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You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young man desperate to save the last piece of his late father’s memory finds himself trapped inside of the arcade he’s been fighting for with the daughter of the man who wants to turn the arcade into a gaming cafe, and while trapped together during a winter storm, the two find their rivalry and insults melting away as something more develops between them in author Eric Smith’s “You Can Go Your Own Way”. 

The Synopsis 

No one ever said love would be easy…but did they mention it would be freezing?

Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.

Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. Her boyfriend dumped her. Her friends seem to have changed overnight. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.

But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?

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The Review

This was a brilliant and well-written YA contemporary romance and family drama. The author does a fantastic job of making the story and characters come to life on the page, feeling very real and engaging as a whole. The settings played such a vital part of the narrative in this book, and the arcade especially felt like a character all its own, as if we could just walk in off the street today to pay homage to this brilliant blast from the past. 

The character development was so moving and brilliantly crafted in this narrative. The emotional toll each character is going through is felt so much in their stories, from Adam’s heartbreaking loss to the desperation to be seen that Whitney is going through. The way these two get lost in their own personal turmoil and clash with one another, and the way they find their way back to one another, is so entertaining and gripping to read that I felt lost in their growing narrative.

The Verdict

A memorable, heartfelt, and thoughtful approach to the YA Contemporary Romance, author Eric Smith’s “You Can Go Your Own Way” is the perfect read for this fall! The balance found in the old-school arcade and classic rock style Adam embodies with the more modern video game and social media world that Whitney embodied was amazing to read and watch unfold, and the way they found a bridge to connect with one another was an emotional payoff that readers won’t want to miss. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

ERIC SMITH is an author and literary agent from Elizabeth, New Jersey. When he isn’t working on other people’s books, sometimes he tries to write his own. He enjoys pop punk, video games, and crying during every movie. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and best friend, Nena, and their son, Langston. WWW.ERICSMITHROCKS.COM

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.ericsmithrocks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ericsmithrocks

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/ericsmithrocks

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/55920774-you-can-go-your-own-way 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/You-Can-Your-Own-Way/dp/1335405682 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/you-can-go-your-own-way-eric-smith/1138256191 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/9781335405685?AID=10747236&PID=7651142&cjevent=c39c9d3b5dee11eb83ba01ab0a240614 

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405685 

BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/you-can-go-your-own-way/9781335405685

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/you-can-go-your-own-way/id1540270939 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Eric_Smith_You_Can_Go_Your_Own_Way?id=9soIEAAAQBAJ 

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Here is an Excerpt from “You Can Go Your Own Way”

CHAPTER 1

Adam

“The playfield is truly the heart of every pinball machine. All of the player’s goals are right there, splayed out in front of them. And like life, it’s up to you to find a way to reach them, with the tools you’re presented. In this case, it’s a ball.”—THE ART AND ZEN OF PINBALL REPAIR BY JAMES WATTS

The sound of collective screaming and a massive crash shake my entire workshop, and I almost stab myself with a piping-hot soldering iron.

“Adam!” my mom yells from inside the arcade. If another pack of junior high kids from the nearby Hillman Academy “accidentally” flip over a machine trying to get it to tilt, I am going to lose it. I grip the iron, the cracked brown leather wrapped around the metal handle squeaking a little against my skin, and shake my head, trying to refocus. Maybe I can finish this before it’s time to pick up that custom piece—

And another crash rattles the walls. A few parts tumble off my shelves, tiny intricate pieces of metal and glass, bits of copper wire, all clinking against my table.

I attempt to catch a few of the electronic pieces, trying not to burn myself with the iron in my other hand, and then a hammer falls off the perforated wall of tools in front of me. It collides with a small cardboard box full of pinball playfield lightbulbs, and I wince at the small crack and pop sounds.

“Goddammit,” I grumble out. I toss the soldering iron aside and try to clean up the mess. At least those lightbulbs are like, ten bucks a dozen on arcade wholesale websites. But pinball machines have a lot of lights.

“Adam!” This time it’s Chris. “Dude, where are you?”

I’m about to bolt from the workshop when I remember Mom is out there. I reach for the latest read I promised her I’d finish—We Built This Gritty by Kevin Michaels, a book on launching small businesses by an entrepreneur here in Philly that one of her colleagues is teaching at the county college—and immediately yank my hand back. The soldering iron had gone right in between the pages when I tossed it, and the book is already smoking. I pull the iron out and set it aside and flap the book around wildly, little wisps pooling up from inside the bright orange book. I flip it open.

It’s burnt right down the middle. Great. Something tells me she won’t be able to trade this back in at the campus store.

I glance over at The Beast and give the forever-in-progress Philadelphia-themed home-brewed pinball machine a pat, the glass still off the surface, wires and various parts splayed out over the playfield. My well-worn copy of The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair by James Watts sits smack in the middle of everything. I’ve still got a way to go before I can try playing Dad’s unfinished machine again, but if anyone is gonna get me there, it’s Watts. If I could just get a free chunk of time in between the studying and the arcade and the—

An array of swears echoes from inside the arcade, snapping me back.

Right. Chris. Mom. Chaos. Potentially broken and nearly irreplaceable machines worth thousands of dollars.

I unplug the soldering iron and place it in its little stand, like a quill pen in an inkwell. I wedge the now-toasty book under my arm and take a few steps to pick up some speed, to get a little force, and I push my shoulder against the dark red wooden workshop door. I push, gritting my teeth. The splintering surface presses into my arm, stinging with the pressure, until finally, the wood squeals against the frame, shrunken in and wedged together due to the sharp Philadelphia winter.

The whole workshop is like that, really, casting a major contrast to the polished, well-kept-despite-its-years pinball arcade. The cracked workshop table that is way more rickety than it has any right to be, tools showing their age with hinges that refuse to move and metal pieces falling off shrinking wood and weak plastic handles, vintage pinball parts that maybe still work, a concrete floor with a surface that’s chipping away, revealing dirt and dust, lightbulbs I don’t even remotely trust. My sad excuse for a drafting table sits off to the end of the workshop, and I’ve never really used it, preferring to fuss with plans right on the messy workshop table, next to all of Dad’s scribbles.

We could clean it up, have this room match the rest of the arcade. But I love it. It reminds me of him.

The door swings open suddenly and hits the wall inside the arcade with a loud bang.

And it is absolute chaos here.

A bunch of little kids are rushing outside, and I see a couple of adults gathering coats and their small children, who are likely about to join the exodus. The afternoon light that’s pouring in from the wide-open front door and the large plate-glass windows lining the wall make me wince. The glare hurts only slightly less than the idea of customers hustling out of here on a Saturday, easily our best, and only, solid day during the wintertime off-season. Especially now, at the end of the year, with so few days left before we close for the New Year holiday.

People don’t come to pinball arcades in the winter. Well. Maybe they do, but not when your arcade is located near all the tourist stuff in Old City, all the college students are away on break, and you don’t serve any alcohol. No tourists, no college kids, no booze, no pinball. It’s a neighborhood for expensive restaurants and niche boutiques, old-timey candy shops and artisan pour-over coffee. Not an arcade with a poor excuse for a snack bar inside that mostly serves soda, chips, and reheated chicken tenders and fries.

