Review: Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner

★★★☆☆

This was… not at all the book I was expecting it to be. (Hint: It was better.) I figured, when I saw the cover and the blurb, that I was going to be reading a cutesy, easy romance book about two teenagers. And part of it was (sort of) like that, but only the second half.

vaclav and lenaVaclav and Lena is basically split into two halves: the beginning focuses on Vaclav and Lena’s friendship when they’re young (age 10 and 9, respectively), and ultimately what tears them apart. The two are both Russian immigrants living in NYC. Both are outsiders, who find somewhat of a shelter in each other. The first half is super, super cute, because Vaclav is such a sweet little kid and he loves Lena with all his lil heart. The two spend every day after school together, doing homework and practicing magic, because all Vaclav wants is to grow up and be like Harry Houdini, with Lena as his “lovely assistant”.

Where Vaclav’s family is loud and loving, Lena’s life has been spent being passed from household to household, never really being loved or wanted. At the start of the story she is living with her aunt Ekaterina, who works as a stripper and doesn’t provide for Lena and is almost never home. When the popular girls at school accept Lena into their group, she clings to the feeling of belonging and begins distancing herself from Vaclav.

The book takes an omniscient approach to narration, switching back and forth between Vaclav, Lena, and Vaclav’s mother Rasia. Rasia was perhaps my favorite character in the book, because she was just louder the life and so full of personality. She was loyal and loved Vaclav immensely, as well as feeling a motherly protection for Lena. She walks Lena home most nights, tucking her in and telling her stories until she falls asleep in the empty house.

When Lena is sick one day, Rasia goes to check on her—and ends up seeing something that changes all of their lives forever. Lena is taken away, and then the story skips ahead to when Vaclav and Lena are both 17. From there we get to see the two reconnect and the pure love that binds them together.

The first half was sweet and innocent, and the second half felt gritty and real, while still harboring the childlike purity of the beginning. Overall this was an exceptionally written book that dealt with much darker subject matter than I was expecting—a beautiful portrayal of the healing power of unconditional love.

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Review: We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

ARC provided by NetGalley!
★★★☆☆

This was a cute, short read (more of a novella than anything) written in verse, about two outsiders and the bond that forms between them. Jess comes from a violent household and can’t wait to escape, and Nicu recently immigrated from Romania and is having trouble fitting in, and when they both get sent to a youth correctional program on Saturdays, they quickly become friends.

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The book, though short, had a poignancy that some long YA books struggle to achieve, and it managed it in half the words. It’s easily a book you can read in one sitting (I finished it in a few hours). I didn’t realize until I began that it was written in verse; at first I thought my Kindle formatting was messed up. Honestly, I didn’t care for it, but I didn’t actively dislike it either. I don’t think it added anything to the story, but it also didn’t take away from it—overall it was a good thing in that it enabled the story to develop quickly and shed all the excess weight that most YA books have.

Nicu as a character came across as a bit too naive, especially for someone his age—he felt like some kind of innocent baby rather than a teenage boy. I don’t think being a teenager changes much between cultures, so this felt weird, like they were infantilizing him just because he couldn’t speak fluent English. Other than that, he was easily the best character because he was so forgiving and adorable.

Jess on the other hand was hard to care about, because she was such a mean person in some respects. For one, there’s active portrayal of domestic abuse in the book, and Jess continually thinks that her mother is the problem, that she’s not strong enough to leave Jess’ step-father, which is pretty insulting. (Also, I’m not sure I understood the whole obsession her step-father had with Jess filming him while he hit her mother. It was weird and it made me wonder why Jess, who apparently is so talented at stealing, didn’t just take his phone and go to the police with all of that evidence.) In the same vein, she ignores Nicu even when they’re established friends, letting him get bullied in front of her without saying a word. (Later in the book she speaks up, but it still annoyed me that she thought her mother was the weak one when she allowed her friend to be ruthlessly bullied.)

The climax came about pretty quickly, without much explanation, and it all felt a bit rushed, but I think that can be expected from the storytelling method: it was quick and to the point, focusing on feeling rather than details.

