Category Archives: Books

Author Interview: Khardine Gray

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  1. How did you get into writing?

    My earliest memory of writing was when I was about 11 years old. I loved reading books like Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew. I remembered thinking on one occasion that I wished one of the stories had ended differently. Then it occurred to me that I could try to create my own stories.

That was my light bulb moment and there hasn’t been a day that passed since I didn’t write something. Even if it was for ten minutes.

I have stacks of handwritten books from my childhood and teenage imagination that I plan to revisit one day. In 2015 I thought about trying to get published, so I sent off my manuscript and was completely shocked when it was accepted. My life has changed immensely since then.

2. How can authors develop an emotional connection between their readers and their characters?

I think it’s important to build that connection with my readers. I do newsletters each week so that I can keep in touch. In those I always let my readers know how much I appreciate them and how I love to hear from them. I try to find topics that they like to discuss and encourage them to connect . My husband pointed out once that I’m supposed write for my readers. If I don’t then it would be better to just imagine up my stories in my head and not bother to write them down. He was right. My readers are like gold dust to me and they inspire me to continue doing what I love the most. 51XAYNG4eAL._SY346_

In regards to my characters, I think of them as pieces of my imagination I’ve given life to. They are very much a part of me and are a result of everything I’ve experienced internally, and externally in the world around me.

The same way I love my readers, I love my characters and I do everything to make my characters as real as possible so that emotional connection can be made. I spend a lot of time creating my characters and I go as far as listing down everything about them. That way I know exactly what they would do in different situations. How they feel, what they would say, what effect different things and people would have on them.

My aim is to create memorable characters so that my readers will never forget them. 

  1. What’s the best summer beach read? If you could take that book anywhere in the world, where would you go to read it?

I like Susan Elizabeth Phillips. My favorite book by her is Natural Born Charmer. I’d read that on the beach for sure and I’d love to read it on one of the amazing beaches on Okinawa Island, Japan. I’d be right at home reading there. It’s truly beautiful and has that scenic landscape worthy of a screen saver.

  1. What makes romance your genre of choice? Are any of your characters based on personal experiences?

    I love writing about love and falling in love. I’m one of those people who values love and it fascinates me to create characters who have this intense magical feeling that draws them together.

         I think I identify a lot with my characters in I Only Have Eyes For You. grey 3

        Of all my books that’s probably the one where I’ve mingled a few of my personal experiences with the fiction world I created. I guess I am a lot like my heroine, Savannah too. We love shopping, pizza, our family and friends.

Savannah made this big life change that would allow her to follow her dreams and not just do things because she was good at it. She wanted to do something that made her happy, something that truly represented her. I feel that I did this with my decision to be an author.

 I am good at a lot of things and I have a great academic background, but I felt that I reached a stage in my life where it was time to do what made me happiest. Savannah travelled to Japan and things took off for her from there. I submitted my manuscript to a publisher and that’s when things changed for me.

5. There can sometimes be a bit of stigma surrounding romance readers and writers. Have you ever had any negative experiences resulting from your profession as a romance writer?

I haven’t really had much negativity I think it’s because I tend to share what I do with those who I know will be interested. There was someone though who once said to me that writing romance will never be a stable career. I knew different because I know authors who make six figures a month. gray 1

Aside from that I tend to not worry about what others think of me. I’m definitely in my element when I write and writing romance is a craft that comes from within. I write from my soul, knowing that gives me the strength to deflect any negativity that may come my way.

 

For more from Khardine Gray, check out her website.

Book Review: Fireworks by Katie Cotugno

Title: FireworksFireworks_JKT

Author: Katie Cotugno

Genre: Young Adult

Rating: 4/5 Stars




 

It was always meant to be Olivia. She was the talented one, the one who had been training to be a star her whole life. Her best friend, Dana, was the level-headed one, always on the sidelines, cheering her best friend along.

But everything changes when Dana tags along with Olivia to Orlando for the weekend, where superproducer Guy Monroe is holding auditions for a new singing group, and Dana is discovered too. Dana, who’s never sung more than Olivia’s backup. Dana, who wasn’t even looking for fame. Next thing she knows, she and Olivia are training to be pop stars, and Dana is falling for Alex, the earnest, endlessly talented boy who’s destined to be the next big thing.

It should be a dream come true, but as the days of grueling practice and constant competition take their toll, things between Olivia and Dana start to shift . . . and there’s only room at the top for one girl. For Olivia, it’s her chance at her dream. For Dana, it’s a chance to escape a future that seems to be closing in on her. And for these lifelong best friends, it’s the adventure of a lifetime—if they can make it through.

Set in evocative 1990s Orlando, New York Times bestselling author Katie Cotugno’s Fireworks brings to life the complexity of friendship, the excitement of first love, and the feeling of being on the verge of greatness.




 

Katie Cotugno just released a new book and of course I had it pre-ordered months ago! Fireworks fell a little short for me though, compared to her previous novels How to Love and 99 Days, yet I still devoured this book in a matter of days because Cotugno’s writing is so easy and fun to read.

The characters in Fireworks weren’t as easy for me to love as characters in her previous books. I felt like everyone was unreachable, like they were on a pedestal and I couldn’t relate to them easily. Dana came from a not so well off family, so she should have been easy to relate to, but I wanted to see more of her home life. What did her mother think of her leaving town to become a girl in a pop group? Did her mom even notice she left? And why didn’t she bring a swim suit with her to Orlando?! Don’t Floridians always have swimsuits with them no matter what?!

The romance was just enough in this, I was kind of worried it would be lacking based on the plot, but I was very pleased in the end. I found myself putting a ton of trust in Alex, more trust than I’ve ever put in a male character. He was so kind and patient with Dana while she was going through her problems in Orlando and back home in Jessel.

