Thursday, October 20, 2016

Turn the World Upside Down by Nyrae Dawn

Hunter Donovan’s life always seemed perfect, but there was something rotten beneath the shiny surface. When the truth comes out and his dad is sent to prison, Hunter can only react with anger. His rage boils out of control, leading to a violent incident at school, and then to Hunter being sent to a mental health facility—Better Days.

Hunter doesn’t see how therapy can help him. If it can’t change the past, what good is it? It’s not like he can go back in time, see the horrible things going on right under his nose, and put a stop to them. No, he should have found that strength when he had the chance, and now it’s too late.

There is a ray of light at Better Days, though, in the friendships Hunter forges. Anxiety-ridden Casey, uninhibited Rosie, recovering bulimic Bethany, and Stray, a self-harmer who’s never had a home, lighten Hunter’s feelings of isolation.

Despite the connections he’s forming—and even the love blossoming between him and Stray—Hunter can’t escape his shame and remorse. If Hunter can’t open up and find a way to deal with what happened, he might end up another casualty of mental illness, just like one of the friends he’s grown to love.

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Harmony Ink

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

4 Emotionally Compelling Stars.

Turn the World Upside Down was a difficult book to read, as well as review. The dark subject matter was handled with compassion and from a different point-of-view meant to open minds and widen perceptions. I applaud the author for tackling such subject matter in the manner in which it was handled.

When bad things happen in a family to a singular person by another family member, usually everyone rallies around the victim, leaving the rest of the family to be in the supportive role. But, the problem with this, while the victim needs the attention and compassion, the entire family was the victim as well, leaving other siblings in the dark – forgotten.

Turn the World Upside Down was the voice of those usually forgotten in the shuffle – not the direct victim, but still someone affected by the events, but nonetheless forgotten. I appreciate this differing viewpoint, and it was refreshing to read how the author enlightened readers on how this devastates an entire family, each member in a different way.

Hunter is the older brother of a little sister who was abused. He feels responsible because he was the brother, and it's his job to take care of his sister. He feels responsible for not hearing his sister when she asked for his attention as a buffer, even if the only way to interpret her words were afterward because Hunter was not a mind-reader. His guilt is eating him alive because he loved the abuser – idolized him – instead of seeing what was subtly hiding beneath the surface. The truth.

Angry at the world, but mostly himself due to misplaced guilt, Hunter rages, unable to release the tension on the only person it belongs. I understood Hunter, because I, too, don't believe in burdening others with my feelings, as their feelings are more important and I feel my emotions are private – none of their business unless I feel like sharing.

This rage built until Hunter could no longer contain it, causing his mother to send him to a camp for children with mental illness. Not only is he raging, he feels abandoned, but also understands how his behavior is taking away from the attention his sister needs. But Hunter needs attention too, because he's hurting in a different way.

On the pages of the novel, the reader is taken on a six-week journey as Hunter comes to terms with his emotions, learning he has no fault in what happened, and makes friends with other teens who are struggling.

Even with his new friends, Hunter feels as if he needs help the least, worrying about their issues more than his own, in a place where the teens all have an equal voice and need for help.

The difficulty with the novel is the tough subject matter involving not only Hunter's past and present, but the friends he makes. All have tragic mental illnesses. I couldn't help but feel that the last thing these kids needed to be around were more tragedies they would internalize and devour as if it were their own pain – it didn't feel healthy to me that Hunter would have to be in a place to heal with other children who were hellbent on making his wounds worse, while he dealt with everyone else's issues instead of his own.

While I understood the why of it, and applaud the author for showing this side, the entire situation didn't feel healthy to me. Forging connections and helping one another is fantastic, knowing you're not alone with your mental illness is a comfort, but making and losing friends due to their mental illness, while their illness writes its signature on your psyche is not healthy, especially with the bullying behind the scenes by other teens. Hunter shouldn't have had to deal with everyone's issues when he should have been dealing with his own, compounded by the devastation of losing new friends and being bullied/beaten, all of which were new stressors added on top of 'his' issues. It felt worse, not better.

It just felt as if the child didn't have the fortitude and family Hunter had, they didn't have a snowball's chance of healing due to the influences and pressures from the people in the very place they were placed in order to heal. Counterproductive, trying to find positivity in a negative environment.

