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Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong

Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong
Pub. Date: May 22, 2018
Source: Finished hardback via publisher (Thank you, Crown Books for Young Readers!)
Summary: Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter.

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

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

Sadly, school shootings have becoming an increasingly popular topic. Just last week, one of my favorite authors came out with a new book, one that follows a mother and daughter after their son/brother kills several classmates (including the girl’s boyfriend). It’s interesting – it seems like the recent wave of school shooting novels focus on someone close to the shooter, follow through the eyes of a relative rather than the shooter. The same is true for Kelley Armstrong’s latest, a novel that was certainly hard to read (and what book, fiction or nonfic, on the subject wouldn’t be??).

Three years ago Skye’s world was forever shifted. Her brother Luka was shot during a school shooting…not by a student, but by police. Luka was one of the shooters that day and his actions have haunted Skye ever since. A new school didn’t do much in the way of helping to hide her past and now, three years later, she back home. Back among students who were there that day, students who lost siblings and friends. The looks, the insults are nothing compared to the pain of seeing Jesse again, however. Once best friends, Skye instantly cut off all contact after the shooting: Jesse’s brother was one of the victims. With Skye’s return comes whispers and notes suggesting a new version of That Day. Could Luka have truly been innocent?

Kelley Armstrong is a one-sitting author for me, especially with her recent releases. Missing, her first non-paranormal contemporary thriller, had me glued to the page and while I adore her Cainsville series, I’m SO excited to see where her new style goes. Enter Aftermath.

Let’s be honest, how many books can I really read about children killing their classmates? Turns out, two in a row. I pride myself in being a reader that can read all kinds of horrific tales and not bat an eye (unless it involves an animal’s death, then it’s a hard no). School shootings, however, are on an entirely different level, but both books I recently read, The Hidden Side and Aftermath, approached the topic head-on and became wonderful character explorations of what happens to the family members of those directly involved.

Of course there’s romance, but it appropriately takes a backseat here, and that’s all I need to say about that.

I’ve said before that I would read a phone book if Kelley Armstrong were to ever write one and that still holds true. She was able to take an extremely sensitive, emotional, and timely subject and create a book I truly couldn’t look away from. I became invested in this story, the mystery of what went on That Day, and Aftermath opened my eyes to something I shamefully never gave thought to: how the family of the shooter feels and what they go through. With Luka gone, Skye became the target of all the hurt and rage and my heart went out to her. While I wish school shootings aren’t about to become the next big thing in YA (I honestly don’t know how many more I can read), Aftermath was another fast-paced, highly engaging novel from an author I’ve come to love. Rest assured I’ll be eagerly awaiting her next book!

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weekly wrap-up 5/20

• This week’s wrap-up is a two week edition! Last Sunday was Mother’s Day – always a blast with our family! – and, honestly, I just didn’t feel like typing up a post super late.

• I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but every Mother’s Day my family does the Race for the Cure. We get together with the in-laws and all the men stay behind to get brunch ready/watch any babies while the ladies all head out! It’s always so much fun, even though this year was so rainy. I absolutely love the race itself, but there’s something so magical about the end. The finish line is at Phipps Conservatory which is hands down one of the most beautiful buildings ever. &, naturally, the brunch afterward is always something to look forward to! I made avocado hummus (for the first time!) and it was a hit :)

• Who else woke up before dawn to watch the wedding??? Matt had fallen asleep on the couch while the pups and I had all gone up to bed – okay, let’s be honest, there is NOTHING like having a King size bed all to yourself, am I right? WELL. I woke up just before 4:30 and watched BBC’s coverage. I guess neither dog is a fan of the royal family because they both took off downstairs ha. They must have woken him up because he came upstairs, took one look at what I was watching, and immediately began making fun of me. #noregrets It was gorgeous and obvs Idris was first in line to walk into the church.

• A while ago I joked with a coworker about how I have so many cat-print clothes that I was tempted to wear nothing but cat clothes all week and see if anyone notices.

