Monday, April 17, 2017

Don't Kiss the Messenger by Katie Ray

For most of her teenage life, CeCe Edmonds has been dealing with the stares and the not-so-polite whispers that follow her around Edgelake High. So she has a large scar on her face—Harry Potter had one on his forehead and people still liked him.

CeCe never cared about her looks—until Emmett Brady, transfer student and football darling, becomes her literature critique partner. The only problem? Emmett is blindsided by Bryn DeNeuville, CeCe’s gorgeous and suddenly shy volleyball teammate.

Bryn asks CeCe to help her compose messages that’ll charm Emmett. CeCe isn’t sure there’s anything in his head worth charming but agrees anyway—she’s a sucker for a good romance. Unfortunately, the more messages she sends and the more they run into each other, the more she realizes there’s plenty in his head, from food to literature. Too bad Emmett seems to be falling for the wrong girl…

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book involves one fiercely scarred girl who wants the new guy in town, the new guy who thinks he wants the new girl, and the new girl who really isn’t sure what she wants, and the misunderstanding that brings them all together. You’ll laugh, you’ll swoon, you’ll fall in love.

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Book 1
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Entangled Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking Don't Kiss the Messenger and was immediately hooked after just a few pages! CeCe Edmonds, the main character, is a strong female and very relatable. Katie Ray has easily won me over with this one. Don't Kiss the Messenger is a modern day retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, which I haven't read, but I am certainly intrigued by it now. Although this is Katie Ray's first book under this pen name, she has other books under Katie Kacvinsky and I will definitely be looking into what other gems she might have!

With a large scar on her face CeCe Edwards has dealt with the stares that follow her around Edgewood High School. However, CeCe never really cared about her looks, at least until Emmett Brady, recent transfer student and star football player, ends up as her partner in literature. But when Emmett sees gorgeous Bryn, a recent transfer and one of CeCe's volleyball teammates, he's immediately smitten. When Bryn comes to CeCe to help her compose messages to charm Emmett she reluctantly helps, but suddenly finds herself falling for a guy who's into the wrong girl.

My one complaint was that I think this would've easily fit as a new adult book by tweaking the private high school aspect to a college one to make it slightly more believable, but nonetheless I had no trouble being captivated by Ray's story. I think fans of Colleen Hoover's Maybe Someday will easily fall in love with this story and should definitely be adding this to their TBR piles! Five Stars for Katie Ray's Don't Kiss the Messenger.

4 Angsty Stars

Katie Ray is a new-to-me author, and I was instantly hooked from the first paragraph. Swift pacing, easy to relate to characters, and realistic emotions. Beyond frustrating for an adult to read.

CeCe is a strong character: athletic, a true leader, crazy about music and literature – deep and cerebral-centric. She is also scarred on her cheek from a car accident as a child. It doesn't matter how amazing she is in all aspects of her life, first impressions matter. Before anyone gets to know her, all they see is her scar. Once they get to know her, their friendship is easy. But the problem is, in order to have a love life, the mating dance begins in the most shallowest of ways... by first impression.

CeCe is confident, but relegates herself in the friend-zone, never even daydreaming that anyone would ever want to date her. This isn't a self-esteem issue. Simply looking in the mirror and recognizing who is staring back. I'd love to say this isn't realistic, or that teenagers grow out of the vapid view they have on beauty, but it still holds true from birth to death. A disturbing fact of life, no matter how deep a person we all pretend to be, the bright and shiny attracts us first and foremost.

As the volleyball captain, CeCe is friends with her teammates. One girl in particular, a new transfer, latches herself onto CeCe. Bryn is sweet and clueless, but she's even more beautiful on the outside. She's not malicious, just immature and uneducated. I wouldn't say she's shallow. She's a teenage girl, and it doesn't make her vapid because she doesn't want to listen to sonnets or classical music or experience deep, intense conversation during makeout sessions. She just needs to find the right fit, friend-and-boyfriend-wise.

Bryn gives the best first impressions.

CeCe does not.

Bryn doesn't have the ability to retain the sparkle after a few minutes.

CeCe shines as soon as her mouth opens.

Bryn begs her new friend to help her out with the hot guy. Having a crush on the same guy, CeCe knows she doesn't have a snowball's chance after spying the boy eyeing Bryn, so she agrees to help her break the ice. The ice breakage turns into glacier proportions, some of which was difficult for me to read.