The saying 'misery loves company' doesn't mean they ban together and find happiness – it means they dwell together in their misery, making it worse. I understand it, appreciate the angle the author provided, but I don't believe this type of environment is healthy for anyone – anywhere, even if it's reality for so many.

All of the characters were compelling, heart-breaking, and innocent in their mental illness, yet also manipulative and toxic as they tried to keep their issues alive. The friendships forged were inspiring, yet sometimes enabling and destructive to one another. The romantic relationship between Hunter and Stray was innocent and sweet, filled with hope for the future for those who made an attempt at getting better.

All-in-all, Nyrae Dawn created a novel which will make the reader think for a long time after they finish the book, but I can't say I 'enjoyed' it.

I do recommend it to those who won't be triggered by the subject matter, and to those in the right emotional mindset to tackle the story. However, I don't think it's a book for everyone – not that any book truly is. I particularly recommend to those who need the comfort of knowing others are going through similar situations they may be in, and to see a differing viewpoint via the victim who wasn't the direct victim of the assailant.

Hunter had a voice, and I'm glad I got to hear it.

Young adult age-range: 14+ due to bullying/violence, abusive subject matter, mental illness and the effects, and kissing.

This is a powerful and difficult story about a group of teenagers with a range of mental health problems. The story is told from the perspective of Hunter, a boy who has not been able to deal with a horrific family crisis.

Hunter is a flawed, often self-centred narrator and his observations of his friends and peers in a rehabilitation centre give readers glimpses of each character in the centre without ever fully revealing their problems, emotions, and experiences. Hunter is crippled by guilt and his temper is focused inwards. I found it impossible not to care for him, but his destructive behaviour made him very difficult to like.

Hunter’s small group of friends become real characters once Hunter starts to take interest in the world around him. I found it fascinating to piece together each character through Hunter’s observations, even when Hunter himself doesn’t understand what he is observing.

This is more of a young adult story with gay main characters than a gay romance. The romance between Hunter and Stray is sweet and complicated, but it really isn’t the focus of this story. The focus is Hunter’s experiences as he struggles to deal with the responsibility he feels for the incident that shattered his family. His relationships – both romantic and platonic – are part of his recovery.

This isn’t an easy story with a simple happily ever after. There is a raw honesty in this writing that I found very difficult at times. It is a beautifully written story. The author never talks down to her teen audience and she refuses to offer easy platitudes. It is an important and moving book.

This is a story about teens struggling with mental health issues, told through Hunter's time at the Better Days clinic. Self-harm, bulling, sexual assault, and suicide are among some of the issues dealt with in this story. At times it makes for difficult reading and I shed plenty of tears, but I loved these characters and this book with all my heart.

I, like many out there, am presently experiencing my own issues and this book hit the spot. In her dedication Nyrae Dawn says "This book is dedicated to you. To anyone who needs it." Well I needed it. Thank you Ms. Dawn.

NYRAE DAWN can almost always be found with a book in her hand or an open document on her laptop. She couldn’t live without books—reading or writing them. Oh, and chocolate. She’s slightly addicted.

She feels a special pull to characters in their teens. There’s something so fresh and fun about the age that she adores exploring. Her husband says it’s because she doesn’t want to grow up. She doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing. Luckily for her, he doesn’t either.

Nyrae gravitates toward character-driven stories. Whether reading or writing, she loves emotional journeys. It’s icing on the cake when she really feels something, but is able to laugh too. She’s a proud romantic, who has a soft spot for flawed characters. She loves people who aren’t perfect, who make mistakes, but also have big hearts.

Nyrae is living her very own happily ever after in California with her gorgeous husband (who still makes her swoon) and her two incredibly awesome kids.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Turn the World Upside Down by Nyrae Dawn to read and review.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Guyliner by J. Leigh Bailey

Seventeen-year-old Connor works his butt off to maintain the golden-boy persona he’s created. He has the grades, the extracurriculars, the athletics, and a part-time job at his dad’s shop… every detail specifically chosen to ensure the college scholarships he needs to get the hell out of the Podunk town where he lives. The last thing he needs is an unexpected attraction to Graham, an eyeliner-wearing soccer phenom from St. Louis, who makes him question his goals and his sexuality. Sure, he’s noticed good-looking boys before—that doesn’t have to mean anything, right?—but he’s got a girlfriend. There’s no room on the agenda for hooking up with Graham, but the heart doesn’t always follow the rules.

