My Review: I'm going to try not to let this review turn into a full blown rant, but I cThis review and more can be viewed on my blog: The Muses Circle
My Review: I'm going to try not to let this review turn into a full blown rant, but I can't promise anything. I really dislike giving a book anything lower than 3 stars because no matter how I feel, I try to always keep in the back of my mind that this story is someone's baby, something they poured time and effort into. But I am nothing if not honest, and sadly, there are so many things I found wrong with The Silver Chain by Primula Bond. Riddled with contradictions, awkward wording/scenarios, and a hero/heroine that were down right unappealing and unsympathetic, I'm still in shock that this book is being compared to the likes of Sylvia Day's sizzling Crossfire series. Yes, it does share the formula: a younger woman leaves behind a troubled past by moving to a big city to also attempt to make it on her own. Millionaire, dominant older man with a dark side meets said younger woman and wants total possession, ownership, etc. But that is where the similarities end and not all for the good.
Here is what I did like. Since so many erotic novels are following in the footsteps of series like 50 Shades of Grey and Crossfire, the actual setting of The Silver Chain was quite refreshing. The majority of the story takes place in London, England, on a completely different continent from which I am used to reading about. The author, Primula Bond, is also from the UK and it is quite noticeable in her writing which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it did come with some challenges, such as learning different words like "skint" which means not having much money. And not laughing when the author uses "knickers" instead of panties, etc.
I also liked that the book's hero, Gustav Levi, is the owner of an art gallery. Yes, he is an entrepreneur, but the main focus of the novel centers around the Levi gallery. It's a nice change from other book millionaire heroes that we know. The art aspect of the novel was just about the only thing I could truly relate to. I not only minored in Art History in college, but I also interned at an art gallery so it was nice to delve back into that world.
So here is what I had issues with, starting with our main characters. I didn't like Serena at all. I give her a lot of credit for rising above her horrific childhood, but that's about the only compliment I can give her. I thought she was immature, selfish, and a bit hypocritical. There are so many examples to prove my point, but the biggest one is how she treats Gustav when it is his turn to try to find closure from his troubled past. Once she makes the deal with Gustav, she travels back to her village to finish selling her childhood home that held so many troubled memories for her. She also spies on her ex-boyfriend, Jake, having sex with another woman and takes photos of the encounter. She even meets up with him later-- my point is, she went back to find some closure for herself. After spending some time with Gustav and learning that many of his control and trust issues stem from his horrible marriage, he asks Serena to travel with him to the estate he shared with his ex-wife, Margot, in Switzerland to find closure. He didn't have to do that. He could have left her. But he trusted her to go with him, needing her support. Serena is even told by people that are close to Gustav (Crystal and Dickson) that she is the first girl he has ever taken back there, that this was a huge deal for him, and to try to be patient. So you would think she would go with an open mind, right? Nope, instead she flips. The very first day they arrive, actually. Serena sees the chapel where Gustav and his ex-wife Margot got married and literally freaks out. Really??? Why??? She knew by going with him that she was going to be seeing things that Gustav shared with his ex-wife. So why is it such a shock when she sees the chapel they got married in??? Serena yells at him, runs away-- makes it about her instead of giving him a chance to even try to find closure.
Gustav Levi just didn't do it for me as a hero. This could partially be the way he is described which would be the author's doing. Primula Bond has a habit of describing things that are supposed to come across as sexy but just doesn't work. Here is an example: "...the subtle flex in his forearm as he twirls his swizzle up and down his fingers like a cheerleader's baton." Umm, okay? Like comparing him in any way to a cheerleader is supposed to make him more manly? If anything it is a turn off. Also, the majority of the novel Gustav either spends hooking Serena to him with the silver chain (which totally annoyed me, I'll get to that later) or disappearing without letting her know where he's gone off to. He is more controlling than he is dominant which are two completely different things. I think the thing that bothered me the most about Gustav is that he didn't show much concern for Serena when it was really needed. Prime example is when they are horseback riding. Serena falls off her horse and injures her ankle really bad. By the time he figures out what happened, instead of kneeling down beside her to check on her ankle, he just stands there! She's literally in tears and asks him to help bind her ankle or take her to a doctor. What does Gustav do? He asks her if she wants to go get some hot chocolate. Umm, WHAT??? Oh, it gets better. When Serena stupidly agrees (totally makes no sense if she is that hurt) instead of picking her up and carrying her, he just walks slowly next to her while she hobbles. WTF? Wow, what a freakin' gentleman.
My other major issue is the slew of contradictions or inconsistencies throughout the book. I'm going to try to go through a few of the ones that stood out the most. 1) Serena accidentally left her camera after her first meeting with Gustav. We listen in on the phone call when he tells her where to meet him to pick up the camera. When she arrives, Gustav says, "You told me to guard it with my life, and that's exactly what I did...I told you I had a proposition for you, so I'll get straight to the point." What??? During their phone conversation she NEVER said to guard her camera with his life NOR does he mention anything about a proposition. 2) During their first sexual encounter, he asks her, "Please would you kneel down, Serena." Her response: "Hands and knees, you say? You want me to scrub the floor now?" What??? He told her to KNEEL, not to get on her hands and knees! 3) When Gustav arrives at the opening night of Serena's gallery exhibit, his, "...black hair is slicked back like the Godfather, making him look positively sinister and intimidating." A few pages later his, "dark hair falls against his eyebrow." So WHICH IS IT? Slicked back hair or loose in his face??? 4) The next morning after her sprained ankle incident, Serena wakes up to find that she must have been undressed in the middle of the night. She fantasizing about both Gustav and Dickson (Gustav's driver). She wonders, "Did the men undress me together?...Did they grow hard looking at me, dare the other to make a macho remark about the sleep of the innocent or did they deny the bulge in their trousers?...Did they have their way, the two of them exploring me with tongues and fingers and other parts..." Several pages later, Serena is looking through Gustav's telescope and sees Dickson kissing a woman. Her response? "Eww. Think I'll leave them to it." What??? She just fantasized about Dickson taking advantage of her in her sleep yet she is disgusted by him when she sees him kiss another woman??? It just totally doesn't make sense.
