Review: Devil's Own by Megan Crane

Devil's Own by Megan March
Title: Devil's Own
Author: Megan Crane:
Expected Publication Date: May 16, 2017.
Publisher: Loveswept
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Lara Ashburn hates bikers. She watched a motorcycle club destroy her hometown, bringing her brother down with it. That’s a life she put far in her rearview. So the last person she wants to see walking into her classroom is the top enforcer of the Devil’s Keepers. Big, mean, and gorgeous, all tattoos and leather, Chaser is everything Lara should avoid. Yet the insane chemistry sparking between them tempts her to break all the rules. Ryan “Chaser” Frey has his hands full with a teen daughter in need of tough love, and he doesn’t have time for prissy teachers who want to tell him how to raise his kid. But Chaser never could resist a chick who gives as good as she gets. Lara is sexy as hell, and she’s not afraid of him. Plus, her links to a California club could provide the Devils with leverage against their enemies. But that would mean mixing business with pleasure—and risking the one woman Chaser can’t afford to lose.

Review: Jelly Bean Summer, by Joyce Magnin

Jelly Bean Summer, by Joyce Magnin

Genre: Middle grade fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Expected publication: May 2, 2017.
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Summary: Joyce has had it with her family (especially with UFO-sighting Elaine who loves her guinea pig more than her own sister). Her solution? Move out of the house and pitch a tent on the roof for the summer. But when she spots a boy watching her from a neighbouring roof she's stunned - and intrigued.

Brian recently lost his brother and the two instantly bond over their messed-up families. To help Brian repair his brother's truck, they concoct a scheme to build and sell tickets to a UFO display. Even Elaine agrees to help ... until unexpected events test the limits of Joyce's family ties.

Set in 1968 Pennsylvania, Jelly Bean Summer is a bittersweet exploration of childhood and belonging. Joyce is (among other reasons) fed up with her UFO-seeing, guinea-pig-loving older sister and decides to sleep outside on the roof. She meets and bonds with Brian, a neighbourhood boy that shares Joyce's experience in mourning the loss (though, in different ways) of a brother to Vietnam.

To be honest, this was slow-going for me at first and I didn't get fully invested in the story until about halfway through when Joyce recruits her older sister, Elaine, to help her and Brian on the UFO project. That being said, I appreciate the overall realism in the story - particularly near the end with Magnin's depiction of Bud returning from Vietnam. Nothing is sugarcoated and it's clear that while the book ends on a hopeful note, each of the Magnin children do have a ways to go before they are better than just "OK." And that's all right.

The writing feels true to the voice and perspective of a young girl. It doesn't shy away from showing emotions ("These things take buckets of tears sometimes.") and gets particularly impressive at parts when Joyce contemplates the nature of killing in this excellent passage:
Someone killed Brian's brother. I wonder if before he died, he killed someone else's brother who killed someone else's brother and it goes on forever. I wonder if Bud has killed people, not because he wanted to, but because that's what soldiers do.
Though the book is set in a particularly turbulent year in American history, outside of Vietnam, thee's no mention of the political/cultural touchstone events. At times I feel like that's a hindrance, but really, I think that's probably true to life considering a child's insular concerns, particularly since Joyce only thinks about Vietnam in relation to her brother.

With that being said,  this books comes in at 253 pages and is recommended for ages 8 and up. It feels a bit long for a child that age, but content-wise it seems right.

An advanced copy of this title was provided via the publisher and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey

Title: Duels & Deception
Author: Cindy Anstey
Genre: Teen historical romance
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Expected publication date: April 11, 2017.
Rating: ★★★★☆

Summary: Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia - and Robert along with her - is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help Lydia strives to keep her family's good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants ...

Lydia Whitfield is confident, a planner, and is certainly confident in her future plans. That is until she and her young law clerk, Robert Newton, are kidnapped by ne'er do wells for unknown purposes. What follows is a cute and funny story as the pair try to investigate whoever is behind the foul plan to ruin their good names. In Duels and Deception, the reader is thrown right into the plot, as the Regency version of a meet-cute happens within the first five pages.

This was the first book I've read by Cindy Anstey and I really enjoyed it. Particularly the dialogue. Anstey has a style of making the dialogue intrude upon the point of view narrative that makes it more "stream of thought" than I'm used to. It worked though - especially with these young characters at the centre of it. It did a great job of showing how breathless and antsy both Lydia and Robert were getting around one another as their burgeoning attraction grew.

I also loved the characterization of both the hero and the heroine. Lydia was wonderfully confident and forceful - appealing to the 21st century reader but still providing the sense of a 19th century bluestocking for the time period. Robert was equally confident, but more quietly so, and I loved how they balanced each other out in their problem solving methods.

I think the one drawback I can readily think of is that we didn't get to meet Robert's family. We're told he's the third son of an Earl, and had lots of siblings besides - but we really only see him interact with his friend Cassidy. I thought for sure there would be a scene near the end with his parents or siblings - since the happily-ever-after was all but guaranteed - but alas, none.

Cute, quirky, and certainly clean, I'd say this book is the perfect gateway into the historical romance genre for teen readers.

A copy of this title was provided by the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.