As he and Graham grow close, other aspects of Connor’s life fall apart. Family pressure, bad luck, and rumors threaten to derail his carefully laid plans. Suddenly the future he’s fighting for doesn’t seem quite as alluring, especially if he has to deny who he really is to achieve it.

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Dreamspinner Press

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

5 Angsty, Young Adult Stars

J. Leigh Bailey is a new-to-me author, and I could seriously fan-girl right now. I do plan on checking out the author's past works ASAP. I love the innocence of the young adult genre, and I believe this book would be a comfort to both children who are contemplating coming out, and to their parents to get their child's perspective.

Connor is his rural mid-western town's Golden Boy, with his sights set on playing baseball in college as a way to get out of his hometown. He's dating the couch's daughter, has a 4.0, a hard-working family, and is the oldest of five siblings. His entire life implodes when, while working out in the weight room for practice, his eye catches the school's new eyeliner-wearing soccer star.

Connor's characterization was accurate and realistic, how he is so hyper-focused on his future, trying to make his father proud, he barely notices the present. The way of life makes it possible for Connor to live in denial about his sexuality, when he never realized in the first place.

Graham is a complex character to Connor's open book. Graham has a tragic past, with its bits and pieces of information doled out at a steady pace to keep a mystery surrounding it. Graham is what Connor is not – confident in knowing who he is and owning it, even if no one else accepts it. But Graham is patient when it comes to friendship, as long as he's treated with respect when it comes to more than friendship.

I don't want to give the plot away, but there are ups and downs and a ton of delicious angst in this page-turning, young adult read. After reading the book in one sitting, I was satisfied with the ending, but wanted more from other characters in the book's universe, as I wish to know more via other's narration on our couple. Sadly, however, I do believe this is a standalone. But my voracious need for more is a sure sign on how much I enjoyed the story.

Recommended to fans of MM Romance and Young Adult MM.

Young Adult age range: 14+ Kissing. Bullying/bigotry. Past violence (not shown)

Wow. This is such a wonderful story. Connor and Graham are both fantastic characters. The golden boy and the beautiful, leather-clad outsider are right out of one of the best Eighties high school movies but the m/m romance is a very 21st century twist on a classic teen romance.

Full of angst and seemingly insurmountable problems (both real and perceived), Connor and Graham’s story feels real and honest. The central conflict is Connor coming to terms with his sexuality and Graham rebuilding his life after a terrible experience. Most of this conflict is internal, but Connor’s fears are realistically debilitating at times and his resulting behaviour is self-destructive. Connor isn’t always easy to like, but the author makes him feel real. I enjoyed his friendships and his relationship with his family. I loved the way the adults surprised both boys at times and the way the author refrained from unnecessary conflict between the generations.

Graham is brave and fabulous. As a star athlete, he challenges stereotypes and pushes boundaries. And while it is easier to like Graham in this story, the author makes several interesting observations about Graham’s wealth and privilege allowing him more opportunities than are possible for blue collar, small town Connor.

As a young adult story, this book is light on sex and the romance is sweet rather than steamy. But I loved the connection between these two boys and I loved the classic high school romance themes in this book. If you loved Footloose or The Breakfast Club, you will enjoy this modern classic.

This book was freaking fabulous! I am beside myself with how much I enjoyed it. My only complaint about Guyliner is that I believe calling it a new adult romance is limiting its potential audience. I found it to be more of a young adult, coming of age story and really hope that it receives enough word-of-mouth marketing (i.e., by stating it my review and by telling my friends), that it finds its way into the hands of teens who may be struggling with their sexuality. Yes, there are some rather harsh realities in the book when it comes to the hate that some teens (and adults) face simply because of their sexual identity, but I still feel it’s an extremely appropriate read for teens of all sexual orientations.