In the end it was a nice, quick read, timely in its depiction of racism and a poignant portrayal of love and loss.

Review: The Summer Palace by C.S. Pacat

★★☆☆☆
‘I thought, I have lost everything and gained you, and I would almost make the trade, if I didn’t know it had happened that way for you, too.’
It was so close to his own thoughts—that everything he knew was gone, but that this was here, in its place, this one bright thing.

captive-princeConfession time: I kind of hate this new lovey-dovey, pliant, soft-spoken Laurent. It feels like his character did a complete 180 in zero time. For someone as rigid and controlled as him, I’d expect to see more than a little standoffishness even once he’s in this semi-relationship with someone he trusts. I would rather see him struggle to become a trusting and loving person than for it to happen as it did–that is to say all at once.

I’m probably in the 1% here, but this earned 2 stars just because it was Captive Prince related and featured characters I like. Other than that, it was pretty dull. It didn’t really add anything that hadn’t already happened, it didn’t really show a side of Laurent or Damen that hadn’t already been explored, and it didn’t hold my attention at all. It was basically slow-burn porn (and I hate to use that phrase because there was really no “burn” to it at all). I finished it because I paid for it, not because I particularly liked it.

I really hate writing negative reviews, especially when it’s a series I loved as much as this one. I guess I was hoping for more development between Laurent and Damen rather than just more washing and fucking. But a spin off or a tie in should really hold some kind of value, even if minimal, to the story as a whole. This was more like a short, smutty fanfic. It doesn’t impact the story, it doesn’t shed light on anything or anyone, it was just fan service. (Which is fine, if you’re into that thing. It just wasn’t for me.)

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Review brought to you by your friendly neighborhood asexual who can’t be impressed by porn. (If I could, this might’ve gotten a higher rating.)

Review: Olivia Series 1&2 by Tessa Palmeri

★★★★★

As an editor, I sometimes get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at awesomeness in the making. And that’s exactly what this was! I read Olivia: On the Brink and its sequel, Olivia: Finding Her Way for work in 2015, and I absolutely loved both of them.

Set in the early ’90s, this series (which I believe has a planned five books in total) focuses on the main character, Olivia Miller, as she graduates high school and moves on to college life. Seems like a simple plot, and it is. That’s probably why I loved it so much; because although the plot isn’t convoluted and action-packed, the nature of the story is character-driven, which really lets you get into Olivia’s head and experience everything she’s going through.

Olivia Miller is pretty sure she’d win the high school senior award “Most Likely to Never Figure Out What They Want To Do With Their Life”. Her critical father and neglectful mother have contributed to her anxiety and lack of direction about her future. She’s a model student with a big heart for community service, but her dad has belittled any ambition she ever had in pursuing something she’s interested in. College is a definite, but where should she go, and what should she major in?

But there’s a new guy at school, Cameron McClain, who becomes a fabulous distraction. He is positively swoon-worthy, and not just because he’s a gorgeous romantic who plays the guitar—he’s also thoughtful and respectful. He fits right in with Olivia’s circle of friends: future fashion designer Lyla, photographer Kate, and all-around popular Josh.

As Olivia and Cameron’s relationship deepens, he shows her the acceptance and encouragement she craves which helps her deal with difficult family issues and college decisions. Together, they navigate the exciting, though sometimes confusing, waters of a teen dating relationship that grows into first love.

One of the reason I loved these stories so much is that Olivia honestly reminded me of myself at that time in my life. Graduating high school and watching your friends move away can be seriously stressful, and without the proper support it can be demoralizing. Turning to a boyfriend for all of that emotional support can feel right, but it can also be pretty disastrous. Palmeri pulls off this balancing act with finesse, showing Olivia’s struggle with finding her identity in a family that seems set on pushing her in the wrong direction.

Olivia doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her life. All of her friends seem to have everything figured out — everyone but her. Her father wants nothing but for Olivia to go into the same field as him, and he doesn’t try to conceal his disregard for other job fields that he deems unimportant or a waste of money. Her mother, having dealt with her husband’s emotional abuse for many years, has become despondent, often forgetting to pick her daughters up from school as she watches TV in sweatpants. Olivia has taken up the mantel of responsibility, shielding her little sister, Emma, from the worst of her father’s tantrums, but she fears leaving her at home to fend for herself when she eventually goes away to college.