If it wasn’t for the upcoming Old City Winter Festival, I’m not sure we’d be able to keep the lights on come January. And there’s a businessman out in West Philadelphia who would very much like to see that happen, and there’s no way I’m going to let him do that. I’ve eaten way too many burnt chicken tenders that were “well, these are still kinda good, Adam” according to my mom, but not good enough for the customers. I’ve paid my dues.

“Mom!” I shout, looking to the back of the arcade. “Chris, what is—”

But then I see it.

On the other side of the arcade, my mom has her hands on her hips and is glaring intently at a handful of college guys who are sheepishly milling about near one of the windows. And Chris is trying to lift up a machine that’s currently knocked over, the glass that would normally be covering the playfield shattered across the floor. Another machine is tilted, leaning against a support beam, and looks okay from here. But judging by the angle and the amount of force it would have taken to get it off the legs in the first place, I’m betting we’re going to have some dents on the light box (the back of the machine that juts up over the area where you actually play, and displays the score and art).

“What the hell?” I snap, kicking the workshop door closed and storming across the arcade. My thick black boots squeak loud against the worn, polished hardwood floor, all the imperfections of the ancient Philadelphia wooden boards permanently glossed in place. A few more guys, these ones my age, weave around me, fiddling on their phones and oblivious. Bits of glass crunch under my feet, and I glance down at a bumper, red and black and looking like one of those crushed lantern fly bugs that litter the city sidewalks.

“What happened?” I ask, tossing my burnt book onto the floor. I nudge the tilted machine upright and then bend down to help Chris, who is straining to move the machine on the floor. I manage to wedge my fingers under the side, carefully tapping the metal, trying to avoid any extra glass, and lift. Chris lets out a groan and I grit my teeth as we push the machine upright, and it nearly topples back over the other way, but Mom reaches out and stops it.

“They happened.” Mom nods back at the guys who are standing about awkwardly. “Any updates there?” She points at one of them, and that’s when I realize they’re all sort of keeping an eye on one vaguely familiar-looking dude in the middle, who is fussing with his phone.

“Just a second,” he grumbles out, and he flicks his head to the side, his emo black bangs moving out of his eyes. I can’t help but squint at him, trying to place his face. Half his head is shaved, and he has this sort of Fall Out Boy look that would be cool, if he and his pals hadn’t clearly destroyed a pinball machine in my family’s arcade. A splash of anxiety hits me in the chest as I realize I don’t know what game has been totaled, and I turn to look at the machine.

Flash Gordon.

I exhale, relieved that it’s not one of the more popular or rare games in the arcade. But still, it’s a machine from the ’80s. One of the first games in the industry to use the popular Squawk & Talk soundboard, a piece of technology that is wildly expensive to replace, since it isn’t made anymore. That’s the sort of pinball trivia both Chris and my mom tend to shush when I start rambling too much, telling me “that should be a tweet,” which translates to “shut up” in the nicest way possible. I’m almost positive that’s the reason they pushed me to get the arcade on social media—to have a place to share those musings.

The machine didn’t deserve this, even if that awful movie maybe did.

I run my hand along the side of the other machine that was just bumped into, leaning on one of the wooden beams that are scattered throughout the arcade, you know, holding the building up. It’s the Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine, and thankfully, it looks undamaged. A little dented along the light box, as I suspected, but the glass and everything else seems fine. It’s a popular one with the Millennial crowd, and I’m relieved.

“How much is it going to cost to fix?” the familiar guy with the hair asks. He must catch me staring at him, ’cause his eyes flit over to mine, irritated, and I look away, focusing back on the machine.

I pluck at some of the glass on the surface, nudging around some of the broken obstacles on the playfield, and feel a sharp sting in my hand. I quickly pull away and spot a thin line of red trailing along my palm.

“Adam?”

I glance up, and my mom, Chris, and Emo Hair are all staring at me expectantly.

“What?” I ask, focusing back down at the machine and then back at all of them.

“The cost,” my mom presses. “That machine. How much do you think it’ll cost to fix all of this?” She gestures at the floor and shakes her head, her mouth a thin line. All that brewing frustration that she’s trying to bury down. Kids mess with the machines often, and we’ve certainly had a few hiccups like this before, but I’ve never seen her looking this wildly angry. I didn’t even think she liked that machine.

“Oh.” I swallow and clear my throat. “I don’t know. It depends on how bad the damage is?” I scan the playfield and then the side of the machine, which has a sizable dent in the steel that I can probably hammer out. But the shattered glass, the pieces, and who knows what’s going on inside it. I think back to Watts’s The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair, my holy tome, written by my hero.

“If you think it’s broken, it is. And if you think it’s going to be cheap to replace, it’s not.”

I stare at the broken glass.

“You know what, how’s a thousand dollars?” the familiar guy holding the phone asks. He looks around at his dude friends, their faces awash in expressions that are essentially shrugs, each nodding at him. “Everyone Venmo me two hundred after this or I’ll kick your asses.”

Some of the guys laugh while the rest break out their phones.

“Why?” scoffs one of them. “You’re the one with the money.”

Emo Hair snorts out a laugh and shakes his head, and glances back up from his screen. The fact that all of them are so relaxed about that much money irks me. The arcade is barely scraping by these days, and it’s no wonder other businesses have been sniffing around the building this year, leaving painfully awkward notes and emails for Mom. I’ve seen a few of them, here and there. The worst ones come under the guise of pretending to be supportive. Do you need anything? We’re here for you. Just checking in. And then in the same breath, bringing up property values and plummeting interest in arcades.

And despite frequent requests to stop mailing us, a local real estate developer loves sending us physical mail about the benefits of selling real estate in Old City now, and they’re always addressed to Dad. Assholes.

“What’s your Venmo?” he asks, looking at my mom and then at me. My mom and I exchange a look. He huffs. “How about PayPal? Apple Pay?”

“I mean…we could take a check?” My mom shrugs, wincing. One of the bros groans like this has somehow physically wounded him, and before I can say anything, my mom snaps a finger at the guy. “Hey, you five are the ones who broke this machine. If I want you to go get that thousand dollars in a burlap sack full of coins at the bank down the road, you’ll get it.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” one of them mutters.

“Just Venmo it to me,” Chris says, pulling out his phone. “I’ll hit the bank when I run out to pick up sidewalk salt for the snow, and get it taken care of, Mrs. Stillwater.” He glances at my mom and shakes his head at me. I know that look. He’s about to force another freaking app on me, and I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about pinball on Venmo. It was bad enough when he tricked me into joining Pinterest, convincing me it was a pinball thing.

He steps over to the pack of guys, and they’re all looking at one another and their phones and his, and I really shouldn’t be surprised that he knows how to handle this. Him and his apps. I wish he’d just run the social media for the arcade, but he says it wouldn’t sound “genuine” or something. If typos make someone sound genuine, I am very genuine.

A year behind me at Central, a junior, Chris has this whole Adam Driver look about him. Same sharp cheekbones and bits of facial hair, only a little shorter and with thin square glasses, and as geeky as you can get without actually being in a Star Wars movie. My best friend since I was eight, and our only employee in the off-season, as everyone is either a college student heading home for the break or a fellow local high schooler who has no interest in working over the winter.

He nods at the guys, looking at his phone.

