The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin #bookreview #YA #contemporary

Mean Girls meets The Tudors in Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club, a clever contemporary YA retelling of Henry VIII and his wives (or, in this case, his high school girlfriends). Told from the perspective of Annie Marck (“Cleves”), a 17-year-old aspiring journalist from Cleveland who meets Henry at summer camp, The Dead Queens Club is a fun, snarky read that provides great historical detail in an accessible way for teens while giving the infamous tale of Henry VIII its own unique spin.

What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice…

I’m not a big history buff, but I watched The Tudors series on Netflix several years ago and was hooked.  Given, it was highly dramatized, but you can’t tell me there weren’t clandestine meetings, backstabbings, political maneuverings, and power plays during that time.  And then, of course, there was Henry and his wives.  When I saw this book, I was instantly curious about a modern day retelling – in high school, no less.

The author is very clever in how she created her characters based on the historical figures, bringing the queens, Henry, and some of their acquaintances into modern day.  Cleves, based on Anne of Cleves, who was queen for a few short months, is Henry’s best friend.  Like Henry VIII, this Henry has a wandering eye and a long string of girlfriends.  Loosely paralleling their historical relationship, Cleves and Henry date for an awkward couple of weeks, but decide they’re better as friends.  Cleves is blindly loyal, awkward, and her snark had me chuckling several times.

Make no mistake – this high school is just as socially treacherous as Henry the VIII’s court, with suspicious deaths and characters falling out of favor.  Scheming, plotting, and gossip abound, making up a large portion of the book, but occasionally don’t do much to advance the story.  All the back and forth is difficult to follow at times, but once the book hits the 75% mark, things move along quickly.

I didn’t enjoy this read as much as I’d hoped, but that’s more me than the book.  I’m not a big fan of Mean Girls and erratic high school drama, but judging by other reviews, many readers thought The Dead Queens Club was fabulous.  This book is scheduled for publication January 29th, 2019.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.



Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky #bookreview #YA #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

The summer before her junior year, paleontology geek Natalie Page lands a coveted internship at an Ice Age dig site near Austin. Natalie, who’s also a plus-size fashion blogger, depends on the retro style she developed to shield herself from her former bullies, but vintage dresses and perfect lipstick aren’t compatible with prospecting for fossils in the Texas heat. But nothing is going to dampen Natalie’s spirit — she’s exactly where she wants to be, and she gets to work with her hero, a rock-star paleontologist who hosts the most popular paleo podcast in the world. And then there’s Chase the intern, who’s seriously cute, and Cody, a local boy who’d be even cuter if he were less of a grouch.

It’s a summer that promises to be about more than just mammoths.

Until it isn’t.

When Natalie’s hero turns out to be anything but, and steals the credit for one of her accomplishments, Nat has to unearth the confidence she needs to stand out in a field dominated by dudes. To do this, she’ll have to let her true self shine, even if that means defying all the rules for the sake of a major discovery.

Although I’m not usually a big reader of YA contemporary, after reading the blurb for Mammoth, there’s no way I could pass it up.  I’m kind of a dino nerd – given, there aren’t dinosaurs in this book, but it was close enough for me.

Let me say up front – if you have daughters or know girls who are interested in STEM, steer them toward this book.  It strongly encourages girls to display their intelligence front and center, pursue their goals, and be themselves.  After they read it, encourage them to make better choices than Natalie.  She makes one bad decision after another and frustrated me – but she’s such a relatable, personable protagonist that I forgave her.  In her defense, she has good intentions, and also owns up to everything.  Nat’s character arc is incredible, and she’ll charm you from the first page.

Mammoth also contains some standard tropes that are difficult to get away from in YA – a love triangle, a rich, mean girl, and an awesome guy who maybe really isn’t, but all the supporting characters are well-written.

If you’re looking for a fresh, highly enjoyable read that also tackles some very relevant issues, Mammoth easily fills those requirements.

Thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for the ARC.

Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong #bookreview #YA #contemporary

Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter.

Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don’t heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend–Skye.

Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can’t resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.

With school shootings becoming all too heart-breakingly common, this novel may not be for everyone.  I will say the content is more about the aftermath (hence, the title), and focuses more on the grieving loved ones left behind.

With hints that the details of the shooting may not be entirely truthful, this book kept me turning the pages – and also because of Jesse and Skye.  Both are well-developed characters who struggle to reconnect and revive their friendship years after a horrendous tragedy.  Their relationship depicts what a strong friendship should be built on – support, humor, common interests, shared experiences, and steadfast loyalty.

Although the author offers several suspects, I guessed who the ‘villain’ was before the halfway point, but never really bought into this person’s motives and actions. Things still seemed a little unclear when all was said and done.  The behavior and actions, or lack of action, of a couple of adult characters also required me to suspend my disbelief a bit.

Aftermath deals with sensitive subject matter and handles it respectfully, but don’t look for commentary on the politics surrounding gun control.  This is a straightforward YA thriller with an intriguing mystery.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

When The Beat Drops by Anna Hecker #bookreview #YA

Seventeen-year-old Mira has always danced to her own beat. A music prodigy in a family of athletes, she’d rather play trumpet than party—and with her audition to a prestigious jazz conservatory just around the corner (and her two best friends at music camp without her), she plans to spend the summer focused on jazz and nothing else.

She only goes to the warehouse party in a last-ditch effort to bond with her older sister. Instead, she falls in love with dance music, DJing…and Derek, a gorgeous promoter who thinks he can make her a star. Suddenly trumpet practice and old friendships are taking a backseat to packed dance floors, sun-soaked music festivals, outsized personalities, and endless beats.

But when a devastating tragedy plunges her golden summer into darkness, Mira discovers just how little she knows about her new boyfriend, her old friends, and even her own sister. Music is what brought them together…but will it also tear them apart? –

As a music lover and former band geek, I was immediately drawn to this book.  Mira’s obsession with music, ambitious goals, and close relationship with her family make her instantly likable.  Despite that close relationship, she feels as if her parents always put her sister’s needs and interests ahead of her own, and Mira’s very accommodating and understanding for her age.  I admired her determination to work on her goals, try new experiences, and meet new people instead of sitting around sulking after missing music camp.  The dynamics between Mira and her best friends are genuine and relatable, and getting an insider’s view of DJ-ing made this tech-lover very happy.

The first 70% of this book was enjoyable read for me, but soon after, things seem to go off the rails.  I’ll try to put this in general terms to avoid spoilers.  I found it difficult to believe that parents would be oblivious to such a profound change in their child’s appearance and actions.  Mira and her family are dealing with, as well as avoiding, several problems, but the blame comes across as misplaced.  By eliminating a certain aspect from their lives, everything is resolved, which is an unrealistic expectation.  Questions are left unanswered, I was ultimately disappointed at certain choices that didn’t ring true for the character, and the ending felt rushed.

My issues are personal, and I’d still recommend this book to music lovers, because it’s rare to find books exploring that world – they’re few and far between, and I’d love to see more.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.


The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith #bookreviews #TuesdayBookBlog #YAbooks

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. –

This charming tale is an interesting blend of contemporary and fantasy, with a main character I just wanted to hug throughout the entire book.  Leila is a mature young woman with strong convictions who struggles with questions about her past, while also learning to trust her new family and find a sense of belonging.  And everyone should have a best friend like Sarika – that person who always supports you and has your back no matter what – who is also a snarky, talented coffee barista with a loyal Twitter following.  Leila’s dad, Jon, is the perfect concoction of worried, overprotective father, with an endearing, dorky sense of humor.

I loved the emphasis on environmental awareness and the interactions between the group on the message board.  Raising awareness in any way can only have a positive effect.

