Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

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This book came highly recommended by many people and when I read the blurb I was intrigued. What followed was horror disguised as romance. Maybe I’m special – or have seen and experienced real life – and that is why I can see the dark truth hidden in this story geared towards young adults who will not recognize it, but I feel I have a duty to let others know what this story is really about: domestic abuse.

Abby is our main girl and she is someone who I tried very hard to like. She has a secret past that has her hiding (don’t all romances have someone with a deep, dark secret?) and wary about starting a romantic relationship. So, she runs off to college to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, this particular place of higher education is actually just an extension of high school and the book reads like it. In the same manner of the majority of young adult romance, the bad boy sees her and immediately must own her. The sad part is that she barely puts up a fight. She allows this man to control her and dictate how she lives her life. Time and time again, he abuses her and she forgives without fail and lets him walk all over her again. She never lacks for excuses for his bad behavior.

Travis is the campus bad boy who looks like Adonis and acts like Narcissus, only with a heavy dose of hidden insecurity. He’s a street fighter and takes a new woman, or three, to his couch every night. (Important Note: Even he subconsciously recognizes that his behavior is despicable, which is why he refuses to have sex with these desperate groupies in his bed. The filth stays on the couch and possibly in his blood. A smart woman would have him tested before ever going near him.) That is until he spots Abby. Like a dog with a bone, he’s not giving up on this stunning little lamb. When circumstances provide the opportunity to stay in his apartment and then ridiculously never leave, he forces her into his bed – “just to sleep”. Don’t be fooled by his noble declaration. He goes out of his way to make her uncomfortable in the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the living room, on campus, literally everywhere. She stubbornly stays in his apartment, even though he allows her no privacy and crams the emotional abuse down her throat. He also throws temper tantrums like a drunken toddler and doesn’t see the harm in that. For some inexplicable reason, he cannot understand why she is hurt by what he does and instead lashes out in anger, which happens a lot, and you can guess how he behaves when another man enters the picture.

What could have been an interesting, yet unoriginal, story was deeply disturbing. From the get-go I recognized Travis for what he truly was and found Abby’s inability to accept it and blindly falling for his tricks appalling. One of the most memorable moments was when they had a squabble and instead of acting like a big boy, he races off to a bar, where he gets wasted, and then brings home not one, but two, women and then proceeds to have an orgy loud enough to wake the neighbors. Abby’s response is to lay in HIS bed and cry and listen to the hours of moaning and screaming going on in the living room with the man she is falling for. Needless to say, he apologizes and swears it meant nothing, so she lets it slide. This hefty book continues in this fashion and never gives up in its quest for a happy ending. But, in reality, how can a man who refuses to fully acknowledge his abuse for what it is and a pitiful woman who condones his despicable behavior ever have a happy ending? The author made it seem like happily ever after, but it’s honesetly a story that millions of women live and regret deeply every day – smothered by an obsessive husband who keeps her on a tight leash and makes her believe she doesn’t deserve better.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – It is supposed to be a romance and is meant for young adults, but I would never advise my own daughters to read it, no matter how old they are.
  • Level of sexuality – Very high and at times repulsive. Nothing like listening to a raging orgy of wasted people rather than having the self-worth to walk right out the door, to make your stomach churn.
  • Is there graphic language? Heaps.
  • Did I cry? No, but it was touted as a spectacular “good cry book”. I have no idea why.
  • Did I laugh? Not at all.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, apparently there is a second book, which is the same story told from Travis’s perspective.
  • Level of character development – I didn’t see much. The main characters were unlikable and weak. Weakness is not a bad thing and is a necessary element for a good story, but they didn’t overcome anything and evolve, which would have made them relatable and strong characters. The side characters were just as sorry. It seemed that nobody was ready to be an adult, but they were taking on the responsibilities that come with college living – booze, illegal fighting, lots of sex with random strangers, and the occasional class. I’d toss the petty gossiping into the mix, but that felt more high school and actually suited them just fine.

When this book arrived in the mail I couldn’t wait to tear into it. In the beginning, I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters, but I had high hopes that things would turn around. The book is massive, and my patient wait for them to become something better turned into dread over the fact that this book is a statement for women, telling them that it’s okay to accept a hot man’s abuse and scary obsession. What could have been a powerful testament to a man turning his life around and a woman loving and helping him change, turned into a how-to book for abused women. While the writing is undeveloped and immature – think more along the lines of something for a sixteen-year-old – it is the message that forces me to give this ⭐️ dismal star. There are thousands of people who love this book, but the likelihood of them being a reader who completely overlooked the nasty truth is extremely high, and I’m relieved to see that there are also thousands of women who know how damaging this book is. If you’re looking for a strong heroine who matures into someone you can respect, read Gone with the Wind. If you want someone who will eventually end up wearing long sleeves to hide the bruises, this is the book for you.

