Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Swimming to Freedom by Robbie Michaels

Once, swimming was a labor of love for Brandon. Now it’s just a labor.

When Brandon’s competitive, domineering father decided to cash in on his son’s hobby, he sucked all the joy out of the sport for his son. Now Brandon’s father spends every ounce of his energy training Brandon for one purpose: Olympic gold and with it the chance to experience success vicariously through Brandon.

Brandon falling in love with Tyler, another swimmer, was not part of his father’s plan. Luckily the two young men have Joel in their corner, a straight ally who helps them find time alone. When Brandon’s father finds out about the relationship, his reaction is sadly predictable, and soon, Brandon’s new home is beneath a bridge. He finds peace swimming in the river, but feels fear as wild animals pass by his shelter during the night.

But once again, his happiness cannot last. Torrential storms are threatening to wash away his future—maybe for good this time.

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Harmony Ink

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

This is an angsty story of a competitive swimmer desperate to find a life for himself beyond his father’s control. It is also the story of Brandon growing into himself and coming to terms with his sexuality.

Both Brandon and Tyler feel more like character outlines than actual characters. Even though Brandon tells this story, I don’t feel like I got to know much about his hopes, motivations, or emotions. He’s sweet and good and conflicted but he just never really came to life for me. Similarly, Tyler shows up in Brandon’s life as an instant boyfriend. We don’t see much romance or feel much chemistry between the two boys.

My favourite character is probably Joel – Brandon’s swim team friend. It’s Joel who first guesses Brandon’s orientation and Joel who does his best to make life easier for his friend. He’s funny and cocky and possibly the only character with any real personality in the story.

This is a heavy book. Brandon’s father is almost a caricature – he’s a pushy sports dad and he’s controlling, domineering, and homophobic. He’s a pretty roughly crafted villain and we don’t ever glimpse his humanity and we never get a real explanation for his behaviour.

This story feels like the old school young adult writing I remember from my own youth. It’s a topical story with fairly one-dimensional adults who are either bad or good and slightly bland teenagers who are keen to do ‘the right thing.’ The language is clean, Tyler and Brandon’s physical intimacy is completely off page, and the happy ending comes way too easily. For me, the simplicity of the story feels a bit patronising. There have been so many brilliant young adult books in the past few years where the boundaries between young adult and adult fiction are blurred and the teenage experience is written about in realistic shades of grey. As a result, I have pretty high expectations for contemporary m/m young adult writing and this book just didn’t work for me.

ROBBIE MICHAELS grew up in rural upstate New York, the same setting as the beginning of The Most Popular Guy trilogy, and now the Caught series. It was not always easy growing up in a tiny town thinking he was the only person who felt and thought what he was experiencing. He felt like a stranger in a very strange land for most of those years, always having to act a part, play a role, until he later met other gay folks and found out that he was not alone. He was teased and bullied when others suspected that he might be gay. His name is still carved in stone back there with the words “Is a Fag” chiseled in beneath it. But that was then, and this is now. Now he writes stories about the underdog coming out on top, stories about the kids that don’t fit into cookie cutter molds of what others expect, and stories of hope and promise.

He survived those days back in rural New York, and found that life does get better, even though at the time it sure didn’t seem possible. He wants first and foremost to tell others to hang on and to have hope for a better tomorrow. Grapple onto hope and don’t ever let go of it. Life is a wonderful, marvelous thing to be embraced and celebrated. Don’t ever give up. You are the only you there is, and you are not alone. There are many, many, many others like you out there and some day you will meet them and together you will change the world in a wonderful, positive way.

Connect with Robbie

Harmony Ink  ~  Website  ~  Goodreads


Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Swimming to Freedom by Robbie Michaels to read and review.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saving It by Monica Murphy

Josh Evans and I have been best friends forever. He knows all my secrets, and I know all of his. So when he randomly asks me to help him lose his virginity, I sort of flip out. That’s a question that sends your mind to places you’ve seriously never considered before. Like, you know. Having sex. With your best friend. Except Josh doesn’t want to have sex with me—he wants me to help him find a girl. A nice girl who’s funny and smart and cute. Except he already knows a girl just like that...

