Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ryan's Bed by Tijan

I crawled into Ryan Jensen’s bed that first night by accident.

I barely knew him. I thought it was his sister’s bed—her room. It took seconds to realize my error, and I should've left...

I didn’t.
I didn’t jump out.
I didn’t get embarrassed.
I relaxed.
And that night, in that moment, it was the only thing I craved.

I asked to stay. He let me, and I slept.

The truth? I never wanted to leave his bed. If I could've stayed forever, I would have.
He became my sanctuary.

Because—four hours earlier—my twin sister killed herself.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Avid Reader☆☆☆☆☆
4.5 stars
M/F Coming of age, romance
Triggers: Click HERE to see Avid Reader’s review on Goodreads for trigger warnings.

Wow. This is a powerful story about finding a way to survive the loss of someone you hold dear. It is a story about family, friends, and yourself – taking one step at a time and moving forward.

I thought that the two main characters complemented each other well. You have the jock who is trying to find his place – find people who are genuine – and then you have "the new girl" who has suffered a huge loss, but is forced to continue moving forward.

Mackenzie is struggling with figuring out who she is now. Her family is shattered, and she has to figure out if she wants to continue as things have been or change them. When she loses Willow, she lost a part of what made her her.

Ryan is Mackenzie's rock. He doesn't know why he's pulled to her, but when he starts to see things through her eyes, he realizes what he's been missing and what he has. It was great to watch him take things more seriously, fall in love, and see past his own hurt.

The friends and enemies in this story are powerful and real. You can't help but cheer Mackenzie on when she's breaking down barriers. I did have an issue with her "friends" from Arizona. I thought that was too well wrapped up and given the drama, not resolved very well.

This story made me laugh and cry. It was sad, forgiving, heartwarming, and hopeful all at once. The twists are unexpected and yet, it's what I've come to expect from Tijan's books. They leave you wondering and wanting more.

5 Stars due to the emotion of the novel. 3 Stars on the young adult storyline itself.

I will admit, the beginning portion felt a tad chaotic for me, as several days' worth of events flow in a stream of consciousness from our narrator. I wasn't sure if Mac had left the party to find her sister and was returned, or if it happened before the party and her family was so insensitive they forced her and her baby brother to sit through a coworker's party, who incidentally happened to be a group of strangers. It wasn't until near the end of the book that Mac shouted the order of events. It's a little thing, used to show how discombobulated Mac's thought process was at the time, but it risked confusing readers early on, when a book has to hook the reader into continuing forth, especially in a book marketed to teens. I would think the order of events that lead Mac to sleep in Ryan's bed would have been more clear from the get-go, seeing as it was the theme of the novel.

Without writing out a synopsis of the entire plot, I will focus on the emotion of the novel. Ryan was comfort for Mac, even after never speaking a single word to one another, she recognized the type of person he was. Ryan was patient, understanding, and everything Mac needed in the aftermath of finding her identical twin sister on the eve of their eighteenth birthday. We all need a Ryan – he's exactly who we need for unconditional comfort and support.

The stress and strain on the family, the way Mac's parents and little brother acted and reacted, were realistic in the extreme. I felt, as a reader, I was sitting in their home, experiencing the pain right alongside them, able to understand why they were behaving as they did, and feeling just as powerless as Mac as they pulled away from her.

I will admit, I spent the majority of the novel with tears staining my cheeks, empathizing with Mac and the rest of the cast. Willow haunted Mac, breathing life into a character who would have only been used as a plot device otherwise. Willow became another character in the novel, not simply just the catalyst of the story itself. The dynamic of the twins was thought-provoking, how their relationship was toxic yet motivating.

While the grief was portrayed realistically, with compassion and great understanding, the young adult setting wasn't too original. A bunch of irrational mean girls and a great group of understanding guys. Girl bad, boy good. While I survived high school as a girl similar to Mac (refusing to put up with that behavior), I felt the way the girls were written were over-the-top in juxtaposition to the grief of the novel.

Everyone else felt 3D, except for the teen female population of the novel. One note – jealous, envious, and irrational. There are many Macs in the world, and many other types of girls, as it's not filled with only one Mac and billions of mean girls. Even the 'finale,' which was the only true bad thing they pulled off, didn't ring true, involving four plane tickets for something that could have been taken off Facebook.

After how mature and realistic the grief was written, the young adult storyline was a letdown.

I wish the novel would have highlighted how irrational and wrong this entitlement is toward their crushes, as it was the perfect vehicle to do just that, with Mac's inspirational and empowering rants.