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Cheerleading can be Murder by Carissa Ann Lynch

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This clichéd, little book begins with cheerleading and ends with cheerleading. The middle of the book – more cheerleading. For those of us who don’t care about cheerleading one way or the other, it might be difficult, dare I say painful, to swallow the life and death stance on cheerleading portrayed in this book.

There are very few characters in the story and none of them are impressive or even likeable. It is written first-person, which makes it harder to read. Dakota is shallow, flighty, will literally do anything to be a cheerleader, and every ounce of happiness in her life is based on making it to the varsity squad her freshman year. Oddly enough, this school doesn’t seem to have a junior varsity anything, and the squad is a meager six girls. No wonder they’re willing to kill each other; they have to go above and beyond to make up what is more like half of a squad.

In her quest to beat out all the nasty, petty girls at school, she proves to be even more shallow than them all. For example, someone shreds her uniform and she has a very public melt-down that would make any parent ashamed. She’s not going to live it down anytime soon, but she couldn’t care less in comparison to her trashed uniform. Throughout the entire book she has the maturity of a five-year-old. She takes offense at each little infraction, thinks horrid thoughts about every other girl, throws a hissy when the guy she thinks is a dork, but she might like a little even though she deems him a loser, is spotted kissing some other girl. Thankfully, she’s incredibly superficial and the next day he becomes her boyfriend and she later professes her true love for him.

She’s not the only girl to give teenagers a bad rep. For being such a tiny book, there are numerous instances that made me cringe. The girls are vicious, nasty, have egos that rival Madonna, and take capricious to a new high. They cannot figure out whether they hate each other or they are besties. Within one paragraph, Dakota is going to tear her former best friends’ (there are two and you can safely pick either one in this scenario) hair out and then she is ready to “forgive” said girl for all the ways she wronged her. To clear things up, they all wrong each other over and over, until I had a headache from rolling my eyes.

Supposedly, there is a sociopath who is meant to drive the story and provide suspense. Warning: there is no suspense. Out of seventy chapters, maybe three are dedicated to that individual and they last thirty seconds. The author took the bad guy right out of the book. Then comes the great revelation. It was far from great, although it was a revelation, since any of these girls could have easily been the one slashing tires and killing kittens. That particular character has basically zero action, so it had to be tied up with a bow in a long paragraph at the end that explained why she was crazy. There are no hints and she is given only a cursory description, which I immediately forgot. If you’re looking for a book where you actually have to think and guess, move on.

After everything that happens, Dakota is still so immature that she thinks it is quite a shame that the evil cheerleader is evil, because she could have been great the following year. She tried to kill people, so it would make sense that her cheerleading abilities are inconsequential, but not according to Dakota. As wretched as these teens are, the adults are sorry excuses for parents and teachers. From the mother who spoils Dakota rotten to the coach who goes into graphic detail about kitten innards, they are a disappointment which explains a lot about these kids who are in desperate need of a conscience.

Overall, the writing is very basic and unengaging. It reads like something a teenager wrote and fits perfectly with Dakota’s bipolar thoughts. Don’t let the title fool you; this is not a horror story. This is baby Dean Koontz and lacks suspense completely. I was so disturbed by these teens that the “evil acts” took a back seat. This series came highly recommended, but the only redeeming moment I found was when Dakota ponders why her mother’s sandwiches taste better, just because she makes them. The fact is food made by others, especially a loved one, always tastes better. This was the one poignant moment.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – It’s hardly suitable for teens. I’m thinking more along the line of tweens. Adults should definitely steer clear. As for genre, it’s supposed to be horror, but it falls into the category of underdeveloped stories for teens.
  • Level of sexuality – Zero. If there had been any, I would have been very concerned. I was relieved that they were too busy being jealous and mean to even think about it.
  • Is there graphic language? Nope. They think and act like children, which leaves the dirty words out.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Did I cry? Tears of frustration and then tears of joy when I finished.
  • Is this part of a series? Sadly, yes. It is book one of Horror High.
  • Level of character development – What character development? Not only did this book lack plot, suspense, and relatability, it lacked actual characters. Dakota is spoiled and thinks only of herself. That is how it starts and how it ends. Everyone else is a varying level of a clichéd, boring character who lacks a real personality.

I had looked forward to this book. It has great reviews and I was hoping for something to keep me on the edge of my seat. It does have the word horror in the series, after all, so how could it not. The book is tiny, but it took me days to finish. Every time I picked it up I couldn’t bear it and down it went. Finally, I forced myself to finish. The last seven or so chapters are dedicated to the so-called ending and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Then, as an afterthought, the author tosses in a little epilogue that makes the reader rethink what they just read. It was a weak attempt to gain interest and took ten seconds to read. Needless to say, it did not entice me to continue the series. On the other hand, more than a few people have rated it highly. I suspect they might be about twelve years old, don’t have children, don’t know the actual definition of sociopath, are void of real empathy, or more than one of the above. I am sorry to give this ⭐️ star. I’d like to think that the author put forth some effort, but it was dry as beef jerky. One redeeming quality that many amazing indie books lack and I’m happy to point out here – I didn’t come across any typos.