Eden Sumner is my best friend. So of course she’d be the person to help me find my perfect match, so I can drop my V card before I head off to college. Except the more we search, the more I realize that maybe the right girl has been by my side all along. I don’t need Eden’s help in finding me a girl to love. I’m pretty sure I’m already in love with Eden. But now she thinks I’m only after one thing... with anyone but her.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book is what happens when American Pie meets Friends with Benefits. It contains two best friends, plenty of angst, and lots and lots of sex talk. Reading this might have you looking at your best friend in a different light!

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Entangled Teen

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

4 Stars overall.
5 Stars for actual young adult readers
3 stars for adult readers.

As a sucker for a page-turning young adult book, I won't lie by saying I didn't sit down and devour Saving It from page one until the end. However, I need to state I read it quickly for two reasons. One, I wanted to know where the novel was going to go, even knowing the ending destination. Two, I knew I better read feverishly so the plot itself didn't sway my overall enjoyment – meaning, if I paused, the novel would have given me pause. I will explain in the bulk of my review.

Best friends all through high school, Eden and Josh have had quite a few relationships, never once contemplating getting together. Josh is a virgin, never successfully sealing the deal in his past relationships, so he asks the one person who knows him better than anyone to help him pick the right girl. As you can guess, the plot pretty much goes on the path you'd expect, so I won't dive too deeply into the plot, as a way to avoid spoilers.

From the teen perspective, young adults will devour this book due to the content. From the adult perspective, adults will become frustrated, especially from a feminist standpoint. As a feminist, wincing at the list of girls, I read it from a perspective other than my own. At the same time, I wanted an adult voice in the book to offer advice these children so badly needed.

Authentic, Eden and Josh and the rest of the cast of characters do, in fact, act like actual teenagers. So I kept an open mind, remembering how I operated eons ago. Hormones fluctuating, irrational as the sector in the brain dealing with sound decision-making won't mature until the age of 25, peer pressure, and emotionally unsure why they feel as they do. So I applaud the author for writing characters who act/react/behave/sound as actual teenagers, instead of the adult voice of the writer.

In a nutshell, there isn't a whole lot going on with the plot that isn't in the blurb. The angst is a 'will-they, won't-they' tension, with added miscommunication, and a bunch of just waiting around until Eden and Josh decide to give it a try. It's not truly an evolution for the character development, but just the indecisive nature of teenagers (and their older counterparts).

If you're an adult like me, who adores the young adult genre, I'd suggest a sample. I enjoyed it, writing this review immediately, knowing if I took a few minutes, I'd spiral down the critique path and I refuse to go there. Do you know what I mean? In the now, it's awesome. Given five minutes of contemplation, the responsible adult in me wants to go round-up a roomful of teenagers and engage in a real chat.

FYI: I'm not a prudish adult against 'losing it/saving it' – it's the emotional impact of having an agenda and not caring 'who' you lose it to. On the flip side, feeling bad for the person chosen to fulfill an agenda. Virginity isn't a physical thing – it's a social construct with emotional impact.

If you're reading this review as a parent, I would highly recommend this to teenagers who need a dose of escapism/romance – not learning experience, but a naughty yet innocent read that accurately portrays exactly what teens are experiencing on a daily basis when it comes to acting on their sexual urges.

Young Adult age-range: 14+ due to swearing and sexual content.