What I find funny is I never seem to like Cotugno’s main characters best friend. I hated Olivia so much. She came off as a backstabber from the beginning. We don’t see a great conclusion between ‘Dolivia’, but I think it’s the only conclusion that would have worked.

And that cover, Katie, keep doing the polaroid look on your books! Like 99 Days and this, they are so aesthetically pleasing! I’m loving all of her covers so much!

Though Dana doesn’t get a 100% happy ending, I like to believe that she was at least happy with her decisions. And I love that about all three of Cotugno’s books. She leaves them open-ended but without a cliffhanger. You know that the character is going to be all right, but they still have some conflict by the last sentence, just nothing major.

Overall, if you’re going to read anything by Cotugno, I’d read 99 Days or How to Love first. Fireworks doesn’t do Cotugno’s writing justice. However, I am so pumped for her next novel, Top Ten, that’s supposed to come out later this year.

 

May Wrap Up & June TBR

 

May Wrap Up

Shadowlith by Stuart Thaman

If you love fantasy and you’re looking for an up and coming author, you need to check this book out. It’s great for people who are trying to get into reading the fantasy genre and lovers of fantasy already. Check out my review here.

Fireworks by Katie Cotugno

Huge fan of Katie Cotugno’s writing! Sadly, this one fell short for me but it was devoured in about a week because I love her writing so much. If you’re going to read any of her books, my top recommendation is 99 Days. Review coming on my blog June 9th.

June TBR

I want June to be a decent reading month and I think I can manage 4-5 books. I don’t have Camp NaNo until July, so I plan on reading my heart out!

 

Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry- The second book in the Thunder Road series. I meant to finish this one in May but I didn’t feel like reading because I was sick for about a week and a half.

Long Way Home by Katie McGarry- The third book in the Thunder Road series! I’m just going to finish the series this month because I know they’re fun and easy reads.

Once and For All by Sarah Dessen- New Release from Sarah Dessen! This comes out June 6th, and I’m pumped up for this one!

Mann Cakes by Mysti Parker- My husband was at a book signing in April and he brought me home a copy of this from one of his author friends. She managed to sell out of this book! So cool!

Into the Deep by Samantha Young- This one was recommended to me by a friend and I decided to give the series a shot considering they take place in Ireland. I recently got my DNA test results back and found out I’m 24% Irish, so now I’m kind of obsessed with anything related to my ‘home country’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Shadowlith by Stuart Thaman

Title: Shadowlith (Book 1 in The Umbral Blade Series)1490375765404

Author: Stuart Thaman

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 Stars




 

Alistair the Fourth was a mighty general from a long-forgotten war. Four hundred years later, Alster Lightbridge is barely a shadow of his legendary namesake. Crippled and confined to his family’s estate, he spends his days dreaming of something larger than himself—something worthy of his name.

Encouraged by his tutor to explore the Lightbridge archive, Alster discovers a magical dagger with the power to cleave shadows from their bodies. Blade in hand, Alster finally understands his purpose, though he needs to find a four-centuries-old grave in order to fulfill it.




 

I don’t read fantasy… at all… but when my husband tells me that he’s putting out a YA fantasy novel, I have to read it! That being said, I’m going to try my best to make this review as unbiased as possible, though I do believe it is well deserving of a perfect 5/5 star review.

What I love to see is writer’s get better as they progress in their novels. This being Thaman’s second fantasy series, I believe it’s a huge step forward in his writing. If you were to compare this novel to his first book, you could tell more time and effort has been put forth.

It’s also an easier read, and there’s less characters to remember than the first fantasy series, The Goblin Wars. I’m used to reading contemporary YA where there are only a handful of characters to follow. Shadowlith has about six main characters to focus on. This allows you to feel more emotions for each character. Elsey was probably my favorite character (that survived) because of the changes she went through during the beginning of a book. She was so excited to get out of the town that she grew up in and go on an adventure with her friend, but then accidents happen and she realizes this adventure to find the Shadow King’s tomb is not for the faint of heart. I really hope in the second book that we see her grow up more and become a super badass female worrier.

Now the ending….

No spoilers ahead! I promise.

I felt like this book closed off on a good note. Let’s say if you didn’t want to read the rest of the books in the series, you could stop (but you don’t want to!) However, Thaman does set our characters up for a huge plot for the next book which I really loved.

Definitely, check this one out. Loved Alster and Elsey.

 

Trusting You and Other Lies Book Review

32441709Title: Trusting You and Other Lies

Author: Nicole Williams

Genre: Young Adult

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Publication Date: June 20, 2017




 

Phoenix can’t imagine anything worse than being shipped off to family summer camp. Her parents have been fighting for the past two years–do they seriously think being crammed in a cabin with Phoenix and her little brother, Harry, will make things better?
On top of that, Phoenix is stuck training with Callum–the head counselor who is seriously cute but a complete know-it-all. His hot-cold attitude means he’s impossible to figure out–and even harder to rely on. But despite her better judgment, Phoenix is attracted to Callum. And he’s promising Phoenix a summer she’ll never forget. Can she trust him? Or is this just another lie?




 

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

This was the cutest book! I loved the characters so much, and didn’t encounter anything that I hated about the book. So why didn’t I give it a perfect rating? I felt like it left me wanting more and a lot more. This book could have been way longer, I really wanted to see Phoenix and Callum’s relationship bloom a bit more and see how Phoenix interacted with other counselors.

This book was too short, I just wanted it to continue! Which, I guess is a good thing but I needed more Callum!

I thought the ‘family camp’ situation would be weird but it actually worked for this book.

By the end, the moral of the story is tied up with a nice bow, pulling the title and the plot together which I thought was fantastic. Also thought it was genius to name the character Phoenix and talk about her rising from the ashes.

Trusting You and Other Lies, is a fantastic read for your summer vacation! And because I’m a sucker for a beautiful cover, look at that one! It’s gorgeous!

