me, have had to reconfigure and rediscover themselves in the face of a chronic illness. But also, people who perhaps are not as close to this as we are every day–they, too, will be reshaped from this read, and will (hopefully!) think of the world in a much different way. Elyse’s chronic illness is not, perhaps, as “life-threatening” as others out there…but it’s just as stressful, just as disheartening, just as much a factor in her day-to-day.

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Of course, a book is not a successful book without some pretty awesome side characters tagging along–and Abby Cooper wrote some EPIC personalities to match, keep up with, and challenge Elyse throughout her journey. Every character is written to come off one way…and then rediscovered in the flash of inspiration, rewritten in an instant (or, at least, poised in an entirely different way). This might be mid-grade, but there is so much more going on than whining and complaining (though that does happen, too).

 

I think, though, it’s the morals that really made this book for me. There are some pretty tough subjects brought up: bullying; self-acceptance; friendship; self-love. Depression, though not as strongly done, also makes an appearance. Readers are reminded, through a series of complex events, that in some way, we’re all wearing masks while in public. Readers are reminded that sometimes, the surface is ONLY that–the surface. Readers are asked to remember to always, ALWAYS look deeper–the truth isn’t always as easily revealed as the pulling up of a sleeve.

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This book is, in my opinion, so super important–both for younger and older readers alike. The humor is sharp, poignant, and at times surprisingly dark. Elyse is a character both enlightening and entertaining, who brings a ton of morals and growth to herself AND her readers. I definitely recommend this read to lovers of mid-grade, contemporary, and self-discovery. This is a one-sitting read, guys–why don’t you pick it up and dive in? You’re bound to find something to love.

5

Every Heart a Doorway: Darkly Atmospheric, Creatively Woven

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Every Heart a Doorway

Goodreads Rating: 3.93 Stars
173 Pages
Tor.com Publishing
Publication Date: April 5th, 2016
Get a copy here!

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: I am SCREECHING right now!; this is sort of like The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children…and I ADORED it!; creeptastic, gorgeous, addictively detailed prose; entertaining, quirky, exciting characters; this story is SO unique; an awesome spin on the idea of “make believe,” “the imagination,” or “Neverland”

Mini upfront note: I listened to this on audiobook, and HIGHLY recommend it! My hats off to Cynthia Hopkins for an awesome and entertaining narration! Seriously, this audiobook is well-worth the listen!

 

Guys, I have to be honest here: I am SUPER glad I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children before diving into this one. Why? Because if I’d read THIS awesome adventure first, I’d have been even more disappointed by Miss Peregrine’s. (though let’s be honest, it is sort of funny that I went from one book about orphans to a completely different, yet slightly similar, one)

Let me just try to find some semblance of order in my thoughts and get them down.

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First things first: This book was DARK. And I don’t mean dark in the sense that it sometimes talks about mature or sensitive topics (though it does this, too). I mean dark in the sense that from beginning to end, the atmosphere, the mood, the PLOT is thick like sludge and almost too heavy to trudge through. This is not a lollipops and raindrops story, kids–this book takes the challenge of “imaginary” and molds it, twists it, turns it into something real. Something we, as readers, can reach out and touch. Something solid.

 

Also–THE DIVERSITY! I went into this book expecting something quirky at best, something like Miss Peregrine’s at worst. I went into this read not sure how to feel, or what to think……. And found something epic waiting for me. The MC? Is asexual. There’s a transgender character. And these are not the only two. Diversity BREATHES throughout this read, and does it so naturally, you’ll wonder why more books can’t do the same. It’s not forced; it’s not awkward. It’s sensitively and maturely done, and I just… Gah. GAAAAAH!

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The characters are quirky and well-written. I was immediately drawn into the story…and held absolutely enthralled until the very end. I haven’t read a book so enchanting in several weeks, guys–this book literally took me out of the real world while still, somehow, bringing real world issues into its pages. Even the characters with the smallest roles, play HUGE parts in this book, each voice individualized and totally unique from the others.

 

And, of course, the prose. The prose is absolutely stunning. There were so, SO many moments I caught myself practically drooling over Seanan McGuire’s writing. It’s atmospheric, deliciously detailed, and breath-taking. Abstract and poetic…but realistic enough to WORK in the grand scheme. Each of my five senses were at turns engaged and shut off depending on the chapter, the situation, the characters… There is so much more than just words being imparted in this story, and I adored every moment.

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I just… I can’t EVEN with my words right now. I am blown away. I am shattered. I am totally adding Seanan McGuire to my “insta-buy” list from this one book alone, because PENGUINS, I adore her writing. This book is dark, morbidly humorous, and SO unique–and officially at the tippy top of my “favorite reads” list from this year. I highly recommend picking this up if you love The Night Circus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and creatively atmospheric reads. Pick this book up, guys–it is a MUST read!

5

Of Better Blood: This World is Terrifying

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Of Better Blood

Goodreads Rating: 3.76 Stars
304 Pages
Aw Teen Publishing
Published: February 1st, 2016
Get a copy here!

Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against “the unfit.” It’s 1922, and eugenics the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the “feeble-minded,” and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with “fitter family” contests and propaganda. After years of being confined to hospitals, Rowan is recruited at sixteen to play a born cripple in a county fair eugenics exhibit. But gutsy, outspoken Dorchy befriends Rowan and helps her realize her own inner strength and bravery. The two escape the fair and end up at a summer camp on a desolate island run by the New England Eugenics Council. There they discover something is happening to the children. Rowan must find a way to stop the horrors on the island if she can escape them herself.”

