Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #ContemporaryFiction THE SHADE UNDER THE MANGO TREE by Evy Journey

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading The Shade Of The Mango Tree by Evy Journey

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This book was not as I expected from the blurb.  I did enjoy much of it, even though I was expecting to read about human relationships in general, travel, adventures in and the cultures of countries far away; however, this aspect of it does not start until Part 5, at 72% in the Kindle version.  For the most part, this book is a romance.

Luna and Lucien are two rather humourless, intense young people, both so introspective that I felt the powerful love between them was more about seeing a reflection of themselves in each other.  They meet because Luna leaves her journal in a café they both frequent, and Lucien finds and reads it.  I liked the beginning of the book, when Luna is young and spends her summers with her beloved grandmother in Hawaii; this came alive for me, making me feel nostalgic for a place I had never been to, which is always a good sign.  The grandmother was lovely, and I enjoyed reading about the life there.  As Luna grows older, falls in love for the first time and discovers secrets about her family, her naïveté is a little irritating, and I found Lucien’s obsession with her and her journal a little creepy.

I could easily have skipped the drawn-out detail about their love affair to get to by far the most interesting part of the book: Luna’s experiences in Cambodia.  I had limited knowledge about this country, and what I read made me want to find out more, so this certainly ticked a box.  

As for the writing itself, it flows very well, and the author writes nicely, though I found the dialogue rather unrealistic, particularly between Luna and Lucien. Much of the book is written in journal entry and letters between the two main characters, a structure I like, and alternates between their two points of view.  I found the main characters too bland to care much what happened between or to them, but this is only personal taste; other readers may see this story as a beautiful romance.  Had there been more about Hawaii and Cambodia and less about Lucien and Luna’s self-absorption, I might have loved it.

Book description

After two heartbreaking losses, Luna wants adventure. Something and somewhere very different from the affluent, sheltered home in California and Hawaii where she grew up. An adventure in which she can also make some difference. She travels to a foreign place where she gets more than she bargained for.

Lucien, a worldly, well-traveled young architect, finds a stranger’s journal at a café. He has qualms and pangs of guilt about reading it. But they don’t stop him. His decision to go on reading changes his life.

Months later, Luna and Lucien meet at a bookstore where Luna works and which Lucien frequents. Still hurting from her losses, Luna finds solace in Lucien’s company and his tales of world travel.

Inspired by Lucien, she goes to Cambodia. What she goes through in one of its rice-growing villages defies anything she could have imagined.

An epistolary tale of courage, love and loss, and the bonds that bring diverse people together.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Of #YoungAdult #Mythology series BLOOD OF TREES by @WriterRSJ

Blood of TreesBlood of Trees by Rennie St. James

4 stars

Blood Of Trees is book three of the spin-off series of Atlantic Island: Guardian Books which is an expansion of Fred Shernoff’s Atlantic Island trilogy. Written for the young adult market, they feature time travel and a Mayan myth mystery.

This book was my favourite of the three book series, because the conclusive format brought together the threads from the other stories. I felt that I understood more about the Mayan history and myths too. The second story thread about saving the universe was less clear to me and I don’t think I ever really grasped that aspect of the storyline. However, that may have been because I haven’t read the original Atlantic Island stories.

Although this is the end of the trilogy from this author, the main protagonist’s tale will be continued by Fred Shernoff in an Atlantic Island II story.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

Time is running out for Scout Ainsley to save the world…and choose a college.

The artifacts continue to bring new powers. They also bring new enemies. He still has two more to find, but he has few friends left to help him. Trust doesn’t come easily to the former Atlantic Island soldier with memories of war and death still haunting his nights and days.

Scout’s journey isn’t over yet, and a new sacrifice is required. Blood must be spilled.
The question is whether Scout can survive his senior year and become the Guardian or if his past will destroy his future. 

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Thriller A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF LEAH BRAND by @LucindaEClarke

Today’s team review is from Karen. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Karen has been reading A Year In The Life Of Leah Brand by Lucinda E Clarke

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His goal was to make her think she was losing her mind and he was succeeding. It took the help of others to accomplish his goal and left Leah in a situation where she did not know who she could confide in about what was happening to her. Making blue stuffed bunnies giving me the creeps now.

Leah Brand was happy for short period of time with her husband and two babies, until tragedy struck, and she was left widowed, childless, and grieving for her loss. She also had her own injuries to overcome. It was a long road to regain her strength and get her life back to a new normal. When she runs into Mason Brand, literally, a new life is set in front of her and she’s happy again, but that all changes two years into the marriage and a new loss for her new family. Things begin to change for Leah, and she’s being convinced that she is losing her mind.

