Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Border by Steve Schafer

One moment changed their lives forever.

A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Not fireworks―gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them.

Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcos responsible for their families' murders have put out a reward for the teens' capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape...

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

From the moment they hear gun shots, the lives of Pato, his cousin Arbo, popular fellow student Marcos, and Marcos' sister Gladys, are changed forever. From the minute they discover the blood bath where their parents and families have been killed, which ultimately leads to them crossing the desert from Mexico to the US, unprepared and with no clear idea of where they are headed.

The author does not hold back in showing us the horror of what Pato and his friends are going through, which is part of what makes The Border such a gripping story. I was on the edge of my seat watching these teens go from one dangerous situation to another, with only each other to lean on. The problem is, they are teens with the usual teen angst and fighting among themselves, which sometimes makes the situation worse.

This is one of those stories where I had no idea where the story was going and I love that. Would they survive the desert? Would they make it to the US? I had no idea and I was just along for, what is at times, a harrowing ride. But you know what? Every now and then little glimpses of hope and love appear in the story and those moments are more meaningful given what Pato and the group are going through. I fell in love with Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys and I just wanted them to survive. To live. The Border is a fantastic story that I think teens and adults will enjoy it.

Steve Schafer is an avid cultural explorer, animal lover, bucket-list filler, and fan of the great outdoors. He has a master’s degree in international studies from the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children. The Border is his first novel.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of The Border by Steve Schafer to read and review.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

Fangirl meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this funny and poignant coming-of-age novel from New York Times bestselling author Christina Lauren about two boys who fall in love in a writing class—one from a progressive family and the other from a conservative religious community.

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

4.5 Stars.

I need to preface this review with how I struggled at the beginning of Autoboyography. I also need to add I received an advanced copy, so I cannot comment on whether or not this is present in the published version.

I was close to DNFing the novel several times over during the beginning, which would have been a shame. The premise kept me reading – a bisexual writer in this coming-of-age tale. Truly, I’m thankful I kept reading, as I enjoyed the story immensely. To be honest, there was a different feel to the first three chapters versus chapter four and beyond. The pacing, flow of information, and scene structure, the majority of the first three chapters were rambling monologue, giving info the reader needed, but in a storytelling fashion. All tell, no show. There was little to no dialogue. But my biggest issue was how the narrator dropped readers into scenes in the middle of it, only for a few paragraphs, then would teleport the reader into another time and place without a transition.

Explanation: paragraphs of a classroom scene. One word later, the reader would be thrust into the mall. Classroom, then arcade. Classroom, then home. All partial scenes, in the middle, with no beginning or end. While this promotes fast pacing, cutting out any unnecessary info, it was beyond jarring and confusing. I'd flip back pages, wondering if I'd somehow missed the end of one scene, a mark denoting a passage of time, and the beginning of the next. Days could go by from the end of one sentence to the beginning of the next.

If you are reading this review, like I went searching due to my struggles, hang in there. It's worth it. The scenes become full-length at the start of Chapter 4. The authors begin showing, instead of telling.

Tanner is a well-rounded boy from a supportive family, with an equally supportive best friend. It was a breath of fresh air to have a narrator who wasn’t abandoned, or bleeding angst on every page. Dry wit and self-depreciating humor, Tanner knows who he is, what he wants, and where he wants to be in the future. He’s a non-religious bisexual boy living in an LDS community, raised by a Jewish parent and one who holds deep-seated resentment toward the Mormon church.

Tanner’s family is intelligent, open-minded, empathetic, supportive, and gives true-to-life, realistic advice by emotionally mature individuals. It was refreshing.

While Autoboyography does show different sides to LDS, instead of besmirching it, it’s written in a gray area, where it’s decisions made, left up to the individual.

Tanner falls deeply into infatuation with the TA in the Seminar, a class where students write a full novel during the semester. Color me jealous, but I wish this existed when I was in high school. The only issue, the boy Tanner falls for happens to be the son of a bishop in the LDS church.

