Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Big Bad Wolf by Jus Accardo

Kensey Deaton comes from an elite werewolf lineage, but just because her family is royalty, doesn't mean she'll fall in line like some perfect little princess. She has plans and they don't include an arranged marriage!

Slade McAlister has his own family drama. His Alpha father happens to be the most reviled wolf on the eastern seaboard, and it's a stigma he can't escape. So when his neighbor Kensey--the girl of his dreams and his nightmares--proposes a solution to solve *both* of their problems, he sees an opportunity he can’t ignore.

Kensey and Slade aren't only from opposite sides of the tracks, they're from opposite sides of the war. But if they can sell their 'relationship', they might just make it out of this with their freedom.

You know, as long as all that fake PDA doesn't turn into more...

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Entangled Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

4 Teenage Angst Stars

The Big Bad Wolf is a standalone young adult paranormal novel featuring shifters. However, the paranormal aspects were underlying in the world-building. Not a complaint, just an explanation. Pack politics was the driving force, as well as a hefty dose of good ol' teenage angst.

Kensey and Slade are the children to two rival alphas. As a female, Kensey has no rights once she is mated, used simply for the worth of her bloodline and forging bonds between packs. Our hero and heroine are informed they have to mate, so they take matters in their own hands.

I read The Big Bad Wolf from cover-to-cover in one sitting. The novel featured a few of my favorite tropes. Fake relationship. Early childhood friends who had a falling out once hormones struck, adding a tension and a love-hate vibe. The good girl and the bad boy – "I'm not good enough for you" trope. Our parents don't want us to be together trope. Political gain.

All of these tropes melded into a yummy page-turner that had me emotionally invested and rooting for Kensey and Slade's happiness.

I highly recommend for readers who are seeking a novel featuring a paranormal twist, wanting to dive into a world where two kids find love against all odds. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

Young Adult age-range: 13+ due to kissing and violence.

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. But at the last minute, she realized her true path lay with fiction, not food. Jus is the bestselling author of the popular Denazen series from Entangled publishing, as well as the Darker Agency series, and the New Adult series, The Eternal Balance. 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 The Big Bad Wolf by Jus Accardo to read and review.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Phoenix Fire by S.D. Grimm

After spending her life in foster care, Ava has finally found home. But all it takes is a chance encounter with hot nerd Wyatt Wilcox for it to unravel.

Now, things are starting to change. First, the flashes of memories slowly creeping in. Memories of other lives, lives that Wyatt is somehow in. Then, the healing. Any cut? Gone.

But when Cade and Nick show up, claiming to be her brothers, things get even weirder. They tell her she’s a Phoenix, sent to protect the world from monsters—monsters she never knew existed. It’s a little hard to accept. Especially when they tell her she has to end the life of a Phoenix turned rogue, or Cade will die.

With Wyatt’s increasingly suspicious behavior, Ava’s determined to figure out what he’s hiding. Unless she can discover Wyatt’s secret in time and complete her Phoenix training, she’ll lose the life, love, and family she never thought she could have.

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Book 1
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Entangled Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

I originally grabbed this one up just because of the name and I'm glad I did.

Despite a slow start, I did eventually get dragged into this one and didn't put it down until I finished. The concept of phoenixes was quite intriguing and different, so it definitely interested me.

Ava, Cade, and Nick are Phoenix siblings, eternally fighting through time to save their race. The catch, they come back as children and have to grow into their teens before remembering anything, even each other. Each life has become more precious as their enemies gain in strength and none know just how long they have or if they can defeat them.

Overall, this was an interesting read. I am looking forward to future books and seeing where the author takes this. It has great potential for sure. I would recommend it to those interested in lighter fantasy like myself.

Young Adult Age Recommendation: 13+

S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult fantasy and science fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and author of Scarlet Moon. She currently has four books under contract, including the remainder of her YA fantasy series Children of the Blood Moon. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and binge-watching shows with great characters. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Phoenix Fire (Phoenix Cycle #1) by S.D. Grimm to read and review.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

A kiss is never just a kiss.

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame… and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

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Entangled Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

I'm going to preface my review by saying I didn't even read the blurb before beginning By a Charm and a Curse, so I was pleasantly surprised by the content, especially with this being Jaime Questell's debut novel. I read the book cover-to-cover in one sitting.

This was an original take on the carnival setting, and the title fits the novel perfectly, summing up how the carnival functions – by a charm and a curse.

Emma returned to stay with her father, while her mother is helping a village in an underdeveloped country. Emma misses her mother, feels the divide of distance and time with her old friends in this town – it's as if they fell out of knowing each other, growing apart.

Emma's thoughts are swirling as she and her friend, Juliet, go to the carnival, in a town that normally only has football and Wal-Mart as entertainment. Emma struggles to connect with her friend and find the good about being at her dad's home, and this leaves her as the perfect target for the Boy in the Box.