I really enjoyed reading this book and did not put it down until I finished it at 2:45 AM. It is a story of deception, betrayal, strange happenings, and a woman that just wants to have a happy life and be loved. The things that Leah is put through would make anyone think they are going crazy. The characters in this story kept me wondering who was setting Leah up even when I thought I knew, by the time I got to the end of the story, I was still questioning everything I read. I love a story like this. The suspense of the story had the pages turning and my interest in the book for the entire read. I give this story a 5-star review and hope that I can get true and final answers about this story. It left me wanting so much more.

Book description

Leah’s nightmare began the day the dog died.

A few years earlier a fatal car crash took the lives of Leah’s beloved husband and their two babies, leaving her disabled. Life looked bleak. She was approaching forty, unemployed, broke and desperate.

Then she met Mason. He was charming, charismatic, persuasive, and a successful businessman, well respected in the community. His teenage daughter did nothing to welcome Leah into the family, but life is never perfect.

Then, two years into her second marriage, Leah Brand’s world is turned upside down; inanimate objects in the house move, her clothes are left out for the rubbish collection, pieces of furniture change places, there are unexplained noises and hauntings.

As the disturbances increase, everyone accuses Leah of losing her mind. Soon she begins to doubt herself and she starts to spiral down into a world of insanity. Is she going mad, or is someone out to destroy her? And if so, why?

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #ContemporaryFiction GRACE & SERENITY by @AnnalisaCrawf #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Cathy, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Cathy has been reading Grace & Serenity by Annalisa Crawford

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This was quite a dark, although sensitively addressed story, and one that emphasises how easily someone can get sucked in to situations they feel unable to control.

Grace was just sixteen when she met Neil, and not much older when she became pregnant. Neil had charmed Grace from the beginning but she saw another side of him when she told him she was expecting their child. He didn’t want to know and made his feelings plain. This was the first sign of his true character and a precursor of what was to come.

A moment ago I was fifteen, lying on my bed watching Rihanna and Katy Perry on YouTube, my legs swinging in time with the music.

A moment ago I was meeting Neil for the first time, at some stupid party.

Run, run away.

In an about face, Neil decides to take responsibility and asks Grace to marry him. Grace’s plans for university morph into dreams of a happy home life with a loving husband and beautiful baby, but real life is nothing like she imagined. Instead Grace becomes exhausted with a fussy baby and no help from her husband who acts like he’s still single.

Grace descends into an abusive and manipulating relationship, which sees Neil’s cruelty and deviousness escalate, making it look like Grace is at fault. Although Grace tries to take back control of her life, things get even worse as Grace feels betrayed by her parents and spirals into a desperate situation that includes homelessness, alcohol abuse, prostitution, physical and mental abuse.

Grace and Serenity is hard hitting, shocking and emotional. Events are seen through Grace’s eyes  in all their stark reality. Annalisa Crawford pulls no punches in this all too plausible and heartbreaking story. The writing is full of imagery with a touch of the paranormal and without going into unnecessary, gratuitous details, evoking a myriad of emotions.

It’s a compelling story and, although I couldn’t see how, I really hoped Grace would somehow get her life back on track. 

Book description

Living on the streets is terrifying and exhausting. Grace’s only comforts are a steady stream of vodka, and a strange little boy who’s following her around.

At nineteen, Grace has already had a child and endured an abusive marriage. But she’s also had her baby abducted by her vengeful husband and been framed as a neglectful mother. Even her own parents doubted her version of the story. So she did the only thing that made sense to her—run away.

The streets are unforgiving. Winter is drawing in. And Grace isn’t prepared for the harsh realities of survival. At her very bleakest, a Good Samaritan swoops into her life and rescues her. With a roof over her head and food in her stomach, she longs to see her baby again.

But nothing ever comes for free.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Anthology Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al @marysmithwriter

Today’s team review is from Alex.

#RBRT Review Team

Alex has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al

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This is a remarkable venture.  Twenty-two writers in the Galloway region of Scotland wrote first hand of their feelings and experiences of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

These personal accounts cover the twelve weeks of the first national lockdown in the UK: March 23rd until June 15th – with many referencing the weeks beforehand where the situation rapidly morphed from a vague interest to shock.

Most of the authors are, like me, retired and perhaps that is why I identify so readily with the sentiments expressed here through quite remarkable prose and poetry. Many of the contributors speak of the contradictions they feel initially during lockdown as they appreciate the rural landscape and wildlife whilst so much suffering is evident elsewhere.

