Advanced “Group” Review: Looking For Group, by Alexis Hall

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This is a special “Group” review, featuring five of the JLR reviewers! Thank you so much to Riptide Publishing for allowing us to read this one together!

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Looking For Group, by Alexis Hall
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: August 29, 2016

Ratings:
Mel: 5 out of 5 stars  (5-of-5)
Rafa: 4 out of 5 stars (4-of-5)
Kristie: 4 out of 5 stars (4-of-5)
Rita: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4-5-of-5)
El: DNF at 30%

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El’s Top 10 Books of 2015

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I read a lot of books in 2015 (more than 300 in total), so trying to pick my favorites for the year was not easy. After a lot of thought (and factoring in the number of times I re-read a book), I was able to narrow it down to my Top Ten Books of 2015.

And because it’s the end of the year, here’s one last contest. See the bottom of the post for full contest details.

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And now the list, in no particular order:

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Book Blitz: “How We Began” Anthology

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It’s release day for How We Began, an anthology with stories from six absolutely incredible authors! I’m so excited about this book, not only because of the theme– the beginning of new relationships and new phases in life– but also because it benefits an incredible cause.

You can read my review of each story here (spoiler: they’re all incredible. ALL OF THEM!), and keep reading for an excerpt from two of the stories (randomly chosen, because I literally wanted to include ALL of them!), as well as your chance to win a $25 gift certificate!

BeganHow We Began, an Anthology
Authors: Alexis Hall, Amy Jo Cousins, Annabeth Albert, Delphine Dryden, Geonn Cannon, and Vanessa North (ed. Edie Danford)
Publication date: November 9th 2015
Genres: LGBTQ+, New Adult, Romance, Young Adult

How does love begin? A glance, a gesture, an unexpected offer of help from a stranger… or from a good friend. A smile across a counter at a coffee shop or video store. A secret revealed in a song from another place and time. Or in a love ballad crooned at a high school dance.

In this anthology of never-before-published sweet LGBTQ+ stories, six authors explore the beginnings of love between young and new adult couples. All proceeds will support The Trevor Project’s work with crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth.

Where to Buy the Book:
Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

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Anthology Book Review: How We Began

BeganHow We Began (Anthology)
Authors: Alexis Hall, Amy Jo Cousins, Annabeth Albert, Delphine Dryden, Geonn Cannon, Vanessa North (ed. by Edie Danford)
Publication Date: November 9th 2015
Genres: LGBTQ+, New Adult, Romance, Young Adult

* I received an advanced copy of this anthology in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

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This is an outstanding anthology with stories from six incredible authors, each highlighting that difficult time between high school and college when life seems to be changing at light speed… new beginnings, in both life and relationships!

I really enjoyed every story in this anthology, and I love how different every story is. I think a lot of people look back at their late-high school and early-college years with not-so-great memories, because it’s a rough time… but it’s even more difficult if you’re still struggling to accept yourself, as these stories show.

Here are my reviews of each story in this anthology. I really hope you’ll check it out. All proceeds will support The Trevor Project’s work with crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth.

Buy Links: Amazon / B&N

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TruNorth, by Alexis Hall (★★★★½)

A beautiful short story set in a post-war future where technology has just passed the line of “too creepy”, and the next big thing– boy band TruNorth– is riding waves of fame across Europe.

He’s the nice one. Everybody’s third or fourth favourite. His name is Noah and his job is to be young and free, wild but not too wild, exciting but safe. He has everything he’s ever wanted, and he’s beginning to think it sucks.

Noah follows his bandmate Callum out of the hotel one night, and his entire world view shifts when he discovers what Callum has been hiding. I loved Callum, struggling so hard to be free… but even more, I loved Noah, from the moment of discovery through the end, as he realizes where happiness truly lies.

This is a story about discovering who you truly are, and about understanding what happiness really means. Being rich, famous, loved by millions… it means nothing if you’re not true to yourself. I absolutely adored Noah, sweet and naïve, as he makes that journey.

Favorite Quote:

“Sorry,” she says. “I know I sound like a crazy diva. It’s just… It’s… I want to be me, y’know? Whatever that means.”
“I know.”

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Unexpected Dragons, by Delphine Dryden (★★★★)

This is a super cute story with a fun fantasy element!

If Zev could wish his way into his dragon form, he would already be flying with the rest of his training group. But now it’s high summer, and fear is taking over. If he hasn’t made the change by now… maybe he’ll never be a dragon.

Set in a world where dragon shifters stay in their human form until their teens, Zev is something of an anomaly… he’s too tall, too old, and has yet to shift into his dragon form. He’s the verge of being sent away from his community, but he can’t help but wonder about his friend Rook, who he fears also may be sent away.

Zev’s emotions were really well written, so I could imagine his anxiety and worry, but also the fondness he has for Rook, and the embarrassing school-boy crush he has on his trainer. Delphine did an excellent job of world-building, and her characters are fantastic!

Favorite Quote:

“I think it’s good what happened to you. It reminds us that transformation can still be a dangerous thing. It’s magic, Zev. It’s a gift, but we shouldn’t become complacent about it. Ever.”