• Do you follow me on instagram? Yesterday I posted some photos to my stories about a new leash Matt bought: it’s one of those ones where you can walk two dogs at once. Hoo boy. It was an experience. (I also posted an ADORABLE picture of Nacho after we came home!)

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? I shared a recipe for a crazy simple cinnamon-pecan coffee cake. Yum!!

I shared a new edition of currently.

Piper J. Drake is a new-to-me author, but after devouring Total Bravery, I know I’m going to be back for more!

I couldn’t wait for Heidi Chiavaroli’s latest after falling hard for her debut. I’m thrilled to say The Hidden Side is just as excellent with it’s Culper spy ring, a radio host, and the diary that connects the two stories. SO good.

And, finally, The Boy From Tomorrow, Camille DeAngelis’s Middle Grade novel about two children who manage to communicate to each other a century apart. I was pleasantly surprised with this one.

FOR REVIEW
What Would Dolly Do? by Lauren Marino
I mean, do I need to say anything here?? Thank you, Grand Central!

The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable
You’re probably all sick of seeing me talk about this one – and the book isn’t even out yet! This week I received a beautiful finished copy. This one follows a maid working for the Kennedys, an affair with JFK, and a rumored baby! Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!

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The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis

The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis
Pub. Date: May 8, 2018
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Amberjack Publishing!)
Summary: Josie and Alec both live at 444 Sparrow Street. They sleep in the same room, but they’ve never laid eyes on each other. They are twelve years old but a hundred years apart.

The children meet through a handpainted spirit board—Josie in 1915, Alec in 2015—and form a friendship across the century that separates them. But a chain of events leave Josie and her little sister Cass trapped in the house and afraid for their safety, and Alec must find out what’s going to happen to them. Can he help them change their future when it’s already past?
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

444 Sparrow Street is home to three children: Josie, her little sister Cass, and Alec. Only, Alec moves into the house 100 years after the sisters. In an attempt to make friends, Alec invites a few boys over to play with a recently discovered spirit board…and actually manages to make contact with the girls (who, funnily enough, believe him to be the spirit).

Told in a past/present narrative, The Boy From Tomorrow explores the friendship that sparks between Josie and Alec. I’ll admit I went into this one expecting a lighthearted, fun fantasy-esque tale about two 12-year-olds who connect through time – and was completely caught off guard. Sweet, yes. Fun, yes. But there are also some seriously heavy topics explored within these pages that I was not prepared for! The girls’ mother is a famous (or, rather, infamous) psychic. Just as many people write her off as crazy and a con artist as though who pay a pretty penny for one last conversation with a loved one. Once the clients have gone home, however, their mother lashes out physically and doles out horrific punishments. At one point 6-year-old Cass is locked inside a dark closet for an entire day. In other scene she’s forced to eat a dessert meant for an 8-person dinner party (and then proceeds to be in deeper trouble after she’s sick). Listening to their stories, Alec actually researches abuse laws from that time and helps the girls concoct a plan to get away.

Death, naturally, is also a prominent theme. There’s a small cemetery in town that’s no longer being used by 2015 (Alec’s present). A few headstones bear the Clifford name – could one of them belong to Josie or Cass? Alec is just one click away from uncovering the truth…but do they really want to know? This question comes up a lot in The Boy From Tomorrow and I really enjoyed seeing how maturely these children handled it! Of course there’s that instinctual curiosity, but there’s also a very real, underlying fear: what if the headstone does belong to one of the girls? Do they really want to know when they died? How they died? Would knowing the circumstances alter their lives and somehow change their future?

I don’t have much to say on the minor characters, but there are several and they were all wonderful. Especially Mrs. Gubbins.

Toward the end of the novel there’s a time skip and suddenly the girls are teens, the adults with children of their own. Despite the years, they never forgot their friend Alec – while he himself was still decades from being born. While I delighted in learning what became of Josie and Cass, I preferred seeing them as children and watching their interactions with Alec play out.