There’s anger, resentment, love, friendship and a desperate boredom. 

Reading this book kindled memories that had already begin to tarnish with time. It’s a remarkable account of the day-to-day lives of people at the start of the pandemic and it’s such a comfort to know that others had felt exactly as I had. It’s a book I’ll reference in the future to recall the way things really were for us.  It’s a keepsake.

The individual voices come through clearly and the writing is varied but always powerful, moving, reflective and (frequently) laced with humour.

Above all, it’s a very good read.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Vintage #Mystery HIGH WIRE IN NUALA by @harrietsteel1

Today’s team review is from Cathy, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Cathy has been reading High Wire In Nuala by Harriet Steel

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The racecourse in Nuala was busy, but not for the racing. The Russian circus had come to town with its colourful wagons and big top. Excitement had built with the appearance of posters advertising trapeze artists, jugglers and high wire, even a snake charmer—de Silva’s dislike of the reptiles causing him to shudder at the thought—along with several other acts.

It was full house for opening night and all was going well with the dance troupe opening the show, followed by the rest of the acts, until there was what looked like a terrible accident during the high wire walk. Inspector Shanti de Silva was in the audience with his wife, Jane and their friends, Doctor and Mrs Hebden, so de Silva and Dr Hebden were able to be first on the scene.

“So tense that you could almost touch it, a hush had fallen over the audience. The low, pulsing beat of the drums heightened the apprehension that filled the air. Every time Tatiana paused, there were gasps of alarm. A pain throbbed behind de Silva’s eyes. He felt as if he was making the slow walk with her. At last, the end of the wire was not far away. Tatiana turned her head a fraction towards the audience; he glimpsed a smile of mischievous triumph on her face. She took another step closer to the tower, and the audience exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Soon she would be safe. Clapping began to swell.
And then it died.”

De Silva suspects this was no accident and that he was looking at a murder, but wonders if his hands are tied as his superior, Archie Clutterbuck, believes the suspicious death of a foreigner isn’t a matter for the Nuala police. But as de Silva was questioning the circus folk another body was discovered.

High Wire in Nuala is another enjoyable mystery, set in the evocatively described Ceylon of the 1930s, capturing the sense of place and the contrast between cultures. The rich, multicultural way of life is still evident but also with the possibility of changes on the horizon. It was lovely once again to get reacquainted with the engaging characters at the heart of the series.

The well thought through plot unfolds at a steady pace as de Silva’s investigation leads him to uncover much more than he initially expected.

Book description

Much to the delight of the locals, a colourful Russian circus rolls into Nuala, but the fun ends abruptly when, on the opening night, a tragic accident takes place.
Shanti de Silva and his wife, Jane are among the crowd to witness the accident. Or was it an accident? Inspector de Silva senses murder, and soon, he’s juggling with the evidence. Will the trail lead to the circus’s dashing stunt rider and master of horse, Alexei Goncharov, or to Alexei’s brother Boris, its boisterous ringmaster? Throw a string of jewel thefts and some deadly snakes into the mix and the list of suspects grows.
De Silva will need to keep his wits about him to unravel yet another absorbing puzzle in this charming and addictive mystery series set in the 1930s in exotic Ceylon.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Family Drama BLIND TURN by @caraachterberg

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Blind Turn by Cara Achterberg

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The book description gives an idea of the bare bones of the story, which is not very complicated, at least on the face of it. The novel follows the aftermath of a terrible accident, although perhaps not a totally ‘accidental’ accident, as the girl driving, Jess, was ‘allegedly’ texting while driving. The girl, who suffers a concussion, can’t remember anything about the accident, but her friend Sheila, who was with her in the car, has plenty to say. The victim is a well-known town coach and a friend and mentor of the girl’s father. Let’s say there’s not much love lost for the girl and her family in the town (Jefferson, Texas) after that happens. The novel falls into the categories of family drama (or women’s stories, as the story is told by the two women, Liz, the mother, and Jess, her daughter, in the first-person) as well as a coming of age story. Jess is only sixteen when the accident happens, and she grows up considerably during the next few months, while she discovers who her real friends are, reorders her priorities, gains a new appreciation for both her parents, learns about guilt, and more than anything, about forgiveness. She is not the only one who grows up in the process, and her mother also learns a lot about herself and about those around her.