Just because a girl 'likes' a guy, doesn't mean she should just get him, and it has nothing to do with his current girlfriend. Why aren't mothers teaching their daughters how if they themselves get the final vote in whether or not they date someone, a guy also gets a voice when it comes to who he likes. He's not wronging a girl for not wanting her back. He has a right to like who he likes and not be made to feel guilty for not liking a girl back, just as a girl has a right not to deal with friend-zoned guys. All girlfriends and actual girl friends shouldn't be targeted by the rest of the female population who thinks they have ownership on a guy. The guy owns himself.

This toxic narrative needs to be addressed, "He won't date me, so you shouldn't date him either if you want to be my friend." "I called dibs first, how dare he like you and not me." "Let's attack his girlfriend and girl friends because how dare he not want me back." Who would want a guy who is manipulated into dating you, who doesn't want you back? Or how about address how if you got a guy through these means, he's too weak to be your boyfriend in the first place.

I'm not saying it's not realistic, or that it didn't happen to me in high school, but a young adult novel is the perfect vehicle to teach, especially when an empowered character is facing the challenge, to address the negatives of this way of thinking, as well as what happens if they did manage to 'break' a guy so badly he'd date those who manipulated him.

Overall, the way the grief was addressed was outstanding, one of the most accurate accounts of the aftermath, the strain on a family, the survivor's guilt, and the way life changes inexplicably. I highly recommend, but feel adults will appreciate this more so than young adults, with the exception of mature teens who have gone through similar situations – I believe this would both drum up their grief while helping them through it.

Young Adult age-range: 14+, due to adult language, alcohol, and sexual situations, as well as the aftermath of suicide. While the setting and age-group are most definitely young adult, the emotional impact may be too much for some readers (no matter their age). The school setting lightens this 'feel,' which may be too juvenile for serious adults, while the emotion may be too heavy for the youngest of readers. It was a mix of super serious grief and mean girl high school antics, with no middle ground in between.

I couldn't put this book down. It's classic Tijan. Which I was starting to feel was faltering in the recent Fallen Crest installments. She always gives the mean girls a run for their money and that is coming out quite a bit in Ryan's Bed. Even though I really felt that this story could have stood without the teenage melodrama of that addition. This is a dark and very sad story, but it wasn't super depressing as it has the mean girl element to lighten it up some, so in that regard I guess it was helpful. I think Ryan and Mackenzie would have had a great story even without the big failed "take down" scene by the popular girl. Mackenzie lost her twin to suicide and Ryan is like the balm to her tortured soul. He sees the darkness in Mac and it draws her to his own. He's experienced horrible loss too and can really empathize with Mackenzie's feeling like she's lost and crazy. There was an odd moment of everyone seeing the ghost of Mackenzie's dead twin which was funky, not super sure why that was thrown in the story. Otherwise the drama and then the intensity were pure Tijan perfection. I plowed through the story with a passion and loved the ending, it's a bit of a GASP moment that I did NOT see coming and gives a new perspective on the whole story.

Tijan is an author I have not read before but I was drawn into this story right from the get go. The night her twin commits suicide, Mackenzie’s parents leave her with their new neighbours. She gets up during the night for a drink and accidently gets in the wrong bed and ends up sleeping in Ryan’s bed.

As Mackenzie struggles to deal with the grief over the loss of her twin, Ryan is the only person she can connect with. Their friendship quickly becomes romance and his friends become her friends. When senior year starts, Mackenzie learns that Ryan is the most popular guy in school. With a new school year comes new friends and new enemies. Mackenzie has to deal with the mean girl crowd all the while struggling with her grief and watching her family fall apart.

All through this story I wanted Mackenzie to deal with her issues and come out the other side stronger. I wanted her to find happiness. And Ryan is her rock through everything. We learn about his history and why he understands loss and grief. As far as book heroes go, Ryan is pretty amazing. There is one particular scene toward the end of the story in the basketball stadium where he just had my heart melting.

Mackenzie agrees to attend counselling sessions where she is, for the most part, uncooperative. The first two sessions made me smile and laugh a little. I’m not sure they were supposed to, but it was a good way to relieve the tension among all the seriousness.

I was enthralled with Ryan's Bed, but as much as I was sucked in, I didn’t cry. Given subject matter of loss, grief, and suicide, I thought I would have cried plenty, but I didn’t shed a single tear. In hindsight, I think I was maybe a little removed from the emotions because I felt like Mackenzie was holding something back. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And drop it does. This story has an ending that is a shock. In the author's note at the end of the book she writes she hopes it will make you re-read the book. And I can say I definitely want to re-read Ryan's Bed.

Ryan’s Bed is an excellent young adult novel that can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults alike.

It is not often that I feel a book is truly 'amazing' as the Goodreads 5-star review requires. I find it a term that means more than five stars to be honest. But in this case, the word 'Amazing' is exactly what I believe should apply to this book. And if I am being really accurate, to the very last page.