Although the romantic relationships felt somewhat rushed, hovering near the ‘insta-love’ airspace, I appreciated the way Leila realized early on that some relationships are just incompatible, but that doesn’t mean the friendship has to end.  It caught me off guard when Shawn’s character seemed to change abruptly from one scene to the next, and I was also hoping for a little more information about Leila’s biological father.

The Girl and the Grove is an entrancing story with strong themes of family, friendship, and trust.  This book is scheduled for release May 8th, 2018.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau #bookreviews #TuesdayBookBlog #YA

A congressman’s daughter who has to be perfect. A star quarterback with a secret. A guy who’s tired of being ignored. A clarinet player who’s done trying to fit in. An orphaned rebel who wants to teach someone a lesson. A guy who wants people to see him, not his religion.

They couldn’t be more different, but before the morning’s over, they’ll all be trapped in a school that’s been rocked by a bombing. When they hear that someone inside is the bomber, they’ll also be looking to one another for answers. –

More than anything, this book challenges the reader to avoid stereotypes and assumptions about the situations of others.  It’s timely, thought-provoking, and will stay with you long after finishing.

At first glance, this group of high school teens appear to be a Breakfast Club assortment.  Or are they?  As the story progresses, it’s revealed each is dealing with their own issues to include racism, homosexuality, religious discrimination, bullying, and suicide.  The interactions between Rashid and Tad are especially compelling.  With the exception of Frankie and Kaitlyn, the character development is incredible – the teens are real, relatable, and flawed.  For me, Frankie comes across as a little too stereotypical, and very little information about Kaitlyn is given.

All have motivations for planting the bombs, and determining the identity of the bomber may force the reader to face their own stereotypes and prejudices.  You may surprise yourself.  These teens experience a horrific situation, and I appreciated that the author didn’t create a tidy ending solving all their problems.

A quick, action-packed, and stimulating read, Time Bomb is so much more than teenagers fighting for their lives.  This is easily a cross-over and something I’d highly recommend for book clubs.  Time Bomb is scheduled for publication March 13th, 2018.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.


Indie Author Friday: Caroline Clemens #IndieAuthor #romance #contemporary

Today’s author brings with her several selections to include romance, poetry, and holiday novellas.  Welcome, Caroline Clemens!

Kiss Ride     The first book/novella I ever wrote. I went back and changed the names to protect the innocent. Ha ha, actually I just was nervous and had no idea what I was getting into. This sweet little story is about my sister meeting her future husband on the train in Atlanta.

Into the Vines   This second book is three novels in one, a trilogy titled the Vintage Blue Trilogy. I wrote it over three years and it has around 177K words. I received nice reviews from family and friends but couldn’t market it further. Believe me I tried. It’s a coming of age story, a contemporary family drama, and bits of magical realism entwined. For me it’s a classic novel and it travels across continents. It has a happily ever after with heroism from a pilot and two of his adopted children. When my daughter told me she was reading Lord of the Flies I told her I wrote a book for her generation, the females of the world. I believed it was time for a female book. I couldn’t fathom that they only had princess tales for the very young or books about boys being boys. No wonder women are behind men in equality.

Brie’s Story   This was previously titled “French Bleu.” The first book from Into the Vines is about two women meeting on a vineyard in France in the Loire Valley. Each has a different reason for this vacation at a cooking school. The drama continues quickly and love interests mingle with the pilot who saves stranded souls from around the world. The story is a continuous saga into book two and three. They can be read together in order or separately.

Someday   This was previously titled Bleu Moon. I received two honorable mentions for this middle segment of Into the Vines. That made me extremely happy. I think my writing really took off during this novel. It’s a page turner and I wrote about Paris, a place I’ve never been to. I will be re titling this and giving it a print and digital venue on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. As a self-pubbed author I cannot put it out everywhere-this is more than a job for two or three people, let alone one person.