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A Song for Sweater-boy, by Vanessa North (★★★★★)

Oh wow, this story! The story alternates from the POV of Ash, a teenager who just wants to play his music, and Jamie, brilliant but on the autistic spectrum, as they become unlikely friends… and maybe something more.

Ash Cooper has made a mess– an angry prank turned into a criminal mischief charge and now he’s on probation. Jamie Allen has a talent for pattern recognition, but he’s not so great with people– how can someone as well-liked as Ash Cooper not have all the answers?

I’ve said it before: Vanessa North writes stunningly realistic characters like no one else! She has a way of making these imaginary people seem so life-like that I expect them to walk off the page. Ash isn’t just a punk; he’s complex, emotional, an incredibly open-minded. And Jamie, a boy who claims to struggle with all things social, seems to understand people and emotions better than those around him.

Favorite Quote:

I have permission from the school, because it keeps me from stimming and distracting the other students, but knitting in class feels like I’m getting away with something. Yeah, Jamie. You rebel you. Knitting and purling a hat like a badass.

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The Taste of Coffee and Cream, by Amy Jo Cousins (★★★★½)

High school is a difficult time for most people, but it’s even harder when you have to hide your true self from bullying classmates and parents who would react with violence.

Jude lives for Saturdays, when she can hop a bus and escape to wander the streets of a town where no one knows her, reveling in the freedom to be her true self. She isn’t interested in making friends, but some people become friends whether you invite them to or not.

Jude is barely hanging on; weekdays are torture, but her one escape is her Saturday bus trips to nearby towns, where she can put on her skirts and be the person she wants to be. The café that she prefers to change clothes in is run by a young man named Owen, and his easy acceptance of Jude is something to look forward to.

Amy Jo Cousins is a go-to author for me when I want gorgeous relationships, and Jude’s relationship with Owen and her friend TJ definitely fit the bill. Watching Jude slowly bloom under the warmth of friends and people who care for her is just lovely.

Favorite Quote:

She’s kissed girls before. Or rather, been kissed by girls. She knows the difference between the passive and the active voice in writing from her English class. Her entire life has been lived in the passive voice, and days the panic hits her so hard she can’t breathe when she wonders how she’ll ever find a way.

photo from the Cypress College LGBT Support Club.

photo from the Cypress College LGBT Support Club.

First in Line, by Annabeth Albert (★★★★★)

This story took me completely by surprise! What I expected to be just another story about a closeted gay boy in college ended up completely bowling me over! Ethaniel is a phenomenal character, and the interactions he has when he arrives on his first day of college are just excellent!

When new Cathia College freshman, Ethaniel Rhodes arrives on campus, he’s determined to finally be true to himself, but getting the courage to follow through with his plan proves harder than he thought.

The longing and desperation to be himself is what really draws me to Ethaniel. He’s terrified, but also completely out of his comfort zone, and he slowly but surely works to be the person he’s always wanted to be. The support characters were also fantastically well done.

This definitely isn’t “just another college story”… the emotional aspect really makes it stand out! (And there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Treble Maker, which I loved :D)

Favorite Quote:

This. This was what I had left Ashwood behind to see. Two men, normal as a pot of rice, depositing their kid at college. Just another day in America, and yet it was so far outside my reality I had to take a minute and breathe.

extinction

Extinction Level Events, by Geonn Cannon (★★★★)

 This was a slow-paced but incredibly emotional and romantic story about a young woman trying to tie up all of the threads in her life before moving across the country to college. Cassandra isn’t panicked; she knows who and what she is… now she just needs to make sure everyone at home knows that, too.

Recent high-school graduate Cassandra Keane is leaving the town she’s known her whole life and heading to college. Before she goes, she has a list of things she has to do that includes a difficult conversation with her best friend.

I love characters like Cassandra, who aren’t struggling with their own identity but instead trying to find a way to communicate that identity to the people who know and love them.

And while this was definitely romantic, I feel like it was more about Cassandra as a person, then about any potential beginning of a relationship. There’s no doubt or hesitation with her; she’s moving away, going to live her dream. But I liked that she wasn’t willing to give up the people she loved in the process.

Favorite Quote:

Everything she knew was going to be replaced with something entirely unknown. A group of elementary school kids were buzzing around the baseball field behind the school. A group of adults seemed to be attempting to corral their miniature whirlwinds to no great success. They were oblivious to the massive change because, as far as they were concerned, their world was going to stay exactly the same. Always and forever.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Like Crime/Thriller novels? Check out these books!

top-ten-tuesday-text This weekly meme is hosted by Broke and Bookish.

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Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is an “if you like x, then you might enjoy y” theme. I couldn’t think of one single author that I love in the crime/thriller genre, because it’s such a diverse area of fiction, but I wanted to recommend some great mysteries, crime dramas, and thrillers that you may not have heard of.

(And of course, a LOT of these are also romances. Yes, it’s cheesy, I know… there’s nothing more stereotypical than a detective putting in long hours on the job, and the lover who helps keep them human. But I absolutely love this theme!)