“All right, I got it,” he says and then turns to us. The bros stand there for a beat.

“You can leave,” my mom snaps and points toward the door.

“Right, right,” the familiar guy says and gestures for the rest of his pack to follow. They amble out of the shop, their feet crunching the glass on the floor in a way that makes me feel like it’s on purpose. I take a step forward, but Chris reaches his arm out, his hand pressing against my chest.

I glance up at him, and he just shakes his head.

I huff and bend down to sift through the glass and pieces of machine, while my mom disappears into the back office. There are some bumpers on the ground, and a few small white flags, little targets meant to be knocked down for bonus plays, are scattered about like baby teeth. The glass, though, that really bothers me. A good sheet of playfield glass can go for a little over a hundred dollars, and while I know that’s not technically a lot of money in the grand scheme of things…we don’t have that much to spare these days.

Jorge over at NextFab, the makerspace that Chris practically lives in when he isn’t here, has been great at helping me replace some parts, as well as teaching me how to build some of my own, which is way more helpful than YouTube tutorials. But a whole sheet of glass? Bumpers with intricate circuitry and copper coils? That’s not something easily 3D printed, especially when he keeps doing it for free. And I don’t know how much of that I can manage in my workshop. Or afford, for that matter.

I look around the dirty playfield for the remaining flags but…dammit, they are nowhere to be found. At least the back glass, the lit-up artwork on the back of the machine, isn’t damaged. Flash is still there, looking dead ahead at me, alongside Dale and the…ugh, wildly racist Ming the Merciless.

Hmm.

Maybe the machine did deserve this.

Chris squats down next to me.

“Want me to grab the broom?” he asks, picking at a broken bumper.

I look back to my hand. The line in my palm is ugly but clean. I flex my hand a little, and the cut widens, and I see just how far up and down my hand it goes. I wonder if I’ll need stitches or if it’ll scar.

“Sure.” I clear my throat and both of us stand up. I glance toward the arcade’s exit, the place now empty, as Chris walks over to the snack bar. “Must be nice,” I say, “being able to drop that much money without thinking about it.”

“Yeah, well, not like his dad isn’t good for it.”

“His dad?” I ask, peering over. Chris is behind the bar, some paper towels already scattered out in front of him, a broom in one hand. Heat lamps keeping fries and onion rings warm tint his face a reddish orange for a moment before he ducks back out.

“Well, yeah?” He shrugs, walking over. He places the paper towels in my hands and nods at the cut. “Apply pressure.” He starts sweeping, moving bits of glass and broken parts into a small pile. “I swear, one more incident like this, and that is what’s gonna make me finally try to get a job at the makerspace. Or a coffee shop…” He looks up at me as I stare at him. “What? You know I can’t work in here forever, bro.”

“What do you mean what? I know that part.” I laugh. “Who is his dad? You’re just gonna leave the story hanging there?”

He nearly drops the broom but reaches out to grab the handle.

“Are you serious?” he scoffs. I shrug and he shakes his head. “Adam, that was Nick. That’s why I thought you were so mad, looking like you were about to charge after him and his goons.” I shrug again. “Jesus, Adam. Nick Mitchell.”

The stress on that last name.

Mitchell.

It sends a shock through my entire system, and I turn to look at the exit, as though he and his friends might still be there. I tighten my hand into a fist, and the pain from the cut sears through my palm, lighting me up through my forearm. And I swear, for a moment I can feel it in my head, bouncing around like a pinball against bumpers.

Nick Mitchell.

Whitney Mitchell’s brother.

And also the oldest son of the man trying to buy my father’s arcade from my mother, with plans to make it into another one of his eSports cafés. He’s been poking around all year, like a vulture circling over something that might just die any minute. But this place still has a little life in it. A little fight in it.

And dammit, so do I.

Did he even recognize me? Did he know this was our arcade? Back when me and Whitney were supposedly friends, before high school changed everything, I don’t think I ever saw him come around. But I saw him all the time at school and before her dad’s career took off, when we’d play at Whitney’s old house in South Philly. And when we were kids, everyone had their birthday parties here at the pinball arcade. With so many mutual friends and the like, he had to have been in here at some point. Until they forgot about us, like the entire building was just one giant toy that fell behind a dresser.

“All right, well, I can tell you know who he is now,” Chris says, walking back toward the snack bar. He grabs some more paper towels and thrusts them at me, nodding at my hand. I look down, and the paper wad is an awful dark red, soaked through from my rage. “Go take a seat. I’m gonna get the first-aid kit out of your workshop.”

“What about Flash Gordon?” I ask, glancing back at the messed-up machine.

“It’s a problematic racist relic. Who cares? Come on.” He laughs, reaching out and grabbing my shoulder. “Besides, if you want some replacement bits, I’m heading to the makerspace tomorrow—we can rummage for parts. Go grab a seat.” He nods at the snack bar and walks off. I turn around and pull my phone out, snapping photos of the broken pinball machine. The scratched-up metal exterior, the dented places around the playfield. I bend down and snap pictures of some of the crunched glass still on the floor, the broken parts scattered in a neat pile thanks to Chris. I even take a few photos of the dented Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine.

I stroll over to the arcade’s snack spot, Dad’s last great idea for the place, and sit down. The chairs aren’t exactly the pinnacle of comfort, and the hard wood digs into my back, but it’s what my family could afford when we first put this spot in here. It’s still passably cozy enough that local writers will drop in to play a few games, drink our bad coffee or nurse a soda, and spend the day staring at a blank screen while scrolling through Twitter instead of writing.

I sigh and glance up at the wooden shelving that looms over the café corner, a shabby-chic display that Chris’s parents helped build. Tons of Mason jars, full of coffee beans and loose-leaf tea, illuminated by strings of white Christmas twinkle lights, sit on nearly every shelf. Decor meant for hip college students and artsy creatives in West Philly, pulled from a Pinterest board someplace and made real. I think it looks pretty, but if Gordon Ramsay made an episode about our arcade’s little food corner, it would just be a twenty-eight-minute scream.

Chris walks around the side, a little first-aid kit in hand, and gestures for me to give him my hand. I hold it out and he glances back at the Flash Gordon machine.

“Real shame,” he says, wistfully looking at the shattered game.

“Yeah.” I nod. “I took a bunch of photos to post—”

Pssssssst!

There’s the sound of spraying, and I scream, yanking my hand away. I glare at him, and he’s sporting the widest grin I’ve ever seen, a bottle of spray-on rubbing alcohol in his hand.

“Argh!” I groan. “Why!”

“Kidding, fuck that game.” He laughs.

“You could have told me you were going to do that!” I shout. He tilts his head a little at me. “Fine, you’re right—I would have made a scene over it.”

“Everything okay?” Mom’s in the doorway to the office, peeking out.

“Yeah, Mrs. Stillwater,” Chris says.

My mom scowls at the two of us before breaking into a little smile, but that expression disappears as her line of sight moves toward the broken pinball machine. She closes the door, and I look back at the exit to the arcade again. I feel like with every setback this place has had this year, it gets us one step closer to my mom putting the pinball machines in storage for good and selling the place to Mr. Mitchell. And two damaged machines, one of which is basically destroyed, isn’t going to help.