This is a great story, one that I could easily recommend to my young family members. There isn’t anything explicitly sexual, although there is some kissing and cuddling and thinking of those things, especially in the second book. Furthermore, Olivia and Cameron’s relationship is very healthy, emotionally. And when it gets unhealthy for a second — well, you’ll have to read to find out. Olivia is a fantastic protagonist, one you’ll find yourself rooting for as you watch her strive to improve her life time and time again. There are elements of Christianity and reliance on faith, but as a non-religious person this didn’t feel like it was hitting me over the head or being preachy. It was used very nicely, and showed a girl with a different belief system than me practicing her religion mindfully and intelligently.

I would recommend this series to anyone in their tweens, teens, or early twenties who wants a quick, smart fiction focused on healthy relationships and finding your path in life.

Review: In the Present Tense by Carrie Pack

★★☆☆☆

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this was pretty interesting: Miles, 25, wakes up one morning to find himself lying next to an unfamiliar woman in an unfamiliar house, when he swears he just fell asleep in his bedroom at his parents’ house, age 16, after kissing his boyfriend Adam goodnight. What he’s experiencing is one of many “episodes”, his wife Ana tells him, where he seems to time travel. Retaining the body of his 25-year-old self, his mind reverts to all of the memories and emotions of another version of him, whether past or present.

Right off the bat, if you can’t stand switches in POV or timeline changes in books, this is definitely not for you. Within just the first 10% of the book, the POV switches at least twice, and the character wakes up, goes to sleep, passes out, etc. probably a dozen times in between his episodes. This got pretty irritating quickly.

The plot centers around Miles’ quest to find out why exactly he time travels. Most don’t believe him, and his psychiatrist says that he might have a form of Dissociative Disorder, but Miles swears that there’s more to the story and sets out to find answers, even if those answers have to come from his high-school ex, Adam.

The story started off interesting enough, although the multiple timelines and dates and “versions” of Miles to keep tabs on were difficult to jump right into. I found Miles a pretty boring, undeveloped character with kind of stereotypical behaviors (for instance, when he reverted to his younger self, he was always chewing his thumb, not making eye-contact, shuffling behind people, etc.). All of the characters suffered from being underdeveloped, although Ana was definitely my least favorite. She was really mean and cursed a lot. Overall, I couldn’t connect with any of them.

The reason I gave it two stars is that you can tell the author spent a lot of time working out these timelines, and time travel is a really difficult idea to pull off. The mystery aspect of it, including the secret time travel society and experimentation aspects, were really cool and I was eager to learn about them, making it a fast read.

Unfortunately, this book just wasn’t for me. It felt flat, other than the time travel aspects, and pretty dull, with most of the big scenes being totally glossed over. For instance, when Miles checks himself into a psychiatric center for continuous care, he meets a young girl who says (SPOILER, kinda?) she can time travel too. The two plan an escape, talking about how difficult it will be and all the planning that will go into it… and then the next chapter, they’re already out. The entire escape scene wasn’t included, even though it could have brought some much-needed excitement and action into the story.

The romance between Adam and Miles felt kind of forced, and Ana and Miles together made zero sense to me. They said they fell in love (despite the original, loveless reason for their marriage), but I never felt that Ana loved him, just that she didn’t want him to be alone. Maybe that’s just me.

So yeah. That was kind of harsh. But majorly cheesy dialogue + forced love-triangle/quadrangle/hexagon/whatever + zero action + not-so-great ending = meh. I honestly wanted to give it one star, but it was a fast read and I wanted to give the author props for putting time into it (no pun intended).

P.S. I think there might be a planned sequel, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it.

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

★☆☆☆☆

To preface: I am not a fan of John Green. I don’t like him or his writing, and I’ve never understood the craze surrounding him. This review might offend some people, but that’s not my goal.