If you like James Patterson, Tess Gerritsen, or Stieg Larsson, then you probably love books that keep you on the edge of your seat, witty characters trying to solve mysteries, and criminals that are almost as brilliant as their pursuers. So check out these ten crime/thriller books:


1. Dirty Kiss (The Cole McGinnis Series #1), by Rhys Ford (Buy)

ford-dirty-kissCole Kenjiro McGinnis, ex-cop and PI, is trying to get over the shooting death of his lover when a supposedly routine investigation lands in his lap. Investigating the apparent suicide of a prominent Korean businessman’s son proves to be anything but ordinary, especially when it introduces Cole to the dead man’s handsome cousin, Kim Jae-Min.

Jae-Min’s cousin had a dirty little secret, the kind that Cole has been familiar with all his life and that Jae-Min is still hiding from his family. The investigation leads Cole from tasteful mansions to seedy lover s trysts to Dirty Kiss, the place where the rich and discreet go to indulge in desires their traditional-minded families would rather know nothing about.

It also leads Cole McGinnis into Jae-Min’s arms, and that could be a problem. The death of Jae-Min’s cousin is looking less and less like a suicide, and Jae-Min is looking more and more like a target. Cole has already lost one lover to violence he’s not about to lose Jae-Min too.


2. Criminal Gold (Cantor Gold Crimes #1), by Ann Aptaker (Buy)

aptaker-criminal-goldMidnight, New York Harbor, 1949. Cantor Gold, dapper dyke-about-town, smuggler of fine art, waits in her boat under the Brooklyn Bridge for racketeer Gregory Ortine. In the shadow of the bridge, he’ll toss Cantor a satchel of cash, and she’ll toss him a pouch containing a priceless jewel.

But the plan, and the jewel, sink when a woman in a red sequined dress drops from the bridge and slams onto Cantor’s boat. She is Opal Shaw, Society Page darling and fiancée of murder-for-hire kingpin Sig Loreale.

Through a night of danger, desire, and double-cross, Cantor must satisfy Loreale’s vengeance, stay ahead of an angry Ortine, and untangle the knots of murder tightening around Opal’s best friend and keeper of her dirty secrets, Celeste Copley, a seductress who excites Cantor’s passion but snares her in a labyrinth of lies. The lies explode in a collision of love, loyalty, lust… and death.


3. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1), by Alan Bradley (Buy)

bradley-sweetness-bottom-pieIt is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”


4. The Cuckoos Calling (Cormoran Strike #1), by Robert Galbraith (Buy)

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After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.


5. The Morning Star (Shadow of the Templar #1), by M. Chandler (FREE!)

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Simon Drake is an up-and-coming young FBI hotshot, an agent with a personal track record so outstanding that it borders on unbelievable. Not yet thirty, he’s already the leader of his own special ops team; a ragtag bunch of talented but nigh-uncontrollable lunatics, it’s true, but under Simon’s inspired leadership they’re a force to be reckoned with, a team with an unparalleled success rate, a team with an almost unblemished record–until now.

Jeremy Archer is the brilliant and unpredictable scion of a long line of international art thieves, simultaneously a phenomenally wealthy English socialite and one of the most infamous criminals in the world. At twenty-seven years old he’s already wanted on nearly every continent for thefts totalling more than ninety-one million dollars, and yet no one has ever come close to catching him–until now.

Now?

May the best man win.


6. Iron and Velvet (Kate Kane #1), by Alexis Hall (Buy)

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My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.

It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.

I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks. It’s going to be an interesting day.


7. The Third Twin, by C.J. Omololu (Buy)

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Identical twins. Identical DNA. Identical suspects. It’s Pretty Little Liarsmeets Revenge in this edge-of-your-seat thriller with a shocking twist.

When they were little, Lexi and her identical twin, Ava, made up a third sister, Alicia. If something broke? Alicia did it. Cookies got eaten? Alicia’s guilty. Alicia was always to blame for everything. The game is all grown up now that the girls are seniors. They use Alicia as their cover to go out with boys who are hot but not exactly dating material. Boys they’d never, ever be with in real life.

Now one of the guys Alicia went out with has turned up dead, and Lexi wants to stop the game for good. As coincidences start piling up, Ava insists that if they follow the rules for being Alicia, everything will be fine. But when another boy is killed, the DNA evidence and surveillance photos point to only one suspect: Alicia. The girl who doesn’t exist. As she runs from the cops, Lexi has to find the truth before another boy is murdered. Because either Ava is a killer…or Alicia is real.


8. Cut & Run (Cut & Run #1), by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban (Buy)

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A series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He’s cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he’s paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it’s hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliche: total opposites, good cop-bad cop, the odd couple.

They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer. Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again – this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer’s knife.


9. Scarlett Undercover, by Jennifer Latham (Buy)

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Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks — and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.


10. Rivers of London (Midnight Riot) (Peter Grant #1), by Ben Aaronovitch (Buy)

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Published as Midnight Riot in the United States.

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost.

Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.


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