I was contacted by the authors and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Branded, as I already had Branded on my wishlist naturally I said yes as I...moreI was contacted by the authors and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Branded, as I already had Branded on my wishlist naturally I said yes as I loved the premise of the book and it sounded like something I would love.
Branded is the story of Lexi Hamilton and her fight to survive in a compound known as the Hole after being falsely accused of lust. In this Dystopian society when people sin they are branded with whatever color their sin is represented by, literally branded around their neck like a tattoo, in Lexi's case her brand is blue for lust but from the very beginning Lexi protests her innocence. Once in the Hole she is handed over to Cole, a young guard in the Commander's forces who comes with a sidekick, Zeus the Great Dane. Luckily for Lexi Cole isn't like the other guards who are cruel, vicious and wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of Lexi given that her sin is Lust and most others in the same situation work as prostitutes.
Sent to work in the hospital as a nursing assistant she meets Sutton, a doctor who is obviously connected to Lexi in some way given that he seems to know far too much about her. Escorted to and from the hospital by Cole and living together means they become close quite quickly, their relationship rapidly develops into something far beyond guard & sinner and in amongst all the action is the story of Lexi and Cole trying (and failing) not to act on their respective feelings.
The main theme of the book seems to be romance, with a Dystopian twist, which is fine if you like your books heavy on the romance side but I wanted to know more about their society, how it worked and more about the Seven Deadly Sins. The action in Branded is virtually non-stop, almost from the beginning of the book. Lexi is an easy target, both for other Sinners and the guards, and they spend most of their time either running or hiding. Things get interesting when the character of Bruno is introduced and she starts learning self-defence which comes in handy in the second half of the book when her training becomes far more intensive. I really wanted to like Lexi but I found it really hard, on one hand I felt awful at everything she'd gone through previous to landing in the Hole but sometimes her behavior made me want to scream! She veered between victim and heroine frequently, she thought nothing of ignoring warnings about not doing things/going places she's not meant to but fell apart when faced with the consequences.
Cole is still as much a mystery at the end of the book as he is at the start, we don't really get to know much about him beyond the fact that he's a guard, he still has some faith left in humanity and he has a great dog! I'm hoping we maybe get to hear more about Cole's life in another book as it really would flesh out things out knowing even just a little of his back-story. Hands down the best character in the book though was Cole's dog, Zeus the Great Dane and from someone who is not a huge dog fan that's saying something! Zeus brought something else to the book, a little bit of humor (I fear for any more pillows/sheets/blankets, he seems to have a thing for shredding bedlinen!) and after a while becomes fiercely protective of Lexi, a good thing as sometimes she needs all the protection she can get!
Overall I did like Branded but I was left wanting more by the end of the book, more detail, more insight into the characters and more depth. I'm glad I read it and I will definitely look out for the second book in the series which is apparently going to feature Lexi's brother Keegan more prominently. He was another character I wasn't sure if I liked or not so I'm intrigued to read more about him.(less)
I can't remember who recommended this to me but I'm glad they did - sort of! This is the second book I've read by Hand and I'm absolutely in love with...moreI can't remember who recommended this to me but I'm glad they did - sort of! This is the second book I've read by Hand and I'm absolutely in love with her writing (if stars were just for the writing it would be 5!) but there were a couple of things in Winterlong that disturbed me to the point I almost stopped reading a couple of times. Will look out for the sequels at some point!(less)
Our story opens with what should be a happy occasion - a new baby - but this is no ordinary day and lives are most definitely not happy! A virus is sp...moreOur story opens with what should be a happy occasion - a new baby - but this is no ordinary day and lives are most definitely not happy! A virus is spreading throughout the United States, wiping out millions with no hope of survival, until there's a knock at the door of the Donovan family sadly too late for Clover's mother. Fast forward sixteen years, Clover has just finished school and been accepted to the Academy where future researchers, engineers, doctors and leaders are groomed. The orientation day doesn't quite go as planned for Clover and things rapidly go downhill for both her and her brother West.
Clover, the main character, is autistic and has a service dog named Mango who was one of many things I loved about Viral Nation. I will freely admit I don't know much about autism although I do have friends with children who have Asperger's. With what little information I do know, Clover came across perfectly with her tics and traits, her coping mechanisms. I loved West, Clover's brother, who is the trigger for all the adventure in the book and Jude, the boy she meets at the Academy before things go pear-shaped. West was written so realistically, he genuinely loved Clover but wasn't afraid to show his frustration with her, and their situation. He's had to more or less raise Clover by himself after their father joins the Execution squads but not once do you get the sense he would ever give up on her. Jude was a wonderful character and I loved how he "got" Clover although after some rather relevant information is disclosed about how he is so good with her it was easy to see why and made you fall in love with Jude just a little bit more. I also love that there's just a hint of romance which takes Clover completely by surprise, not something easy to do!
What I loved most though was that I was expecting another straightforward YA dystopian novel but oh how wrong I was! YA dystopian time travel has just become my new favorite genre. What's different about Viral Nation is that whilst everyone is being wiped out by this virus or plague it turns out there is a time portal under Lake Tahoe which allows people to see two years into the future. This portal is operated by Time Mariners or more specifically, Messengers whose fans Clover is recruited into.
From start to finish Viral Nation was a fast paced read that I didn't want put down until the last page was turned and that's exactly what I did. Apart from anything, it was easy to see how the descriptions of what happened and how people lived after the outbreak of the plague was eerily possible in our world and how the bad guys weren't always the bad guys, how they thought they were doing the right thing with their best intentions even though naturally they weren't. The world Shaunta has created, with the plague and time travel, was exactly the sort of books I wanted to read, both her writing, characterization and world building were amazing. There were some fantastic plot threads starting to unravel by the end with some twists and turns that took me completely by surprise. I can't wait to see where Shaunta takes Clover, West and the rest of the gang and I can only hope I'm lucky enough to read the next book in the series early again! This gets my top rating because I stayed up all night to finish Viral Nation, turning the light off at 5am!(less)