 

 

Pucked by Helena Hunting Book Review

 

Title: Pucked (#1)24504274

Author: Helena Hunting

Genre: Romance/Comedy/New Adult

Rating: 3/5 Stars




 

With a famous NHL player for a step-brother, Violet Hall is well acquainted with the playboy reputation many hockey stars come with. She’s smart enough to steer clear of those hot, well-built boys with unparalleled stamina. That is until she meets the legendary team captain—Alex Waters.

Violet isn’t interested in his pretty, beat-up face, or his rock-hard six-pack abs. But when Alex inadvertently obliterates Violet’s previous misapprehension regarding the inferior intellect of hockey players, he becomes more than just a hot body with a face to match.

In what can only be considered a complete lapse in judgment, Violet finds out just how good Alex is with the hockey stick in his pants. But what starts out as a one-night stand, quickly turns into something more. Post-night of orgasmic magic, Alex starts to call, and text, and e-mail and send extravagant—and quirky—gifts, making him difficult to ignore, and even more difficult not to like.

The problem is, the media portrays Alex as a total player, and Violet doesn’t want to be part of the game.




 

Me and my friend really wanted to do a buddy read and after going to a local hockey game, we decided this would be a fun read. She’s breezed through the first three books, while I just finished the first. I must say, this book did hold my attention the entire time. There were never any boring parts, it was pretty fast pace but not in the ‘insta-love’ sense.

This isn’t your typical adult romance, it’s aimed toward the new adult crowd but not the ones looking for sappy romance. Violet is a tomboy-ish type of girl, and she’s not afraid to admit she pleasures herself, after all, that’s where we first meet her. While she’s ‘jilling off’.

You don’t need to be a hockey fan (though hockey is my favorite sport) or even know anything about hockey to enjoy this book. It had just enough of the sport involved. You get to see Alex and Violet’s POV, and I really ended up loving them, though Alex was my favorite. Violet was a little too blunt about sexual endeavors for my taste.

I was planning on giving this book 4 stars, but it fell short in the epilogue (Alex’s POV) because I felt like the ending was rushed and forced. It should have ended on the final chapter and then picked up in book four (which I plan on reading next, I’m skipping two and three because they’re from different characters). The final part of this book was very cringeworthy, and made me feel really uncomfortable, though it was a happy ending. No cliffhanger at all.

What I loved the most about these books was the characters weren’t perfect. Alex, though sweet and romantic, had his flaws and made mistakes and Violet seemed like a girl who knew she wasn’t perfect but didn’t care anyway. She also didn’t want to need a man, but still accepted the love anyway.

If you’re looking for a cooky, romantic, sex-filled, funny story, this book is definitely for you! Looking forward to reading Forever Pucked (I bought it before I even finished this one)!

pucked.jpg

 

So You Finished Your Novel. Now what? (The Last July Update)

This week I finally finished my novel that I’ve been working on and off since the summer of 2013. I finished all the edits from my editor (my husband) and I’m not feeling too bad. Well, I wasn’t until I went to consider submitting it. This week, to my surprise, has been a rollercoaster of emotions over this manuscript.

You see, I felt pretty good about this novel until about 90% of the way through the edits and then I began second guessing myself. Is this book good enough? Have I literally just been rewriting my favorite books? What if I get rejected my first time? I don’t know how to take that.

My novel is my baby. A novel I struggled with reaching 50k during NaNoWriMo, and 70k for edits, has grown over 81k words! That amazes me! I pretty much scrapped the original document, I think there’s only 15% that resembles what it originally was.

Now what? I’ve made contact with a publisher and now we wait. The hard part is trying not to edit anymore. Literally, woke up this morning thinking, maybe I should change some things.

Luckily, the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo begins next Saturday, so that will take my mind off writing on my finished novel and concentrating on a new one. I’m pretty excited about this new one too! I pretty much have over half of it mapped out!

Have you ever submitted a manuscript? What part of the novel writing process is the scariest to you?

 

Sneak Peak at The Last July

In April of 2014, I did a session of Camp Nanowrimo where I started yet another novel that would go unfinished. This wasn’t my first attempt at Nanowrimo participation. I can’t believe three years later, I’ve finally finished this novel! Funny thing is, it’s nothing like the first draft! I switched the plot up (characters stayed the same) and added about 20k words. I’m feeling way better about this new version!

It’s currently undergoing edits, but I thought I would share with you the first chapter!

Hope you enjoy! If you haven’t checked out the YouTube playlist that I created for this novel, you can see it here and I also made a blog post about that a few weeks ago. If you’re into New Adult/Young Adult contemporary romance, I think you might enjoy this!

Also, I will be attempting both April and July’s Camp NaNoWriMo this year. Going to be working on a new project! I’ll keep you up to date on that when it begins!

 

The Last July

May

 

Chapter 1

 

“Bug spray?”

“Check.”

“Sunscreen?”

“Spray on and lotion, check.”

“Picture of your favorite person in the entire world?”

I grab the list from my best friend’s hand and roll my eyes. “I’m only going to be gone for two and a half months. Besides, it’s only Tennessee, I’m not even leaving the country.”

Janine flops back on the bed. “But you’re not going to have any cell service most of the time, so you might as well be on another planet! Do they even speak English in Tennessee?”

“Think you’re being a bit too dramatic?” I ask, going over my list by myself now. This is my third time checking everything. I’m pretty sure I’ve packed up my whole summer wardrobe and purchased every bottle of sunscreen I could find at Wal-Mart.

“No, I thought you grew out of summer camp! I figured this would be our last summer together before college, and we’d have one last hoorah.” She grabs my photo album off my nightstand, the one that I keep there year-round from past summers at Camp Arthur, my home away from home.

“You’ll be fine. We have a week once I get back to hang out before we go to college, and I’ll be coming home a few times to do laundry and see my parents. I can see you then,” I explain.

