Category Archives: 2012 Debut Author Challenge

This Is Not a Drill – Beck McDowell

This Is Not a Drill coverThis Is Not a Drill
By Beck McDowell
Available October 2012

When high school seniors—and former couple—Emery and Jake find themselves held hostage in a first grade classroom, they must do all they can to protect the kids. Brian Stutts, a U.S. soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after serving in Iraq, pulls out his gun to convince the teacher to hand over the son he’s not allowed to check out because of a custody battle. The situation turns deadly when a security guard appears at the door and Stutts impulsively opens fire. When the teacher is carried from the room, the children’s fate is in the hands of Emery and Jake. While Jake searches for a way to communicate with the policemen surrounding the building, Emery, fighting her shyness, fear, and POTS symptoms, tries to reach out to the soldier. She gains a new understanding of what he faced in Iraq, and discovers remarkable strength in his small son.

This Blonde’s Review:
This book can speak to so many people in the wake of so much violence in schools over the last several years. Except this school is an elementary school, and the man doing the threatening is a US Soldier.

Jake and Emery have a past that they’ve had to work around for the sake of tutoring together. When Brian Stutts takes over their classroom they have to work together to keep the children in their care safe.

Jake is easy to like as we watch him try to get the kids out without Stutts realizing he’s communicating with the outside. We’re supposed to be unsure of him since we see also see the side to him where he ruined things with Emery without even thinking of the consequences.

Emery has had issues of her own, including the pain of what happened between her and Jake. She refuses to fall apart in front of the children and does her best to understand what’s happening. We’re able to get to know Stutts and his motivations through Emery. It’s rare that we can hate the “villain” and feel bad for him at the same time.

This book dealt with a heavy topic but wasn’t heavy handed about it. It was easy to get drawn in and want to race to find out what happened. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to say that I think this one was rather well rounded. It wasn’t too ‘easy’ of an ending, yet it wasn’t looking for the most heartbreaking way of ending either. It leaves the characters wondering what is really important in their lives when it could be cut short unexpectedly?

This one was a little tough for me in some ways since I do have small children who coincidentally go to an elementary school with the same (common) name. And I am more than familiar with the military community, so put those two together and it’s enough to break my heart. Since the author seemed to make this book more about life than sorrow it wasn’t something that was hard to read, instead it had me torn in what I hoped would happen.

If the description sounds interesting to you and books where teenagers have to step up and keep others safe, then you’ll enjoy this one.


Altered – Jennifer Rush

Altered coverAltered
By Jennifer Rush
Altered – Book 1
Available January 2013

When you can’t trust yourself, who can you believe?

Everything about Anna’s life is a secret. Her father works for the Branch at the helm of its latest project: monitoring and administering treatments to the four genetically altered boys in the lab below their farmhouse. There’s Nick, Cas, Trev . . . and Sam, who’s stolen Anna’s heart. When the Branch decides it’s time to take the boys, Sam stages an escape, killing the agents sent to retrieve them.

Anna is torn between following Sam or staying behind in the safety of her everyday life. But her father pushes her to flee, making Sam promise to keep her away from the Branch, at all costs. There’s just one problem. Sam and the boys don’t remember anything before living in the lab—not even their true identities.

Now on the run, Anna soon discovers that she and Sam are connected in more ways than either of them expected. And if they’re both going to survive, they must piece together the clues of their past before the Branch catches up to them and steals it all away.

This Blonde’s Review:
They only remember the lab. She wishes she could help them have more.

Anna has always been drawn to Sam, even though there’s been little encouragement. Their lives are conducted on separate sides of glass walls. She assists her father with his work, seldom leaving the lab.

When the Branch shows up to take the boys things take an unexpected turn. The boys escape and Anna’s father tells her to go with them. As they run from the branch there are secrets that come out and memories that start to surface. They have to work together to find out what their connection really is so that they’ll know what they’re dealing with. They need to discover the truth about themselves to survive.