On the pages, the reader follows Tanner’s coming-of-age journey, as the boy he loves has a conflict of conscience but never of faith. The comfort and clarity Sebastian found in his faith was inspiring, even during his deep struggles with the followers of said faith. The evolution mirrors the book Tanner’s writing. Cute. Sweet. Mortifying. Several times over, I dropped my Kindle into my lap, only to cover my face with my upraised palms. I was embarrassed for Tanner – blushing, laughing, and smiling. Shaking my head at the dang kid. Mortified.

Tanner and Sebastian had chemistry, tension, and a push-pull banter that was as humorous as it was seductive. A true connection was felt from the pages, causing the reader to become emotionally invested in the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed Autoboyography, and am so thankful I continued forth after struggling with the beginning. I recommend it to fans of the authors, as well as fans of the MM romance and Young Adult genres. But my recommendation goes deeper – young adults, especially those struggling with their sexuality while having faith, to experience the comfort of knowing they aren't alone. I also recommend reading by parents of these same children, to get a grasp on what they may be going through.

Like all the best Young Adult writing, this story made me laugh and smile and cry and reflect. It is the story of a bisexual boy from an affluent liberal family who finds himself one of only a handful of non-Mormon kids in his new Utah small town. And he finds himself falling hard for his very Mormon writing mentor.

I was able to overlook the erratic pacing and the sometimes confusing plot structure because I fell hard and fast for Tanner. Most of the story is told from Tanner’s perspective and his experiences and observations are wonderful. I loved his friendship with Autumn and I wanted so badly to protect him from Sebastian.

Tanner’s experience as an outsider in a Mormon town is only compounded by his mother’s experiences growing up LDS and her adult resentment towards the church. Similarly, Tanner’s ‘coming out’ is tainted by his aunt’s very negative experience a generation earlier. I loved that the kids and the adults in this story are all multi-dimensional. We don’t get good and evil, we get people trying to do what’s right for them. Even when I wanted to hate Sebastian’s family, I was forced to understand their emotional and spiritual struggles.

Together, Sebastian and Tanner are wonderful. They are sweet and sometimes beautifully innocent. I wanted so desperately to protect their hearts – but this story is too honest for that.

While I loved the story, I did struggle with the writing. At times, scenes ramble on and on but in other places, readers are jolted from aborted scene to aborted scene quite erratically. But these characters are special and I had a powerful emotional reaction to their story.

A really new and different take on a coming of age/forbidden love story. Tanner's family moves to Utah, the land of Mormons and the LDS (Latter Day Saints church) where his mother grew up but left after the church shunned her gay sister. Tanner is bisexual and moving from open and out California to closed and closeted Utah is an adjustment, for sure. Of course, the one person Tanner finds a spark for is the LDS Church's, bishop's son!! Couldn't even be a girl he found completely intriguing. Sebastian is the poster boy for the LDS church. He's lived his entire life with a smile that covers a lie. Tanner brings out everything Sebastian is fighting to keep hidden. The two take on a forbidden romance and all the angst that comes with the fight against Sebastian's bishop father, the closed minded church town, and the intensity of first love. The beginning of the book threw me off a bit at first. Slightly disjointed and halting with quite a bit of over description. I was unsure where this story would go, but boy did my perseverance pay off and I implore you to do the same, KEEP READING! This book was a "can’t put it down, stayed up till 2am reading" story! Although I did find the ending a bit lackluster, although it was sweet and the way I wanted, I guess I just wasn't finished reading and wanted more. The book is very Young Adult with great descriptions that don’t go into much real detail but written extremely well.

I don't often read coming of age novels, but I am very glad that I read this one. The blurb absolutely captured my imagination, and did not disappoint.

I found that Tanner was beautifully written as a boy who is right on the cusp of manhood, but can fall either side of the line, just depending on what is happening to him at that time. He was such a fabulous romantic writer – even though we don't get to read his book, anyone who ever wrote pages of their feelings of unrequited love, can imagine just what he has expressed in it.