Janine grabs one of my folded blankets and tosses it at me. I thank her because it’s the one I was planning on taking with me anyway, a ratty old pink one that my grandma gave me when I was eight. I re-fold it and place it on top of my clothes and try to zip up the bag. It takes some force, but finally seals all the way shut after a few tries. I put it on the floor next to my sleeping bag and my backpack full of leisure stuff like books on my summer reading list that I haven’t gotten to and some nail polishes just in case my campers want to have a spa night. Spa nights at camp are some of the best nights at camp.

“Yuck, what the heck is this?” Janine asks, disgust written all over her face as she points to a picture in my scrapbook.

I jump on the bed and lean over her shoulder to see the picture. The memory brings a smile to my face.

“Leftover mashed potato mohawks,” I say proudly. My hair was so long last summer that I ended up winning the contest for my cabin. Four days after the game, I was still finding dried up potatoes in my hair. So worth it though.

“That doesn’t seem childish to you at all?” Janine asks, flipping the page.

“No, nothing is childish at camp. That’s the point, to have fun and do things you never get to do.”

“I would never put food in my hair,” Janine remarks, flipping through more of the photos. “What other ‘kid things’ do you do at this ‘camp’ place?”

“Rock climb, crafts, archery, swimming… there’s plenty to do, trust me. You’re really missing out,” I tell her, moving off of the bed to place all my stuff by the door. “There’s never a dull moment at camp.”

“Sounds strenuous. What about the boys? There has to be a handful of cute boys,” she asks, closing the photo album with a thud. Each page is so laden with photographs that the book weighs several pounds.

“Ha, I grew up with most of the guys there. No way would I ever be interested in them.”

She places the album back where it’s supposed to be and grabs her purse. “I wasn’t talking about you, I meant for me,” she says with a laugh.

She smiles mischievously before grabbing my sleeping bag and heading for the stairs. I shake my head, grab my other two bags, and head for the stairs.

When we hit the landing my mom comes out of the kitchen drying her hands on a towel. “Oh hey girls. I was just coming to make sure you were leaving on time, Penny.”

I love my mom dearly, but I hate when she calls me by my childhood nickname. Penny. It sounds cheap, whereas my full name, the name she gave me, Penelope, sounds ten times more mature. Typically, I ignore most people who shorten my name. It used to drive my high school teachers nuts, but lucky for them, I graduated. Once I’m in college, I can make damn sure no one calls me Penny – that cheap, easy excuse of a nickname.

“Am I never not on time?” I tease my mom, just as my phone alarm goes off telling me I need to head out to my car and get going.

She pulls me in for a hug. “Are you sure you can’t wait for your dad to get home? He really wanted to see you off,” she says.

I pull back from her and put on my backpack. “I can’t. I need to get there by three so I can get settled in before my we have our first staff dinner. I’m required to be there.”

If I hadn’t added on the requirement part, there’s no doubt mom would have made me wait for dad to get home from work, but she finally releases her hold on me and kisses my forehead.

“Be careful,” she tells me. “Check in with us when you can.”

“Don’t hold your breath for a phone call,” I tell her, and before she can scold me,     I pull out my package of stationery and stamps.

“What the heck is that?” Janine asks, feigning offense.

“If the campers can’t use phones, I’m not using mine either. I’m going old-school, snail mail.”

My mom smiles and pulls me in for another hug. “Have fun honey, we’ll miss you. And remember, you were a camper once, don’t try and scare the young ones with ghost stories,” she says.

“I would never!” I gasp, trying to keep the laughter from my voice for dramatic effect. “I would be the one trying to soothe them in the middle of the night if I did!”

“Alright, get out of here,” she says, smiling and swatting at me with her damp dishtowel.

“Oh, and mom,” I say, stopping at the front door. “If anything comes from Maryville, you’ll let me know, right?”

“Of course,” she says with a smile.

I thought I would have heard from Maryville a long time ago, while all my other friends were getting their own acceptance letters, but I guess that’s what I get for applying late. Now I’ll be waiting and cutting things close this summer with my school plans. It’s been Maryville or I’ll wait another semester to apply to another school, I chose Maryville because it’s just a short drive from camp, where I’d like to work every summer. Though, the next few months are the deciding factor for everything. I probably should have thought this through last summer.

Once Janine and I are at my car with all three of my bags loaded, she hugs me tightly too, almost tighter than my mom.

“Don’t do anything that I wouldn’t, Pen,” she says, pulling back and putting on her huge bug-eye sunglasses. Her bikini strings peak out of her tank top straps. Janine lives in swimsuits in the summer, whereas I live in hiking boots, gym shorts and old Camp Arthur tees.

“So, everything is fair game then?” I tease. Janine isn’t a prude by any means. Not even close.

“Way to add fuel to the fire, betch,” she fires back. I know Janine means well. She gets really defensive when she’s trying to hold back her real emotions. I just shake my head and tell her not to get into any trouble without me. She flips me the bird as I get into my car and pull out of the drive way. She keeps up the act until the last second and then waves a sad goodbye. I might just miss her more than she’ll miss me.

 

***

It’s a three hour drive from home to camp, one of those hours used to be pure hell because it’s all curvy back roads. It’s pretty easy to get to the camp, once you’re off the exit, there’s two right turns and you’re there. My mom made me bring an extra sprite and some crackers just incase I feel nauseous during the final part of my drive. Between my dads poor driving and being a backseat driver when I was a kid, I would always get sick the second we started on the dirt road. My mom liked to say it was early homesickness. I would let her believe what she wanted.

Every July since I was ten, I’ve gone to Camp Arthur. I know the place like the back of my hand. I could probably navigate the twisting and turning gravel pathways with a blindfold if I had to.