I find Green’s stories hard to swallow, especially the super hot, mysterious, angsty girl falls in love with dorky “nobody” guy trope. I read Looking for Alaska ages ago (in high school) and I don’t think I ever even finished it (due to the trope listed above), and I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson a while before TFiOS and didn’t like that one much, either.

I feel like an enormous outlier here because everyone I know thought The Fault in Our Stars was fantabulous and moving. Welp… I really, really didn’t like it. I don’t often give one star reviews, and in fact my original rating of this was three stars. But as time went on, I got to thinking about how I remembered the story over the years; I wasn’t remembering anything sweet or meaningful or deep about the book — those parts weren’t sticking with me. Instead, I was remembering a lot of the bad. A lot of the parts that made me grimace. To put it plainly, the only parts that were memorable were the aspects that threw off my suspension of disbelief — and there were a lot of them.

And some might call me heartless for that, but it’s true. Just because a book is sad, and just because it makes the reader cry (and I did cry at the end) doesn’t make it a ~good book~. In many of my angry rants to friends and family regarding this book, I’ve mentioned this: John Green books always seem to me like the same basic outline with different names, and a few highly-quotable lines mixed in. For instance:

  • “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
  • “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”
  • “I fell in love the way you fall asleep; slowly, and then all at once.”
  • “That’s the thing about pain: it demands to be felt.”
  • “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”
  • “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.”
  • “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things.”
  • “I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”

What? I’m sorry, but do these sound like the types of things 16- and 17-year-olds say? Even those going through something as devastating as cancer? No.

So, below is my vague reasoning. Remember, this review is a few years late and not very specific. Besides, let’s get real: I’m not going to waste my time rereading a book I hated when there are about ten thousand books I still need to read. Anyway, here’s a bulleted list of reasons I remember:

  • Romanticized illness. Ughhhhhhh.
  • A deplorable main character. Although I have no examples of this because I haven’t read this book for a few years, I remember her as being kind of insufferable (which is understandable since she’s terminally ill). She’s grumpy, mean, and the only thing that makes her happy is Augustus. Even if this could be realistic in some scenarios, it just annoyed me as the angry feminist I am.
    • [She’s kind of like the Bella Swan of YA fiction, meaning she compares every. single. guy to Augustus and finds them all lacking (because they’re not “hot enough”. At one point, she meets her friend’s boyfriend and actually thinks to herself, “He’s cute, but nowhere near Augustus.”]
  • It’s a book about teenagers that doesn’t actually sound like teenagers. It sounds like snobby college students who are studying philosophy because they have too much money and no career path (think Karen from How I Met Your Mother). And to add on to this…
  • The dialogue and thought processes of these characters are terrible. It’s so unrealistic that I just felt like squirming the whole time. [Refer to earlier quotes for the full, cringe-worthy experience.]
  • And perhaps worst, we have the most over-the-top, “deep” love interest in perhaps the world of literature (or at least the world of John Green, which is bad enough) who pretends to smoke cigarettes by putting them in his mouth and leaving them unlit, and then saying pretentious crap like this: “It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.”
I can understand where the love for this book comes from. Because in my middle school and high school days, a guy saying ~*~deep stuff~*~ like that totally would have tangled my panties, too. But then my brain fully developed.And as touching as the writing may be at times, the forced, unrealistic nature of it, mixed with the romanticized idea of sickness and death (which has been popping up in YA fiction much more often than I’m comfortable with) gives this book a nasty aftertaste for me.


What do you think? Do you agree or feel like I’m totally mangling Green’s message? I’m always up for a discussion. Let me know in the comments below.

Review: After You by Jojo Moyes

★★★☆☆

“I gazed around me, like someone suddenly handed clear glasses, and saw that pretty much everyone bore the brutal imprint of love.”

This was a good book. It wasn’t a great book, and it didn’t hit me the same way as Me Before You, but that’s because it wasn’t Me Before You. Comparing the two will undoubtedly leave you feeling cheated, because After You doesn’t have romance and tension seeping out of its pages like its predecessor. Where Me Before You was about choices and autonomy, After You is about living with the after-effects, and trying to move on.