I’ve never been a big fan of the big romance without reason. We don’t know why she’s so drawn to him, I don’t really get the feeling that he’s as interested as she is. Then we find things out that make their romance angle even less romantic, so I honestly had a hard time feeling that aspect of the book. I’d have been much happier if the author had left that out or made the attraction part happen later, maybe something that came as a surprise.

Despite that big part of the book that drives me crazy there were some interesting parts. I did like the connection Anna has with the group since I wouldn’t have expected that, though the author did make the why more complicated than it needed to be.

If I don’t look at her love of Sam I do like the dynamics between Anna and the rest of the group. She has varying levels of friendship with the boys, one is like a best friend down to another who seems to hate her. I liked that there were different relationships within the group, even if they were a little too easily placed in roles. The upside of that is that not everyone really fits the role they play.

The Branch is interesting since it gives this book the real drive. What is the Branch, why are they so invested in the boys, and are they responsible for why the boys can do what they do? These questions are what drove me to finish reading the book even though the Anna/Sam thing drove me a little nuts.

Sadly, I was disappointed in this one. It did end well and the end made me like Anna much more than I had the rest of the book, so because of that I may find myself reading the second book in this series. It won’t be one that I search out or pay for, but if I’m able to borrow a copy from my library I’m sure my curiosity will lead to my checking it out.

If mysterious government organizations, deep and abiding love without reason, and teens who are capable of more than they should be appeals to you then you may like this one more than I did. Please let me know what you think if you give it a try!


Time Between Us – Tamara Ireland Stone

Time Between Us coverTime Between Us
By Tamara Ireland Stone
Available October 2012

Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett’s unique ability to travel through time and space brings him into Anna’s life, and with him, a new world of adventure and possibility.

As their relationship deepens, they face the reality that time might knock Bennett back where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate—and what consequences they can bear in order to stay together.

This Blonde’s Review:
Anna is a typical 90s girl until she meets Bennett. Something about him draws her from the first time she sees him from a distance though the way he acts when they finally meets confuses her. Something about him draws her, but it also doesn’t add up. One minutes he seems to be happy to see her and to know her, while the next he acts distant. She doesn’t know what to think.

Then one night something happens that makes Anna demand answers she never would have believed before. Soon Bennett and Anna are no longer acting like they don’t care and become an official couple. No one but Anna is aware that his living situation is more complicated than they could ever imagine. Bennett is a time traveler. He can imagine himself somewhere else and find himself there, though he doesn’t always have control. He can take others with him, but he can only travel within his own lifetime. He also has rules of his own, even if others can’t agree with those rules. When he tries to breaks those rules bad things can happen.

We know that Bennett can’t stay forever, as soon as what he’s there for is taken care of he’s supposed to go home. Despite claiming to have told Anna everything, it turns out there are things she hasn’t been told something very important that pertains to her. That information could make all the difference.

I really enjoyed this one. It does have those similarities to a few other known time travel romance books, but they’re unavoidable when you have similar themes. Overall this book was still distinctly it’s own. In some ways it would have been great to have more of the background of what happened or about Bennett’s life, but this book isn’t really about him. It’s about her.

What happens when a girl who has always wanted to travel the world but never left meets a boy who can take her anywhere? I know I’ve always wished I could wish myself someplace else and go, so the idea of having a guy who could take me sounds like a great thing. No worries about plane tickets, permission, anything like that to hold you back. Since we know he can’t stay, the real question comes down to what will she do with her summer plans. Should she take the chance to do something that would have been a dream come true before or should she enjoy the time she has with him while she can? Classic dilemma where she has to choose between her dreams from before and her heart, but with a twist.

The way this one ended was satisfying and disappointing at the same time. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it’s hard to say what parts where good/bad without spoiling it. So let’s leave it as I’m torn on the ending. I’d be happy to talk to you about it after you’ve read it if you’d like though.

Either way, I way I walked away happy with the overall feel I got from the book. I was happy to have read it and look forward to the next book I get to read by this author. Disappointingly she’s a debut author so I can’t go to her backlist while I wait for the next to come out.