I am not someone who reads young adult, and this does, in many ways, fall into that category. But this book is a rather wonderful reminder to anyone who feels that they are beyond young adult, that actually the feelings of 18 year olds are just as formed as those of many adults. They may not be able to use experience to process them, but then not many adults have the experience necessary to do that either. So, the emotions which dip and dive for Mackenzie, her parents, Ryan, and those around her make for an amazing book.

I wasn't a huge fan of the parties, the appearances of those who shouldn't be there, the mean girl games, but in part it reminded us that Mac's feelings, Ryan's behaviour, they all sat in this world and age group. That basketball came late in the story was really important, as they needed the time to be comfortable with each other – timing was key in many elements. Even the confusion of timing at the beginning worked to bring the level of disbelief and unreality to the fore.

The relationship between Mac and Ryan is undoubtedly key to the cohesiveness of the story; his patience is utterly enchanting – and the fact that his parents allow them to be together, is testament to the fact that he has good role models, who have helped him become that person. He could be so conceited, but instead is supportive and loving. He is still a horny 18-year-old, and drinks and hangs out, but he is protective, loving and just the rock that helps Mac live again.

Such a good book, such a difficult story to tell, but a really worthwhile read.

Tijan is the New York Times bestselling author of the Carter Reed series, the Fallen Crest series, and the Broken and Screwed series, among others. She lives in northern Minnesota.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Ryan's Bed by Tijan to read and review.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hickville Redemption by Mary Karlik

A 30 year old mystery…
A 15 year old sleuth.

Freshman Mackenzie Quinn wants nothing to do with the mysterious death of Cassidy Jones. But when her crush, Braden McGuire, declares he’s determined to uncover the truth, she is drawn into the cold case. The problem is her dad is the number one suspect. Things look pretty hopeless until her best friend, Travis Barns, loans her the secret diary of Cassidy Jones. His only stipulation is that she not share it with anybody else. But when her jealous boyfriend finds and exposes the diary, secrets come to life that could ruin MacKenzie’s whole family.

Can she find a way to clear her father’s name and atone for her own mistakes before it’s too late?

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Book 3
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Mackenzie's best and only friend, Travis, likes her but is too scared to do anything about it. When Mackenzie starts dating Braden, and the two of them investigate the death 30 years prior of high school student Cassidy, who was Travis' aunt, things between them become difficult.

This story gives us angst and teenage drama in the here and now, and Cassidy's struggles as a teenager in the 80s.

There are unintended consequences when Travis gives Mackenzie his aunt's diary to read. I like that the mistakes and behaviour of these characters are age appropriate. They are young and just learning about life and they muck up as teens do. I thought this was pretty realistic.

Hickville Redemption is a really well done, engaging young adult romance and a mystery thrown in, and I devoured it happily. You don't need to read the previous Hickville High stories to enjoy this one, but the previous books are all worth reading too.

Age recommendation: 13+ years.

Also Available in the Hickville High Series

Book 1
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For reviews & more info, check out our Welcome to Hickville High post.

Book 2
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For reviews & more info, check out our Hickville Confessions post.

Following a career as a nursing instructor, award-winning author, Mary Karlik earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania. A native Texan, Mary loves horses, dogs, cats, country music, and small town diners. Although she has recently relocated in northern New Mexico, her heart remains in the Lone Star state.

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Veronica reviewed her personal copy of Hickville Redemption (Hickville High #3) by Mary Karlik for this post.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

In the next installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, follow Chaol on his sweeping journey to a distant empire.

Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent's mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

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Book 6
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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

When I first heard that Chaol was going to have his own book, Tower of Dawn, I was mildly intrigued, but not certain it would captivate me the same way Aelin’s story has. I was wrong. Sarah J. Maas is such a phenomenal writer that I’m pretty sure she could write about a paper bag and I’d still somehow find myself obsessed. She makes me laugh, cry, and sometimes I do both at the same time when I’m reading her beautiful stories.

I loved being able to get a new look into Chaol’s character and deeper understanding of the Valg. I was immediately drawn into the story and I couldn’t put it down! It was a whole new perspective on a character I never imagined would somehow find himself to his own book, but a pleasant surprise in the end! Tower of Dawn had me ready to reread all the previous books in the Throne of Glass series because I just couldn’t let go of this world once I was back in it. I am now more than ready to finally see what happens when Aelin, Chaol, and Dorian reunite in book #7. Let the waiting begin! Also, if you’re in need of a fix while waiting for book #7, definitely check out Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series!

FIVE STARS for Sarah J. Maas’ Tower of Dawn!

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog.

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Jordan reviewed her personal copy of Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah J. Maas for this post.