Available here on Amazon

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

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I wasn’t sure if I should review this book. It has thousands already and was made into a truly horrible movie. Fortunately, I read the book before watching it. For all those people who saw the movie but haven’t read the book, and those who haven’t given it a thought at all, this review is for you.

Samantha Kingston is a snobby, popular – yet despised by many – teenager. Her three best friends are equally superior and they are all hard to like. They are typical teens with complicated home lives that turn them into monsters who mistreat the other kids at school. From the get-go, I disliked each one, including Samantha. The movie Mean Girls describes them perfectly: callous, selfish, unsympathetic, shallow, and they think they are entitled to everything. That all changes, though.

The book starts with Samantha’s death. It’s eloquently written and grabbed my attention right away. Every time she died, my heart ached, and she matured dramatically. When she wakes up that first morning and realizes she is replaying the previous day – much like the infamous Groundhog Day – she finally notices the people around her and takes a deeper look at her friends, family, and fellow students.

These so-called popular girls have made the lives of everyone around them miserable. There are certain characters that are vital to the story, because they open Samantha’s eyes and she recognizes the abuse she doles out. Having once been a loser, she will do anything to maintain her popularity and that means being a nasty individual who follows the queen bee like a thoughtless sheep. Through her death, she is able to see the repercussions of that one day on those who choose not to be a groupie.

Determined to figure out how to survive, she sets about righting her wrongs and dealing with the emotional pain of repeating them over and over. She approaches each day as a test to figure out what she needs to do differently in regards to a specific victim. Multiple tests lead to her feeling better about herself, after all she did just help someone whom she had originally ridiculed or destroyed their relationships. But she’s not surviving. She is missing the purpose behind this cosmic experiment. Needless to say, she eventually figures it out in a great epiphany.

While this book is more young adult, I think the message is something that applies to everyone. Whether you can get through it, due to the whole high school scene which is a bit nauseating, is up to you, but I believe it is worth your while. I sped through this book, eager to reach the end. Would she live? Would she die? Whose life would she alter for the better? For once, I found a book that kept me in suspense. Watching her evolve over a short period of time was heartwarming and the author did a phenomenal job of putting the reader inside her head. It was beautifully written, especially considering the content that was emotionally difficult to read. Thus is high school, though; it’s one long, often discouraging, trial after another.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – It’s not quite fantasy, but it does have that timeline aspect. It’s not time travel, but it’s definitely disruption. It’s aimed for teenagers, but I’m an adult who absolutely loved it.
  • Level of sexuality – They’re teenagers. They think about it a lot and put great emphasis on it. Part of her day and a decision she faces repeatedly, is whether or not to lose her virginity to her drunk, superficial boyfriend. Overall, the level is mid, but that is due to the importance and detail given to sex in general.
  • Is there graphic language? Like I said, they are teenagers, desperate to become adults. There is some, but it’s not excessive.
  • Did I cry? You bet and more than once.
  • Did I laugh? There were entertaining moments that made me chuckle. They were a nice break in an otherwise serious novel.
  • Level of character development – Samantha grows exponentially. She starts out as an obnoxious teenager who follows the cliché popular girl everyone hates, and turns into someone who cares about the people around her and her impact on their lives. Her friends do not evolve, but they are not the ones living the same day over. The author peels the layers away for each one and they become something much deeper and, surprisingly, they are all relatable. I would be interested to find out how they are affected by Samantha’s last time repeating that day.

Considering the high number of books I have read, it means a lot when I say that this is one that will haunt me forever. Will I ever read it again? Probably not, but that does not reflect upon the writing, the story, the characters, or the message. It is cemented in my mind and I will never forget it. I cannot recommend this highly enough, even for readers who cannot stand high school books. This goes beyond the trivialities of high school. The true story is applicable to every person and every stage of life. I gladly give it a rare ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars. The movie will quickly fade from my memory, but the book will live on forever.

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The Collar & Cavvarach by Annie Douglass Lima – Krillonian Chronicles Book 1

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The collar around Bensin’s neck announces to all that he is a lowly slave, downtrodden, abused by owners, and sold as those owners see fit. There is no going out in public without a Pass from the owner. Clothing, used or very used, is at the discretion of the owner. Meals are also dictated by them. There are almost more rules than one can count. In fact, there is even a rule book on slaves for these owners.