“And I’m gonna need you to stop it,” Chris says, reaching out and grabbing my hand, slapping a large Band-Aid on my palm. I wince and suck air through my teeth, and he just gives me a look. He pulls out some of that gauze-wrap stuff and starts to bandage up the big Band-Aid, keeping it pressed to my palm. “That guy isn’t worth it, that machine isn’t worth it, and that family definitely isn’t worth getting all riled up over.”

“He had to have known this was my place,” I grumble. “Whitney probably sent him here. If not her, then definitely her father.”

“Oh, come on,” Chris scoffs. “I’m not her biggest fan either, and I know you two don’t get along, but she isn’t some nefarious supervillain. And her dad isn’t going to send henchmen here. When was the last time you and her even talked, outside of snarky social media posts? You like pinball, she likes playing Fortnite and Overwatch. Not exactly a blood feud.”

“I’m not even sure she’s into the video games at her dad’s places or whatever,” I grumble. At least, she wasn’t into video games when we were kids, always so irritated when we’d retreat inside to get in games of Halo. “Besides, you don’t understand.” I shake my head, trying to chase away the memories of that summer before high school and those first days wandering the halls at Central. Her and her new friends, leaning against their lockers, matching jean jackets and bright lip gloss. She was like an entirely new person, and the way she laughed with them when I walked over to say hi…

“Anyway.” I clear my throat. “I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“You need to spend more time worrying about the people who are there for you and less about those who aren’t,” he says, fastening the gauze together with two little metal clips. “Maybe go on a date with someone or something.”

“How do you even know how to do this?” I lift my hand up, flexing my fingers, ignoring the dating question. “There’s no time for that, between the arcade and school. If I kiss a girl by the end of my senior year, it’ll be a miracle.”

“Please, my dads are carpenters and you know how I spend my free time,” he says. “It’s best to be prepared in case someone loses a finger at home or in the shop or at the makerspace.”

I laugh and again find myself looking toward the door. I let out a long exhale through my nose.

“You think we’re going to get anyone else in here today?” Chris asks. “It’s just, you know, maybe I could duck out early to go work on stuff?” There’s this beat of silence that doesn’t need to be filled, and I sigh.

“I think we both know the answer there, right?” With the snowstorm we all know is coming, the brutally cold gusts of wind, and the fact that business slows to a crawl right before the Old City Winter Festival, there’s not much to even say.

I lean back in my chair a little, the sharp pain of the wood digging into my back weirdly comforting, distracting me from my hand and thoughts of Nick and Whitney and that whole terrible family.

“Do you need to talk?” Chris asks, and I glance back at him. “I mean, I can hang a bit longer if you need me.” He digs around in his pocket and pulls out a little candy bag and waves it at me, the plastic crinkling. Swedish Fish. Not the regular kind either; the tropical sort, with orange, pink, purple, and off-white fish in the mix. He shakes it until one drops out onto his hand, and he holds it up between his fingers. “I grabbed a bag at the CVS before I came over here, for my dads. Didn’t realize we’d have to use it, though.”

“Oh, God, no,” I whine. “If you’re gonna do that to me, just leave.”

Whenever Chris’s parents want to talk about “big feelings,” they break out these Swedish Fish candies. Have something important to say? Out comes the candy. It’s usually something critical that might make someone feel upset, but it’s the way you’re feeling, so it’s good to get it all out. Then pair it with something that makes you feel good while you’re hearing something that might make you feel bad.

It was a tradition Chris first told me about when we were really little, and one that’s been ongoing. I’m not quite sure why Swedish Fish are the candy of choice, but I’m guessing it’s because you can buy them in bulk at the South Philadelphia IKEA. He’s since introduced it to me and all our friends. Tell someone how you feel, let them eat the candy, and take in all those thoughts and emotions. Or, give someone the opportunity to say how they’re feeling, and take it all in. Simple enough. And while we don’t practice it at home, my mom often likes to say, “Do you need a fish?” when she thinks I have something I need to talk about.

I hate it so much.

“I hate this so much,” I grumble and pluck the fish from between his fingers.

“Listen,” he says, reaching out and closing my good hand around the candy. “You’re upset. You’re thinking about Whitney and the Mitchells. Nick and the boys. Both of those sound like terrible West Philadelphia indie rock bands. And you’re thinking about maybe going on Twitter and saying something snippy on social media. That what those pictures are for? Yeah?”

“N-no.” I barely stammer the word out. “It’s for…insurance.”

He gives me a look.

“You’re the worst.” I glower at him.

“Nothing good ever comes out of these little fights you have with Whitney online.” He presses, pointing at me. “All you do is get all the stores in the neighborhood riled up, dunking on one another. As if you get points for dunking on people online.”

“You’re the one who taught me how to use social media.”

“Don’t give me the whole ‘I learned it from watching you’ thing. Resist the urge to go online. It’s a waste of your energy,” he says, nodding at me. “Save your online presence for posting your pinball puns and facts. Now, eat your candy.”

“No.” I glare at him.

“Fine, fine.” He smiles, shaking his head, and pulls out his phone. “I’m gonna head off to NextFab. You behave.”

“Ugh, can’t you just work on your weird woodworking coffee things in the workshop?” I groan and gesture toward the red door on the other side of the arcade. “Then you could just be here all the time.”

He laughs and then sighs. “What are you going to do here without me?” he asks.

“Hmph,” I huff. “Probably have a meltdown on the regular.”

He reaches over and taps the screen of my phone, and my eyes flit up to him. “Don’t do it, and you’ll be fine,” he says and then bends over to grab his backpack. It’s this beaten-up leather thing that looks straight out of an old movie. I half expect to see it filled with vintage books tied together in beige string, but I know it’s just full of woodworking tools, and depending on the day, some glassblowing stuff. It’s not lost on me that my best friend spends all his time creating beautiful new things out of nothing, while I stress over repairing machines older than I am every single day.

He walks out of the snack bar and toward the door but stops and turns around.

“And hey, if you need to talk—” he throws something, and I reach out to catch whatever it is that is flapping its way toward me; the plastic bag of Swedish Fish makes a loud crinkling sound as I grab it out of the air “—text me. But I’m gonna want pictures of you eating your candy. It’s important that you trust the process.”

He’s out the front door, and I’m alone in the arcade with his candy and my phone.

Excerpted from You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith, © 2021 by Eric Smith, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Chasing Fireflies by Chloe Fowler Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman facing the prospect of a life without her sister meets a young man in her senior year who comes from a dysfunctional family, but soon learns that by breaking down his defenses she may have a future she never dreamed of in author Chloe Fowler’s “Chasing Fireflies”.

The Synopsis

Everything happens for a reason.

Rainey Collins has heard this a thousand times, but when it comes to her sister Maverick, who was born with a serious heart defect, the reason has always been a mystery. The idea of a future without her sister terrifies Rainey so much, she hasn’t even thought about life after high school. However, on the first day of senior year, Rainey winds up sitting next to Liam Hayes, a rumored delinquent with a dangerously dysfunctional family. Convinced that people shouldn’t be judged by their relatives, or by the price tag on their clothes, Rainey slowly begins to breach Liam’s defenses, and finds herself wondering if some dreams—and some futures—are worth the risk.