And the whole LDS element was fascinating to me, as someone who lives in the UK, where there really aren't such large groups of Mormons. I met a young man going on his mission a few years ago on a flight to Ghana – so I remembered his nervousness, his earnest desire to do well, and yet he had never been away before and had very limited expectations of being able to talk to his family over the next two years. So, I could feel for Sebastian, and the prospects of his next few years.

The idea of basing the story around a book writing class is inspired, as it provides so many opportunities for the two guys to meet, which would have not happened otherwise. There are also some fabulously important people that get to join the cast; Autumn without a doubt being the most noteworthy. Whilst at the beginning of the book she dips in and out of sight, her contribution later is at times essential, and also, she holds a twist or two in her hands!

Really, my advice is that you should get yourself a copy and enjoy a wonderful love story, with some unexpected twists and turns. And do it as soon as you can. This book is on my re-read list, because I know I will enjoy it even more second time around. Thank you, Ms. Lauren.

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners/besties/soulmates/brain-twins Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. Their books have been translated into 31+ languages. (Some of these books have kissing. Some of these books have A LOT of kissing.)

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Autoboyography by Christina Lauren to read and review.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice.


Vivan Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv's mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the '90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother's past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She's just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

5 Empowered Stars.

Moxie is for every female who has ever heard 'get back in the kitchen' ' good for a girl' 'smile!' In the year 2017, society shouldn't feel it's acceptable to respond to emotion with 'triggered!' All girls are conditioned to worry about their appearance, placing their worth on whether or not they are pleasing to someone's eye. How many times have you heard, 'treat her as you would your own daughter/sister/mother?' when speaking to a male who doesn't get the concept of respect, as if our worth as women is tied solely to another human being, as if we're 'owned.' How about 'treat her as a human being?'

Moxie is for the girls who are too scared to have a voice, as they witness those who speak up be called derogatory names. 'TRIGGERED!' Moxie is for the girls whose voice was silenced by shaming, bullying attacks. Moxie is for the girls who are so indoctrinated, they find validation by a boy 'choosing' them over another. Moxie is for the girls who refuse to acknowledge sexism exists, saying we're overreacting and to just let it go.

Moxie is for the boys who know better but still go along with the status quo, for those who speak up, and for those who find misogyny as a badge of honor, receiving all the benefits it offers.

I'm a 39-year-old feminist, raised in a rural town, with only 42 students in my high school graduating class. Moxie hit so close to home in so many ways, I was an emotional wreck while reading it. Sometimes the injustice felt is suffocating... and we always hear 'calm down.'

I applaud Jennifer Mathieu for writing a novel, with an unsure girl as the narrator, about a subject that is always in the news, yet simultaneously always swept under the carpet. Moxie is written with humor, yet it slowly devolves deeper into sexism, which evolves the reader in the passenger seat while girls experience injustice at the hands of their peers and those who should protect them.

I won't lie, I broke down bawling, almost a PTSD moment when the bra-snapping and groping occurred on the pages. When I was thirteen, my girlfriends tore my dress off my body in the middle of a packed cafeteria, taking me beneath the table as I tried to put myself to rights. Being in a school with seventh graders to seniors, where grown men groped me and I was a defenseless child (my 13-year-old boyfriend had to get his senior cousin to protect me, both humiliating to me and emasculating to him), where I had to speak to male teachers and nothing was ever resolved. Those events stick with a person for life, so why put our daughters and sisters through it now? The fact that this still happens 20+ years later, how we've yet to evolve, makes me sick.

We need to have a voice, not be divided and culled from the herd as we're pitted against one another to see who wins the prize. Women raise sons, teaching them how to treat other women, both by example and by how we allow other men to treat us. It starts with us, and we need to come together and uplift one another, not tear each other down, leaving us in a weakened state that is easy to be preyed upon.

Yes, this is a review of a novel. Yes, everything above is my social commentary. Yes, everything I just stated shows the evolution within the novel... without a single spoiler.

I highly recommend Moxie to anyone between the ages of tween and 'cruising the funeral home,' but especially for those who are on the fence, arguing that feminism isn't needed because it's 2017 and we're all equal.