I’ve mentioned some of the themes discussed in the book, and there are others: disappointed expectations, second chances, the risks of texting and driving (of course), parenting, split-up families, the nature of guilt and forgiveness, the way all lives are interconnected and all actions have consequences, unplanned parenthood, looking after the elderly (especially our parents)… This is not a novel full of secrets and twists, devious characters and bizarre motives, but rather one that we could imagine happening to our own relatives and/or friends (or ourselves). That is one of its strengths. The plot does not require any suspension of disbelief (or not much. At times, I wondered if in real life things wouldn’t have got even more difficult for those involved, and especially some of the male characters seem very understanding and forgiving, although that is refreshing), and as the book is not heavy on details or descriptions, it is even easier to imagine its scenario taking place around us.

I liked all (or most) of the characters. Although I have little in common with Liz or Jess, I found them both easy to empathise with. They are not perfect but are fundamentally good people trying to get on, and they love each other deeply, though at times it might not be that evident even to themselves. The rest of the characters are also pretty decent despite their flaws, and this is not a book where good and evil are clearly separated. Sometimes a mistake can have terrible consequences, and sometimes good people can do terrible things. If I had to choose some of my favourites, I quite liked Katie, Liz’s sister; her friend Avery; their neighbour, Dylan; Ellen, the counsellor; and Fish, a boy Jess’s father knows. Both of their love interests are endearing, although at times they appear a touch too perfect (but things happen that qualify that impression), and even the characters whose behaviour is not exemplary are not despicable. Through the main characters’ narrations we get to share in their doubts, hesitations, fears, defence-mechanisms, disappointments, expectations, hopes, guilt feelings; and it’s impossible not to wonder what we’d do in their place. I have no children, but I could easily imagine what Liz might feel like, and as somebody who’s driven for years and has been lucky enough not to be involved in any serious accidents (none involving injuries), Jess’s plight was instantly recognisable. Their thoughts and their emotions felt true, and the way they behave and eventually grow suits perfectly the kind of human beings they are.

The use of the first-person narration by the two main female characters works well, as we get both sides of the story, with access to more background into the changes and the actions of each character than the other has, and it also provides us with some distance from each woman and an outsider perspective on them, and we come to realise that they are more alike than they think. The author is both skilled and thoughtful enough to avoid common-places, and she does not give her characters an easy way out. They have to work through their issues and earn the hard lessons they learn. Saying that, I loved the ending that manages to be both, open and hopeful.

The writing flows easily, and although the novel is not full of action or a page-turner in the standard sense, there are very emotional moments. We become so involved in the lives of the characters that it’s difficult to put the book down, as we care too much for them to rest until we know what happens. I read a review written by somebody from Jefferson, Texas, who felt somewhat disappointed because she had expected to recognise some of the landmarks, so beware if you have similar expectations. On the other hand, I got a good sense of what it felt like to live there (or at least in the Jefferson of the novel) and to know the characters personally, and that worked perfectly well for me.

I thought I’d share a few of the passages I highlighted (although, remember mine was an ARC copy, so there might be some slight changes in the final version):

Why does forgiveness require a sacrifice? That piece of Christianity never made sense to me. That sounds more like making a deal than offering forgiveness.

I am the roadrunner, running in thin air, moments from smacking into reality.

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a dystopian novel being controlled by a cosmic author who makes the characters do things no one would ever dream they would do —especially themselves.

I am different too. I am finished withholding forgiveness and clinging to my anger and fear like some kind of sick armor to shield my heart.

I recommend this novel to readers who love realistic/plausible coming-of-age stories and family dramas that don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything right or easy for the characters while at the same time avoiding unnecessary twists used simply for effect. If you’re looking for an inspiring story you can connect with and characters you’d love to have as neighbours or friends, this is your book. There is heartache, tears, and also a process of growth and lessons to be learned, and you’ll feel better for having read it. And what more can we ask for! (Oh, I almost forgot! There are dogs as well!)

Book description

In the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident, a mother and daughter must come to terms with the real meaning of forgiveness.

Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter. Jessica is an honor-student, track star, and all-around good kid. So how could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.

Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she once rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband. Jessica faces her angry peers and her own demons as she awaits a possible prison sentence for an accident she doesn’t remember.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Of THE DILAPIDATED DETECTIVES by Paul Weinberger

THE DILAPIDATED DETECTIVES (Warning: contains jeopardy, treachery and comedy) by [Paul  Weinberger]THE DILAPIDATED DETECTIVES by Paul Weinberger

3.5 stars

The Dilapidated Detectives contains three mystery stories, each one solved by semi-amateur sleuthing duo Claude and Marjorie.