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The Review

Wow, what an emotional roller coaster. The author did such a beautiful job of layering this YA contemporary romance novel with not only drama, but gripping themes of hope in the face of adversity, when one door closes another one opens, and opening ourselves up to new possibilities. The atmosphere and tone felt realistic and heartbreaking to read and watch come to life. 

What defined the heart of this narrative was the character development of the protagonist and the supporting cast. So many readers will be able to relate to these characters and their struggles, from protagonist Rainey and her budding romance with Liam while struggling with her sister’s failing health, to Liam and his hardships with his abusive stepfather and his natural distrust of people overall. The characters felt like they could just walk right off the page and into our lives, making this a truly engaging story.

The Verdict

Emotional, heartfelt, and gripping in the narrative’s delivery, author Chloe Fowler’s “Chasing Fireflies” is the tear-inducing YA Contemporary Romance/Drama that readers never knew they needed this fall. The shocking twist in the main characters and their story will have readers left with tears in their eyes and highlights the impact that people can have on our lives overall. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I have spent most of my life writing stories, from epic fantasies to Celtic sagas, and even the odd romantic thriller. My debut novel, Chasing Fireflies, is a YA contemporary romance that is now available on Amazon (Did I actually say that? I can’t believe it.) 

When I’m not writing or coming up with off-the-wall story ideas, I can be found curled up with a k-drama and a cup of tea. Likely due to the influence of my English heritage, it is my firm belief that tea is the solution to all one’s problems. Especially when it is accompanied by a plate of biscuits.

I enjoy singing very loudly in the shower (my apologies to the neighbors), dancing in the kitchen, playing the piano, and recently made a brief foray into learning the cello. I have trained karate for many years, and received my black belt in 1999, back when my body was made with rubber and magic, and was significantly less creaky than it is now.

I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta where I live with my husband and one very pissed off cat named Ren. 

Lies My Memory Told Me by Sacha Wunsch Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young woman whose parents have developed a memory sharing system discovers her parents hiding secrets from her, and the young man she’s most comfortable around appears to be fearful of her in author Sacha Wunsch’s psychological mystery novel, “Lies My Memory Told Me”.

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The Synopsis

From the thrilling voice of Sacha Wunsch comes a heart-stopping psychological mystery in a world where memories can be shared—but maybe not trusted.

Enhanced Memory changed everything. By sharing someone else’s memory, you can experience anything and everything with no risk at all: learn any skill instantly, travel the world from home, and safeguard all your most treasured secrets forever. Nova’s parents invented this technology, and it’s slowly taking over their lives. That’s where Nova comes in. She can pick up the slack for them—and she doesn’t mind. She knows Enhanced Memory is a gift, and its value outweighs its costs.

But Kade says Nova doesn’t even know the costs. Kade runs a secret vlog cataloging real experiences, is always on the move, and he’s strangely afraid of Nova—even though she feels more comfortable with him than she ever has with anyone. Suddenly there are things Nova can’t stop noticing: the way her parents don’t meet her eyes anymore, the questions no one wants her to ask, and the relentless feeling like there’s something she’s forgotten.

But there’s danger around every corner, and her own home might be the most dangerous place of all.

The Review

The author did a fantastic job of building the tension and suspense of this YA Sci-Fi read! The story starts by integrating this futuristic new mythos and technology into the settings of this narrative, and it really highlighted the highs and lows of advancing technology in our own world and the way virtual worlds and experiences have slowly begun replacing the real-life experiences this world has to offer. 

The character arcs here held the biggest twists and turns in the narrative. The protagonist, Nova, evolves into such a complex and emotionally invested hero in this YA world, and the twists not only in her story but in her relationships were shocking to read. The heart and emotional pull of this narrative came in the exploration of the morality of technology, and what truly defines our identities as well. 

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The Verdict

Highly entertaining and a great balance of suspense and world-building, author Sacha Wunsch’s “Lies My Memory Told Me” is a must-read YA Sci-Fi read of 2021! The shocking finale will have readers truly invested in the characters and their arc, and the only critique I can offer is that the Epilogue in this book feels a bit rushed, and leaves enough room for world-building and mythos to have hope the author will revisit this world again someday. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Sacha Wunsch grew up dividing her time between the family farm in Canada and traveling to numerous fictional worlds. She was a bookseller before discovering her love of writing mind-twisty novels – which has proved an excellent job since she gets to blame all the TV she watches on her love of storytelling. She now splits her time between the city and the lake, and still travels to made-up worlds as often as she can.

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/lies-my-memory-told-me/9781335018274 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lies-my-memory-told-me-sacha-wunsch/1138272834 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lies-My-Memory-Told-Me/dp/1335018271 

Target: https://www.target.com/p/lies-my-memory-told-me-by-sacha-wunsch-hardcover/-/A-83991421 

Walmart: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Lies-My-Memory-Told-Me-Hardcover-9781335018274/212186456 

LibroFM: https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781705040577-lies-my-memory-told-me?bookstore=wakefieldbooks

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Sacha_Wunsch_Lies_My_Memory_Told_Me?id=vdo5EAAAQBAJ

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/lies-my-memory-told-me/id1541146528

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/in/en/ebook/lies-my-memory-told-me

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://sachawunsch.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sachawunsch

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sachawunsch/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55920773-lies-my-memory-told-me?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=yWdh9NEb7s&rank=1 

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Excerpt From “LIES MY MEMORY TOLD ME”

Prologue

The platform was a hundred and fifty feet up.

I tried not to look down.

I hadn’t even known I was afraid of heights until the moment I stood up there.

The stranger came up to me, grinning. “You’re going to love it,” he said.

I swallowed.

My entire body was sweating, most notably my palms, slipping as I tried to grip the safety harness.

Was I really going to do this?

No. I was going to get unclipped, turn around, and simply climb back down what felt like the millions of stairs stretching below me.

And then, just as I started to turn, someone pushed me off the platform.

I screamed as I dropped, nothing but air beneath me.

And then… I started to glide.

The scream kept coming a few seconds more, but my heart did a flip before it could reach my mind. I was soaring. Over the treetops. Whizzing along the zip line at high speeds. It was the best thing I had ever felt.

I had never been this free. Which made sense, I was essentially flying, after all.

Giggling was very much not in my nature, but there I was, giggling anyway. I closed my eyes to get a better sense of the wind on my face, but when the sweet scent of fresh-blooming flowers greeted me, I opened them again. Sure enough, the trees several yards below my feet were blooming some kind of large purple flower.

I sucked in a breath, wishing I could inhale the whole scene, wanting to appreciate it as much as I could—savor it—knowing it wouldn’t last forever, and landed gently on the other side.

I did not have to be pushed off the second platform—barely able to wait my turn to jump again. I soared from platform to platform, wishing nothing more than for this to go on forever, grinning all the way, and realizing only at the last second that the final landing platform wasn’t a platform at all, but a deep, cooling pool.

I sucked in a breath, and with a final burst of adrenaline, I splashed into the crystal-clear water.

TWENTY MINUTES EARLIER

“Come on, open it,” Mom said, her smiling beaming.

I held the small, beautifully wrapped box, unable to imagine what it was. My parents knew I wasn’t really that into jewelry, and neither were they really, but what else could be in such a small box?