Going into The Boy From Tomorrow, I expected a cute, lighthearted romp through time. What I got was so much more. Heavy topics like abuse and death frequent these pages, providing a balance to the wonder and whimsy of the magical/fantastical elements. Getting to know Josie, Cass, and Alec – and then watching all three grow up – made the ending all the more bittersweet. I’m positive this book will find just as many adult readers as it will children, and I’m so glad I read it. It wasn’t until I had finished the book that I realized I had come across Camille DeAngelis before: she’s the author of Bones & All, a 2015 novel I had been curious about. I also hadn’t known she wrote a few adult novels! That said, it seems The Boy From Tomorrow is already her highest-rated and I’ll be curious to see if she sticks with Middle Grade for her next novel. If it’s anything like this one, I have a feeling I’ll be reading it!

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The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavaroli

The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavaroli
Pub. Date: May 8, 2018
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Tyndale!)
Summary: New York, 2016
Natalie Abbott offers answers for hurting listeners on her popular radio program. But she struggles to connect with her teenagers, with her daughter in an unhealthy relationship and her son uncommunicative and isolated. When one member of the family commits an unspeakable act, Natalie is forced to uncover who she truly is under the façade of her radio persona.

New York, 1776
Mercy Howard is shocked when her fiancé, Nathan Hale, is arrested and hanged as a spy. When she’s asked to join the revolutionary spy ring in Manhattan, she sees an opportunity to avenge Nathan’s death. But keeping her true loyalties hidden grows increasingly harder as the charming Major John Andre of the King’s Army becomes more to her than a target for intelligence.

Mercy’s journals comfort Natalie from across the centuries as both women struggle with their own secrets and shame, wondering how deep God’s mercy extends.
Genre: Historical, Christian Fiction

To say Heidi’s 2017 debut blew me away is something of an understatement. If you’ve spent any time following this blog you’re seen me mention Freedom’s Ring once, twice, 50 times. It made it onto my Top Reads of 2017 list and remains to this day, nearly a year later, a book I constantly think about. Naturally when I heard about a new novel I was beside myself – especially when an early copy arrived at my door! Sorry other books (not sorry), but I instantly pushed everything else to the side so I could dive in.

New York, 1776. Redcoats fill the streets (and take up residence in local homes), but Mercy knows good news is just around the corner. Soon she’ll be married to her beloved Nathan Hale and they’ll move further north to start a new life together, start a family. Mercy’s hope for the future keeps her going until the day she learns of Nathan’s arrest and execution. How could it be this man she thought she knew was a spy? As her despair gives way to anger, Mercy herself happens to receive an invitation to join the spy ring…and she sees an opportunity to avenge her fiance’s death.

In 2016, Natalie Abbott is known to her listeners as Skye, one of the hosts of a wildly popular morning show. Skye always knows just what to say to callers, always has the right words, knows the perfect song to play, but away from the microphone, Natalie’s life is a mess. Years ago her youngest child was tragically killed in an accident and it nearly cost her her marriage. Now Natalie has received horrific news: there was a school shooting – and her son was the shooter.

The Hidden Side takes on three voices: Mercy’s, Natalie’s, and Natalie’s daughter Maelynn’s (twin sister of Chris, the shooter), all tied together by a library copy of Mercy’s diary Chris happened to have borrowed. As much as I love multiple narrators and dual eras, I’ve found I typically prefer one over the others. There are, however, those rare books where everything and everyone come together to form one incredibly powerful, seamless story and The Hidden Side is just that book. Mercy’s grief, Natalie’s guilt and confusion over what could have caused Chris to do this – was it something Natalie did? something Natalie didn’t do? – along with trying to protect what’s left of her shattered family, Maelynn’s anger at her brother as well as her own loss (one of the victims was her boyfriend). Each voice was fantastic and raw and I felt every single emotion right along with the characters.

I recently read Kelley Armstrong’s Aftermath (be sure to check back soon for my review), another school shooting novel. Sadly this has become an all too timely topic. While I enjoyed that book, The Hidden Side really put into perspective what the family of the shooter goes through and it was like a punch to the gut every time Natalie attempted to buy groceries. They received the nastiest hatemail, reporters practically set up camp on their lawn, their car was even spray painted with awful things no parents should ever have to see. While reading I kept thinking back to a novel I read in 2016, Angela Pisel’s With Love From the Inside. Though the circumstances are different (in this one a mother is on death row for killing her baby), the ending to both books took my breath away. I won’t give away any spoilers, but don’t go into either novel expecting a miraculous last-minute discovery of a new piece of evidence.