One sentence by CeCe had me cheering. For all of his intensity, Emmett was the most vapid character on the pages for being blinded by Bryn. Bryn is a great girl, but not what he's looking for, but he was obsessed with the outside packaging. Emmett is the epitome of vapid – because depth doesn't mean deep talks and writing music, it's first impressions and wanting Bryn without knowing her. Everything he voiced, he belied in action.

Emmett is a teenage boy first and foremost. His intensity was a bit over-the-top for me to swallow. How a switch was flipped between the cerebral and the physical – if Bryn took a piece of clothing off, Emmett lost 100 IQ points. Hormones. Idiots. He kept saying he wanted love first, yet he kept jumping Bryn's bones. How can someone so intelligent be so... blind? I can't buy into that. It would take 2 seconds to figure out Bryn had no clue what he was talking about, and it had nothing to do with opening up emotionally. No way. No how. If you say you don't like specific genres of music, that isn't an emotion – that's an opinion. But no alarms sounded in his mind when Bryn in person contradicted Bryn in email? He believed what he wanted to believe, saw what he wanted to see... Emmett was a vapid, vapid boy who was obsessed with being in love... the fake, false, romanticized version of love – the fantasy that is NEVER reality... moving on.

I struggled while reading the novel, having to repeatedly remind myself that Emmett's a boy. I'm a grown woman, and I know a few things, so for a large part of the novel I was strangling my Kindle, envisioning it was the characters. No matter how frustrated I may have been, their actions/reactions were exactly as idiotic, shallow, and book-cover-deep as human nature predicts. Doesn't make them bad, just human.

I don't want to spiral down the rabbit hole where I complain, because I truly loved this angsty gem of a novel. But it was a bit much for my adult mind to find entertaining at times. Teens will go flipping nuts for it, no doubt. Seriously.

I just had a hard time finding the balance between two characters who spewed their intelligence on the pages, being so unintelligent the rest of the time. I can't quote books, and I'm a writer and avid reader. But these athletes, the top of their sports, who write music, play and compose music, know literature better than those who wrote the stories...

Too much maturity and too good at everything, almost making them so deep it felt like they were playacting what they thought was sophisticated, highlighting how shallow it was to want shoes or wear makeup and not be involved in intense conversations about music and literature... Yet they were the most immature and blind of the cast of characters.

Emmett's friend even told the idiot he was catfished – and I was like, hallelujah! We're finished with this fiasco – Emmett just smiled and nodded his head. The genius Emmett... crawling out of that rabbit hole – apologies.

All in all, as I said, I loved it. Teens will find it deliciously angsty. The grown adult in me had a difficult time not shaking the characters and grounding them, teaching them life lessons... because the moral of not messing around with people's emotions and taking responsibility for it was glossed over on the pages... how you're not better than someone else based on your interests... how shaming anyone different is wrong, in order to highlight how right you are... how romanticizing love makes it false emotion.

Don't be pretentious.

Signing off before the adult in me lets loose. My apologies.

I want a book featuring Frank, just saying... I think most of the readers would agree.

Girl power! Confession, I loved both CeCe and Bryn, even though I would have a stern talk with them. However, nothing was going to get me to like Emmett. He's the phony type who will repeat this trend for life. That's the grown woman in me talking. Reminds me of Noah from The Affair. LOL!

Young Adult age-range: 14+ due to sexual situations and adult language.

Katie Ray (also known by her previous author name, Katie Kacvinsky) writes teen and new adult fiction novels. Her books have been nominated for YALSA awards, and First Comes Love was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Her screenplay, A High Note, was a semifinalist in the Austin Screenplay Competition in 2015. She currently lives in Ashland, Wisconsin with her husband, two children, and a slightly insane dog.

Connect with Katie

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Don't Kiss the Messenger (Edgelake High School #1) by Katie Ray to read and review.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

True North by L.E. Sterling

Abandoned by her family in Plague-ridden Dominion City, eighteen-year-old Lucy Fox has no choice but to rely upon the kindness of the True Borns, a renegade group of genetically enhanced humans, to save her twin sister, Margot. But Nolan Storm, their mysterious leader, has his own agenda. When Storm backtracks on his promise to rescue Margot, Lucy takes her fate into her own hands and sets off for Russia with her True Born bodyguard and maybe-something-more, the lethal yet beautiful Jared Price. In Russia, there's been whispered rumors of Plague Cure.

While Lucy fights her magnetic attraction to Jared, anxious that his loyalty to Storm will hurt her chances of finding her sister, they quickly discover that not all is as it appears… and discovering the secrets contained in the Fox sisters' blood before they wind up dead is just the beginning.