The first story is set in a retirement home and involves the suspicious death of one of the residents, while the second story concerns sex trafficking and the third involves a suspected serial killer. There is some humour as well as some good detective work from this pair of octogenarian investigators.

The actual investigations were the best part of this book, even if some of the action and events were rather convenient at times. However, I didn’t feel that choice of narrative style supported the solid mystery base. There tended to be a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ of the story from an all seeing omnipotent narrator which led to some confusing head hopping in places, while the quantity of cliches used took away the opportunity for the author to impress the reader with his own writing skills. 

I liked the idea of this book, but I really think it could benefit from the help of a good editor to lift  the way the story was told to the higher standard of the detective work.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

When an elderly lady is found dead in her bed at the Fern Lea retirement home, nobody suspects foul play. Nobody except two fellow residents, Claude Simmons and Marjorie Watson. Since no-one will listen to them, they form a detective duo and begin their own investigation – each at the age of eighty. They infuriate the retirement home manager, aggravate the local police force and along the way place themselves in considerable jeopardy. Against all the odds they solve the murder, leaving behind them a trail of considerable mayhem.

But they don’t stop there. Given their success, Claude and Marjorie are asked to investigate two more cases. They continue to develop their trademark technique of placing themselves in harm’s way and continue to create mayhem wherever they go. The perfect way to solve five more grisly murders.

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THE DILAPIDATED DETECTIVES (Warning: contains jeopardy, treachery and comedy) by [Paul  Weinberger]

Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #YoungAdult #HistoricalFiction BLOOD AND SILVER by Vali Benson

Blood and SilverBlood and Silver by Vali Benson

3 stars

Blood and Silver is a young adult historical fiction story set in the silver boom town of Tombstone, Arizona, in 1880.

This is the story of twelve-year-old Clarissa, the daughter of a prostitute who is shown kindness by the town doctor, the sheriff and in particular the notorious China Mary, a lady who has eyes and ears everywhere.

Clarissa is desperate to get her mother away from the brothel and its dangerous owner. With help from China Mary, Clarissa gets a job in a new hotel where she can earn her own money. But danger is never far away and Clarissa must be brave and work hard to make a better future for herself and her mother.

I was intrigued by the setting and the storyline. The author provided a good mix of real life and fictional characters. The writing style tended towards ‘telling rather than showing’ which was a shame and in some areas the plot felt rather rushed and over simplified. However, I am aware that I’m not the target audience for this. Overall a good story, but the style of delivery needed a bit more tweaking for this to stand out for me.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

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.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Of THE GROSTON RULES by Mark Binder, a coming-of-age American high school drama.

The Groston RulesThe Groston Rules by Mark Binder

3.5 stars

The Groston Rules is a coming-of-age American high school drama.

This is the final school year for Isaac and his diverse group of friends; it should be an easy coast to the end. However, a catalogue of disasters befalls the friends and their school; it looks like the only memories they’ll have of their final year will be bad ones. So they work together to create The Groston Rules and design their own commemorations.

Isaac and his friends are a lively bunch, the dialogue flows well, filled with teenage slang and plenty of swearing. I thought that the author did a great job making the male characters come alive; however, the female ones, particularly Helen, lacked enough feminine mannerisms to make them plausible.

Each chapter has a colour photo heading accompanied by a quote from one of the characters from the book, while the episodes are peppered with footnote markers; their explanations are located at the end of each chapter. I found the footnotes irritating when reading this in kindle format. In my opinion this style would suit a paperback version better. 

Overall, this is a humourous adolescent tale suitable for older young adult readers. Although I was invited to read this for review purposes, I know that I’m not the target audience. The story was okay, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

All they wanted was to get high and graduate…
Isaac, Adam, Helen, Charlie, Sean, Jésus and Rover had planned on coasting through their final semester at Ashby Bryson High. They called themselves Team Bomb Shelter, and their plan was simple, get stoned, play video games, get into college, and get the hell out of Groston.
Instead, they get caught up in chaos.
Adam assaults two football stars. Fat Charlie’s father nearly dies of a heart attack. Jesus can’t make his art while chauffeuring his siblings. Rover’s never had a date. Helen’s house is destroyed in a flood. Sean is coming out of the closet. And Isaac can’t get into college to save his life.
The last straw is when Ashby Bryson High School is suddenly shut down, and they’re bussed to Fectville Regional, which sucks. Big time.
But every time Team Bomb Shelter gets knocked down, they get up again, come together, and solve their problems. They throw the rules out the window and make up their own.

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