My last gripe is with the silver chain. I was first okay with it. This is obviously not my first book where the male character wants to mark his woman in some way, or to wear something that shows she belongs to him. I've read previous novels where men have made women wear collars, nipple clamps, even butt plugs all day. So I figured the silver chain between Serena and Gustav would be the same thing. At first it starts in private. He makes her wear a bracelet that is nearly impossible to get off, hooks the chain to it, and holds the other end to basically control the distance between them depending on his mood. Okay, I can deal with that. What totally turned me off and made it feel somewhat unbelievable was: 1) During opening night of her exhibit in a room full of people he hooks the chain up and tugs her around! I don't give a crap that the chain was so thin that you could barely see! It just doesn't seem realistic at all. Isn't it enough that she is wearing the bracelet? Isn't that symbolic enough? 2) Serena wakes up to find Gustav gone (yeah, like I said, he disappears all the time) and when she gets up off the bed, she notices that he had attached a longer chain on her wrist. Wait, get this. The chain is not only attached to her wrist, but to the wall and is so long that she can basically walk around the majority of the house. But essentially she is bound to the house and is unable to get dressed since she is attached to the chain. WTF! That's supposed to be a turn on??? I honestly don't blame her for breaking loose!!!
The Silver Chain is the first novel in a long time that I just wanted to stop reading, but because I had an obligation to review it, I forged ahead. It had an interesting premise and hey, any erotic romance being compared to Sylvia Day's Crossfire series is definitely worth a shot. But sadly, the story was a hot mess, filled with contradictions and characters that I honestly couldn't wait to forget. Gustav can't even light a candle next to the likes of Gideon (Crossfire series), Gabe and Jace (Breathless series), or Remington (Real, Raw, & Ripped series). These men would eat Gustav up and spit him out. And while I get the symbol of the silver chain, Primula Bond went a bit overboard with it. I don't think I will be reading any more books in this series but all I can hope is that the author hires some beta readers or finds a better editor to help point out the inconsistencies before any future novels are published.
"I wish there was a Heaven. If I knew there was a Heaven for me, then I would save MThis review and more can be viewed on my blog at: The Muses Circle
"I wish there was a Heaven. If I knew there was a Heaven for me, then I would save Max for sure. I wouldn't be afraid because there would be a place to go after this place. Another place. But I don't think there is a Heaven, and I definitely don't think there is a Heaven for imaginary friends. Heaven is only supposed to be for people who God made, and God didn't make me. Max made me."
I normally don't start my reviews with a quote, but there are so many great, thought provoking lines like this in which Budo delivers throughout Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, that I just had to share one of my favorites. And some people call this book, or the writing of this book, insipid and facile? Yeah, I'll get to that later.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks is quite an ambitious novel. My initial first thought? How the author was going to differentiate between "imaginary friends" and "ghosts". After all, on the surface they do have some similarities...or one might think. But I soon discovered I had nothing to fear. In fact, the difference between ghosts and imaginary friends does get addressed in the book by Budo himself. He says, "Ghosts were alive once. Imaginary friends are never alive in the real world."
Dicks did a great job building the world and mythology of "imaginary friends." Every child has a different way of coping with the uncertainties of life, whether it be parents that argue on a daily basis, a life threatening illness, starting school and the social anxieties that comes with it, etc. Perhaps the easiest way to conquer these fears is to share the burden with someone and what better way to do that then to create an imaginary friend. In Matthew Dicks' world, these "friends" can come in many different shapes and sizes and can disappear as quickly as they are imagined. That is why Budo is so very special. Not only does he look like a real human but he is over 5 years old which is unheard of in the world of imaginary friends. This is all thanks to Max, the 8 year old boy who created him.
As the synopsis states above, Max is different then many of the children he goes to school with. While it is never stated what Max's diagnosis is, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that he has a form of autism or Aspergers Syndrome. While this causes turmoil in the lives of his parents, teachers, and even some of his classmates, Budo is the only one who seems to accept and understand Max for who he is. In fact, I originally thought that the book's agenda was to find out what's "wrong"with Max. I couldn't have been more wrong. This is Budo's story and it is told in his perspective. And while he loves Max and knows deep down that Max being "different" is the reason he has been alive for so long, he still fears the day when Max will stop believing in him. Because when that happens, Budo will start to fade away like so many imaginary friends have done before him.
The whole concept of a child's imagination reminds me of the Romantic poets, most specifically William Wordsworth. He believed that children were the closest to God because the depths of their imagination and innocence hadn't been tarnished by the realities of adulthood. But the older a child gets, the more responsibility is placed on his/her shoulders, and the child is forced to "grow up." By the time a child reaches adulthood, he/she has forgotten about imaginary friends, instead replaced with work, paying bills, and trying to fit into society's standards. We see the beginning stages of this theory in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. The reason many of the imaginary friends Budo knows disappear before him is because the children that created them are growing up, therefore, they are no longer needed.While Max is very intelligent, he also is introverted and struggles with social skills. This is why Budo is needed, to help Max with fending off bullies like Tommy Swinden, or to stand guard in the bathroom while Max makes a "bonus poop" as Budo likes to call them. Yes, I did say "bonus poop". Did I forget to mention this book is also hilarious??
Now to clear up some things. First and foremost, some people have been confused as to the genre and reading level this book should fall under. Some reviewers have given Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend a 2 star rating because they felt it "struggles to find an audience". This is an ADULT novel that just so happens to have a 5 year old imaginary friend as a narrator. I would go so far as to say that mature young adults would enjoy this novel as well. I'm not sure why people automatically assume that if a child is the narrator or if the language is simple then it is considered a young adult novel.