I tore into it and flipped the lid open.

Which confused me even more. It wasn’t a ring or a pendant, just a small metal disk.

Dad sensed my confusion. “Give it a second,” he said, beaming even brighter than Mom.

In a blink, a form emerged, a hologram above the disk. There was no sound, but it looked like the person in the hologram was gliding through the tops of trees high in the air.

“This is…really cool,” I said, and meant it, but couldn’t help but feel like I was missing something.

Mom was practically bouncing on the couch. “We wanted to do something special for your birthday.”

“Thank you” was all I could really think to say. The disk was pretty cool, but what the hell was with their enthusiasm?

“You’re welcome Nova,” Dad said. “But this isn’t the whole thing. It’s the experience of it that’s the real gift.”

“The experience of it?”

Mom had gotten up and gone to the desk by the front door. She picked up another box, this one unwrapped, and pulled something from inside.

“Here, you put this on,” she said, handing me a clunky set of headphones plugged into a small handheld device about the size of a phone.

“The disk goes in there,” Dad said, and showed me how to open it, setting my new present inside.

And then I experienced my first ever zip line.

As the experience ended, I blinked my eyes open, a hundred percent sure I’d be soaking wet, but I was sitting right back in my living room. The sensation was a bit disorienting, but my parents were staring at me like they were about to explode.

“What was that?” I asked, grabbing the hem of my shirt, which I couldn’t quite comprehend being dry.

“That was Enhanced Memory,” Dad said, but the look on his face said so much more—like if he’d had feathers, they’d be plumaged out like the most badass peacock of the bunch.

“What did you think?” Mom asked, clasping her hands like she had so much energy whizzing through her body she had to do something to hold it in.

“Well obviously it was amazing, but by the way you two are acting, you already know that.” I couldn’t help but grin. They were just so cute sitting there all proud of themselves. “But seriously, what is this? What is Enhanced Memory?”

I’d seen 3D movies and had even tried virtual reality once, but this was way beyond either of those. This was next level.

“It’s simple,” Dad said. “The headphones are equipped with dozens of…well, let’s call them electrodes for sake of ease, though really, they’re more advanced than that.”

“Okay,” I said, mostly with him still, although knowing Dad it wouldn’t be long until the science-y droning took hold and steered him right off the layman’s term trail.

“And these,” he said, taking the disk out of the machine and holding it up, “are Memories.”

“Memories.”

Mom nodded. “We discovered a way to extract memories and reproduce them.”

“Wait, you guys created this?”

Mom nodded, her smile huge and eyes wide. “This is what we’ve been working toward all these years.”

My mouth dropped open. I knew my parents had been working on some kind of project for a long time, but I guess I hadn’t really been that interested in what it was.

Mom laughed at my stunned expression while Dad came over to give me one of his signature kisses on the top of my head.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” Mom said, beaming.

I mean, they were scientists and science was basically the last thing I wanted to pay attention to, so I never really asked many questions.

But this was way beyond science. This was…actually kind of awesome.

A smile crept across my face. I couldn’t wait to try it again. 

Excerpted from Lies My Memory Told Me by Sacha Wunsch, Copyright © 2021 by Sacha Wunsch. Published by Inkyard Press. 

Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson Audiobook Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young man must decide between the woman who has given him a home and the young man who has stolen his heart in turn of the 19th century America in author Shaun David Hutchinson’s “Before We Disappear”. 

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The Synopsis

It’s a new star-crossed romance about the magic of first love from the acclaimed author of We Are the Ants and Brave Face, Shaun David Hutchinson.

Jack Nevin’s clever trickery and moral flexibility make him the perfect assistant to the Enchantress, one of the most well-known stage magicians in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Europe. Without Jack’s steady supply of stolen tricks, the Enchantress’s fame would have burned out long ago.

But when Jack’s thievery catches up to them, they’re forced to flee to America to find their fortune. Luckily, the Enchantress is able to arrange a set of sold-out shows at Seattle’s Alaska–Yukon–Pacific World’s Fair Exposition. She’s convinced they’re going to rich and famous until a new magician arrives on the scene. Performing tricks that defy the imagination, Laszlo’s show overshadows the Enchantress, leaving Jack no choice but to hunt for the secrets to his otherworldly illusions. But what Jack uncovers isn’t at all what he expected.

Behind Laszlo’s tricks is Wilhelm—a boy that can seemingly perform real magic. Jack and Wilhelm have an instant connection, and as the rivalry between the Enchantress and Laszlo grows, so too does Jack and Wilhelm’s affection. But can Jack choose between the woman who gave him a life and the boy who is offering him everything?

It’s a stirring tale about the magic of love from award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson.

The Review

This was such a magical read (pun intended)! The author does an incredible job of crafting an alternate history setting with a magical realism story element while still incorporating the hardships and struggles of not only that era but the struggles of the youth in the LGBTQ community. The theme of family and finding one’s place in the world was felt in every chapter of this book, and really captured the heart of the narrative.

The characters were so engaging to read. The alternating perspective of protagonists Jack and Willhelm were so interesting to see unfold, as they came from very different paths in life by the time they found one another, and yet found a sense of belonging and home within one another’s lives. The background of magic, both real and more illusion-based, was fascinating to see unfold, especially considering the era of the narrative.

The Verdict

A brilliant, heartfelt, and engaging YA Magical and LGBTQ Historical Fiction, author Shaun David Hutchinson’s “Before We Disappear” is a must-read (and listen) book of 2021.  The perfect book to grab as we head into the fall season, the balance of history, magic, and LGBTQ-forward romance was amazing to see in this novel, and I look forward to reading more of this amazing author’s work. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Born in West Palm Beach, Florida, Shaun grew up twenty minutes north in the town of Jupiter. He has three brothers (two older, one younger) and a half-sister.

Shaun attended Jupiter High School before going on to Florida Atlantic University, where he studied medieval and renaissance literature. Shaun has also studied emergency medicine, gaining his EMT certification, and firefighting. Ultimately, he ended up working with computers designing databases, building apps, and coding websites before publishing his first book, The Deathday Letter.

Shaun currently lives in Seattle, WA and works full time as an author. In his free time, he enjoys baking, running, designing 3D environments for virtual reality, and reading.

http://shaundavidhutchinson.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Before-We-Disappear/dp/B08TSPMKS2/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1632448823&sr=8-1

Eden Rising (Eden Rising #1) by Andrew Cunningham Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Two young teens find themselves in a fight for survival as they become one of the few survivors of a planet-ending event, and must discover how far they are willing to go in order to live in author Andrew Cunningham’s “Eden Rising”. 

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The Synopsis

“The Earth died in less than a minute. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. It’s not like the planet ceased to exist altogether. It just seemed like it. Cities were reduced to rubble. Millions of people died that day. I’ve since been told that 95% of the Earth’s human population was wiped out. I don’t know if that’s true—I mean, who can know that for sure? It’s not like we still have any of the technology that we once used to determine such things. But I do know that it was almost empty of people—live ones, that is…”

Thus begins the journey of Ben and Lila, two ordinary teenagers forced to rise to extraordinary heights when faced with a world that has suddenly and inexplicably died. Dealing with the sorrow of all they have lost, but the love they have found in each other, they set off on an odyssey that will bring them to the limits of human endurance and face to face with the frailty of their very existence. From the extreme violence of many of the surviving humans toward one another, to a world physically falling apart at the seams, Ben and Lila are determined to make it through the devastation in their quest for a place to quietly share their life together. In the process, they have to become as violent as the world around them in order to survive, while struggling to hold onto the humanity that will keep them sane. Eden Rising is a survival tale and a love story, but it is also a book that delves deeply into the human psyche to discover just how far we would go to survive, and how much inner strength can be found when things are at their absolute worst.