This year is different than all the others, and not just because I’m not an actual camper. This year, I’m in between, I’m a camper and a junior counselor. This year, I’ll be here for the whole summer. When I finally turn down the road for camp, I notice other things have changed too. A lot of the old gravel roads have been blacktopped, and they put in a pool to compliment the lake. The subtle difference are all needed upgrades, but they take away some of Camp Arthur’s rustic charm.

I don’t like change. Summer camps aren’t supposed to change. They’re supposed to look the same way they did when they were first built. Camp Arthur always made me feel like we were in the sixties or seventies, especially considering how old some of the furniture is in the common areas, parts of the cabins, and the bathrooms. Most of the bunks are made from wood and have names from previous campers carved in them too. If I look hard enough, I can probably find my name on six different bunks.

It’s strange being here without my parents dropping me off, I admit.

My parents were always the clingy type that insisted they come with me to my cabin to make up my bunk and make sure I got settled in. They would always talk my counselors’ heads off about the things I shouldn’t do and which activities I love. Why they thought a college-aged counselor cared about my sleeping habits and that I will refuse to eat on taco night was way beyond me.

As I readjust my duffel bag over my shoulder and walk toward the registration area to get my cabin assignment, I notice they’ve built a completely new welcome center that looks too modern next to the woods. I liked the old rustic one that was built long before I was born. I should have been prepared for the change though. When my parents and I received the promotional pamphlet in the mail, we were told the camp was being run under new ownership.

    Have the owners even been to a real summer camp? I wonder, taking in some of the more modern sights.

A new wooden sign hangs below the awning of the welcome center proclaiming, ‘Camp Arthur Est. 1974. Mountains of Possibilities’.

I just need to enjoy my final summer here as a CIT, a ‘counselor in training’. Who knows if I am going to be able to come back next summer as a legitimate counselor? The next two and a half months will decide that.

I walk inside the welcome center, the air conditioner on full blast and find a receptionist at a desk behind an open window like we’re in a doctor’s office. She looks bored out of her mind, flipping through Cosmopolitan. The front cover reads, “How to please a man, when you’re not on your knees.”

I clear my throat in order to get her attention.

She doesn’t look up from her magazine. “What’s up?” she asks tiredly.

Well aren’t we a happy camper? “I need to check in, I’m a junior counselor here for training,” I tell her.

“Aren’t you a little early?” she asks, finally putting her magazine down to check on the time.

“Just by 28 minutes.”

She let’s out an exaggerated breath and starts looking through papers on her desk, clearly not ready for the other ten or so people that should be showing up for training. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Penelope. I’m probably the only Penelope on your list,” I say, trying to get her to smile.

She doesn’t smile. She’s testing my patience as she continues to search the desk. Finally, she finds the paper she’s looking for. It appears that a coffee cup was sitting on it at one point because there’s a brown ring stain on it.

“Penelope… Penelope…. Ah, here you are,” says the worst receptionist ever hired, seems like she could use more training. “Cabin 6. Lucky you. You’ve got one of the new ones on the other side of camp. Air conditioning and everything. Enjoy.”

If the new owners of Camp Arthur are anything like this girl, I’m not sure I can survive two months working here for minimum wage. Growing up, I envied all of the employees here at Camp Arthur. They were all so kind and pleasant to be around. They treated me like a friend, not an incompetent child.

“Lucky me…” I sigh, ignoring the fact that my old cabin didn’t have air conditioning. I loved having the windows open and listening to the crickets and other animals at night. There’s something peaceful about a cabin with only four walls, a ceiling, and a floor, out in the middle of the woods. They always put the older girls further into the woods because the younger kids are too terrified of what goes bump in the night.

Miss Stickupmybum hands over my information, and I’m thankful I shouldn’t have to be around her much longer. I take the packet quickly and start walking away, but she stops me. My heart hammers in my chest at her tone that says, ‘I’m in charge.’ I hold my bag a little tighter.

“Don’t you need help finding it?” she asks. “I can walkie someone to take you there. You’re a bit too early, so everyone’s out doing their own thing. I think they’re all at the pool.”

“No, I’m good,” I tell her, not even bothering to look back when I open the door, and set off for the dirt path that leads to the wooden bridge. To be honest, I have no idea where my newly built cabin might be, but I want time to check things out before a counselor has full reign over me.

I cross the rickety bridge and walk by the mess hall, glancing in to see if it’s the same. Thankfully, it is, from what I can see.  I walk toward the trail that leads to the nature center, looking at a freshly painted sign that points to cabins six through ten. I’m glad Camp Arthur is expanding, but I worry that it won’t have the same camp feel to it when I become a counselor here. People come to camp to get away from the city and learn how to handle being without cell service or their normal daily routine, not to live in a luxurious cabin the size of a small house. Camp Arthur certainly does not need air conditioning or cell towers. Luckily, I haven’t seen a cell tower yet, though it wouldn’t surprise me to find one disguised as a tree.

“Hey!” shouts a friendly male voice. A guy wearing a pair of camo cargo shorts and a tie-dye t-shirt jogs over to me. Janine would shake her head in disgust at his mismatched patterns. His hair is shaggy brown and it almost curls into his eyes. It looks like he hasn’t had a haircut for a year, but it fits him. He’s wearing a headband with daisies poorly glued onto it, but something about it screams adorable and friendly. Adorable and not for me, because when he stands in front of me, I see he’s wearing a Counselor ID badge attached to his Camp Arthur lanyard, not a CIT. I can’t let myself get distracted by anyone. If I really want to work here after this summer, I need to keep my eyes on my goal.

“Uh, hi,” I say when he finishes catching his breath; he’s probably going to yell at me for walking through camp alone. I glance around to see if anyone else is coming or if it is just him. I’ve never seen him here in the summer’s prior as camper nor counselor; most of the counselors are repeats for at least four years, long enough for them to have a summer job through college and then move off to a job in the psychology or social work fields. Apparently, jobs like that love seeing ‘camp counselor’ on your resume.