IF you enjoy reading about love that seems impossible with time and distance between our couple then you’ll want to read Anna and Bennett’s story.


Nerve – Jeanne Ryan

Nerve coverNerve
By Jeanne Ryan
Available September 2012

A high-stakes online game of dares turns deadly

When Vee is picked to be a player in NERVE, an anonymous game of dares broadcast live online, she discovers that the game knows her. They tempt her with prizes taken from her ThisIsMe page and team her up with the perfect boy, sizzling-hot Ian. At first it’s exhilarating–Vee and Ian’s fans cheer them on to riskier dares with higher stakes. But the game takes a twisted turn when they’re directed to a secret location with five other players for the Grand Prize round. Suddenly they’re playing all or nothing, with their lives on the line. Just how far will Vee go before she loses NERVE?

This Blonde’s Review:
Vee has always been a good girl, quieter than her best friend, and not one to make strong impressions. She’s grounded because of one screw up but looking forward to her freedom, since the afterparty for the school play could be when the guy she likes will make a real move on her.

When Vee decides to do something out of character and complete one of the dares for Nerve she doesn’t think anything will come of it. Except people like her! Soon she goes back for another dare where she meets a hot guy named Ian. As they’re offered riskier dares with higher payouts they can’t help but keep playing until they’re offered the chance to play in the grand price round.

Each dare is riskier than the one before, so the grand prize round offers exactly what each person wants the most as incentive to get them into the game. They’ve all watched the previous shows and they’re sure that some of that is faked, but as the game continues it becomes clear that it is more real than they could imagine. They’re blocked from making any outside contact that isn’t authorized and soon find themselves locked into a dare that could leave them dead.

The first chapter of this one threw me, I didn’t understand how it related to the story until the book was almost finished. I really didn’t care for that since it wasn’t very clear where it stood in relation to the rest of the story.

I enjoyed this one but it didn’t blow me away. I could see how a show like that could take off in our society and how people could see think awful things had been scripted because of the ‘reality shows’ we have now that are anything but reality.

I did enjoy Vee, since I can relate to being the good girl that people don’t expect to go out and do crazy things. Yet I also had a hard time relating to some of the things she felt. I won’t get into some of those, but I would have liked a little more insight into some of what she had going on. There was a lot we were supposed to take for granted even though the relationships were expected to play a big part in Vee’s motivation.

I loved the way Vee handled the situation and that she didn’t give up. She did what she had to do even if it meant more risk for her. She may have been a good girl acting out of character, but she was brave and I can’t help but like that about her. I didn’t care much about most of the other characters either way even though I’d have liked to.

Despite that, it was still an enjoyed this one. It was a fast read that didn’t strike any major chords for me. I didn’t love it or hate it, so it isn’t one I’d strongly recommend someone read or not read it. If the description sounds good to you then definitely give it a read. Please let me know what you think, sometimes the ones I’m not sure of can lead to a good discussion if you have a stronger opinion!


Origin – Jessica Khoury

Origin titleOrigin
By Jessica Khoury
Available 4 Sept 2012

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home—and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia’s origin—a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

This Blonde’s Review:
Pia is not your typical teenager. She has never met anyone under 30 years old. She has never left the laboratory compound where she was born. And she will live forever.

Pia was engineered to be immortal. Through careful selection and a secret process used through several generations she was born perfect. Her skin can’t be broken, her senses are sharper, and she’s incredibly intelligent. She works hard to gain the respect of the scientists around her and to become one of them. They all know she’ll live forever and work towards the goal of creating more immortals. Pia doesn’t know the secret to the process yet, but she will as soon as she passes the final test.

The story starts with her as the smart girl who does everything that is asked of her. There are things that she sees as normal since she doesn’t know better that throw up serious red flags for us, but we can’t expect her to have our experience. She is very curious about the world outside of the compound, so when a new scientist comes in she isn’t sure what to think. She doesn’t want to like her, but she casually talks about the outside world as though it’s a marvelous place Pia should want to know. When given the chance to explore she finds more than she bargained for in the form of Eio.