This story is about Francis and Hawa joining the family that inhabits the vineyard and has the lifesaving company that goes global. Angie is the name of this new age idea that we can encompass the globe without interfering into the rights of countries, that we can save lives through the use of private and government assistance, by employing some of our extraordinary individuals such as navy seals or national guard type persons. I would classify this story as Utopian and heroism at its finest. The secondary plot in here is the adoption of two distinct characters who join the family.

Sapphire Souls   This is the 3rd novel and soon to be titled “____ .“  As you can see I don’t have the title as yet. This follows the ongoing story and steps right into the Congo and other areas of Africa. I did the best I could to describe another place I’ve never been. I believe my nursing background precluded how I could write about other people from far away. You see we are all human with unique individual traits, yet quite a like in numerous aspects. I was extremely creative in this third novel and am proud of what I wrote. After this I was able to accelerate my process by way of the outline.

Hawa gets her wings and the story is set. She is the heroine and ready for action!

String the Cranberries   This novella was a NaNoWriMo from 2013. I love this story. I combined many things from my own life in here and made a unique story that is grim and yet is a happily ever after. Brandon leaves the army and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He works in his uncles barber shop, sees an ad, and goes out west to become a ranch hand, or cowboy. He meets Leia, which is a good thing, but doesn’t last long. This ironic tale is heartfelt and filled with goodness. I received a one star review for this tale and realized some people want to see you fail. The review tore a hole through me which I mended. We must fight evil in this world-that’s what that taught me! I would love to find readers for this or see this as a Hallmark movie. Smiles.

Autumn Quotes    This is my poetry collection I never intended to write. But I did and I’m good with that. Poetry is painful and can come quite easily once you start. It was a good introduction for me to begin writing. For that I am grateful. A few of my poems I truly love and would like to see them out there more. I entered a few contests, so we shall see. When you don’t have a MFA in writing I don’t think you get seen or heard. Pity that because many who have walked on the other side don’t get noticed. My aim is to change that. I have applied to mainstream high end contests. Maybe they laugh, maybe they don’t, or maybe I’ll have to open my own literary voice online magazine. I don’t have enough time for everything. So I’ll pour a wine or whiskey and write more poetry. I have the title for my next project. Smoked and Spiced.

Coming soon.    I have three titles I hope to release before Christmas! They are a historical fiction titled, “Chocolate for Lilly,” a thriller/suspense titled, “Three King Mackerel and a Mahi Mahi,” and a little short story titled, “Maiden Voyage-A Lighthouse Tale.”  These are either entered in contests or queried out to agents/publishers. I’ll give that some time and then self-publish. I have the covers already purchased but, of course, would relinquish if someone wanted to help me. This may be a do it yourself writing life.

What are your favorite books in your genre?

I’ve done a couple genres now, contemporary YA, historical fiction and the latest is thriller/suspense. Funny thing is I don’t like to be scared and writing a thriller seems so uncharacteristic of myself. But I did it and the 2nd draft is in the works. Grisham’s 1997 The Partner was my re-entry into reading after parenting three kids close in age. (I found for a while I could only read magazine articles for many years). I picked up this book in 2010 after buying it at a garage sale. The book was an eye opener for me into spying, surveillance, and the mob. Misery by Stephen King is right up my alley, she’s a nurse (me too) while he’s a writer (I’ve written eight or nine books) who ends up in a wheelchair (my grandmother). I have a soft spot for those unable to walk. The Shining, Silence of the Lambs, and The Exorcist scared me to death! The last two I had to hold up my hands in the movie theatre to block the screen while I trembled in fear. Why on earth have I written a thriller?

How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

I had much to learn writing the first book, including word usage, proper English, longer sentences, comma usage, etc. As a nurse we used precise language for description, nothing extra as that takes time away from patient care. Now I had to make things colorful and display feelings. I asked my teacher-sister to edit the novella and she wouldn’t do it. I was in bad shape; what now? I tried my best. Maybe she wouldn’t because the story was about her. After that I took a big leap. I wrote my first big story not about anyone. Of course, I used things I know but it was so much fun. Truly, it excited me. I wrote the story out in a notebook by hand-read as many writing tips as I could about plot, rising action, characters, blurbs, genres, etc. Then I typed and had it edited. That’s a trying process. Editors tell you all sorts of things that they would change, and since you are a newbie you want to take their ideas but some things you want to keep. This process can make you go mad!