Heidi has done it yet again. The Hidden Side is a hefty novel that somehow packs even more within its pages: loss, intrigue, faith, bullying, rape, Heidi certainly doesn’t shy away from any topic and each one worked together to create a magnificent book. Though it’s definitely not an easy read, it’s a powerful read and one I couldn’t tear myself away from. I fell hard for Heidi’s debut and her newest proves she’s not a one trick pony. The Hidden Side was excellent and heartbreaking and I am so excited to see what she does next.

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Total Bravery by Piper J. Drake

Total Bravery by Piper J. Drake
Pub. Date: April 24, 2018
Source: Finished paperback via publisher (Thank you, Forever!)
Summary: As the newest recruit at Search and Protect, Raul has a lot to prove. Luckily, he’s got the best friend and partner a man could ask for: a highly trained, fiercely loyal German Shepherd Dog named Taz. Together, Raul and Taz make an unbeatable team. But their first mission in Hawaii really puts them to the test when an international kidnapping ring sets its sights on the bravest woman Raul’s ever met . . .

Mali knows her latest job has put one hell of a target on her back. And on this small island paradise, there’s nowhere to hide. With a service dog like Taz, Mali feels safe. Sharing close quarters with a smoldering muscle-for-hire like Raul, she feels something else – an unexpected wave of desire. Raul feels it too. But when the kidnappers make their move, he’s got to turn that slow-burning passion into hard-hitting action – and save the life of the woman he loves.
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense

Summer is made for romance and I have been so spoiled lately with some absolutely swoon-worthy packages! When Total Bravery arrived at my door, I actually set aside the book I was in the middle of because I was so intrigued – also, hahaha, I think German Shepards are the most terrifying dogs (as a Pittie mama I see the irony in that) and told Matt this series must be horror instead of romance.

Raul is the newest Search and Protect recruit and his first day starts with a bang. He receives a call from a frightened woman, a woman claiming to be the sister of his friend Arin, a fellow Search and Protect member. With Arin out on a mission, Raul readily agrees to help Mali; he can hear the terror and panic in her voice.

With his Shepard partner Taz, Raul heads to the beaches of Hawaii trying to track down a woman he advised to blend in…while he himself is most definitely standing out. It’s up to Raul to protect this woman, a task made especially difficult and dangerous after Search and Protect learn that, not only has the rest of Mali’s research team been taken, but the men who took them? They show no concern whatsoever for discretion. Looking at a small multi-million dollar payout from the university for their ransom, these men need Mali and they’ll stop at nothing to get her.

Total Bravery was my introduction to this series (and Piper’s work, for that matter!) and I had a blast right from the start. While I wish there would be been a teensy bit more backstory as to who/what S&P is, I caught on fairly quickly, though I’m sure it would have helped to have read the previous three novels first.

The action gets going from the first page and doesn’t really let up which made for an extremely fast and intense read. Though the story focuses on Raul and Mali (and Taz), other characters have their moments and I loved getting to know the rest of the team..and their canine partners, obviously!

The one issue I had with this one was the romance. I’m a BIG fan of slow burns and I’ll give Total Bravery a slight pass because it was so short (less than 300 pages), but Raul and Mali started going at it almost immediately. I get that it’s a literal life-or-death situation and emotions are heightened, but come on, guys. I will say though, that Raul’s struggle with his attraction to Mali was really great to read and watch play out. She’s Arin’s little sister, Arin is his best friend. This inner turmoil was made even more enjoyable (how sadistic does that make me sound??) to read once Arin returned from her mission.

Although I would have loved to get a bit more backstory about Search and Protect, I understand I’m coming in at the fourth installment. Readers who had started at the beginning won’t have any issues at all. Total Bravery was an action-packed, highly readable, intense ride that was over all too soon. Great characters, a gorgeous Hawaiian setting, and an entire kennel of dogs made this a book I truly couldn’t put down and I can’t wait to read more!