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So if you read this, try not to compare it to the previous book. The romance isn’t jumping off the page. Where Will and Lou had a burning, poignant chemistry, Lou and Sam have something calmer, quieter, steadier—something that will help the other heal.

I was personally not a fan of the grief process shown in this, either. At least for Lou. Lou has always struck me as somewhat of a mirror of myself; she reminds me of me in so many ways, and that’s one of the reasons I had to read this book. I had to know she was okay. What was disappointing was how she healed. In the end, it wasn’t she who got herself out of the rut of depression after Will’s death—it was everyone else. It was falling in love with Sam. It was taking care of Lily. We saw, again, Lou’s ability to care for everyone but herself. The same thing that Will tried to stamp out of her, to get to her to live life for herself and nobody else, was what she struggled with the most in this book. The worst part is that [SPOILERS] her decision at the end to take the job in New York wasn’t even initiated by her, it was pushed on her by everyone else: Treena constantly telling her she was wasting her opportunities (and Lou’s guilt at knowing that Treena didn’t have the same kind of freedom), Lily moving in with her grandmother and going off to school, and Sam saying she needed to do it.

So once again, Lou played it safe. We saw her doing this throughout the entire previous book, and here she was having her decisions made for her again. I just wish Lou had shown a bit of character growth in this book. She’s taking a risk, sure, but it’s the same risk she took after Will died by traveling by herself through Europe. The worst part is that I think any reader with a grasp on Lou’s character will see the obvious: Lou’s going to get to New York and she may feel like she’s “living” for once, but just like happened after her travels through Europe, the freedom will start feeling more like loneliness and she’ll end up spending most of her time working and sleeping, and then feeling guilty because once again she’s not really utilizing her opportunities.

So unfortunately the “happyish ending” doesn’t feel all that happy. Lou’s going to end up the same as she was in London, depressed and alone and not living, she’s going to miss Sam and miss Will and feel guilty. Overall it’s not really an uplifting book. It felt depressing to me, mostly because I feel like she’s never going to be as in love with Sam as she was with Will. It makes me hate Will a bit.

Also I have to continually remind myself that THESE ARE FICTIONAL CHARACTERS AND I SHOULDN’T CARE THIS MUCH. But every time I think about Will and Lou my stomach gets tied into knots.

So there’s my professional review.

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

★★★★★

Ever since I started my editing business, my time for casual reading has gone from bad to worse. And I know, I know, I could be knocking out a chapter or two rather than playing around with Snapchat filters… but on days when I declare myself “off work”, sometimes my eyes/brain just want to relax. Sometimes I want to write my own stories instead of reading those of others. And sometimes I just want to sit around in my pajamas and drink wine and watch HGTV.

So sue me.(Please don’t.)

But this book, I mean… okay. I saw the trailer for the movie (coming out in JULY which is just way too far away) and I instantly knew this would be a book I’d love. So I came into it biased, but hey. You can’t blame a girl. Plus I’d been seeing raving reviews for it everywhere in the past few months, so… I forgive myself and you should too.

So for my birthday, Robbie bought me a paperback copy of the book. I had to wait about a week to start it because I was so booked with work, but as soon as I got the chance I plopped down on my bed, fluffed up my pillows and burrowed into the covers, and dug in. I devoured it in two evenings.

I’ll start by saying that this is definitely not a romance. To quote “500 Days of Summer, Me Before You is “not a love story, it’s a story about love.” And for me at least, that is so much better.

And so much more heartbreaking.

We’ll get to that part in a second.

The first thing I noticed was the quality of the writing. One page in and I was already loving it; it felt lilting and playful, just like the main character Louisa, and I found myself laughing and loving her quirkiness right off the bat. Louisa was an average girl, twenty-six but still living at home, and she didn’t really have any goals. (Normally I wouldn’t like this because it screams “weak character!” but there is a solid reason behind it.) She was content to live at home and remain in her loveless relationship and work at the same old bakery year after year. That is, until the bakery closed up shop. Pushed out the door with three months’ paycheck in an envelope, she is suddenly forced to begin some changes.