“You lost? I can help you find your cabin,” he asks, his voice deeper than I anticipated.

“No, I’m fine. I’ve been here before,” I tell him as I continue onto the trail, not actually knowing if I’m heading in the right direction for once in my camp life, but I refuse to actually admit that out loud.

“Are you one of the new trainees?” he asks, catching up with me again, which is easy for him because his legs are so long. He’s literally the tall, dark, and handsome type.

“Yeah.” Why else would I be here? I want to add, but I’m pretty sure I’m still just a little upset from my experience with the camp receptionist. She makes the saying, misery loves company, a real thing.

“Cool, so I’ll see you later then?” he asks, coming to a stop and turning to head back to where he came from. A slight breeze ruffles his hair and he pushes it out of his eyes.

I smile at him. “Yeah, totally,” I reply. I’m glad he doesn’t question me further. My frustration from the annoyed receptionist is starting to wear off as I encounter more of camp life from a non-camper perspective.

The boy starts to walk back up the steep, dirt trail but turns around and my stomach does somersaults from the huge smile he gives me. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t get your name,” he says.

“Penelope,” I tell him quietly. He doesn’t hear so I try again a little louder and with more courage. “I’m Penelope.”

Something in his eyes brightens up, like I’ve told him the secret to living. “Penelope,” he repeats. “Nice to meet you! Glad to have you at Camp Arthur. I’m Sampson.”

***

I finally find the cabin I’ll be assigned to for the rest of the summer some time later. To my surprise, it matches the other cabins at the original part of camp, but it looks brand new. The grass hasn’t even grown around it yet. That means many muddy footprints will be tracked through the cabin. When I open the door, it’s quiet. One of the bottom bunks is made up with a pink and green comforter and sheet set, so I know the counselor who’s training me is already settled in.

“Hello?” I ask into the empty cabin, dropping my bags off on another bunk. “Anyone here?”

“Shh,” I hear faintly from another room followed by a chuckle.

I creep toward the voice and glance in another room that has an extra bunk with clothes, extra toiletries, and other items spread out around the room and…

“Holy crap, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m early.” I say, covering my eyes when I see a guy and girl quickly pulling their clothes on in the corner of the small room. The girl fumbles with the buttons on her polo, blushing while the guy on the other hand looks smugly pleased. He doesn’t bother speeding up his dressing routine.

“I’ll just… go wait outside.” I say, practically running out of the cabin. I hear the guy laugh followed by the sound of skin slapping skin hard, the girl scolding the guy I assume.

Five minutes later, the guy exits the cabin, a huge grin on his face. Even I want to smack that smug look off. “Welcome to camp, newbie,” he laughs.

“Thanks,” I mutter.

Once he’s out of sight, I hop off the picnic table and head back into the cabin, bracing myself for an even more awkward introduction. This time though, I knock hard on the main door before actually going in.

“Hey,” I say. “My name’s Penelope, I’m your junior counselor.”

She doesn’t look up at me, just keeps digging through her duffle bag. “You’re early,” the girl says coldly.

“Yeah, so I’ve been told,” I say. “Sorry about that. I wasn’t expecting to find that… whatever it was.”

“And I wasn’t expecting you, so we’re even,” she tells me, finally looking up.     “My name’s Viv. Welcome to camp. Let me give you a tour of our humble abode.

“This is my bunk, you can have the one over there. That way we can each have a side of campers to concentrate on. I let them pick their bunks, first come, first serve. As long as they keep their stuff under the bunks and out of the walkway, we’re fine. Windows stay closed, I don’t want any bugs in here,” she explains.

I follow her up the small ramp and into the next room. “This is obviously the bathroom. I try to break up shower times, half volunteer for morning showers, the other half get night and they can swap the next week, ten minute showers per girl.

“And this room,” she continues, turning me around and gently pushing me into the room where I found her and Mr. Shirtless. “Is the privacy room. You can keep extra items in here, extra clothes, that sort of thing. If you need a moment to yourself, you can come in this room to escape the campers, or if you have a guest…”

“Guest?” I ask. “I thought we couldn’t have outside guests stay or visit.”

Viv smiles a wicked smile and winks at me. “I didn’t say outside visitors. There’s always a lonely co-worker to hang out with. It’s going to be one long summer away from civilization and you’ll be surprised by how sexy a sweaty frat boy in a camp shirt can be.”

I’m only seventeen, I…”

“Sweetie, no one cares. You’re almost a college girl, right? All the guys want is a piece of ass. You’ll have to grow up in a few months anyway. Just think of this as college but with bootcamp and babysitting as your full time job,” she says.

Before my jaw has the chance to drop, I walk away from my new least favorite person and start organizing my bunk. Is this what camp is always like for the employees? Am I just finally seeing the behind-the-scenes drama? As I start to unroll my sleeping bag on top of the fitted sheet I put over the small dingy mattress, I hear the main door swing open and closed. I head over to see where Viv is going and she rolls her eyes when she looks at me.

“I’m going to go for a trail run,” she says. “When I get back we’ll head over for dinner,” she says and before I can object, she’s gone, leaving me alone in the cabin.

I sit on my bunk, looking around at all the empty bunks that will be filled up with campers in a couple days. Campers that I’ll be in charge of. Campers that will be under my watch twenty four hours a day, for the next three months. Maybe I’m in a bit over my head…

***

After waiting an hour for Viv to get back, I’m already bored. I’ve read thirty pages of a book I brought that’s supposed to last me two weeks, and I’ve finished organizing all of my things. Out of boredom, I decide that I want to go and walk around camp. I head for the lake, halfway across camp, one of my favorite spots in the whole camp. As I head there, some other co-workers are making their way around camp. A few of them playing a game of 2 on 2 soccer, while I see some of them are soaking up the sun at the pool.