Speaking of "simple", let's talk about the writing style of this book. Some have complained that the story and writing is "babyish", "insipid", and "facile". Umm...did they miss the fact that the narrator is a 6 year old imaginary friend that was created by an 8 year old boy??? What do they expect, Budo to start talking in flowery Shakespearean prose??? If anything, I think Matthew Dicks did an amazing job creating Budo's voice and making it realistic. And I am confused as to how someone could think the story is shallow or that the author ignores the complexities of the issues. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I wonder if they realize what the "issues" of the story actually are. I think people are going into this book thinking it is going to be all about Max and his "condition" and how the people around him deal with it or try to "fix" him. While Max is vital to the story, it is NOT HIS STORY. Budo is the narrator and this is about his journey as an imaginary friend, his fears as to where "friends" like him go when they fade away.
I will say I agree that some of what Budo says is repetitive and somewhere in the middle, the story does lose a little steam. But as you can see by my rating, it didn't bother me enough to take away a whole star. The ending makes up for the little dry spell and somehow the repetitiveness fits, probably because it is never far from my mind that Budo was thought up by an 8 year old boy with limited social skills. But some of the things Budo ponders are questions that sometimes kids ask that we as adults don't have the patience to answer. It reminds me that sometimes the most honest answers come from small children because their responses aren't clouded with the complexities we are used to as grown-ups.
The last thing I want to point out is my love for Oswald, the only imaginary friend that Budo fears. Without spoiling anything, Budo must find the courage to go to Oswald in order to help Max. The reason I am bringing Oswald up is because I couldn't help but think of the movie Ghost starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. Remember when Patrick Swayze sees the ghost on the train that can actually touch and move things? Well that ghost reminds me of Oswald, and Budo in that moment reminds me of Patrick Swayze. Pretty interesting parallel and I have to wonder if the author was or is aware of it!
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a rare breed of novel that can affect a person on so many different levels. Read it if you want to laugh. Read it if you want to be moved to tears. Read it if you want something to think about long after the last page has been read. Just remember to go into this story with an open mind, remember that this is Budo's story, not Max's, and this is not a doctor's manual on autism or Aspergers. This is a great book for teachers that will prompt many discussions with your students. This is a great book if you are a parent with small children or if you vaguely remember your very own imaginary friend. Whatever the case may be, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a book with heart, and Budo is one character that I will never forget. Well done, Matthew Dicks.
The Moon Coin by Richard Due is a gem of a children's fantasy novel that I'm, quite frankly, surprised hasn't been picked up by a major publishing comThe Moon Coin by Richard Due is a gem of a children's fantasy novel that I'm, quite frankly, surprised hasn't been picked up by a major publishing company. Then again, isn't that how most great books start out? The first in an upcoming series, the story is centered around 2 children, Lily and Jasper, who receive nightly visits from their Uncle Ebb, which usually results in presents and tales about The Moon Realm. When their beloved Uncle goes missing, the children decide to investigate by snooping around Ebb's fascinating mansion. Jasper, ever cautious, wishes to heed their parents warnings about not entering certain areas of their Uncle's home, but Lily throws caution to the wind, seizing the opportunity to learn more about the ever mysterious life of Ebb. This mischievous, naive behavior is obviously what causes Lily to be transported to Barreth, one of the nine moons in The Moon Realm. And so this is where Lily's adventure truly begins, as she searches not only for a way back home, but what really happened to her Uncle Ebb?
The first thing I loved about The Moon Coin is the way the story sucks you in. The prologue, titled "Bedtime Tales", introduces us to Uncle Ebb and his obvious affection for his niece and nephew. On this particular night, he brings them each a present-- a green dragon figurine for Jasper and fairy for Lily. His tale that night mostly consisted of telling the children the origins of the dragon and the fairy and revealing their true names. From the very beginning, you get the sense that there is more to those figurines that meet the eye and more to Ebb's tales then simple bedtime stories. The prologue not only ensnared my attention from the first few pages but also gave me a feeling of nostalgia. It reminded me of my own childhood, when my mother would tuck me in at night and read me a story. Or those awful times when I would wake up from a bad dream and she would stay with me until I fell back to sleep. And of course let's not forget about those classic movies that centered around a child and a bewitching story in a book, such as The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride.
I think what sets this book apart from others is the author's ability in creating rich, memorable characters. I absolutely loved Uncle Ebb, even though he only makes an early appearance in the story. His coat with many pockets is a part of his personality that I will always associate him with.
My second favorite character has to be Roan, who is one of the Rinn-- large, cat-like creatures that somewhat resemble lions. I love his bravery while protecting Lily and fighting off the scaramann. His loyalty to his queen, Nimlinn, is commendable, even when she tells him to leave and that his services are not needed. When he refuses to leave her side, she says, "Fools! Greydor will have you all roasted on a spit." Roan's quick witted reply is, "Then I will bring the sauce."
One of the funniest characters that also has a small part, like Uncle Ebb, is Quib, who we meet in the second half of the novel. I don't want to give away too many details, but there is a part where they are "cleaning" the remains off of a freshly killed creature-- very much like what the Native Americans did with the buffalo. Quib loves the job and offered some meat to Lily in which she, "had a terrible time explaining to Quib what it meant to be a vegetarian. He kept saying things like, 'Well, I could spare you a bit o' brains. They're not meat, right?' and 'At least let me ladle on a good heapin' bit o' the grease, eh? No meat in that!'"
Going back to that feeling of nostalgia, there were certain parts of The Moon Coin that reminded me of The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, yet the story still retains its own elements of originality. And let me just say, that is no easy feat. I've read stories before that seemed like complete rip offs. But somehow Richard Due is able to find an equal balance. While I love completely original stories with their own mythology, worlds, etc., there is nothing wrong with being able to relate it to an older piece of literature, especially if it is done right, as it is with The Moon Coin. So I give Richard Due major credit for that!
My original rating for The Moon Coin was at a 3.5, but what bumped the score up to a solid 4 stars were the beautiful illustrations throughout the story by Carolyn Arcabascio. Even though Richard Due is great with his descriptions and character development, sometimes it is hard to imagine what certain things look like in fantasy novels. Arcabascio's illustrations really did help put things in perspective for me. Without them, I think the second part of the novel would have been much harder for me to get through, which is one of the problems I had with the story.