My first real book Into the Vines I wrote out in notebooks by hand, after this book I researched taking notes, made an outline, and wrote by typing. This is the single biggest step I took and it worked. Therefore, I now write an outline including characters, places, and put the chapters down, word count I want and start typing. I feel I could write two or three books a year by doing this. We shall see.

What do you do to get book reviews?

I have tried and tried to get reviews through social media and online venues. I have not succeeded in this while I saw others matriculate to great outcomes. This was very difficult and discouraging-a true heart break. It’s not that I thought so highly of myself; it’s that I thought why not, why can’t I write or get noticed by someone? I thought my endeavors were more worthy. Maybe this has kept me going. Most likely I was in the wrong hands, hands that didn’t want to help but maybe actually harm me. Trolls come to mind. However, this gal persisted. I’m not sure why. Here I am and now where do I go? I kept trying, kept writing, and now I have three more stories to publish. I’ve sent off queries with many rejections. I may have to self-publish again. I’ve just discovered another site for book reviews. Alas, I will repeat, and try, try again. Why? Because I’d like to obtain readers, even if it’s a small group. Why does a performer keep trying? Because they enjoy the giving and just maybe someone will offer their review, critique, or applause.

What’s your favorite kind of cookie and why?

Gingerbread! Christmas gingerbread men to be exact. My mother introduced me to this ritual and I kept it up for many years. A couple years I missed (three kids close in age) due to not enough time, and yes, a lack of enthusiasm. I look forward to re introducing this timeless holiday tradition of mine.

Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?

Batman. Bruce Wayne is such a great story. I mean the bat cave, a butler, books, and then a side kick named Robin, not to mention the bat mobile. Oh yea, he gets to be in disguise. That’s cool.

How would your best friend describe you?

Best friend-not sure what she would say (lots of lovely things w a smile). But a friend’s dad told her that, “Your friend Kim is regal.” And my dad’s best friend said to me, “You’re very diplomatic!” I consider regal and diplomatic to be the two best things ever said about me. I never would have come up with words like these to describe my nice personality and hardworking nature.

Author Bio

I’m an Indie Author and delighted to introduce myself to you! I’m on under the pen name of Caroline Clemens where I have a couple novels, and a poetry collection. I blog at and I’ve written eighty journalism styled articles for The Guardian Liberty Voice and received two honorable mention awards for “Bleu Moon,” which is the middle segment of my contemporary novel “Into the Vines.” I find this creative process to be a work of art. Presently my thriller for young adult or adults has a completed first draft. Both my historical fiction & thriller titles could be a series.

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The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis #bookreview

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered 25812109three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.  –

I’m not a frequent reader of YA contemporary, but whatever this author writes, I read – her books are just that good.  Always.

This novel is dark, intense, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking and difficult to read at times.  The teenage characters drink, swear and have sex and there are some violent scenes.  But this novel sends a powerful message about rape and sexism and needs to be talked about and shared.

When Alex decides to take care of things in her own way and turns into a vigilante, it’s difficult to condemn her actions.  With such horrific stories reported by the media, I think most people can identify with how she feels, but not everyone would follow through on what they’d like to do to the perpetrators.  The three different POVs are integral to this story – being in Alex’s head and seeing how her mind works and her struggles to act ‘normal’, learning how Jack deals with his conflicting feelings for her, and hearing Peekay’s thoughts about her developing friendship with Alex.

The Female of the Species would make an excellent book club selection, but this is a book I’d recommend for the more mature YA crowd.  Beautifully written, memorable, jarring, and highly recommended.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.