Connor is a hometown boy hoping to escape his small town on both his educational and athletic merits. The oldest of five and in his junior year in high school, he’s been dubbed the Golden Boy by his peers because he works hard at school and baseball, is involved in extracurricular activities, treats his girlfriend with respect, works part-time, babysits his siblings, and the list continues. Yet a rainy day brings a glimpse of bright blue eyes accentuated by guyliner, and Connor soon discovers chinks in his carefully constructed facade – a wall so well fortified that it allowed Connor to ignore that niggle in his brain that there might be more to him than he wanted to admit. So as Connor begins to question who he is, all while being pressured by his dad to focus on school and baseball, Graham is adjusting to a new school, a new soccer team, and a new town, just hoping for a fresh start as he continues to recover from a horrific hate-fueled attack. But as paths collide (literally) and the boys are thrust into a situation where they are working together and getting to know one another, they each experience a huge shift in their respective worlds. As their friendship begins to develop, Connor finds himself asking harder and harder questions and is afraid of what the answers will be and how they will affect his family.

There is so much that I loved about this book. Coming from a small town, I understand Connor’s fear over coming out. Even if the majority of his classmates are accepting of his new “identity,” prejudices among adults can mean that his classmates who see him as a target to be taunted and attacked are provided opportunities to do so as there is little fear of reprisal. Fortunately, Graham understood this and tried his best not to push Connor into coming out, but based on his own past, Graham’s refusal to be Connor’s dirty little secret was understandable also. I liked how, once Connor came out to his girlfriend, Allyson didn’t get angry or end their friendship, instead, she admitted that she may have been using him a bit too because having a boyfriend who wasn’t part octopus and wasn’t pressuring her to have sex, made dating and high school easier. While Connor’s best friend, Marc, reacted well to the news as well, Bailey didn’t whitewash Connor’s coming out by painting everyone with an accepting paintbrush – not at all, there were the requisite bigoted jerks whose personal self-worth seemed to be measured by their ability to put someone else down. While I disliked the setup for the scene – and I mean the events, not the writing – I was glad when Connor was finally able to express his frustrations with his father and clear the air. Of course, the truly best part of Guyliner was watching the relationship develop between Connor and Graham, especially when Connor makes his grand gesture towards the end. Guyliner was an absolutely delightful read and I cannot wait to read more of Bailey’s books.

Age Recommendation: 13 and up for kissing, bullying, and recounting of hate crime.

J. LEIGH BAILEY is an office drone by day and romance author by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything… but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships, and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation, or paranormal affiliation, deserves a happy ending.

She wrote her first story at seven which was, unbeknownst to her at the time, a charming piece of fanfiction in which Superman battled (and defeated, of course) the nefarious X Luther. (She was quite put out to be told later that the character’s name was supposed to be Lex.) Her second masterpiece should have been a bestseller, but the action-packed tale of rescuing her little brother from an alligator attack in the marshes of Florida collected dust for years under the bed instead of gaining critical acclaim.

Now she writes about boys traversing the crazy world of love, relationships, and acceptance.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Guyliner by J. Leigh Bailey to read and review.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Run for It All by Carolyn LeVine Topol

When both his moms take an offer for a year of employment in Europe, fifteen-year-old David Martin has no choice but to head to Connecticut to stay with his dad and his dad’s partner. Not only is he leaving behind the life he loves in New York City, he’s unsure how he feels about staying with a father he barely knows, one who has been far from supportive during David’s life.

If he doesn’t have enough on his plate, David is also confused and wrestling with his burgeoning sexual feelings… toward other boys. Running with his dad’s partner takes the edge off, but training with the hot—and openly gay—track team captain, Kevin Ringer, produces a different kind of rush.

An assault on David and Kevin in the locker room gives David a new perspective on his own identity, his feelings for Kevin, and his relationship with his dad. Life is very different from what David is used to, but he’s determined to carve out a place for himself.

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Harmony Ink

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Run for It All was a very enjoyable M/M young adult romance. I liked watching the transformation that took place in David as he went from the sullen teen who reluctantly agreed to spend a year with his father in a small town in Connecticut to a confident young man who embraced life with two dads, developed a love of running, and fell in love. Admittedly, I doubt that many 15-year-olds are capable of falling in love, but Topol has created a believable romance between David and Kevin by not making it the focal point of the book, but rather giving readers a look at David as whole – as a son, as a friend, as a runner, as a teammate, and, eventually, as a boyfriend. So as David grows as a person, it makes the feelings he develops for Kevin and the progression of their relationship believable.