Now to the issues I had with The Moon Coin. While I didn't have too many issues with the plot, I was a bit confused with certain parts of the story. Like in the beginning, for example. I got the sense that Lily and Jasper were living in a modern setting or perhaps slightly in the future. I was good up until the part when they are in Uncle Ebb's mansion and suddenly there are coral reefs for walls, birdfish, "electrimals"-- a term that is introduced by never really explained. My point is, I think Richard Due had this figured out in his mind but did not translate it into words well enough for the reader. What does he mean by Uncle Ebb and his "many illusions"? Is he a magician? For some reason I just had a hard time figuring out what kind of world Lily and Jasper are from-- a futuristic world with robot housekeepers? I think a little more explanation or background for the setting would have been helpful.
An other part that had me scratching my head was right after Greydor, King of the Rinn, reluctantly tells his wife, Nimlinn, that he is unable to help her get Lily safely back to her own world. Lily is in that room when the conversation is going on. She watches Nimlinn and the others give instructions to others as the battle between the Rinn and the scaramann rages on. A second later, one of Nimlinn's loyal subjects tells Lily that Nimlinn requires her presence. WHAT?? That makes NO sense since Lily and Nimlinn are in the same room together. I mean, I could see if Lily was escorted to another room and then Nimlinn sends someone to get her. I just think it was a poor transition from one scene to another.
While I absolutely loved the first half of the book which takes place on the moon world Barreth with the cat-like creatures the Rinn, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the second part of the story. I was not quite sure what lunamancers were or what the term "peerin" meant. I know the author tried to explain both, but for some reason I had a hard time truly imagining the role of a lunamancer. I was also confused by the people on this new moon world-- I think one of them was described as being as tall as Lily--are they all that same height? Are they little people like dwarves? It felt like the second part of the story moved slower then when Lily was on Barreth, but again, this could be because I had a harder time figuring out this new moon world.
Lastly-- and this is going to be hard for me to say without giving a major plot spoiler-- I felt there was a part towards the end of the story that felt very anti-climatic. I think when readers get toward the end of the book, they will understand what I mean. I really can't say more then that without giving it away!
Overall, The Moon Coin is truly a beautifully written fantasy novel with rich, memorable characters and gorgeous illustrations that brings the Moon Realm to life. From a teacher's perspective, I think this book would grab the attention of children in grades 6th through 9th. But adults like myself will also find this book appealing, especially since it brings back all those nostalgic feelings from childhood. Also, the second book in the series, titled The Dragondain, should be coming out sometime this year. For a better look at the new cover art and more information on the series, visit Richard Due's website at The Moon Realm.
I won an early reviewer's copy of this book from Library Things, so I was obligated to write a review once I was finished. The book is not due to be pI won an early reviewer's copy of this book from Library Things, so I was obligated to write a review once I was finished. The book is not due to be published until early next year, March 2012. There is another person who reviewed this book on Library Things under the name MargK that I completely agreed with. A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink was nothing like I expected and I don't mean that in a good way. The list of positive things about this book is very short.
1) Like MargK mentioned in her earlier review, the author has a certain simple elegance to her writing, therefore it was easy to read.
2) I liked that the story took place in London (Despite this, I had major issues with the setting—or lack thereof which I will get to shortly).
3) Even though I agree that the author doesn’t really give us any new dimensions to her characters or the love triangle (we’ve read it all before), I will say that she did a good job at building the sexual tension and romantic moments between Helen and Griffin.
Sadly, this is where the positives end. I don’t want to make this a long, drawn out review nor do I want to repeat the negatives that other reviewers have pointed out, so I am going to stick to my 3 main issues with this book.
1) The setting. Like I said above, I was looking forward to reading this book partly because it was supposed to take place in London. The reason I enjoy reading books with settings around the globe should be obvious—it’s a way to learn about a country or time period without having to do extensive research (unless you want to). I think that is one of the important jobs an author has to do—transport you to that time and place, make you feel like you are there. Unfortunately, this does not happen in A Temptation of Angels. The author does not give us any specific dates (not always necessary) or landmarks, or historical references. Helen and the Channing brothers seem to walk everywhere—there is no mention of horses or cars—nothing that could help me get a better sense of what type of London the story takes place in. The only thing that finally gave me an idea where to place the story is when it is revealed that Helen wears corsets and that it is not proper etiquette for a young lady to be walking the streets alone, or to be living with young bachelors that are not her family. This of course is a big contradiction in the book. I’m not even going to go there since MargK’s review gets into detail the major contradictions of the mysterious and supposedly powerful organization called the Dictata.
2) My other major problem with this book is this: the book is supposed to be about angels. Other then Helen and the Channing brothers being able to “jump” through light (as in being able to dissolve their bodies into tiny molecules through light in order to transport to other places), nothing else is explored as far as their abilities. What else can they do? Hell, if they are angels, aren’t they supposed to have wings? Not once are wings mentioned.
3) Lastly, this book is riddled with parts that are unbelievable, unnecessary, or just plain didn’t make sense. The author spends too much time on parts that could be simplified in a page or two while she does not give enough attention to things such as the term “Enlightenment” for example. What does it mean when one reaches “Enlightenment”? This term was mentioned several times in the beginning of the book but was never explored. What happened to Darius’ face? How did he get the scar? I also think that her reaction AND the outcome of the whole dart/dog situation was completely ridiculous. I don’t want to give it away since it would be a major spoiler, but it was a very poor plot device.
To sum it up, the book had an interesting premise but the execution fell flat. For lack of a better way to say this, I was bored. Unless the finished product differs greatly from the ARC I just read, I don’t see Michelle Zink's A Temptation of Angels making any great waves in the YA literature world.
Absolutely loved the series as a whole and it will be one of my top 15 (or maybe top 10) favorite trilogies of all time. But, I will say tha4.5 stars.