Monica Murphy is the New York Times, USA Today and #1 international bestselling author of the One Week Girlfriend series, the Billionaire Bachelors and The Rules series. Her books have been translated in almost a dozen languages and has sold over one million copies worldwide. She is a traditionally published author with Bantam/Random House and Harper Collins/Avon, as well as an independently published author. She writes new adult, young adult and contemporary romance. She is also USA Today bestselling romance author Karen Erickson. She is a wife and a mother of three who lives with her family in central California on fourteen acres in the middle of nowhere, along with their one dog and too many cats. A self-confessed workaholic, when she’s not writing, she’s reading or hanging out with her husband and kids. She’s a firm believer in happy endings, though she will admit to putting her characters through many angst-filled moments before they finally get that hard won HEA.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Saving It by Monica Murphy to read and review.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The First Kiss Hypothesis by Christina Mandelski

Nora Reid believes scientific laws control everything, even love. With her grandparents’ epic first kiss story cemented in her brain, Nora develops a hypothesis she’s determined to prove:for each person in the world, there is exactly one other person, and at first kiss, they’ll experience an immediate and intense reaction.

But after four years of zero-reaction kisses, she comes up with a new theory: maybe that pesky crush on her stunningly hot best friend Eli Costas is skewing her results.

She needs to get rid of him, and fast.

Eli Costas is an injury-prone lacrosse star with a problem—the one chance he had at winning over the girl next door resulted in the most epically sucktastic first kiss ever. And now she’s...trying to get rid of him? Hell no. It’s time to disprove her theory and show her exactly what she’s missing.

Game. On.

Disclaimer: This book contains a stunningly hot lacrosse player who isn’t above playing dirty to win over the stubborn girl-next-door of his dreams.

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Entangled Teen

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Nora's grandparents met and shared an earth-shattering kiss, and they spent the next 40+ years living happily ever after. As the child of divorce, Nora is holding onto her dementia-addled grandmother's inspiring story of love, wanting a lifetime of what her grandparents had, never what her parents did/have with other people. This has skewed Nora, missing what is being offered by her next door neighbor best friend, even if she's always had a crush on the boy.

At age thirteen, Nora and Eli shared a gross kiss, where no sparks flew, and she's held it against him ever since. The scientist-in-the-making doesn't realize sexual chemistry and romantic connection aren't scientific experiments. There's also the fact that at thirteen, you can't expect sparks to fly when your hormones have just started to do their business in the developing body.

Eli has always had a crush on Nora, but she won't give him a chance after that horrendous kiss where he just pounded a Coke and needed to burp. The poor guy spends the entirety of the novel chasing after Nora, trying to get her to see the truth.

To be honest, Nora's quest for kisses becomes a bit tedious and frustrating, for Eli but also the reader. The character development is where this novel shined. The characters speak and act as their age group, they have fears and worries that match their ages as well. Nora and Eli are both concerned with Nora's grandmother, with leaving/staying behind with their families when it comes to college. Where to go to college and what to study...

Nora and her driver's license: I feel as if the author plucked that out of my head. I struggled with anxiety, perfectly able to drive, and never got my license. I'm 39, and the thought of driving gives me a visceral reaction, so I connected with Nora's character on this front. Eli stating he'd drive Nora around for the rest of her life had me laughing out loud for real.

Recommended to adults and young adults alike, something for everyone to connect with emotionally.

Young Adult age-range: 13+ due to language. Kissing.

Christina Mandelski was born in South Florida, where her love of reading was cultivated in a house full of books. Stories like The Little House series, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Secret Garden, filled her imagination and fueled her dreams to be a writer. That dream came true when her first young adult novel, The Sweetest Thing, was published in 2011, and she’s beyond thrilled about her upcoming series for Entangled Crush.

Chris lives in Houston with one handsome husband, two beautiful daughters, and two freakshow cats. She has a fondness for the beach, her family and friends, and she still loves to read (especially curled up with a good cup of coffee!). She also enjoys shopping, traveling and eating, especially cake. Always cake. When she’s not doing these things, you can find her holed in a cozy spot with her laptop, writing.

Connect with Christina

Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Website  ~  Goodreads


Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of The First Kiss Hypothesis by Christina Mandelski to read and review.