Even though it’s clear at the beginning of the book that he agreed to it, David is unhappy with his new living arrangement. But as he is being raised by two moms and his biological father is also gay, he understands the importance of what his mothers are doing for gay rights and the need for him to spend the year with Rob and Steve (his father and father’s partner), so he plans to grin and bear it, all while hoping that he won’t die from boredom as West Hartford has almost nothing to do, especially when compared to New York City. Considering his age, David does an admirable job of not taking out his dissatisfaction with the situation on Steve, who David doesn’t know very well despite being his father’s partner of seven years. Oddly enough, it is Steve who makes the transition go smoothly and plays a vital part in David’s growth over the course of the year.

One of the things I enjoyed about Run for It All was the supportive attitude and reasonableness of the parents involved. Granted, David and Kevin demonstrate repeatedly throughout the book that they’re both responsible young men who have goals they’re willing to work hard to achieve. But rather than trying to block their attempts to have time alone with one another, both David’s fathers and Kevin’s parents make it clear that their son’s safety is the most important thing to them – so they insure the boys have some time alone in their respective homes occasionally. The parents are realistic enough to understand that there’s little they can do to prevent the boys from being together when they decide to take that step and, instead, chose to concentrate on providing a safe environment for them. In my opinion, it not only sent the message to the boys that their safety was important, but that their parents trusted and respected them enough to know that they wouldn’t rush the physical aspects of their relationship. Fortunately, Kevin and David validated that trust by taking their time to get to know one another before taking that next step, and when they’re relationship did become physical, neither of them allowed it to interfere with their other responsibilities – then again, training for long-distance running events didn’t give them a lot of time to get into any trouble. While there’s not an athletic bone in my body, I enjoyed how the running stayed central to the storyline as it was what played an important part in David’s growth. I quite enjoyed Run for It All and look forward to reading more of Topol’s writing.

Age Recommendation: 14 and up. While it is obvious that the main characters eventually “go all the way,” it occurs off the page with a fade-to-black setup. The on-page sexual contact is limited to kissing and mutual masturbation.

Born in Brooklyn, CAROLYN LEVINE TOPOL grew up just outside New York City. Three passions dominated her life: reading, writing, and theater. Having always dreamed of writing her own version of The Great American Novel, it took her many years to discover her most heartfelt stories took their form in the creation of M/M romances. Sharing her writing with a small circle of online friends, Carolyn received advice, encouragement and joy from their feedback. Spending her days working as an executive assistant in a synagogue, Carolyn relishes the quiet wee hours of the morning to lose herself in writing of the loves, passions, and adventures driving her characters. With the backing of a supportive husband and two young adult children, Carolyn continues to explore the fabulous world of gay romance with the philosophy “Every person deserves their happy ending.”

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Run for It All by Carolyn LeVine Topol to read and review.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chasing Truth by Julie Cross

At Holden Prep, the rich and powerful rule the school—and they’ll do just about anything to keep their dirty little secrets hidden.

When former con artist Eleanor Ames’s homecoming date commits suicide, she’s positive there’s something more going on. The more questions she asks, though, the more she crosses paths with Miles Beckett. He’s sexy, mysterious, arrogant…and he’s asking all the same questions.

Eleanor might not trust him—she doesn’t even like him—but they can’t keep their hands off of each other. Fighting the infuriating attraction is almost as hard as ignoring the fact that Miles isn’t telling her the truth…and that there’s a good chance he thinks she’s the killer.

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Book 1
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Avid Reader☆☆☆☆☆
4.5 stars
M/F Mystery
Triggers: Click HERE to see Avid Reader’s review on Goodreads for trigger warnings.

This was a great YA story. It was complex, developed twists and turns, and great characters.

Ellie, Harper, Aiden, and Miles are all well developed and have complex relationships. They all feed off each other, support each other, and love each other.

It was a hard thing for me to get around, the fact that Miles has this image of how the world should work. However, from where I don't really understand how he's come to be that way, especially given his parents' careers. So, while I enjoyed the dialogue between him and Ellie, he was the character I had the hardest time believing.

Ellie and Harper have had a difficult childhood. I do wish that we had known more about Harper, but hopefully, she'll get her own story. The relationship that they have, the connection they share is something only siblings can truly share. I love how they support each other, even when Harper knows that Ellie is hiding something.