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currently..

READING Heidi Chiavaroli’s latest, The Hidden Side! I mentioned it in last week’s post on May releases I can’t wait to read – her 2017 debut was one of my most absolute favorite books of the year and I was thrilled to received an ARC of her newest! I’m a good chunk of the way through and it’s another fantastic read.

WATCHING I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not – Matt and I have been watching Cheers for the first time and we’re loooving it!! We’ve been tearing through the season and are currently on season 9!

LISTENING I’m about to start Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing on audio. Please tell me I’m not the only person who hasn’t yet read this one!! Podcast-wise, I recently discovered Jamie Ivey‘s The Happy Hour, a Christian podcast that features Jamie and a guest simply chatting for an hour. Her guests are bloggers, authors, celebrities, activists, and the episodes honestly feel like I’m sitting around having coffee with friends. I started with the Candace Cameron Bure episode and instantly fell in love. I’m also crazy excited about season 2 of The Bible Binge! It premiered this past Sunday and yessss!!

THINKING TGIF seriously. It was a short work week for me, but even with an extra day off it felt ten time longer than normal. Between a new client coming on board, helping to set up newer employees with access to different programs, and having had someone out a week for surgery has kept me busy, busy, busy and I couldn’t be happier to say hello to the weekend. Also, it’s been raining and thunderstorming and if you know me, you know NOTHING makes me happier than storms!

ANTICIPATING The weekend! For both good and ehhhh reasons. The good: tomorrow is not only Cars & Coffee but it’s also a local spring festival and I’m pretty excited! I really need to get some plants for the yard. Then Sunday is Mother’s Day and my family has been doing the Race for the Cure for YEARS. The not-nearly-as-exciting part is we recently switched cell/internet/cable providers and Monday a guy is coming to hook everything up. Matt and I will both be here for that (aka Matt will be with him while I’ll be hiding in a room with the pups lol). So basically any free time this weekend will be spent cleaning.

DRINKING I was doing a grocery run one day and, just like books, I’m a total sucker for interesting packaging. I saw a line of new coffee called 1850 with vintage, old timey blends like Pioneer and Lantern Glow. It had my name written all over it and without a second thought I grabbed a bag. WELL. Joke’s on me, turns out it’s a new line from Folgers (which I love) that’s targeted at millennials. To be honest, as much as I love regular Folgers, this new brand is…not my thing. Lately my coffee has been more creamer than coffee ha. This millennial is not a fan.

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Cinnamon-pecan coffee cake

There’s something about Sundays that sets my little baker heart all aflutter. I love waking up super early (think 4:30-5) when Matt and the pups are still asleep and it’s just me in a quiet, dark house. Now that the weather has finally (!!) turned, birds are up and about, and the only thing better than sitting on the porch with something warm fresh from the oven while watching the sun rise is waking up to the smell of that something baking.

I’m an oatmeal fiend. I love it savory, I love it sweet, I love it chilled overnight. When I recently bought a new container, I noticed there were two recipes on the back: one for chewy oatmeal raisin cookies and the other for cinnamon-pecan coffee cake. uh…yum, right? (Also, whoops, sorry if you saw my instagram stories while I wake baking.. I just now realized I bought the Giant Eagle brand, not Quaker Oats!)

While I love a good oatmeal cookie, I decided to try the coffee cake first. Seriously, this was the easiest cake ever – and SO delicious.

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake
from Giant Eagle

Ingredients
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. oats
3/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. chopped pecans
2 large eggs
1 c. milk
1/3 c. oil
cooking spray

Topping
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped pecans
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and pecans. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and oil. Stir into dry ingredients until just moistened.
3. Pour into a greased 8-inch square baking dish. (Obvs, as you can tell from my photo I went with a round one #sorrynotsorry.)
4. Combine ingredients for topping in a small bowl and sprinkle over top.
5. Bake for about 35 minutes.

There you have it! Easy peasy, right? Talk to me: do you love baking? Am I crazy for waking up so early??