I enjoyed watching them get to know each other. I loved that Eio didn’t push Pia to do anything she didn’t want to do and didn’t try to force her to see things his way. He simply cared about her and made sure she knew she was welcome to come back any time. The people in the compound were such a great mix. We don’t want them all to seem great, awful, or forgettable but the author gives us a great mix of both. There are certain people that I had an instant dislike to and others that I liked right away. When it gets down to Pia’s final test and we see what they have to go through to be accepted we can’t help but wonder if anyone of them are worth liking. Despite the small environment and small number of people around her, the author did a great job of giving that mix of characters to explain how Pia could be so sheltered yet have so many normal thoughts and emotions.

When I got this one I wasn’t sure that I was in the right reading mood for it but I actually really enjoyed it. The concept was strange since there was never any conversation or thoughts on why they’d want to create a race of immortals. I also couldn’t see why they were so insistent that Pia not be allowed to know even the basics about the world beyond the compound, except to make her desire to go outside the gate more understandably thrilling for her. I did like Pia, despite her sheltered upbringing, and I liked Eio. An important first step is having characters we can like. But how can they be together if Pia will live forever and Eio can die?

If a story about an immortal girl learning what it means to live and what the price of her immortality really is sounds like a story you’d want to read, then you’ll want to get ahold of Origin in September.


Pushing The Limits – Katie McGarry

Pushing The Limits coverPushing the Limits
By Katie McGarry
Available 31 July 2012

So wrong for each other…and yet so right.

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with “freaky” scars on her arms. Even Echo can’t remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo’s world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible. Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she’ll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

This Blonde’s Review:
She always wears long sleeves and hides from everyone. People stare at her and jump to conclusions but are willing to be there for her. Luckily for Echo she has great friends who will stand by her. Echo also has a friend who won’t stand with her publicly since she’s more concerned with her popularity and an ex who claims to want back in her life. Echo is dealing with not remembering the trauma that almost cost her life, the loss of her brother in Afghanistan, and her childhood babysitter turned stepmother getting ready to have a baby. Echo has a lot on her plate and is a perfect candidate for mandatory weekly counseling.

Noah is the bad boy who doesn’t want anything serious with anyone. The system let him down and he has no desire to play along anymore. After being labeled a trouble maker by the foster care system he isn’t allowed to know where his brothers live and can only see them through supervised visitation. He’ll do whatever it takes to have them back in his life, even if that means playing along with the counselor they’re forcing him to go to.

Miss Collins, their counselor, pairs them up for a mutually beneficial arrangement all they do is fight. Echo needs to tutor Noah for the money to restore her brother’s car. Noah needs better grades if he hopes to get his brothers back. Instead of working together Noah says things that hurt Echo, and he’s surprised by the pain he’s able to cause her. When he sees her arms he knows better than to believe that she did it to herself. Soon they decide to work together to get what they really want out of their sessions with Miss Collins. They want answers and they’ll work together to make it happen.

Despite having a chance to gain her popularity back, Echo is still drawn to Noah. He asks questions and listens to the answers instead of flinching away. He is more real to her and more willing to see her than anyone else. Noah doesn’t want to focus on anything other than his brothers or risk letting Echo hurt him when she goes back to her popular life. But something about her draws him in and makes him want to know her more, makes him want to be there for her in ways he never was with anyone else. The more time they spend together the more right it seems to be, yet their problems could be too much for them to be any good for each other.

I loved this book. I can’t even explain why without giving everything away but I’m going to try. I loved that Echo had problems. She wasn’t a one trick pony with one big problem and everything else perfect, yet her problems weren’t so disconnected that it looked like the author was giving Echo more to deal with because she could. Her secrets are revealed a layer at a time, giving Echo time to process each step while we jumped to our own conclusions. Her family life was awful and sad and ultimately not quite what she thought.