Ellie is struggling to find her place. I felt her hurt when she recalls her friend Simon. The guilt over surviving. She knows in her heart that Simon would not have left her. When she begins her quest, she knows that she'll have to draw upon her skills – but she's apprehensive about this, because she has worked hard to hide those abilities.

The internal struggle that both main characters go through is interesting. One is trying to find the right side of the ethical dilemma while the other is trying to decide where the line is – good versus bad.

The story takes a lot of twists and turns – the secondary characters help Ellie and Miles seem a little more "normal," but I think that they were somewhat distracting because you knew how they belonged together – their relationships, you were able to see how they wove together to create this community of people – their click.

Overall, this was a great mystery. Despite guessing the who did it – before the big reveal – I still found that the story was great. I can't wait to see what this series has in store.

Chasing Truth is the debut in the Eleanor Ames series. Truth be told, I have no idea how to review this book without it being a massive spoiler, so I think it best if I avoid the plot altogether, and just state the writing style and the way it made me feel...

Fast-paced, with a good withholding of information, which was delivered in healthy doses along the way to keep the reader fully engaged and eager for more. Chasing Truth is the mystery surrounding Ellie's friend, Simon.

Ellie's a teenage girl, but she's so much more than that. As the daughter born into a crime family of grifters, con-artists, her view of the world is tainted. She has no roots, no identity, not even a birth certificate or social security number. Ellie is a ghost living a lie until she's able to obtain documentation. There is an edge to Ellie that removes the usual vapid, TSTL (too stupid to live) mentality 'some' YA heroine's personalities are written. Ellie has depth, a great backstory, insecurities, and confidence in her skills. She tends to use her wit and intelligence more so than her feminine wiles. Ellie's #1 in life is survival, not clothing, and trends, and being popular, and boys. Ellie may be morally bankrupt by society's standards, but she does have loyalty and ethics she lives by.

In walks Miles into Eleanor's life, which is the start to a push-pull, love-hate, slow-burn romance as the two justice-seekers chase clues about what happened to Simon. Miles is Ellie's complete and total opposite, Mr. Black & White with no shades of gray. You're either right or wrong, with no room for redemption.

Eleanor learns to drop her emotional shields while Miles evolves through humility while shedding his self-righteousness.

Chasing Truth is a who-done-it style read that had me clicking the pages all through the night. When I got to the very last page, my Kindle battery died. No joke, talk about perfect timing. I read the book from page one until the end in one sitting, when I should have been sleeping. It's now 7 in the morning, and I'm starting the day with a book-hangover.

As an adult reading a Young Adult novel, I believe this book will appeal to all ages (13+) and genders, as long as they like a thrilling mystery with a thread of romance riding the surface – something for everyone.

I look forward to reading more by Julie Cross, and more from this series.

Julie Cross is a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of New Adult and Young Adult fiction, including the Tempest series, a young adult science fiction trilogy which includes Tempest, Vortex, Timestorm (St. Martin’s Press).

She’s also the author of Letters to Nowhere series, Whatever Life Throws at You, Third Degree, Halfway Perfect, and many more to come!

Julie lives in Central Illinois with her husband and three children. She’s a former gymnast, longtime gymnastics fan, coach, and former Gymnastics Program Director with the YMCA.

She’s a lover of books, devouring several novels a week, especially in the young adult and new adult genres.

Outside of her reading and writing credibility’s, Julie Cross is a committed–but not talented–long distance runner, creator of imaginary beach vacations, Midwest bipolar weather survivor, expired CPR certification card holder, as well as a ponytail and gym shoe addict.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Chasing Truth (Eleanor Ames #1) by Julie Cross to read and review.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Do-Gooder by J. Leigh Bailey

Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Martin knows what they say about good intentions, and he finds out it’s all true. After all, he had the best of intentions when he stepped in to stop a friend from making a terrible mistake, but when he’s caught with his friend’s gun, no one believes him. As punishment, Isaiah is forced to pack his bags and join his missionary father in politically unstable Cameroon, Africa.