Jennifer Mathieu is the author of Devoted, Afterward, and The Truth About Alice, the winner of the Children's Choice Book Awards' Teen Choice Debut Author Award. She teaches high school English in Texas, where she lives in the Houston area with her husband and son.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu to read and review.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fallen Heir by Erin Watt

These Royals will ruin you.

Easton Royal has it all: looks, money, intelligence. His goal in life is to have as much fun as possible. He never thinks about the consequences because he doesn’t have to.

Until Hartley Wright appears, shaking up his easy life. She’s the one girl who’s said no, despite being attracted to him. Easton can’t figure her out and that makes her all the more irresistible.

Hartley doesn’t want him. She says he needs to grow up.

She might be right.

Rivals. Rules. Regrets. For the first time in Easton’s life, wearing a Royal crown isn’t enough. He’s about to learn that the higher you start, the harder you fall.

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Book 4
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Fallen Heir picks up with Ella and Easton finishing their senior year at Astor Park Prep, but entirely in Easton's point of view. I think this story flows best if you've read The Royals books #1-3, but it's not necessary if you want to skip straight to Fallen Heir. I was so excited to finally read Easton's story, but I'm left feeling slightly disappointed. Book #4 seemed to move so slowly and didn't quite live up to my high hopes for it. The story just kind of seemed to drag on and then abruptly end. Also, I wish it would've been in more than just Easton's point of view because I felt like it started to get a bit repetitive. Erin Watt's Fallen Heir just didn't draw me in and keep me interested the same way the previous books in The Royals series did.

Easton Royal has never worried about the consequences of his decisions until he meets Hartley Wright. She's the only girl to ever turn him down even though he knows she's attracted to him. However, Easton's determined to win her over.

This is the first time I haven't been completely wowed by Erin Watt and I for sure thought that I would adore reading Easton's story, but it just didn't do it for me. Nevertheless, I am excited to read what happens next for the Royal family!

3.5 stars for Fallen Heir by Erin Watt.

3.5 Cliffhanger Stars

In the past 24-hours, I've binge-read all four of The Royals titles. No doubt, I can attest to the continuity of how well the authors transitioned from Ella and Reed's narration to Easton's. I wanted to be inside the boy's head, and I'm not sure I got what I bargained for, to be quite honest.

No matter who is the narrator, Fallen Heir has the same frustratingly infectious quality that has the reader white-knuckling their Kindles, while furiously tapping the pages to see what happens next. This frustration always has my heart racing as I read, and I love a book that can do that to me.

Fallen Heir was a roller coaster of emotional extortion, running the gamut from heartbreak, to frustration and anger, to surprised laughter at Easton's banter and charm.

So why am I not 5-starring the book like I did Paper Princess?

Easton is all over the place, which I understand due to his ADHD, upbringing, and his tragic past. Easton is hurting, having lost his mother to suicide, feeling he is partially to blame, being the middle child who feels adrift from the rest of the family, and finding out his hero is actually a villain. Easton was difficult to read on many levels. I do applaud the authors on the authenticity of how Easton's mind functioned in chaos.

What I struggled with is the wash-repeat feel of the storyline... What was new and original in Paper Princess, and its two sequels, seems worn and tired in this new story arc.