As they say in Dominion, sometimes it’s not you… it’s your DNA.

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Book 2
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Entangled Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Lucy is now living with the True Borns under Storm's protection. Storm promised he'd help find her sister, Margot. In return, Lucy's place in the upper circle allows Storm access to the Dominion's elite to make connections and gather information. But Lucy is tired of waiting to learn about her sister's fate and takes matters into her own hands, despite the danger.

There is much we don't know about what is going on in Dominion and the world at large. With True North, I felt like a lot was going on but I wasn't learning a great deal either about what is truly going on or about the truth behind Lucy and Margot's blood. It was frustrating.

I was also frustrated with Jared, who runs hot and cold with Lucy and is just a giant tease. I wanted him to put up or shut up.

I think True North required me to be a more patient reader than I am, but the story picks up towards the end with some good tension and action. It left me wanting to find out what happens now. With one book left in this trilogy, I'm sure the final instalment will give me the pace and answers that I seek.

True North was a book I was highly anticipating, after the events that happened in True Born. Dominion is set in a plague-torn landscape amongst True Born, genetically spliced humans, and Lasters. Political machinations drive the plot.

I’m writing my initial thoughts at 45% into True North. After the large gap in time since reading the previous book, it was a struggle to fall into the story. Perhaps if I’d reread True Born as a refresher, this wouldn’t have been the case. By chapter three, it was smooth sailing. However, I do feel there was a different feel to the writing.

It wasn’t until the 40% mark into the book that anything happened. Prior to that, it felt stalled, bridging the gap from explaining what occurred in book one to what eventually would happen in book two.

There was so much world-building in book one, creating an impressive foundation for the series – True Born was jam-packed with action and originality – that I felt book two was a major letdown, to be quite honest.

The first 40% of the book is Lucy’s inner monologue, not trusting Storm and wanting to find her twin. She visits with the upper crust, as was her bargain with Storm, and crushes hard on Jared. It wasn’t as deep as the first book, more vapid and shallow – like Lucy’s thoughts were just riding the surface, even when thinking of her missing twin, she didn’t seem to show a growth in her emotions. Lucy just thought about how much she missed Margot for a sentence, and then was distracted by other thoughts.

The Lucy I remembered wasn’t the one written on the pages of True North. She was flighty, making stupid, reckless decisions, without a shred of self-preservation. She worried about her needs, not how her actions had consequences. Our heroine turned TSTL (too stupid to live) and dragged others with her.

I do feel for Lucy’s predicament. After a lifetime of knowing her future was in her father’s hands, now that Storm is using the marriage mart as his in, Lucy is terrified and unable to trust him. She wants to be the maker of her own destiny, to make her own choices. The only issue is that Lucy proves her freewill is more to her detriment than the cage others place her in. She doesn’t make choices based on knowledge and logic. Rather, everything she does is in the now, without thought of consequences, all based on emotion, which completely belies the fact that she is written to have a political mind. So while I feel for Lucy, she’s incapable of making choices for herself. This is the adult in me, and I’m positive the young adult reader won’t notice.

Up to 70%, I still feel as if the book is mostly filler, with scenes that don’t truly propel the plot forward. However, after this point, as the reader is moved toward the climax, every page is action-packed.

My final thoughts at the end of True North: Jared shines, and I don’t mean Lucy’s feelings for him – the author seems more connected to the character. While I feel this book was filler as a set-up for the next in the series, I’m glad I read it. I’m curious to see where the story goes, but slightly leery at the same time, fearing it will be drawn-out.

To be honest, I find the True Borns more intriguing, wishing to read from their point of view, instead of Lucy’s or Margot’s. To be inside Storm’s or Jared’s mind would be an interesting journey. Even the newest character, Ali. For me, Lucy just isn’t capturing my interest like she did in True Born.

Young Adult age-range: 12+, depending on the maturity of the reader. Violence, kissing and non-detailed sexual situations.

Also Available in the True Born Trilogy

Book 1
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N   ~  Google Play  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo
Entangled Publishing

For reviews & more info, check out our True Born post.

L.E. Sterling had an early obsession with sci-fi, fantasy and romance to which she remained faithful even through an M.A. in Creative Writing and a PhD in English Literature – where she completed a thesis on magical representation. She is the author of two previous novels, the cult hit Y/A novel The Originals (under pen name L.E. Vollick), dubbed “the Catcher in the Rye of a new generation” by one reviewer, and the urban fantasy Pluto’s Gate. Originally hailing from Parry Sound, Ontario, L.E. spent most of her summers roaming across Canada in a van with her father, a hippie musician, her brothers and an occasional stray mutt – inspiring her writing career. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of True North (True Born Trilogy #2) by L.E. Sterling to read and review.