I adored Noah and think he could be one of my favorite book guys. He’s bad enough to do what he wants to do without worrying about the rules. But he’s a good guy at heart. He is willing to risk his life for his brothers. He doesn’t knowingly hurt people who are weaker than he is. He was always unwilling to keep a girlfriend, but he only played with girls who know the game. He claims his friends as his family and will do whatever is needed to protect them, even if it involves going against crazy odds. He’s not perfect but he’s willing to look below the surface and not let scars matter more than the person inside.

The things that have happened to Echo and Noah are tragic to varying degrees but I loved watching the way they help each other heal. They do what they can to help each other without even thinking about it. I love how well they complement each other.

I would love to get into some of the “bad things” about this book that I’m sure some readers won’t care for, but I have to say that some of those things actually made it better for me. Noah did fall faster than I would have cared for, since I’m not a big fan of the fast fall, but there was a lot going on in this story. I can actually see how that could be totally realistic in that sort of situation. There are other things I could talk about to explain how I think the “bad” actually worked out well but I don’t want to give everything away before you have a chance to read it.

This is a love story since we want Echo and Noah to end up together, but this is also a story about healing and learning to trust despite the reasons not to. I really wish this wasn’t Katie McGarry’s first book because I wanted to go out and find something else of hers as soon as I finished it. I’m going to be keeping an eye on Katie McGarry and can’t wait to see what she has next for us.


When You Were Mine – Rebecca Serle

When You Were Mine coverWhen You Were Mine
By Rebecca Serle
Available Now

In this intensely romantic, modern recounting of the greatest love story ever told, Romeo’s original intended—Juliet’s cousin Rosaline—tells her side of the tale.

What’s in a name, Shakespeare? I’ll tell you: Everything.

Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. Rose has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her—and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But then Juliet moves back to town. Juliet, who used to be Rose’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy… and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t even stand a chance.

Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends.

This Blonde’s Review:
Romeo and Juliet is a famous love story. Not everyone sees it as a love story though. Rosaline, the girl Romeo was with before Juliet stole him away, certainly doesn’t think so.

Rose never let herself think of being with Rob, so when he finally seems interested in her it’s hard for her to believe. Could he really want to be with her? What if she’s imagining it? What happens if it doesn’t work out? She’s a typical girl who discovers her best friend could become more.

Until her cousin shows up. Without knowing what happened one minute Rob is hers and the next he’s kissing Juliet! When Rob chooses Juliet and says he wants to stay friends Rose isn’t having it. Seeing them together hurts her, but watching the changes in Rob baffles her. What is Juliet doing to him that has made him change so much? The Rob she grew up with & loved wasn’t like that, so it must be Juliet.

When scandal and betrayal rocks their families we start to see the couple come unhinged. We watch the story of Romeo & Juliet play out through the eyes of the girl who wanted to love them both until they betrayed her.

I really enjoyed getting modern Rosaline’s viewpoint on this one. I have never cared for the story of Romeo & Juliet, so it was great to have a book that puts that same story in the current day and Shows us how twisted and unromantic it really is. What I really loved is that despite all of that the story isn’t actually about them. This story is Rose’s.

We see a girl trying to trust her heart and having it broken. Then we watch as she tried to put it back together. Seeing the way she can still care for the ones who hurt her most makes her an endearing character. Not allowing them to trample over her without thinking made her a character I could respect. She may be struggling but that doesn’t mean she should roll over. Rose was a wonderfully typical girl. She had doubts and fears. She wasn’t always strong but didn’t wait for anyone to save her. She’s the kind of girl we’d want to be friends with.

Every girl deserves a chance to get the guy, but Rose’s chance isn’t anything like she imagined. In some ways it’s far fetched, but it’s the kind of far fetched I can live with. I wasn’t sure where the author would go with that one at first, but I think she did wonderfully with it. She may not have chosen the path she was on but she would have to learn what she really wanted so she could make it happen.

If a modern day Romeo and Juliet told from Rosaline’s perspective sounds interesting to you then I’m sure you’ll love this one. You may look at Romeo & Juliet or Rosaline in ways you never have before.