*Rich, misunderstood bad boy as our hero.
*Poor, abandoned, intelligent, hard-working heroine.
*Love-Hate vibe (which I loved, but it felt forced in Fallen Heir vs fluid and natural in Paper Princess)
*Heroine's father is the adult villain of the story.
*The doe-eyed, doormat, spineless, begging ex who’s refusing to let go, thinking the guy is theirs even if they aren't together anymore (for longer than a year even, in both cases) and blames the guy because they broke up. Yet never seem to be bothered as their friends go after the guy. Honey, he doesn't want you – get over it. You cannot dictate whether or not someone likes you, and it's not a mark against your self-esteem if they don't. They're not a possession you can control – if they allow that, what's to like or want if they're that blank and weak?
*Gaggle of mean girls, one in which blackmails/extorts/annoys/bullies/overpowers everyone – adults and students alike, and everyone looks on and their only reactions are to wring their hands and blink.
*A brother/father/friend's girlfriend is actually 'evil' and using this loved one, but no one steps in and stops it. Just lets it unfold and exacerbate... "Not my business"... but it's gonna be.
*Our hero, allowing said mean girl to run herd on him for all of the story, making him look weak as he self-blames instead of just nipping it in the bud as it happens.
*Only the 'poor' girls are good, and the rich girls all want more money and status. All the men are pushovers who just let it happen, then fret as their world burns at their feet
*The real 'doer' never takes responsibility in the aftermath, while the hero ends up self-blaming as everyone else blames him too. (Everyone, even Ella, angry at Easton for shouting how the relationship was fake – it was. Easton was being honest for once, after he said NO multiple times. I don't believe in cause and effect. She does what she does, and only she does it. It's not Easton's fault if she doesn't like the humiliation of everyone finding out she was a liar – her premeditated actions in the aftermath are her fault, not Easton's. Just saying. I can't stand that mindset, and Ella bashing Easton over it, it made it feel as if Ella had a character trait lobotomy now that she's no longer narrating the story. "But did you apologize?" Excuse me, that girl is trying to mess with you and everyone you care about, Ella – have you lost your ever-loving mind, girlfriend? Where did logical, problem-fixer Ella go? She turned judgmental, instead of actually helping with the problem, and wrung her hands as their world burned at their feet.)
*Illogical actions/reactions.
*The mother of all cliffhangers times 2.

While I did enjoy the story, tried to empathize and sympathize with Easton as he torched his own life, the wash-repeat of similar storylines dropped the entertainment value for me. While the subtle nuances were different, the plot points were essentially the same.

The book was hyper-focused on Easton, with only cameos here and there, missing that 'gang' feel of family like the previous books, where they tackled the issues together and had each other's backs. After all Easton had done for Reed and Ella, Ella wasn't empathetic, nor helpful, but judgmental and completely not like Ella at all. Gee, how about a rehab, because we all know telling an addict no or guilt-tripping him isn't going to 'fix' the issue.

Fallen Heir just didn't work for me. Separately, I 'got' Easton, and I felt for Hartley, but together they didn't fit. It felt forced. There is zero romance or relationship building. When they do come together, it felt out of nowhere and out of context of the situations they were in and their surroundings.

Honestly, I think the book suffered due to the fact that it was a singular point of view from Easton's narration. The reader needed to 'hear' Hartley to connect with her, because she was so cold, reserved, closed-mouthed, refusing to give the simplest of answers or open up to Easton, we readers didn't get to 'know' Hartley at all. No connection. I'm not knocking her character traits (I'm a similar type of person) being so reserved, without her point-of-view, the reader had nothing to go on with Hartley – she was a stranger to us, less developed of all the characters, because at least they spoke freely to Easton so we (the reader) could get to know them too. Hartley was an enigma to readers, so why are we rooting for an Easton and Hartley pairing when we have nothing invested by Easton's bizarre obsession? The only time the reader connected with Hartley was through hearsay and eavesdropping on Easton's part.

After stating all that above, I do need to say I'd kill for the next in The Royals series. I wish I had it right now, because it ended in the mother of all cliffhangers (times 2), as the authors yet again emotionally extort the reader. I'm good with that – I thrive on the adrenaline rush as my heart races for what was revealed/happened in the ending. I just hope the storyline deviates from this point forward.

Young Adult age-range: 14+ due to mature content, bullying, alcohol abuse, violence, and adult language.

Erin Watt is the brainchild of two bestselling authors linked together through their love of great books and an addiction to writing. They share one creative imagination. Their greatest love (after their families and pets, of course)? Coming up with fun–and sometimes crazy–ideas. Their greatest fear? Breaking up.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Fallen Heir (The Royals #4) by Erin Watt to read and review.