The lake dock is usually crawling with campers fishing or canoeing. I never told anyone, but once, when I couldn’t sleep, I snuck out to the lake at four in the morning before anyone else got up. That’s my favorite memory of camp, but when asked, I have to make something up, like the time I actually climbed to the top of the rock wall to ring the bell or the first time I passed my swim test. In my mind, nothing compares to sneaking off to the lake right before dawn.

Right now, I want to be alone for a little bit. Once dinner is served, my official training will begin. That’s when they make us start doing team games, exploring nature, and discussing anything the counselors deem fitting. Viv strikes me as a counselor that’s not too concerned about camper feelings. Sometimes I think the counselors use campers as test subjects for their college courses, especially the ones wanting to be shrinks one day. I’m all about loving nature and sharing my feelings, but I don’t want to be forced to do it at seven in the morning during the summer. I’m sure that’ll change now that I’m a CIT.

A twig breaks behind me and when I turn, I assume it’ll be a bear or some other vicious animal coming to maul me. It’s actually Sampson, with his backpack and a water bottle in his hand, and that trademark friendly smile on his lips.

“Fancy seeing you here,” he says as he joins me on the dock, his forehead glistening with sweat. We both sit there with our feet hanging over the edge. Mine hover, but his are covered in water up to his ankles. I notice his flip-flops buckled to the back of his pack. Camp usually bans flip-flops, or at least they do for the campers. It’s apparently too dangerous for them to walk around in such wound-inducing footwear. Maybe that’s why they blacktopped most of the gravel areas. Everything is just too dangerous for campers.

“Were you following me?” I ask, trying to say it in a flirty way that I think my prettier friends back home would use to lure a boy in. Janine is always good at that. When I try, my throat tightens and the words come out all wonky.

His cheeks blush and it’s the cutest thing I have ever seen, well aside from newborn kittens learning to walk. “Yeah, that’s not weird, right? I just thought it would be cool to hang out before we have to start babysitting.”

Babysitting? Does he not realize how cool this job is?

I try my best to keep my tone under control because I’m a bit annoyed that he thinks his job is babysitting. “Not all of them are kids, you know? Some of them are already preparing for college and working toward their dreams.”

“Sorry,” he says, his blush getting deeper. “I just meant the younger ones. They make me nervous. I’m always afraid they’ll get into some poison ivy or go missing. Pool time is a very stressful situation for me. Too much can go wrong. I don’t care how much lifeguard training I’ve had, I don’t know what I’d do if I had a child’s life in my hands.”

Before I realize it, I’m playfully bumping my shoulder against his. “It’s okay,” I say. “I just really love this place, and not many people give the campers enough credit. Some of them are probably more responsible than the counselors.”

“I never thought of it that way, but it’s probably true, well aside from the boys,” he jokes.

A few minutes of silence pass between us. I swing my legs back and forth, watching our reflections shimmer in the water. I look at his reflection next to mine and wonder how it’s even possible for him to be this nice to me. Everyone else seems to have an attitude problem.

I wonder how old he is since I’ve never seen him before. I look like a child beside him, with my baby fat cheeks and braided pigtails.

“I’d like to spend some time with you,” Sampson says breaking the silence. “Maybe later after lights out we could have a late night snack. Me and some other people are having a bonfire. They just lifted the burn ban yesterday.”

I smile at his eagerness because I’ve never met a no-nonsense guy that will just speak up about what he wants. I don’t answer though, I’m not sure I can sneak away as easily as he can or if I’m ready to get close to a guy.

“We should get back,” I say, scooting away from the water and standing up. He reaches for my hand so I can pull him up, and I struggle a bit because he’s so much taller than me, and our bodies collide. His hand rubs my back, and I feel like an electric current has gone right through my spine. I’ve actually never had the opportunity to be one-on-one with a guy. My parents have always been the no-boys-allowed-in-room type of parents, my dates have always been chaperoned.

“Yeah,” he agrees with a hint of sadness lacing his otherwise cheerful voice.

We start walking back and I have this odd urge to reach out and hold his hand, but I just fold my arms across my chest, not really knowing what to do. He makes small talk with me until we cross the bridge. As soon as we’re by the dining hall, I see Viv with a pissed off look on her face.

“Where have you been?” she asks like some sort of stereotypical babysitter.

I start to speak, but Sampson does first. “Hanging out by the lake. Where have you been? I haven’t seen you all day.”

Her face drains, but then she’s back to the Viv I met two hours ago. “I wasn’t talking to you, Sam. I was walking to her,” she clarifies.

She says her like I’m not even here or worse, like I’m a dog that just urinated on a rug.

“I waited on you for an hour, Viv. When you didn’t come back to the cabin I figured you forgot about me, so I thought I’d explore before dinner,” I tell her.

Her hair is wet like she just took a shower. Her t-shirt has a turtle on it saying she’s a ‘Kappa Little’. Clearly, she wasn’t too worried about me if she had time to shower and change clothes.

“Whatever, let’s just go eat dinner,” she says.

She walks in first, me and Sampson following behind like puppies with our tails between our legs.

“God, I feel bad for her boyfriend,” I whisper to him. He doesn’t say anything, just fakes a smile. In that moment, I realize I’m no longer in the presence of the care-free and happy Sampson I encountered twice today.

***

“I’d like to take this time to give a warm Camp Arthur welcome to our new counselors in training!” A tall man in khakis and a button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up says at the head of the dining hall. His armpits leaving two giant sweat stains, he’s not dressed for camp. “My name is Mr. Garreth and I’m the new owner of the camp. Please stand up if you’re a CIT.”

So this is the schmuk that’s ruining my favorite place?

    Me and the other trainee’s stand up while the the head counselors give a bored clap. I quickly sit back down, bracing for them to start hazing us the second this business man goes back to wherever he lives while everyone else runs his camp for him.