The story unfolds in Emma and Ben's narration, seeing a wide view from the get-go. I had no idea what was going to happen next, how Emma would be drawn into their world. I actually felt a wave of panic for Emma as she goes through her ordeal, then the desolation of her circumstances. This portion felt very real, and I applaud the author for eliciting so many emotions from me.

Emma's thrust into a world where she cannot trust anyone, yet she is a the glue that holds the carnival together – the curse to their charm.

There is a side cast of characters who were intriguing, in a wide array of personalities, from sympathetic to apathetic, many taking Emma's sacrifice for granted. There are bullies, mothers with their own agendas, supportive friends, and many middle of the road folks, making up a diverse carnival feel.

Without giving the plot away, as I went into this novel blind, as I think I enjoyed it more due to that, the charm isn't functioning properly...

Emma was a strong character. Ben was a comfort, the warmth Emma needed to survive what she was going through. Both Emma and Ben are good people, yet managed to sound equally unique in their narration, showing their world through different lenses.

The world-building and plot are the focus, with an underlying romantic thread, which has its own limitations, as well as several subtle romantic entanglements by the side cast of characters. This delicate balance is perfect for the reader who looks for the romance, as well as the reader who is more plot-focused.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel, and highly recommend it to both teens and grown adults who are looking for something unique.

Young Adult age-range: 13+.

JAIME QUESTELL grew up in Houston, Texas, where she escaped the heat and humidity by diving into stacks of Baby Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High books. She has been a book seller (fair warning: book lovers who become book sellers will give half their paychecks right back to their employers), a professional knitter, a semi-professional baker, and now works as a graphic designer in addition to writing.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell to read and review.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Dating Debate by Chris Cannon

Nina Barnes thinks Valentine’s Day should be optional. That way single people like her wouldn’t be subjected to kissy Cupids all over the place. That is, until her mom moves them next door to the brooding hottie of Greenbrier High, West Smith. He’s funny, looks amazing in a black leather jacket, and he’s fluent in Harry Potter, but she’s not sure he’s boyfriend material.

West isn’t sure what to make of Nina. She’s cute and loves to read as much as he does, but she seems to need to debate everything and she has a pathological insistence on telling the truth. And West doesn’t exactly know how to handle that, since his entire life is a carefully constructed secret. Dating the girl next door could be a ton of fun, but only if Nina never finds out the truth about his home life. It’s one secret that could bring them together or rip them apart.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book is not for anyone who has to get in the last word, but it is for all book nerds, especially those who live next door to so called unapproachable gorgeous guys. There’s no debating the chemistry.

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Book 1
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Entangled Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

5 Banterific Stars

The Dating Debate is sure to please both young adults and those young at heart. Zany, lighthearted, charming, angsty, and swoon-worthy, I was hooked from page one. There was also surprising depth, with intriguing familial background, instead of how most books in the young adult genre have absentee parents, leaving an opening for unlimited interactions. In this case, the parents were both supportive yet also the obstacle.

Another plus in my book was how supportive the side cast of classmates and friends were, with no scheming to inject themselves into the budding relationship. No Mean Girl drama, all of it was realistic, character-building situations.

Nina and West are neighbors, with West's father as Nina's landlord, which adds a few bumps along the road.

Nina is absent a filter, a truth-telling debater, after the betrayal her family was dealt. While she may be cynical when it comes to romance, she's the best friend anyone could ever find. Caring and compassionate, a natural caregiver. She's also a book nerd after my own heart.

West is a brooding, self-sacrificing swoon-worthy hero, who's only made more appealing by the fact that he's always reading a novel. He puts his father and mother's wishes and needs before his own, and this is both heartbreaking and sweet.

Nina and West spar for the entirety of the book, whether they are agreeing with one another, arguing semantics, or using it as age-appropriate foreplay. This witty exchange was both comical and blush-inducing.

Debates. Hugs. Home-cooked food. Libraries and Recycling Centers. Shedding retrievers. Harry Potter. Chocolate. TMNT blankies. Books and more books. What more does a reader need?

Favorite quotes, because it felt like they were taken directly from my head. [Blog Note: The quotes have been turned into the teasers included in this post. Enjoy!]

Young Adult age-range: 13+ kissing and mental illness in a parent.

Chris Cannon is the award-winning author of the Going Down in Flames series and the Boyfriend Chronicles. She lives in Southern Illinois with her husband and several furry beasts. She believes coffee is the Elixir of Life. Most evenings after work, you can find her sucking down caffeine and writing fire-breathing paranormal adventures or romantic comedies.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of The Dating Debate (Dating Dilemmas #1) by Chris Cannon to read and review.

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.