Absolutely loved the series as a whole and it will be one of my top 15 (or maybe top 10) favorite trilogies of all time. But, I will say that Dreams of Gods and Monsters dragged at parts for me. That is the ONLY reason it's getting a 4.5 star rating from me. Well, that and how the author spun Karou and Akiva's story. I am all about building tension between two characters that you know are meant to be together-- especially when they have to go through 2 and a half books to "get" there. But I felt some of the distractions and interruptions were unnecessary and cruel. Not saying it ended bad, I just feel there was a lot of unnecessary filler. I want to review this series on my new blog, so I will leave it at that. But just know the Daughter of Smoke & Bone is a treat to the literary senses. If you are looking for unique world building and mythology, characters that you will fall in love with and some you will detest, and words that flow together like music, you need to pick this series up. <3...more
My Review:I have read just about every book by Nashoda Rose so I was pleasantly surprised when I got offered a chance to read and revi4.5 star rating.
My Review: I have read just about every book by Nashoda Rose so I was pleasantly surprised when I got offered a chance to read and review her newest novel TAKE. The reason for my surprise? Because TAKE is a paranormal romance and Rose--up to this point--has written only contemporary erotic romance. Paranormal romance used to be one of my top go-to genres. However, it didn't take me long to get tired of stories that lacked any kind of originality. Don't get me wrong, sometimes reading a book with a similar formula can be great when you just want to shut your brain off and enjoy a few hours of mindless entertainment. But when stories from completely different authors start blurring together, that's when you know a break is in order. And this is why I typically buy only from my constants in the paranormal romance genre, like J.R. Ward and Lara Adrian.
However, Nashoda Rose hasn't failed me yet and I'm not going to lie, there is really nothing in the synopsis that gives away this story is a paranormal romance. So I was curious-- what were the paranormal elements that made up this story?
What we have are Scars, immortal warriors that live in the human world but have heightened senses. For example, our hero, Jasper, is known as a Sounder, the ability to hear noises, voices, etc. from miles away. There are also Trackers, Healers, Tasters, Visionaries and the rare Reflectors. Each of these warriors has a tattoo, or what they call an "Ink" that can be called to life.
I absolutely loved the concept of the Scar warriors, especially their "Ink" that they can summon off of their bodies to manifest into...creatures? Monsters? We only get two examples of "Inks" in the book. Jasper's "Ink" is named Groar, a boar-like monster with silver skin covered in tattoos. Totally bad ass. While immortal warriors with heightened senses and tattoos that come to life are not completely original ideas, Nashoda Rose took the concept and made it her own.
Jasper was the ultimate bad boy alpha male. But he is more then just a Scar Sounder. He is a highly respected hired assassin who crosses paths with our heroine Max in the beginning of the story and then meets up with her again 6 months later when her life is threatened. Jasper is crass, a major smart ass, and hides his emotions behind a thick wall to protect himself from growing attachments to anyone because of a tragedy that happened years ago. This is also why he doesn't belong to a Talde, or a group/band of Scar warriors. A complete loner and he likes it that way, well, until Max starts messing with his head and emotions.
Max was an intriguing character and perhaps is one of the only heroines that I can remember in a romance where I walked away liking her more than the hero! Not that I had any issues towards Jasper-- that man was HOT with a capital H and his tragic past was heartbreaking. But Max's back story is horrific and it takes an extremely strong person to endure what she has. Max is a Scar Healer, only she has a unique ability that no other healer can do-- and that is the ability to heal a Scar's "Ink" once it has been destroyed. Max has endured years of imprisonment, torture, rape by the twistedly evil Drake. Once a Scar Tracker, he is even more powerful now that he is a vampire. At first, Drake enslaves Max and keeps her close so that she can constantly heal is failing lungs which started to occur once his "Ink" had died. At this point, he does not know Max's other ability-- and she will take it to her grave before she lets him find out. After years of imprisonment, she is rescued by Xamien, the leader of his own Talde of Scar warriors. He gives her safety, a place to call home. And while she is forever grateful and has a soft spot for this fierce warrior, she can't completely trust him and remains tight lipped about her time with Drake.
And then Jasper enters her life and all the walls she spent years erecting to keep herself safe start to crumble. He constantly baits her, saying outrageously sexual things that stirs a fire in her blood that she thought long dead. Her body riddled with scars from her time with Drake, Max wants to hide them, but Jasper isn't having any of it. He finds her beautiful, scars and all (even though the thought of someone putting them on her makes him want to hunt down the evil bastard responsible). Jasper and Max have off the charts chemistry and couldn't be more perfectly matched. When Jasper's true motives for taking her on as a "job" are revealed towards the end of the book, I felt a twinge in my heart for both characters-- how would Max ever be able to trust Jasper again and get over feeling betrayed? It took almost losing her for Jasper to realize how important she has become in his world-- how will he ever gain her trust? Well, you'll just have to read to find out!
It is really no surprise how much I also enjoyed the introduction to the secondary characters, especially Jasper's brother Holden (a Scar Tracker) and their friend Guise (a Visionary, ability to see very far). If you've read any of Nashoda Rose's previous novels, then you already know she has an amazing ability to create some of the hottest male secondary characters that will leave you panting for more. I know that TAKE was a bit of an experimental book in that reader reaction will play a huge role on whether Nashoda decides to expand on this series. And I am praying to the gods that she does because Holden, Guise, even Xamien need their own books. It totally has to happen!
So what held me back from giving TAKE a perfect 5 star rating? While I absolutely loved the concept of the Scars, the story lacked world building and mythology. At the very beginning of the book, the author gives us a glossary of terms which I found interesting. I thought wow, okay, Nashoda is trying to prepare us for this unique new world. Well...many of the terms in the glossary weren't even mentioned in the story. For a first novel in a series, there definitely lacks a bit of foundation. We really have no mythology, meaning we don't know where or how Scars came into existence. Oh, and how/where do vampires fit into all of this? I also feel like there was a ton of repetition throughout the story, a lot of Jasper and Max repeating themselves, their thoughts over and over which could have been extra pages spent giving us background.
is a refreshing paranormal romance that will make a great new addition in the overly saturated genre. If you like dirty talking alpha males and strong heroines that aren't easily intimidated, then this is a must read.