The Review

This audiobook was not only well read, but incredibly well-written. The action kicks up immediately, as the two protagonists find themselves going from awkward teen romance hanging in the air to waking up and finding the people of the world dead. 

The author does an amazing job of leaning hard into the dystopian YA sci-fi genre, while also bringing a maturity to the narrative by examining the psychological affect an apocalyptic event like this would have on any survivors, let alone two young teens forced to grow up very quickly. The pain of the loss brings to them a bond that highlights a growing romance, while the horrors they endure in the narrative and the lines they must contend with crossing showcase complex and deep character developments, a key to this novel’s pacing and delivery overall.

The Verdict

A must-read, heart-pounding audiobook and novel, author Andrew Cunningham’s “Eden Rising”, the first in the Eden Rising series, is an edge of your seat dystopian YA novel that is not to be missed. Memorable characters, romance and deep psychological character studies all define this amazing novel, and readers will not be able to get enough of this wonderful work. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author 

Andrew Cunningham is the author ten novels, including the award-winning Amazon bestselling thriller Wisdom Spring; the “Lies” Mystery Series (All Lies, Fatal Lies, Vegas Lies, Secrets & Lies, and Blood Lies); the Cape Cod terrorist/disaster thriller Deadly Shore; and the post-apocalyptic Eden Rising Series (Eden Rising, Eden Lost, and Eden’s Legacy). As A.R. Cunningham, he has written a series of 5 humorous children’s mysteries in the Arthur MacArthur series for middle-readers. Formerly an interpreter for the deaf and a long-time independent bookseller, Andrew has been a full-time freelance writer and copy editor for the last 18 years. A 4th-degree Master Blackbelt in Tang Soo Do, Andrew finally gave up active training when his body said, “Enough already!” Andrew was a long-time resident of Cape Cod, and he and his wife now live in Florida. He can be contacted at info@arcnovels.com. Visit his website at www.arcnovels.com. He can also be found on Facebook (Author Andrew Cunningham), and Twitter (@arcnovels).

Blood and Silver by Vali Benson Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young girl must find a way to save her mother from a nefarious Madame in the town of Tombstone in author Vali Benson’s “Blood and Silver”. 

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The Synopsis

What is a twelve year old girl to do when she finds herself in the silver boom town of Tombstone, Arizona, in 1880, and her only home is a brothel and her only parent is a drug-addicted mother? If she is Carissa Beaumont, she outsmarts the evil madam and figures a way out.

After tricking the madam, Miss Lucille, into summoning a doctor for her mother, Lisette, she discovers that Miss Lucille has been drugging her. She and the kind doctor make a plan to try to save Lisette by dosing her down on the drug.

Doctor Henderson tells Carissa that the only source for the drug is a Chinese immigrant named China Mary, who lives in Hoptown, at the other end of Tombstone. Carissa has no choice but to go to the powerful woman for help. Many say that China Mary is the one who really controls Tombstone.

China Mary admires Carissa’s brave spirit, and uses her influence to get her a job at the new Grand Hotel, which will free Carissa from her many duties at Miss Lucille’s. She will work along with Mary’s twelve year old niece, Mai-Lin. The two girls become fast friends.

Then, disaster strikes, and the two girls must work together to stay alive.

With a host of colorful characters and meticulous attention to period detail, Blood and Silver is a story of the best and worst of human nature, the passion for survival and the beauty of true friendship.

The Review

This was a fast-paced, intricate character study and intense YA historical read. The author does a great job of focusing on character development within the narrative, and the historical nature of the novel was very well researched and integrated naturally into the book as well. 

The story takes off immediately from the very first pages, with a murder leading to Carissa’s discovery of her mother’s condition and the lengths Miss Lucille will go to secure her business. The young woman risks it all to save those closest to her, and historical fiction and YA fans will love the intricate way the setting plays into the character’s arc and the narrative overall. 

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The Verdict

A must-read novel, author Vali Benson’s “Blood and Silver” is a truly one-of-a-kind read. The historical fiction YA adventure is filled with a gritty Western theme and does a great job of giving a voice to people who are usually relegated to background characters in the typical Western novel, making this a wonderful read. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Vali grew up in the Midwest. She now lives in Tucson with her husband, two sons and grandchildren.

After graduating from the University of Illinois, Vali started and sold two successful businesses before she decided to pursue her real passion of writing. She published several articles in a variety of periodicals, including History Magazine before she decided to try her hand at fiction.

In April of 2020, Vali published her first novel, “Blood and Silver”. That same month, she was also made a member of the Western Writers of America.

Website:

Amazon:

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53167218-blood-and-silver

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/RealValiBenson/?modal=admin_todo_tour

Warriors of Potentia (The Shadows) by J.J. Angelus Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A group of young people are all that stands between Earth and an unimaginable threat in author J.J. Angelus’s “Warriors of Potentia (The Shadows)”. 

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The Synopsis

The souls of mankind have always had a fascination with the unknown. Humanity desires nothing more than to unravel the secrets of the Universe in hopes of gaining enlightenment and uncovering the truth. But what if they uncovered something which darkened their perceptions? Something that could wipe out their existence if it was given the opportunity?A supernatural entity descends upon an unsuspecting community carrying a hostile attitude and voracious appetite. The only offset for this cosmic menace is a few young adults who gain mystical abilities from unknown origins. Inexperienced and unaware, the odds are clearly against them as they face a merciless and ever-evolving enemy. An enemy who not only threatens their young adult lives, but also the entire Earth. As the mystery unfolds, your deepest and darkest fears will become reality, and the shadows surrounding your conscience shall come to life. A reality which fuels your imagination and reshapes your mind towards understanding the inner workings of the Cosmos just a little bit better.

The Review

The book hits the ground running, setting the stage for a powerful sci-fi epic YA series that is both emotional and action-fueled. After a deadly accident on a space station launches a lone astronaut back to Earth carrying a dangerous alien threat, the world becomes a target and a few teens find their lives changed forever.

The author does a great job of creating unique mythology that blends sci-fi and fantasy seamlessly. The cast of characters is strong and does well to elevate the story naturally, and readers become invested as the story progresses. The only thing of note would be that sometimes perspective changes between characters occur suddenly without warning, so perhaps in the future, these character perspective changes could occur with some separators between each passage within a chapter. 

The Verdict

A gripping sci-fi tale like no other, author J.J. Angelus has set the stage for a fantastic YA series. Engaging, heartfelt, and incredibly detailed in its mythological approach, Warriors of Potentia is a must-read novel of the summer. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 8/10

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Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B089XDNMK2

Facebook: https://facebook.com/warriorsofpotentia

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53936297-warriors-of-potentia

Author Bio: 

In 2016, J.J. Angel was a part of an anthology called Voices from the Bayou, he loaned his words on several troubling events that year in Louisiana. Specifically, The Great Flood of 2016, the shooting of Alton Sterling, and the deaths of three police officers. His written portion titled, “Still Water Runs Deep” is about an outward conflict clashing with his own inner conflict, both as a flood victim and a misguided African American male.  