After months of fruitless job hunting, she finally finds something she thinks she can do: care and companionship for a recently disabled man. And while their first few meetings are filled with a mutual dislike bordering on hate, Louisa and Will slowly come to find themselves needing each other more than they could have expected. As Louisa opens up to Will about her fears from the past, he begins to soften around the edges, and the two form a bond stronger than just love.

After Me Before You left me a sobbing wreck, it had me wanting more. I actually woke up in the middle of the night after finishing it and was unable to fall asleep because I was contemplating the questions that Moyes raised, both moral and personal. They were questions not often seen in the romance genre: freedom of choice, the ability to die with dignity, lack of autonomy, emotional healing, letting go, etc. Perhaps the biggest was this: is it wrong to do the thing that will devastate the ones close to you? Is it selfish to refuse to settle for a life you never wanted, even if it means breaking the heart of someone who loves you?

This is one of those times I wish my town had a real book club: I need to TALK about these things, darn it! But all in all, the philosophical side of this book is what stole my heart. The romance was fresh and gave me little butterflies, but I don’t think that is or should be the focus of the book, even if the author (or other readers) might disagree. I would urge anyone, man or woman, young or old (perhaps not too young) to check this book out and then think deeply about the circumstances. Was Will’s family after their own happiness, or did they care about Will’s? Was Will’s choice selfish? Or was Louisa, for wanting him to choose differently?

And perhaps my FAVORITE part of the book is … its title. Seriously, it’s genius, even though it’s so simple. Me Before You could mean so many different things: it could mean Louisa and her easy, mindless life before she learns to move on from the past; it could mean Will’s career and adventurous lifestyle before his accident; but my favorite idea is that Me Before You refers to their choices in the end, and the way that Will had to decide: was he going to retain his autonomy and make this one choice, no matter what? Was he going to lay down and accept the life he never wanted, a life that left him scarred and depressed, or was he going to choose his freedom from that over anything (or anyone) else?

Do yourself a favor and read this book, if only for the philosophical parts.

Review: The Trickster’s Lover by Samantha MacLeod

★★★★★

Full disclosure: I was a beta reader for this book.

This book took me by surprise in a few ways. I was unfamiliar with Norse mythology for the most part — all I really knew were the names and stuff I’d seen in trailers for the new Marvel movies (which I haven’t seen). So I was pretty much a blank slate. The Trickster’s Lover not only was a great, fun read in and of itself, but it got me so interested in Norse mythology that I bought a book on it!
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Here’s the short description:

Surviving Graduate School ~ Falling in Love ~ Preventing Ragnarök

Graduate student Caroline Capello has always been more comfortable with books than people. She’s just moved to the University of Chicago to become the world’s foremost authority on Norse mythology, making her the only member of her family to leave San Diego, and the family business.

But she’s wondering if she’s just made the biggest mistake of her life.

When Loki, the enigmatic and irresistibly sexy Norse trickster god, appears in her studio apartment, Caroline is forced to question everything she’s learned.

Do the gods exist? Are the legends about Ragnarök, the apocalyptic battle that destroys the gods and ends the Nine Realms, actually true?

Or is she losing her mind?

The Trickster’s Lover was exciting, interesting, and fast-paced, with a great main character, Caroline, who I couldn’t help but root for, and it was great to watch the way she transformed from a quiet, unconfident girl in the beginning into a strong, independent person in the end.

Loki came across as cocky and aloof in the beginning, but his character growth throughout the book definitely made me love him by the end.

The dialogue was fast-paced and at times laugh-out-loud funny, world-building was done perfectly and the mythology aspects were explained briefly and to a degree that I didn’t feel confused or overwhelmed by the information. Also, I didn’t come across any annoying romance cliches (and no love triangle! Woo!). And, of course, there was no shortage of romantic scenes, and they were, well… *fans self*

This isn’t a book I would normally have picked up at the store, but I’m so glad I got the chance to beta read it! I totally loved it.

If you want to read The Trickster’s Lover, you can get it for FREE on Kindle Unlimited or buy it in paperback. You can also check out an exclusive excerpt  on the author’s website, HERE. Give her a friendly WordPress follow while you’re at it!