My Review:Kill Bill. The Fifth Element. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. La Femme NikiThis review and more can be found on my blog here: The Muses Circle
My Review:Kill Bill. The Fifth Element. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. La Femme Nikita. What do these films/books have in common? Strong, memorable female characters that kick major ass. And I am absolutely thrilled to add The Ballad of Mila by Italian author Matteo Strukul to the list.
Here is what I liked. No matter what the language, Matteo Strukul obviously has mastered the ability to describe scenes in vivid detail. Whether he's illustrating a fight, a person, or trying to inspire a particular emotion, his use of personification and similes will have you pausing to admire such expressive rhetoric. Here are a few examples I found myself highlighting as I read:
"The short blade flew through the air like a hungry tongue, swinging fast in a macabre, shining dance."
"That day, I cried all my tears. All those I had been granted, a lifetime's worth."
"The shiny blue Ford Focus was speeding angrily through roads built over the ancient Roman borders as if it had a grudge against the asphalt."
"She kept moving on her feet, elegant and lethal. She swayed like a reed under the moonlit cloak of a night sky patterned with pale stars."
I also thoroughly enjoyed Mila's journal entries. Once I started the book and realized that the story was not entirely in her POV, I wondered how the author was going to give us Mila's backstory. That is the beauty of her journal entries. Strukul strategically works them in, so that as the story progresses, the puzzle pieces of Mila's life start to click into place. The entries also helps the reader to understand why she sets certain events in motion.
I couldn't help but be fascinated by the whole historical/political backgrounds of the Chinese/Italian criminal empires. The story takes place in Italy and there is no one more corrupt then Rossano Pagnan. But his days as the most notorious mob boss in Italian history are numbered because Guo Xiaoping, leader of a gang of Chinese assassins have been spreading across the Veneto region. And Guo wants nothing more than to knock Pagnan off his bloody throne. I will be the first person to admit I had no idea that the Chinese had immigrated to Italy and that there was this whole underground war between the two cultures. It's great when a novel entertains you, but it's even more awesome when you learn something, especially when it is unexpected.
I was also impressed with Matteo Strukul's knowledge of weapons, specifically firearms. Heckler & Koch USP Tactical, Knight's Armament Company Silencer, Colt .45, P38 Special, Semiautomatic Glock 17 loaded with 9mm Parabellum bullets, Armalite AR 15 assault rifle-- yeah, just to list a few. And I must say, there is something kind of sexy about Mila knowing and handling some of these deadly weapons.
More than anything else in the story, I absolutely loved our heroine. I know I already said it, but I'll say it again, Mila Zago is totally badass. Some may think that her lack of emotion throughout the story is unrealistic, but just be patient. It's towards the end of the novel that you begin to see some of her vulnerability shine through.
I want to talk about her physical appearance which plays an important part in the book. This is how she is described:
"A bombshell: medium height, red dreadlocked hair, green eyes; sheathed in leather trousers and a tight jacket perfectly highlighting her curves. Breathtakingly hot."
She also frequently wears yellow tinted shades or "specs" which are significant and explained later in the novel. Known as The Red Fury and Red Dread, Mila's physical appearance is so important because it not only serves as a distraction in the very male dominated world she involves herself in, but men take beautiful women for granted all the time, as if a female's beauty can be her only attribute. This makes Mila a lethal enemy...and perhaps later a powerful asset.
Aside from her striking looks, Mila has spent years training, mastering, molding herself into a deadly assassin with one goal in mind-- avenge the death of her father and make those who brutally raped her pay. And God help those who get in her way:
"The Red Fury jumped in the air and kicked him smack in the groin. Ottorino fell to his knees then crumpled to the floor like a puppet broken by a moody child. She didn't waste any time. Took the Heckler & Koch, grabbed him by the hair and dragged him outside like a pig's carcass."
Reading Mila's story reminded me so much of some of my other favorite strong female characters, The Bride in Kill Bill, Leeloo (who also has the reddish/orange dreads) from The Fifth Element, Nikita from La Femme Nikita, and perhaps most of all, Lisbeth Salander from Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Yet while I see bits and pieces of these other women in Mila, Matteo Strukul was still able to create a female character that has unique qualities of her own.
So here is what I had some issues with. There were way too many random, abrupt shifts in character POV. I can handle reading the perspective of Mila and the two main villains, Pagnan and Guo. But for some ungodly reason, the author gave almost every single character in the book their own POV moment. One minute you're seeing things through Mila's perspective, then for 2 or 3 sentences you are her victim, then it shifts to another person in the room, then back to Mila-- and so on and so forth without any kind of warning or paragraph/chapter break. It definitely affected the flow of the story.
While I really enjoyed Guo Xiaoping as one of the villains, I had a hard time taking Pagnan seriously. He is supposed to be this scary Italian crime boss but some of the things he says throughout the story sound completely juvenile such as here:
"Mule, we're in deep doodoo, you should already be at the hospital and instead you start a game of twenty questions?"
Deep doodoo??? Really? From my understanding, The Ballad of Mila was originally a graphic novel, written in Italian. The author decided to expand it into a novel and the finished product was translated into English. While some lines work well in a graphic novel, especially with illustrations to go along with them, others may not translate well and I think that is what the problem is here and in a few other places in the story.
My only other complaint is something that trouble's Mila later in the book that conflicts with her character. There is a scene where Mila has to watch Pagnan feed one of the Chinese gang members to his dogs. She goes as far as saying to herself that, "it was too much, even for her." This, in my opinion, totally contradicts her character. Mila is an assassin, a woman who has chopped off the hands of a man, cauterized the wounds, cut some heads off, put them in bags, and delivered them personally, etc. Yet she can't stomach watching a man being eaten by dogs? Yes, it's disturbing, but her reaction just felt out of character.