The Castaways by Jessika Fleck

Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies in this YA contemporary fantasy.

The Castaway Carnival: fun, mysterious, dangerous.

Renowned for its infamous corn maze… and the kids who go missing in it.

When Olive runs into the maze, she wakes up on an isolated and undetectable island where a decades-long war between two factions of rival teens is in full swing.

Trapped, Olive must slowly attempt to win each of her new comrades’ hearts as Will—their mysterious, stoically quiet, and handsome leader—steals hers.

Olive is only sure about one thing: her troop consists of the good guys, and she’ll do whatever it takes to help them win the war and get back home.

But victory may require more betrayal, sacrifice, and heartbreak than she’s ready for.

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Entangled Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Olive has been the victim of constant bullying at school. Very early on, there is a scene in the girls’ loos where Olive is being assaulted by the bullies and it was so disgusting I had to force myself to continue reading. Soon after, at the local carnival, one of the bullies chases Olive through a maze and she winds up going from a corn field in Texas to a tropical island in the blink of an eye.

The mystical doorway which sent Olive to the beautiful island has disappeared and she is stuck. She meets Will and his gang, the Lions, and they take her in. She soon learns they are not the only group on the island and that another group of kids, Duke's Panthers, wants to take over.

I confess the truth of the history of Duke and Will's feud was no surprise when it was eventually revealed, nor was how the story turned out, but that might just be a function of my age and the amount of books I read. Even though I found the story predictable, I still had a fun time reading and following Olive's journey and it even had me in tears towards the end.

Castaways is a good modern twist on Lord of the Flies (which I hated). I think today's teens would be able to relate to Castaways.

Recommended for ages 13+

Jessika Fleck is a writer, unapologetic coffee drinker, and knitter—she sincerely hopes to one day discover a way to do all three at once. She loves writing novels for young adults and her work verges on fantastical and dark with a touch of realism. She currently calls rural Illinois home where she lives with her sociology professor husband and two daughters and is learning to appreciate the beauty in cornfields and terrifyingly large cicadas.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of The Castaways by Jessika Fleck to read and review.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Gauntlet by Holly Jennings

Plug back into the dangerous world of virtual gaming, in the next thrilling novel from the author of Arena.

Kali Ling isn’t afraid of dying. She’s been killed hundreds of times in hundreds of different ways. And she knows there are things much more terrifying than death…

There’s a new game in town. A brutal, winner-takes-all, international video game tournament between the world’s most elite players, promising fame, prestige, and unbelievable fortune. But there’s a catch. The game uses new VR pods guaranteed to push digital warriors to their physical and psychological brink—adapting every time a gamer makes a move.

As the first female captain and youngest team owner in VGL history, Kali is used to defying the odds. But as the all-star tournament heats up, her determination begins to waver and the pressures of media, sponsors, and the game itself begin to put cracks in her hard-set convictions.

If Kali’s Team Defiance is to survive, they’ll have to find a way to be stronger than ever before. But battling the system may prove too difficult for even the most hardened of fighters…

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Book 2
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

5 I-couldn’t-put-the-book-down Stars

After reading Arena about a year ago, I feared being lost at the start of Gauntlet, but the two books flowed together seamlessly, with no confusion to be had.

Without giving away spoilers… what a thrill ride! I was gripped the entire time, feverishly clicking the pages to know what happened next. At the end, I wanted more immediately.

Kali is a strong role model throughout. After making mistakes in Arena, compassionate and fierce Kali is trying to protect her team at all costs. An unknown location surrounded by publicity, catering to professional virtual-gamers, The Wall is in her hometown – at the start of the novel, she tries to figure out how this will affect her and her people, which spirals into the major plot… one I won’t spoil.

As a new team owner, Kali has to deal with political maneuverings, sponsors, image, misbehaving teammates, and the publicity surrounding it all. The very reason she bought a team is slipping through her fingers as she tries to play their game by their rules, losing herself in the process.

As for romance, the gossip-mongers are using false reports to tear Kali and her team apart, but some of the strife comes from within. These situations and emotions were very real, hitting human nature. There was a large thread dealing with the drug HP. One of the closest teammates is addicted, struggling, and Kali has to be the tough-love, refusing to be the enabler after they all lost Nathan in the last installment.