 Several years later, he decided to differentiate himself from the book with a new pseudonym, but since he loved his original pen name so much, he simply turned Angel into Angelus which is Latin for angel. The Angel portion of his original pseudonym is a shortened form of his mother’s name Angela.

JJ prefers to write stories focusing on the supernatural, with spiritual awareness intertwined somewhere in the plot. He enjoys educational science books as well.  

Warriors of Potentia is his most developed production, with one completed book and several sequels on the way. The idea of the story originated twenty-five years ago as a way to combat the ongoing verbal and physical torment from peers. Beginning as simple stick-figure drawings, these characters developed, as he developed, and became a greater manifestation of his creativity into what they are today.  

JJ is also working on a few other titles that are not a part of the Potentia franchise. These works will be released sometime in the near future as well.

When he’s not writing, JJ’s outside moving around the downtown capitol; enjoying the great Louisiana cuisine and entertainment, visiting parks and zoos to become closer with the elements of nature, and trying to control his ongoing obsession with Star Trek Deep Space Nine. 

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The Out Crowd by Michael Kirby Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Examining the life of two groups of students, the In-Crowd and the Out-Crowd, of a high school, this coming of age satire explores the toxicity of division in author Michael Kirby’s YA satire/drama, “The Out Crowd”. 

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The Synopsis

Hallie Flynn was ready for the perfect senior year, but everything changes at Homecoming when petty rumors spiral out of control. The In Crowd was always who everybody in the Out Crowd dreamed of being. The Out Crowd consisted of everybody else. Isaiah was also expecting a normal senior year. His biggest concern was earning a scholarship for college, but then all the norms evaporated. Gossip piles on top of itself, overwhelming his social life, and everyone else’s. Friendships are ruined. People from all walks of Gates High School life no longer know who to trust.

Determined, Hallie makes it her mission to set the record straight. But by the time the gossip desperately needed to be stopped, it was already too late. Gates High could never be the same as it was again, because rumors and gossip are not toys to be played around with. What appears simple and straightforward becomes more confusing. Eventually the rumors take on a life of their own and truth and untruth merge into an unrecognizable blur. Both the In Crowd and the Out Crowd learn to live with their new fate in different ways. Inevitably, lessons are learned, but only after the damage is already done.

The Review

An engaging read, author Michael Kirby has created a great YA read that not only delves into the inner-workings of high school life but on a much broader scale examines the social and political divides that keep our world at odds with one another. The author’s use of high school life to illustrate the larger problems of society is an inspired choice here, as often high school life can serve as a precursor for what is to come in life later on. 

The narrative is very character-driven, with kids from both the In-Crowd and Out Crowd showcasing the various aspects of high school’s social scene, and how rumor and gossip can not only spread like wildfire but how it can ruin and change lives wholeheartedly. The characters remain relatable and engaging to readers as the story progresses. However the only note I would make is that at times the narrative and dialogue can become repetitive at times, and although the story still flourished it did take me out of the narrative at times. 

The Verdict

Well-written, entertaining and relatable, author Michael Kirby’s “The Out Crowd” is a must-read YA drama. Creative and engaging, the characters come to life in the reader’s mind easily, and although a shorter read the core story has an amazing impact that will stay with the readers long after the final chapter. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 8/10

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About the Author

Ever since childhood, Michael has had a constant urge to liberate stories from the realm of his imagination and share them with the world. Various tales and characters would nag at him from inside his head until he finally agreed to give them a new life by putting pen-to-paper or finger-to-keyboard. In time, he realized this meant becoming a writer.

In college he wrote articles for the campus newspaper. After graduating he tried out publishing on various blogs over the years. Now he has turned to books, with a focus on novels.

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Dream Chasers (Screamcatcher #2) by Christy J. Breedlove Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman uses her new experience gained from the first book in a powerful mythological series and delves further into the realm of dream catchers and Native American lore in author Christy J. Breedlove’s “Dream Chasers (Screamcatcher #2)”. 

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The Synopsis

Seventeen year-old Jory Pike knows a thing or two about Indian lore from her half-blood Chippewa ancestry. She can trap, hunt and fish with the best of them. She has a team of three other teens friends called The Badlands Paranormal Society. Instead of bagging groceries or playing on I-pods, they think they can excel at banishing evil spirits. They hope to cleanse houses and earn fat paychecks for their services.

Dream catchers aren’t just the chic hoops tourists buy at novelty shops–they work. And sometimes they clog up with nightmares until they collapse under their own evil weight, imploding and sending the dreamer into an alternate world. Jory uses her worst nightmare to enter the dream catcher world. She’s pulled her teammates in deliberately. Everything goes right on schedule but they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Now Jory and her friends are there, trapped between the people who have confessed their sins to the Great Spirit and are seeking a way out, and the monsters and evil spirits, which are happy to keep them trapped in the web world forever.

They were once considered Seekers in the dream world. Now they’ve become vigilantes and call themselves Pathfinders. Is it spiritual enlightenment they after? Or have they now become fatally reckless?

The Review

An action-packed and deeply mythological sequel, author Christy J. Breedlove has done a fantastic job of connecting to the larger mythology established in the first book and bringing forth a new twist in the evolving story of these characters. The thing that really jumps out is that for returning readers, the story sees a much more educated and experienced protagonist in Jory and her team of investigators, but newcomers will still be able to jump into the series even if they haven’t read the first book yet. 

The speed in which the group of characters is thrust into the world of this possessed dreamcatcher keeps the reader’s hearts pounding in their chests. Unspeakable creatures and beautiful imagery give the reader a deeper connection to the character’s during their journey into this other realm, while the ever-evolving story do a great job of delving into the complex and treasured history and mythology of the Native American people amongst the varying tribes and people. 

The Verdict

A must-read YA fantasy and mythology series, “Dream Chasers” is a brilliant sequel for Christy J. Breedlove’s “Screamcatchers” series. Filled with intense action, deep character growth and an overall sense of adventure, this is a unique read in the YA genre that delves into a mythology that deserves far more storytelling than it typically gets, so be sure to grab your copy of this amazing book today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I became a story teller. I’m a diehard frantic creator of Young Adult fiction, whether it’s paranormal, science fiction, suspense or fantasy. I believe in pure escapism with unceasing action adventure and discovery. If you want a moral message or cultural statement, you’re apt to get a small one. But let me tell you something, reader, I want to make you laugh until you gag, cry until you’re dry and tear out tufts of your hair. Today, young adult lit needs a resurrection. How soon we’ve forgotten about Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight. Oh, the mania! Where has it gone? Are we losing our young readers? We need something really fresh and new. I and several writers are going to pour everything we have into that end. You are the kindly judge–help us get there and we will deliver!

Amazon Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Chris-Harold-Stevenson/e/B001K8UUBK

Christy’s Website:  https://christysyoungadultfabuliers.com/

Blog:  http://guerrillawarfareforwriters.blogspot.com/