The Ballad of Mila is a smart, fast paced thrill ride that has all the elements of a cult classic. Mila is a fierce heroine that may remind you of other famous strong female characters but can stand on her own thanks to author Matteo Strukul molding her with care. My only heads up to potential readers is to remember that this novel was translated from Italian to English and contains some words/phrases that you may not have come across before. The Ballad of Mila is the first book in a potential series. I can't wait to read book 2!
My Review: I am not sure what it was about the synopsis of Emerald City that caught myCome check out more of my reviews on my blog at The Muses Circle
My Review: I am not sure what it was about the synopsis of Emerald City that caught my attention. Yes, I am a sucker for romance and "mysterious" heroes, so maybe it was that aspect of the summary that made me click the "request" button on netgalley. I definitely don't regret it, even though this debut novel by Alicia K. Leppert turned out to be quite different then what I expected it to be.
As the synopsis states, the story opens with a harrowing scene of attempted suicide. Olivia is a 20 year old shell of a young woman, broken down by losing everyone that has meant something to her. Abandoned by even her best friend, Olivia has attempted to eke out her own life by working and owning her own apartment. But she lives like a robot, going through the motions without truly seeing or feeling, barely eating or full-filling other social or physical needs. After a particularly bad day at work, swallowing a bottle of anxiety pills becomes her answer to her problems. One minute Olivia feels nothing and is greeted by white light, the next she is waking up in the hospital, told she has been saved by her mysterious neighbor named Jude. And so Olivia's journey begins, her fight back to mental and physical wellness, finding something worth living for... Sounds like a pretty straight forward, contemporary novel, right?
I battled back and forth on how much I should reveal about Emerald City in my review. But after some careful thinking and seeing that other reviewers have talked about what I wanted to reveal, I decided to go for it. If you haven't figured it out already, Emerald City is actually a paranormal romance and our mysterious hero, Jude, is an...angel! Now hold that thought.
Here is what I liked about the novel. I think the author did a great job with capturing the realistic nature of depression and suicide. I completely disagree with another reviewer in regards to how long it takes to heal after suffering a great loss. In the book, Olivia's mother killed herself a year before. Another reviewer felt that her depression lasting a year over the death of her mother felt unrealistic. They felt that after a couple of months, Olivia should have been able to start healing from her loss. Seriously?? Who puts a limit on the grieving process? Everyone deals with loss differently, so I thought the author dealt with the subject conscientiously.
Emerald City is filled with great characterization. The author really takes her time to build the relationships between her characters. While some other reviewers felt it may have taken too long for the relationship between Olivia and Jude to begin to really blossom, I thought it was a nice change from some of the typical "instant love" romances out there. I also like the fact that the author didn't bog the story down with tons of secondary characters. Not that I have issues with secondary characters, but Alicia K. Leppert does a great job making the characters she has three dimensional. One of my favorites is Hal, the mysterious homeless man that Jude always goes to when he needs to borrow materialistic things, like a truck, money, etc. I know, sounds weird, right? How can a homeless man have those kinds of connections? Read to find out :) Even though the paranormal element wasn't really evident until about halfway through the book, I liked the angel mythology that was introduced. In Alicia K. Leppert's world, her angels don't have any wings. Heaven is not located in the sky, but is hidden in some sort of alternate dimension. Spirits are kept separate from angels. There are also many different kinds of angels, like ones that comfort you before you pass on, those that guard you, etc.
Now to my issues with Emerald City. A few are minor and are just thoughts/questions I had while reading. Olivia owns her own apartment in Seattle, but only works at a cafe shop. Is that realistic? Olivia swallows a whole bottle of pills but somehow Jude convinces the hospital it was an "accident". Really?? Apparently he did not use any of his "heavenly" influences to convince the hospital staff that it was an accident. It doesn't sound plausible.
When Olivia is at one of her therapy sessions, she thinks to herself that she doesn't want to reveal that Jude is the one that saved her. She tells Dr. Robinson that she has been spending time with a guy and that he is her neighbor. Then later in the conversation, she mentions that her savior the night she tried killing herself was her neighbor. Wait, didn't she just give it away??? I think it was one of those unconscious errors the author made and the editor didn't catch it. A little proof reading and rewording would have solved that mistake.
Also, without giving away too much, there is a part where Olivia is able to "meet" Jude's mother on the other side. I thought this was a bit odd since I would have thought that if the author was going to go in that direction with the story, it would be Olivia's mother that she would be able to see. Considering the fact that she has regrets about her mother's death and wishing she had the chance to talk with her one last time, I'm not sure what purpose was gained by making it be Jude's mother whom she meets. Again, maybe it slipped the author's mind, but I thought adding Jude's mom to the mix was a bit of an odd angle.
Lastly-- and this is my biggest issues and sadly, I don't think this is the author's fault-- I think Emerald City was completely marketed wrong. Back to my earlier comment, I first went into this novel thinking it was going to be a contemporary YA novel. Then I started reading it, and with Olivia's age being revealed at 20 and the serious/grimness of the depression and suicide attempt, I thought wow, maybe this is more of an adult novel. Then the angel concept was intertwined and I came to the conclusion that this is a YA paranormal romance for older teens. On top of the genre confusion, throw in a completely ambiguous cover art and book title, and you have yourself a hot mess of confusion. Now, I have talked to enough authors to know cover art is usually completely out of their hands. But I am still stuck on the title. Sometimes authors have a say, sometimes they don't. Other then Jude's green eyes which are mentioned quite a bit throughout the novel, I can't figure out what "Emerald City" means. And it absolutely does not help market the book at all.
Emerald City was not a bad read. I think the author captures the realistic and ugly stages of grief, depression, and suicide. I liked that the paranormal elements were introduced a bit later in the book. It was a nice change to see the relationship between two characters take its time to develop rather then using the instant love formula that we see so much in YA novels. Great characterization, interesting angel mythology held the story together. But a few plot holes such as poor editing, combined with the terrible marketing of this book is why it only gets a 3 out of 5 star rating. I think paranormal romance fans will miss out on Emerald City because they won't know about it. Thank God I am open minded! Someone who picks up this novel thinking its a contemporary romance may leave a worse review simply because they felt misled.