Bensin’s sister, Ellie, is only five years old. They have always been together and he can’t imagine a life without her. They are purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Creghorn. Bensin works the yard, runs errands, and does housework. Young Ellie babysits their infant, which she is very good at, keeping Baby Creghorn happy most of the time.

When their mother died, Bensin promised her that he would obtain freedom for Ellie. Slaves are expensive to purchase and it will take years to buy her freedom. So, Bensin hatches a plan to set her free, even though he will still remain a slave. One night, they sneak out of the house, walk a long while, hiding behind cars and in alleys. Still, they are caught by the Watch officers. They’re hustled to a station, where punishment is meted out: thirty lashes for being a runaway. At fourteen, Bensin is used to being beaten by Mr. Creghorn, who is as short-tempered as a person can get. On top of his thirty lashes, he knows he will get more by his owner once he returns. Bensin realizes life is about to get even harder, but he knows he can take it if it means freeing Ellie from slavery.

Soon, Bensin discovers that the Cleghorns are selling him and he will no longer see his sister. They are both devastated at the thought, but his owners have run out of patience, dealing with a runaway, and want him gone. He is sold to Steene Mayvins, who coaches cavvara shil skills. Since he has been trained in this sport, Bensin hopes to make money for his new owner by winning matches. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the tale of Bensin and Ellie.

This story caught my interest immediately. Bensin is an engaging character with a strong personality, which must be hidden to survive in this life of slavery. Just when I thought he is an adult in disguise with all the answers, he does some ‘kid’ thing and I was reminded of his age and the strong spirit within. There is a lot that goes on in each chapter; never was I left with a ho-hum moment. I did find Ellie to be a little overly mature for her age; I have some difficulty seeing a five-year-old carrying an infant or managing to get him into his crib. Also, for being a slave, I thought she was rather unaware of the danger they were in when they tried to make a run for it.

This book is about a youngster learning a life lesson: be patient, persevere, work through your fear, and do your best. Bevin has some struggles, but he always returns to his goal of freeing his sister. Once he is owned by Steene, he becomes even stronger through the adult guidance he receives. As he is coached to physically prepare for competitions and mentally prepare for his adversaries, he becomes an admirable boy that I took pleasure watching become a mature athlete who sometimes made the right choice, and occasionally the wrong. I believe most readers will enjoy this book.

The rating:

  • Genre & general reading age – YA fantasy, but readers of all ages will appreciate it.
  • Level of sexuality: None.
  • Is there graphic language: Very little.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? The Krillonian Chronicles book one.
  • Level of character development – I enjoyed all of the characters, even the ones I thought of as ‘bad’. They were very well presented.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

Ashes to Ashes by Valerie Thomas

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Natalie and her brother, Ben, are new students and want to make friends fast. When they attend the high school bonfire, they become the entertainment instead, when Ben gets into a fist fight with Zack. Not knowing what to do, Natalie grabs onto the sleeve of the boy next to her, hoping he’ll step in and put a stop to it. Surprisingly, a girl comes forward and takes charge. Hoping to make a friend, Natalie introduces herself. Love Chapman is definitely not your average student. She tells Natalie to take her brother home and keep Ben away from Zack at all costs. A strange first encounter and not a particularly friendly one.

Natalie tries to pursue friendship with Love, who rebuffs her. Disappointed, Natalie finds friends in Jennie and Evan. Unfortunately, while she is busy making friends, so is Ben. To her dismay she discovers his new pal is Zack, a loner whose usual expression is a smirk or one with a stone-cold gaze. Either way, he gives Natalie the creeps.

Gradually, it is noticed that the school is plagued with tragedy. A student commits suicide after being seen talking to Love. Evan’s best friend is nearly killed in a car accident while Love just happens to be with him. Even Ben is not free of the bad luck Love seems to bring. While doing community service at a construction site he is injured in her presence. As Natalie’s suspicions of Love grow, so does her fear. This is not even the tip of the iceberg in this tale.

I am surprised that this story held my attention. I’ve read several YA books and there are some great ones out there, but it is usually a challenge for them to keep me glued to the pages. There are a lot of unanswered questions until the very end and I spent a lot of time pondering where the author was taking me. I think anyone who enjoys YA and mystery will enjoy this. It has a phenomenal ending that I never saw coming. Thank you Ms. Thomas. This is a completely engrossing and entertaining read.

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Young adult for teens and adults who appreciate some good YA.
  • Level of sexuality – These kids are too wrapped up in the drama to dwell on anything sexual.
  • Is there graphic language? I don’t recall any language that would scorch the reader’s eyes.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? There is a sequel coming.
  • Level of character development – The characters really didn’t change. They started with almost an adult persona and stayed that way. Other than Natalie cowing up with some wild idea that no one could talk her out of, most were rather sedate.

I’m more than happy to award this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon