Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Bad Boy Bargain by Kendra C. Highley

Baseball player Kyle Sawyer has many labels: bad boy, delinquent, ladies’ man, fearless outfielder… Only one of them is actually true. But then sweet ballet dancer Faith Gladwell asks him to help wreck her reputation, and everything goes sideways.

Faith knows a thing or two about love, and what she had with her cheating jerk of an ex wasn’t it. When he starts spreading rumors about her being an Ice Queen, Faith decides it’s time to let a little bad into her life.

Lucky for her, Kyle Sawyer—dark, dangerous, totally swoonworthy Kyle Sawyer—is landscaping her backyard over Spring Break. Shirtless. And if she can convince him to play along, “dating” Kyle will silence the rumors.

But Faith’s plan threatens to expose Sawyer’s biggest secret of all…and that’s a risk he’s not willing to take.

Disclaimer: This book contains drop-the-book-and-fan-yourself kisses...and touches. Fall in love with a bad boy at your own risk.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

5 Delicious Stars.

Entangled Crush books always put me in a good mood, and The Bad Boy Bargain most definitely lived up to its publisher. Nothing like an injection of feel-good innocence to make this pessimistic, grown woman believe in the warmth of budding young love.

The very first thing I want to address is the fact that I could feel how much Faith and Kyle took over Kendra C. Highley. The characters chose their story vs the author using the plot to herd them where she wanted them to go. Evolving organically, it was obvious by the pure chemistry pouring from the pages how much the author was writing the story the characters demanded to tell.

Young Adult or Adult, it's impossible not to blush and smile at how Faith and Kyle were feeling one another all throughout the book. It wasn't insta-love/lust, just appreciation that grew into friendship, and eventually grew into love.

Banter. Flirting. Their true personalities glowed when they were together out of mutual respect and trust.

Faith is a good girl – a good student, a good daughter, a good friend, and a determined dancer/singer. She believes in true love and not bending to a boyfriend who just wants something from her. She doesn't cave, but she has a boyfriend with octopus hands and a disappointed expression – a boyfriend she's determined to drop.

After an event that feels like a kick in the teeth, then spirals into something even more disgusting, Faith's current boyfriend becomes her ex. She seeks not vengeance but justice.

Kyle has a bad boy image – untouchable, doesn't date high school girls, has a bad rep, maybe even a rap-sheet. But all that is just a facade hiding the real Kyle beneath. A bullied kid who uses his rep as a shield against the very guy who is tarnishing Faith's good girl image.

Together, the perceived bad boy and the good girl join forces to put their mutual bully/ex in his place – sparks fly and real emotions are felt.

Proof the reader doesn't need a bunch of bells and whistles (shock-value) to elicit emotions within the reader while providing a burst of angst... Kyle was an amazing character who knew what he wanted to do and loved every minute of it, as did Faith – truly good people who I'm so happy found what they were looking for.

Besides that, the side characters offered just as much entertainment value. Faith's friend, Violet, I'd love to beg Highley to write us a novel featuring her as a narrator, perhaps with Kyle's buddy (pretty please?!?).

Proving not all young adult novels have ghosts/'ought to lose their children to CPS' for parents, Faith's parents were awesome, understanding, and all-around great people. Kyle's family was unique, being raised by his granddad and dad, both of which were equally different. Granddad was a hoot!

With refreshingly realistic characters, a good foundation and moral to the story, I highly recommend The Bad Boy Bargain to young adults and adults who want to remember the first stirrings of a crush.

Young Adult age-range: 14+ due to sexual situations (fade-to-black & kissing)

Kendra C. Highley lives in north Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to four self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most critical job. She believes in everyday magic, extraordinary love stories, and the restorative powers of dark chocolate.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of The Bad Boy Bargain by Kendra C. Highley to read and review.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Head Above Water by Caitlin Ricci

Robbie’s life has improved since coming to Thornwood. Dan is safely behind bars where he can no longer hurt Robbie, his boyfriend, Sam, is loving and supportive, and he finds tranquility while riding his horse.

But Robbie still faces obstacles. Dan’s abuse haunts him, and the repercussions don’t end there. One brother’s pain and another’s rage threaten to rip Robbie’s family apart.

Sam cherishes his time riding with Robbie and the peace they find when they’re alone together. He’d do anything to preserve that happiness for Robbie, but the world and its problems are never far behind them—and they’ll need all their strength to deal with what might be their biggest challenge yet.

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Book 2
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Harmony Ink

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

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

This is the second book in the Ricci series. While I was glad that this series has continued, this book had some definite ups and downs.

Daniel is still sour about his life, the direction it's headed and confused. Not only does he take it out on his youngest brother, but on Robbie, still, too. He is mean, unsympathetic, and vindictive. It was a relief when he decided that he needed to leave.

Sam and Robbie are trying to navigate their relationship. It's new, but something that they both need and deserve. Even though there are some communication issues between the two, they seem to know when and how to push.

Sam knows that if he gives Robbie his full support, that even though Robbie is struggling right now, they will come through together. Robbie is it for Sam.

Robbie is struggling with what was revealed during the first book – his father's identity. Does he pursue a relationship with him? Will it help heal his broken heart?

This book reveals a lot more of the dynamic between brothers, Robbie and Sam's relationship, and the relationship between the kids' guardian. The chemistry between the lovers was lukewarm at best – but I think that this book was about more than their relationship. But, because this book was about more than their relationship, it seemed to have so much going on that there was a lot to digest in a short amount of time.

Overall, this was just okay for me.

Also Available in the Robbie & Sam Series

Book 1
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Harmony Ink

For reviews & more info, check out our Weathering the Storm post.

Caitlin began writing when she was in middle school but it wasn't until 2012 that she first got up the guts to submit something to a publisher. That first short story was accepted and later that same year she quit her job and became a full time author. She is forever grateful to her readers for giving her first short story a chance and for their continued support as well.

Caitlin was fortunate growing up to be surrounded by family and teachers that encouraged her love of reading. She has always been a voracious reader and that love of the written word easily morphed into a passion for writing. If she isn't writing, she can usually be found studying as she works toward her counseling degree. She comes from a military family and the men and women of the armed forces are close to her heart. She also enjoys gardening and horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies where she calls home with her wonderful fiancé and their two dogs. Her belief that there is no one true path to happily ever after runs deeply through all of her stories.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Head Above Water (Robbie & Sam #2) by Caitlin Ricci to read and review.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Falling for the Girl Next Door by Tera Lynn Childs

Sloane Whitaker never expected to like living in Texas, but after a few months in the Lone Star State, she has to admit she likes the food, the school, and the boy next door. What she doesn’t like is the fact that half her family is still back in New York. Convincing her dad to relocate to Texas requires making their upcoming visit as perfect as possible. The perfect dinner, the perfect daughter...with the perfect boyfriend.

But when her not-so-perfect boyfriend Tru Dorsey is suddenly not-so-available, Sloane has to find another dad-impressing guy to show off at dinner. Tru himself suggests enlisting the help of a fake boyfriend, but the reality of another guy with Sloane on his arm might be more than Tru can manage. Add in a mysterious blackmailer and a divided family, and Sloane and Tru’s relationship might not be able to handle the heat.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains a bad boy next door, the good girl who snags his heart, and one epically disastrous ruse-gone-wrong. Join the fun at your own risk.

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Book 5
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Not a standalone. This is book #2 of the Sloane and Tru trilogy (I believe these are trilogies), the first couple set within the Creative HeArts universe as #1 and #5 (this book) in the series. Creative HeArts is a series of 4 couples interconnecting, each receiving a trilogy of books. The books must be read in order.

While I've enjoyed the Creative HeArts series as a whole, Sloane and Tru's first book was my least favorite of the series. However, I believe this was written with more maturity and focus than its predecessor.

Sloane and Tru are a couple at the beginning of the book, as they had been at the end of the previous installment, only they have some unresolved issues to work through. Sloane wants her family to be together, feeling guilty as if it was her fault they were split between Texas and NYC. Readers knew there was more lurking beneath the surface, for everyone in the cast.

This is a slightly darker read in terms of content, focusing on Tru's acceptance of his addiction and why he sought the bottle. I appreciated and applaud the author on tackling this tough subject matter, hopefully helping a younger reader through a similar situation.

Many of my issues with the first installment were addressed, with more maturity shown for the subject matter (I felt it was flippantly handled previously). However, there was one thread, while it may play into another couple's book, that was out of place and distracting from the overall direction the author was going. While this thread was woven into the entire book, it seemed to fizzle out and basically be forgotten by the author. In my opinion, it felt forced, unnecessary, and distracting.

I was pleased with not only the character development, but the author's growth from one book to the next, and found Falling for the Girl Next Door to be a worthy addition to the Creative HeArts series.

I can't wait to see what else is in store for these couples.

Young adult age-range: 12+. Kissing. Addiction.

Also Available in the Creative HeArts Series

Book 1
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For reviews & more info, check out our Ten Things Sloane Hates About Tru post.

Book 2
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For reviews & more info, check out our How Willa Got Her Groove Back post.

Book 3
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For reviews & more info, check out our Crazy, Stupid, Fauxmance post.

Book 4
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For reviews & more info, check out our The Secret Life of a Dream Girl post.

Tera Lynn Childs is the RITA-award-winning young adult author of the mythology-based Oh. My. Gods. series, the Forgive My Fins mermaid romance series, the kick-butt monster-hunting Sweet Venom trilogy, and the Darkly Fae series. She also writes the City Chicks sweet chick lit romance series and is co-writing the Hero Agenda series with Tracy Deebs. Tera lives nowhere in particular and spends her time writing wherever she can find a comfy chair and a steady stream of caffeinated beverages.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Falling for the Girl Next Door (Creative HeArts #5) by Tera Lynn Childs to read and review.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Arena by Holly Jennings

Now in trade paperback, the “thrilling” (New York Times bestselling author Jason M. Hough) near-future science fiction debut about the action-packed world of competitive gaming...

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV. She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier...

The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now she’s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who’s far more distracting than he should be.

Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she’ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside…

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

5 Virtual Reality Stars

Holly Jennings is a new-to-me author. I had no expectations when I decided to read this novel, having no idea where it would go. As a lifelong gamer, anytime I spot a book featuring gamer content, I jump at the chance to read it. I've found two others in the past year featuring a similar theme – one in which worked, and one that didn't.

Arena more than worked for me. I found myself completely engaged throughout the entire novel, clicking page after page to find out what happened next.

In a world set in the year 2054 in the United States, virtual gaming is everyone's favorite pastime. High-stakes, sponsors, team owners, competitors, drug abuse, with no doubt the world gambling on the outcomes.

Kali is a 20-year-old female virtual gamer, but what they do in the virtual world reflects their abilities in actuality. Gamers are pro-athletes who train hard and party harder to appease their fans and sponsors. The more salacious, the better the ratings, featured on more gossip rags and scandal sheets, the more high-profile sponsors the team acquires. There is a dark underbelly to the sport, infecting its players.

While the narrator is 20 years old, I do believe younger readers would gain the most enjoyment out of the read. I'm not saying someone of my advanced age didn't enjoy every word. Simply stating this is a good opportunity for younger gamers to be bitten by the reading bug.

Arena is a progression for Kali, from unhealthy to healthy to inspiring and empowering, with a strong Taoism theme. The quotes and philosophies showed the growth of our characters, and perhaps will influence the reader to seek a similar mindset. The book itself revolves around Kali understanding the difference between reality and virtual reality, getting healthy, and trying to change the industry she loves so much.

Do I believe non-gamers would enjoy this novel? I'm on the fence, simply because of the concepts included in the book. RPG/MMORPG game players will wish they lived in 2054 – I know I do. I believe it would be easier to read, more enjoyable in fact, and humorous when games we play today are brought up in everyday conversations by the team. But those who read science-fiction, even if they aren't a gamer, may enjoy it nonetheless.

End thoughts: Erica wants to play!

I'm curious to see what else Holly Jennings publishes next.

Recommended for 14+ due to violence (no different than what they are already experiencing during gameplay) with fade-to-black sexual content and kissing. Drug abuse is featured on the pages – which is a moral of the book.

Holly Jennings is a self- proclaimed nerd and lover of all things geeky and weird. As the firstborn to a sports enthusiast, it was soon discovered that the only games she’d ever learn to master involved consoles and controllers. Her childhood was spent crushing virtual foes, racing on simulated tracks, and rescuing digital princesses. As a young adult, she fell in love with English class, speculative novels, and comic books, which inspired her to create stories of her own. Eventually, her passions converged and she started writing about the future of video games. She lives in Canada.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Arena (Arena #1) by Holly Jennings to read and review.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Infinity by Jus Accardo

There are three things Kori knows for sure about her life:

One: Her army general dad is insanely overprotective.

Two: The guy he sent to watch her, Cade, is way too good-looking.

Three: Everything she knew was a lie.

Now there are three things Kori never knew about her life:

One: There’s a device that allows her to jump dimensions.

Two: Cade’s got a lethal secret.

Three: Someone wants her dead.

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Book 1
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

3.5 Stars

Jus Accardo is a new-to-me author. After signing up to read this book, I'd forgotten the premise, didn't reread the blurb, and went into this blindly. I found Infinity to have an intriguing, original concept. I was hooked immediately at the start, with Kori tagging a wall in vivid color. Falling into the story during Kori's narration about her lost mother and military father, I knew I was going to devour the book in one sitting... but the art was never shown again.

Since I hadn't reread the blurb, I got more than I had bargained for. The beginning was a great setup, but it devolved into a mystery in an uncomfortable way. All things that happened never would've happened if anyone would've said anything to Kori. Anything. That's not a mystery. Don't act like Kori is being a too-stupid-to-live damsel in distress when no one informed her there was danger in the first place.

Let's be rational adults protecting a 17-year-old girl – a US General, for goodness sake, couldn't be bothered to say, "Hey, Kori. There's some danger on the base, so I want you to stick close to home with your babysitters."

Since the narrator didn't know, and Kori was telling the story, the reader didn't know. So, for me, at this point, there was a major issue with pacing and the release of information. Kori was frustrated because no one was answering her nonstop questions, yet acting as if she should just know the answers, which meant I was frustrated as a reader, because the author was treating me as if I should just know too.

Yes, it was to lend a mysterious air to the novel. No, I didn't enjoy it, because this created a chaotic vibe, but not in a fast-paced action sort of way. No, readers, it isn't you not connecting the dots – there are no dots given to connect in the beginning of the book. Yes, the info was released eventually. But this is not what a mystery should make. There are true mysteries, then there is the failure to pace the story, to release info in a fluid fashion, as to not bombard the reader with an info-dump after confusing them.

I need to state I am a 38-year-old professional plotter (writer/editor) and avid reader of thousands of books, and this is a young adult book. My point being, a young adult would be beyond confused, unless they just flowed with it and pretended they knew what was happening prior to the info-dump.

Infinity had an intriguing premise, with a lot of plotting that had to come together seamlessly. The world-building was creative and inventive (I won't give away plot points or details – no spoiling the confusion for the sake of mystery for my fellow readers).

Angst. Insta-love. Loyalty. Family. Friendship. Sacrifice. Infinity had all the things young adults seek in a novel, tied up with a star-crossed lovers’ vibe.

Besides my issue with the execution of the pacing of flow of information, a major problem was there would've been no book at all if during the multiple times during the book they actually stopped the bad guy. There was nothing preternatural about him – they just refused to stop him. No less than three people at any given time, two of them trained military personnel, at one point a US General, and no one would stop him. Just stand there and watch him strangle the narrator. "Stop!" they'd shout, or chat with him, but not stop him. They would literally just let him go, then go chase him again, only to let him go, so they could chase him down before he killed more people. "He got away," was a reoccurring line. No, they all let him go.

In the alley, if they stopped him then, (it was three against one), the bracelet would have never even come into play. Yeah, no book if that happened. But as an editor, that means there needed to be a different driving force for the plot.

The reason the bad guy was free, and why he was bad took away from the intriguing premise. I wish that the foundation would've been more rational and thought-out to support the universe created. Kori was holding her own most of the time against him, yet trained professionals just... watched him hurt her, and then let him walk away. Over and over, ensuring there would be a book #2. 'That' is my issue.

As I said, with different execution of the storyline, what is a promising 3.5 star book could've been a solid 5-star read.

Recommended to Young Adult. I'm on the fence on whether or not I wish to read book #2.

Young adult age-range: 14+ due to violence and kissing. Young Adult Science-Fiction/parallel universes.

Jus Accardo spent her childhood reading and learning to cook. Determined to follow in her grandfather's footsteps as a chef, she applied and was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America. At the last minute, she realized her path lay with fiction, not food, and passed on the spot to pursue writing. Jus is the author of YA paranormal romance and urban fantasy fiction. A native New Yorker, she lives in the middle of nowhere with her husband, three dogs, and sometimes guard bear, Oswald.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Infinity (The Infinity Division #1) by Jus Accardo to read and review.