Isaiah’s father also has good intentions, and he devotes all his time to them, so he sends Henry, a mysterious and attractive do-gooder, to act as Isaiah’s chaperone—and hopefully keep him out of trouble. But once again, the best-laid plans quickly go awry and Isaiah and Henry are abducted by enemy soldiers. If they want to live through their ordeal, they’ll have to work together and learn to trust each other until they’re rescued—or come up with a plan to save themselves and hope, for once, nothing goes wrong.

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Harmony Ink

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Having read a couple of Bailey’s M/M new adult romances, I was excited about the prospect of discovering how well she could write a young adult story. As it turns out, the author’s writing style lends itself well to the young adult genre as this and the other books I’ve read demonstrate a clear focus on the characters as the driving force behind the story. Because I don’t know where else to mention it in my review, I want to give a nod to the author about how Isaiah’s diabetes is dealt with in the book – it is presented as a part of who he is and not as a barrier to him living his life, yet the author makes it clear that Isaiah’s diligence to his health is paramount without making his diabetes a character of its own (if that makes sense).

No good deed goes unpunished. That’s the premise of Do-Gooder, or at least that’s how Isaiah sees it as his butt is on its way to Africa for part of the summer as a form of intensive community service. Yeah, getting caught with a gun within 200 yards of a school was no laughing matter, but his mother’s legal prowess kept him out of jail, even if the alternative isn’t much better in Isaiah’s opinion. Isaiah’s outlook on the situation gets a little brighter upon meeting Henry, but that feeling is short-lived when the young men are waylaid by mercenaries on their trip back to the medical center. At first glance, this may seem a bit fantastical of a storyline, yet it’s the kind of incident that triggers tourist warnings for Americans throughout the world – no one is truly safe. While the direction the story takes revs up the action and adventure that will hold many a teen’s attention, it is Isaiah and Henry’s time as hostages that allows the author’s talent to shine because it’s when we see the characters develop. I don’t want to say much about their time as hostages because I don’t want to ruin the book for potential readers, but it’s not pretty; it’s no worse than many action movies I’ve watched, except that when they are subjected to violence, it’s not overly graphic in my opinion.

I should point out that an adult reader, and an astute young adult reader, will easily see the set-up for the action and adventure portion of Do-Gooder. However, Bailey writes it in such a way that the reader is meant to see what Isaiah and Henry do not, and understand why they don’t see it. Yet even knowing that something was coming, I was still taken aback by events as they unfolded. So while there is a certain level of predictability for the adult reader, it didn’t keep me from getting sucked into the story because of how Bailey writes Isaiah and Henry – they are what matters, they are why I’m reading the story, and it is their responses to the situation and their behaviors that moved the story forward. The bond that forms between the young men as they are faced with a situation right out of a movie or novel (*wink, wink*) is palpable, not only because of the danger they face together, but because they anchor one another to reality. As this is a young adult novel, there is no sexual content, with only a kiss being exchanged – and considering that the storyline is heavy on the action and adventure, it made sense that there was no more than that. While I do not pretend to know what, if anything, teens are reading these days, I suspect that Do-Gooder will appeal more to males than females because of the action and adventure aspects, particularly gay teens who may find themselves identifying with Isaiah and/or Henry. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and hope that Bailey continues to contribute to the LGBT young adult genre.

Young Adult Recommendation: I’m going to say 14 and up as there is only a kiss shared between Isaiah and Henry, and the violence isn’t too graphic. Initially, I was going to say 12 and up, but there are a couple of discussions regarding Henry’s time as a rentboy and, while it happens off-page, it is clear that Henry trades his “services” for Isaiah’s insulin, hence the change in age recommendation.

J. LEIGH BAILEY is an office drone by day and romance author by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything… but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships, and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation, or paranormal affiliation, deserves a happy ending.

She wrote her first story at seven which was, unbeknownst to her at the time, a charming piece of fanfiction in which Superman battled (and defeated, of course) the nefarious X Luther. (She was quite put out to be told later that the character’s name was supposed to be Lex.) Her second masterpiece should have been a bestseller, but the action-packed tale of rescuing her little brother from an alligator attack in the marshes of Florida collected dust for years under the bed instead of gaining critical acclaim.

Now she writes about boys traversing the crazy world of love, relationships, and acceptance.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Do-Gooder by J. Leigh Bailey to read and review.