“As you all know, we’ll be evaluating you over the next few months to see if you have what it takes to be a counselor here next summer. Every two weeks, me, you, and your trainer will sit down to discuss how you’re progressing. We only take the best here,” he continues. “Once camp is over, I’ll take a week or two to deliberate with the other counselors and employees to see if you’ll be hired on for next summer. You will have an answer before you leave here at the end of July. Any questions?”

No one raises their hand. I’m tempted to ask how in the world Viv still works here if they only take the best, because I’ve been around her for less than a day, and I’m already dreading spending every minute for the rest of summer with her.

“Alright, let’s get dinner going,” he says with a cheesy clap of his hands.

“You heard him, Penelope. Go grab some of the food,” Viv says, nudging my leg with hers. We’re sitting in the employee meeting room, so me and the other CIT’s have to walk into the empty mess hall and go to the kitchen. There’s about twelve plates already made up, and I can see the kitchen staff taking a smoke break outside.

“If I knew I was going to be a waiter this summer, I would have just worked at McDonald’s,” a guy says beside me.

I laugh, handing him two plates and then grabbing two for myself to take to the table. “This has to be better than working fast food, right?”

“Ask me again in a month and I’ll let you know,” he says. I recognize him from my previous years at camp. He was always kind of a goof-off. It’s hard to imagine him working here.

“Kenny, right?” I ask. “You used to chase me around the lake with a worm in your hand.”

“Oh no, did I really?” he asks, shaking his head. “I’m sorry. I was kind of a prick when I was a kid. My parents were going through a divorce. I had some issues.”

“That’s fine,” I say. “It’s Penelope, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, again,” he says, a little embarrassed. “Let’s try and help each other get through this summer in one piece. I’ve already goofed up once.”

“Just be glad you didn’t walk in on your trainer having sex,” I say.

Kenny almost drops his plates. “Really? That must have been… interesting,” he says with a smile.

I nod. “Pretty sure I’m now on her hit list.”

“It’s going to be an interesting summer, isn’t it?” he asks.

“Sure is, and it’s barely even started.”

 

Hopeless by Colleen Hoover Book Review

Title: Hopeless (#1)

Author: Colleen Hooverhopeless-colleen-hoover

Genre: New Adult Contemporary

Rating: 4/5 STARS

Overall Emotions: Bored, and then straight to ‘Holy crap, what the hell is happening?!’ ‘What?!’ ‘No!!!!!’

 




 

Sometimes discovering the truth can leave you more hopeless than believing the lies…

That’s what seventeen-year-old Sky realizes after she meets Dean Holder. A guy with a reputation that rivals her own and an uncanny ability to invoke feelings in her she’s never had before. He terrifies her and captivates her all in the span of just one encounter, and something about the way he makes her feel sparks buried memories from a past that she wishes could just stay buried.

Sky struggles to keep him at a distance knowing he’s nothing but trouble, but Holder insists on learning everything about her. After finally caving to his unwavering pursuit, Sky soon finds that Holder isn’t at all who he’s been claiming to be. When the secrets he’s been keeping are finally revealed, every single facet of Sky’s life will change forever

 




 

I’ve said before that I haven’t enjoyed the books I’ve read by Colleen Hoover, and that I’d give her one more shot because so many people live (love, if you’ve read this book, you’d know that was not a misspelling) her writing. I’m glad I decided to give her one more chance and read this novel. I loved it, it’s way better than the other novel and novella that I read of hers. Though, there were some points where it just wasn’t believable or I felt like Hoover took it a little too far. Some say that this book may have needed a ‘trigger warning’, due to the content and I agree to a certain point. Nothing ‘triggered’ me, but there were many topics that occurred in this book that might set someone off.

The only reason I didn’t give this book the full five stars was because it only surprised me once and that was the final ‘answer’ hope received from her mother, Karen. Other than that, I kind of predicted the way things would end up going. This book is full of twists and turns. At first you think it’s just a cute romance about the high school ‘slut’ (who is actually not a slut at all) and the trouble maker boy (who is just misunderstood).

For a story about such dark subjects, I didn’t imagine it to have any happy ending whatsoever, I really applaud Hoover on figuring out just the perfect way to heal Sky and give her a happily ever after.

If you’re going to read any of Hoover’s books, this needs to be the one. It’s dark and beautiful and tells the story of a survivor coming to terms with all the pain she blocked out years ago.

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2017 Writing & Reading Goals +Books I Read in 2016

 

 

I can’t believe 2016 is almost over. It went by so quickly! Now it’s time to mark myself down for the 2017 GoodReads challenge and take a look back on the books I did read in 2016. How many books did you read in 2016? What was the best book that you read this year?

 

Books Read in 2016

Sadly, I didn’t meet my GoodReads book challenge. I only finished 15 out of the 30 books I said I would read in 2016. I’m not going to beat myself up over that though. It was a busy year of traveling and writing. I participated in two Camp Nano’s and the official NaNoWriMo. Here are the books I finished this year along with the rating I gave them.

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3*                                        2*                                    2*                                   5*

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4*                                    2*                                     5*                                         3*

 

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5*                                        2*                                      4*                                        2*

book five blue-lily-lily-blue 27276645

5*                                  5*                                                 3*

 

 

2017 TBR

The entire Harry Potter series. Yes, I’ve never read them. This will be a first.

harry-series1

Between the Harry Potter books, I plan on reading some of the following:

 

 

Obviously, I’m going to run into some books I want to read on the spot, but these are just the ones that I must finish next year because they’ve been sitting on my shelf for awhile now!

 

Writing Goals

As for my writing. I plan on participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, both months and normal NaNo possibly. I’m going to outline my next novel earlier in the year and figure out what I want to do. I plan on writing 25000 words for each Nano, instead of forcing it all out at once. This will give me time so I don’t get burnt out and quit.

As I currently write this post, I’m working on editing one of my novels in the hopes to have it finished before New Years. Fingers crossed that The Last July will be published before July 2016.