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: life-ruiner!; the world in 1922 was absolutely terrifying, I am so glad I didn’t live there; this historical fiction is SUPER important, even today; lots of focus on human nature and ingrained paranoia; atmospheric, beautiful prose; the main character has a ton of personal growth; snarky, sassy characters made for some entertaining dialogue

HUGE thanks to Susan Moger, Media Masters Publicity, and Aw Teen Publishing for sending me a free copy of this title in exchange for an unbiased review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

 

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This book is terrifying. And not in a, “big vicious monsters and alternate worlds” sort of way. No, this book is terrifying in a completely realistic, human-nature and ingrained paranoia way. This book bleeds human nature, seeps each page in ingrained paranoia…and attempts to show readers how such judgments, how such actions, can be hugely damaging in the long-run. This story is packed with morals—and comes out a life-altering, breath-stopping read.

 

I thought, going into this, that the book was going to be nonlinear. The first few chapters are set up just as if it were—they jump times, they switch settings. They took me on a journey, and sucked me in. But once the backstory is established and Rowan’s journey begins, the time-hops stop. I didn’t notice much while reading; I was so focused on the story being woven around me, the trials and tribulations faced by our characters, that I didn’t even notice the world. I do wish the time skips had been kept throughout, even if only sporadically—they helped to show us the many different sides of the characters we grew to know so much about throughout the read. Regardless, I still love this book!

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The prose is gorgeous—poetic, atmospheric, and steeped with historical accuracy. While not every bit of this world is “real,” the ideas, the human-nature shown, all of it is realistic enough to leave me with goosebumps even now, almost a half hour after closing the covers.

 

And the characters! Rowan and Dorchy go through so much, and learn so much from each other—and the world around them. Rowan, especially, is marked by a wide-arcing and inspiring journey of self-discovery and self-love. While some of the other characters fall a bit flat and come off as 1-dimensional, I feel this is not so much a fault of the writing but instead a testament to how little Rowan, our main character, spent with those characters while such traumatizing and horrifying events were occurring. She was, after all, a bit preoccupied with other things. She was more concerned with making it through the events in one piece, and getting as many others out as possible—where Dorchy, her foil, was much more impulsive. Such vast differences helped to shape and mold our characters—and show readers that things are only impossible if YOU think they are.

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In my opinion, this book is SO important. It’s also absolutely terrifying—and wholly realistic. The lengths that people in Rowan’s world went to for the eugenics movement… There are no words to explain how impacted I was by this read, and the characters who so valiantly faced whatever obstacles were thrown at them. This is a life-ruiner, guys—if you’re a lover of historical fiction, stories focused on human nature/ingrained paranoia, or atmospheric prose, this is definitely the book for you! I recommend picking it up, for sure.

5

This Old Heart of Mine: Is a Bumbling, Babbling Band of Baboons

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This Old Heart of Mine

Goodreads Rating: 4.90 Stars
340 Pages
Expected Publication Date:  May 24th, 2016
Get a copy here!

Ava Malone knows all about being broken-hearted.

Born with a severe heart defect, she’s spent her whole life in and out of hospital desperately needing a transplant.

Just days from death, her weak prayers are finally answered, and she receives a new heart; one that not only saves her life, but changes it forever.

Now fit and healthy, Ava is able to do things she only dreamed of, like get a job and some independence, fall in love, and finally live life to the fullest.

But her journey of self-discovery takes her to places she never expected. Along the way, Ava doesn’t just find the woman she was always meant to be, but she also finds out more about the woman who no longer is. The one who gave her this new life because she lost hers.

Faced with a devastating dilemma, Ava must decide whether the heart that’s pumping inside her body now belongs to her, or is still beating for someone else.

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: oh my goodness, my poor heart!; this..this book…I am a babbling, incoherent idiot right now; this book needs to be read; the emotions, the challenging subject matter; I want to be friends with these characters, they could teach me so much; I can’t even compute what I just read; this book is GORGEOUS, guys; I feel a book hangover coming on

First and foremost, huge thanks go out to A.J. Compton and Xpresso Book Tours for granting me access to this title in exchange for an honest review. This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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And oh, PENGUINS, guys—this book was nothing like what I expected going in. Yes, I caught on to the “plot twist” pretty early on in the book. Yes, some of the prose and dialogue is awkward and confusing. But the heart of this story? Devastating. The subject matter? Approached with sensitivity and maturity. The things this book TAUGHT me? Absolutely priceless.

You laugh because I sound like a Kodak camera commercial, but I’m not lying. This book is the definition of a life-ruiner, in my world. This book challenged me, pushed me out of my comfort zone…and made me stop to really think about things in a different way. The sheer number of pulse-stopping moments, the ones that make you step back and catch your breath? I can’t even try to guess how many there were in this read. More than that, though—I closed this read with a heart both heavy, and at the same time, light. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but…it’s the best way I can explain it.

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These characters are vibrant. They leech from the pages, they slip the claws of their personalities beneath your skin—they linger, even when the book is closed. I found myself longing to be friends with them, even just for a moment; I feel they could teach me, and the world, a lot about what it means to actually live. The romance is believable and steamy in all the right ways; the heart butterflies were strongly aflutter, just the way I like them.

And the story. THE. STORY. I just… I cannot, simply cannot, get over the vast amount of growth these characters go through. We get a short, and (in my opinion) much-needed, perspective shift around the 75% mark which just…really helped to tie the world, and these characters, together for me. The voices are strong, the prose is melodic and atmospheric… I just cannot stress how much I adored this read, start to finish.

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I am beyond honored to have been granted access to this title; it was, and IS, a life-changer. A life-ruiner. This is one book that will stick with me, rubber cement on the heart, for quite possibly the rest of my life. I recommend to lovers of hard-hitting contemporary, strong characters who overcome the hardest obstacles, and unexpectedly emotional journeys. The subject matter is SO heavy…but so, so needed. You guys NEED to read this—please, pick it up. Let it change you.