Now, let’s get to the gaming…

WOW. I am beyond impressed at the level of imagination the author uses within Gauntlet. As the reader, I could envision the game arena with lifelike accuracy. Fantasy readers shouldn’t have any issue connecting to this portion. But, for those of us who are gamers, we’ll ‘get’ it and be totally immersed into the heart-pounding action.

With this new ‘development,’ I was unsure whether or not what happened in the arena wouldn’t affect them outside of it. With the political maneuverings targeting Defiance, I wasn’t so sure they’d respawn, wake up in their pods, or just be poof. This lent to a thrill ride of epic proportions.

Recommended: Young adults and the young at heart gamers will appreciate this book. Gamers of all ages who do not read could most likely be swayed into giving it a try, which would most likely turn them into avid readers. When a person doesn’t like to read, it’s usually because they haven’t found the right book to flip that switch in their brains. Parents, if you have gamers kids, I’d give this series a try to see if they will catch the reading bug. Adults who love to read but your partner doesn’t, maybe they’re always playing video games (lol), buy them this book and read it together. While the series is narrated by a female, Kali, she is fierce, flawed, and rational enough to appeal to all genders.

I cannot wait for the next in the series. The next book’s setup in Gauntlet gives me the feeling it’s going to be the most epic of them all.

Young Adult age-range: 12+, depending on the maturity of the reader. Virtual-reality game violence. Mild cussing. Kissing. Fade-to-black sexual situations. Addiction.

Also Available in the Arena Series

Book 1
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  Google Play  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

For reviews & more info, check out our Arena post.

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.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

100 Hours by Rachel Vincent

In this sexy, pulse-pounding new duology by New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent, a decadent spring break beach getaway becomes a terrifying survival story when six Miami teens are kidnapped.

Maddie is beyond done with her cousin Genesis’s entitled and shallow entourage. Genesis is so over Miami’s predictable social scene with its velvet ropes, petty power plays, and backstabbing boyfriends.

While Maddie craves family time for spring break, Genesis seeks novelty—like a last-minute getaway to an untouched beach in Colombia. And when Genesis wants something, it happens.

But paradise has its price. Dragged from their tents under the cover of dark, Genesis, Maddie, and their friends are kidnapped and held for ransom deep inside the jungle—with no diva left behind. It all feels so random to everyone except Genesis. She knows they were targeted for a reason. And that reason is her.

Now, as the hours count down, only one thing’s for certain: If the Miami hostages can’t thwart their captors’ plan, no one will make it out alive.

Tapping into our darkest fears while exploring issues of injustice, loss, and the courage to fight for what matters most, this thrilling read is perfect for fans of Nova Ren Suma, Becca Fitzpatrick, and Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Add to Goodreads –

Book 1
Buy Links

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B&N  ~  Google Play  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Instead of going to the Bahamas for spring break, Genesis has dragged her boyfriend, best friends, and her cousins to Colombia instead. Whatever Genesis says, her friends do.

The story starts in the now, with cousins Genesis and Maddie being chased. We get just a tiny snippet, enough to know that their time in Colombia isn't going to go as planned. The story then goes back 100 hours and continues to count down until eventually we catch up to the present.

100 Hours had a slow start. It felt like a set up for a horror movie as we got to know this group of entitled, self-absorbed American teenagers as they party and use their money to get whatever they want. They weren't the most likable bunch of people and I nearly gave up reading. Thankfully my husband encouraged me to stick with it and I'm glad I did. This is a story that got better and better the more I read and, by half way through, the slow start and my annoyance at the spoiled little rich kids was gone.

The change came for me when the inevitable disaster struck. Their hike through the jungle to see ancient ruins goes disastrously wrong when they are kidnapped and held for ransom. From that point the party stops as our group, which has grown to include a few extra people met while partying, fights for survival. But infighting, lovers’ spats, and general mistrust make it harder to work together. At the start of the book I wanted to slap these spoiled brats, but by the end I was rooting for them to get away from the bad guys.

There is lots of action and the tension ramps up the closer we get to the present and learn more about what the kidnappers’ plans are. By the time the book finished, my heart was racing and I was feeling invigorated and desperate for more. A fantastic ending. What happens now? I can't wait to find out!

Recommended for ages 15 and up.

RACHEL VINCENT is the New York Times bestselling author of several series for teens and adults, including Shifters, the Stars Never Rise, and Menagerie, and remains fascinated by writing about the things that scare her. She is a former English teacher and shares her home in Oklahoma with two cats, two teenagers, and her husband, who’s been her number one fan from the start.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of 100 Hours (100 Hours #1) by Rachel Vincent to read and review.