Totally hot, interracial romance about an African American librarian and a rough around the edges alpha male biker. Absolutely love Shy4.5 star rating
Totally hot, interracial romance about an African American librarian and a rough around the edges alpha male biker. Absolutely love Shyla Colt's writing. My only complaint is the ending felt rushed and wrapped up too quickly. However, I have a feeling there will be a sequel, although other characters may take the lead which I am fine with. Very excited for Moose and Joey to get their story. :D...more
My Review: I stumbled upon REAL by accident and I must say it is the best damn "accident"This review and more can be read on my blog: The Muses Circle
My Review: I stumbled upon REAL by accident and I must say it is the best damn "accident" to fall into my hands in quite some time. The book is so good, that I pushed other reviews to the back burner so that I could purge myself of these overwhelming emotions that bombarded me during my fast and furious reading session (finished REAL in less than 6 hours and that was with me forcing myself to slow down). Let me put it into perspective as to how good this book is if I still haven't convinced you yet. I had just finished reading the highly anticipated Walking Disaster by Jamie McGuire which left me feeling a bit unsatisfied and right after that flew through Gina L. Maxwell's Fighting For Love series (Seducing Cinderella and Rules of Entanglement). Can you guess what these books are about? Yup, hot, hunky cage fighters. I was starting to get burned out with the genre and theme but I figured one more couldn't hurt. I wasn't prepared to fall in love with REAL. I wasn't prepared to love it more than Beautiful Disaster-- after all, Beautiful Disaster was a first of its kind and that book set the bar for others that came out after it, and trust me, these cage fighter romances are starting to pop up everywhere. So if I now have your attention, you are probably wondering why REAL is so good? How can it be better than Beautiful Disaster?
First, let's talk about characters. The book opens quite similarly to that of Beautiful Disaster. Brooke is dragged reluctantly to an Underground boxing fight by her best friend Melanie. She finds Remington "Riptide" Tate and all of his animal magnetism absolutely irresistible and overwhelming. But it's when their eyes meet that a connection is forged between the two. Thanks to her mischievous bff giving Remington her phone number, she is contacted a few days later by his people and is offered the job of a lifetime-- to travel with him as his personal PT for the next 3 months. So it sounds like your typical, fluffy romance, right? But Katy Evans is a clever author. Why? Because she makes her characters believable, relatable.
Brooke is not just some one dimensional character with no flaws, or a perfect body, or a skinny body, or a body with killer curves. What I am trying to get at is Brooke was an athlete with dreams of achieving gold. But at her first Olympic tryouts she suffers from an earth shattering injury that ruins all of her years of hard work and dedication. But instead of letting it completely destroy her, she reevaluates her life and decides to go to college and study sports rehabilitation, something that she feels may have helped her during such a tragic time of her life.
Turning a negative into a positive is something I myself am quite familiar with. Call it the story of my life. Even though Brooke and I are very different, there are things we have so much in common. Several pages in, Brooke says something that I could completely relate to which is: "When you need to accept the fact that your body sometimes can't do what you want it to, it hurts almost worse than the physical pain of being injured." Can I get an amen? I am only 30 and people automatically assume that 30 year olds are at the prime of their lives. I should be able to go out and run a marathon, go dancing all night long until the sun comes up, you get the point. But it's not until I tell people that the handicap placard outside in my car is not my grandmother's but mine that it sinks in I am not like most 30 year olds. I had major back surgery at the age of14, two leg surgeries by 20, and a few others and some hospitals stays in between then and now. Am I saying this for pity? Hell no. Because despite all of the hardballs that keep coming at me, all it makes me want to do in return is catch them and throw them back that much harder. But as Brooke had to learn, the first step is accepting what happened, knowing your limits-- but these limitations don't have to break or stop you. It's all about being creative and finding the way around them.
I wasn't even 2 chapters into REAL and I was already a fan of Brooke. I also liked how the author describes her physically. Sorry, but I am so tired of reading books where female characters are either bombshells or skinny with no curves at all. It makes sense that Brooke would have an athletic body but now that she is not "training" for competition, she has allowed herself to gain a little weight to fill out her curves. For example, while she was competing, she barely had breasts, but now with muscles going a little softer and not having vigorous training and diet restrictions, she has started to fill out. I love how Katy Evans gives us these details. It doesn't mean that Brooke is plus size or that she doesn't exercise-- on the contrary, she loves to eat healthy and work out. I just think that Evans did an amazing job with making Brooke such a realistic character.
Now to Remington...strong, enigmatic, beautiful, dangerous, yet vulnerable Remy. Again I have to give Katy Evans props for not only keeping the sexual tension going between Brooke and Remington but also the mystery surrounding his character. I went into the story thinking Remy was going to be like so many other dominant, possessive alpha males I've read before, not that that is a bad thing because if you've read any of my other reviews, you already know I love alphas. But Remy was not easy to read. He is a man of few words which I found incredibly sexy because when he does say something it felt all the more important. He doesn't try to get into Brooke's pants as I expected (and to Brooke's disappointment) even though the sexual tension kept stretching like a rubber band ready to snap at any moment. In many romances with alphas, it's usually the male that pursues the woman, chipping away at her defenses until she gives into temptation. But Katy Evans does something different. Somehow she makes Brooke the pursuer while still maintaining Remington's raw, possessive, dominant nature. Now I don't want you to think that Remy doesn't want Brooke because he does. Oh, how he wants her and the things he does to show her that. Like the way he "scents her" and goes about marking her, like the animal instincts in him are brought out because of her. But Brooke thinks the hot make out sessions and his reluctance to take things further in the bedroom is his way of toying with her when really it is his way of...courting her. And of course it's revealed why it is so important to Remy that Brooke gets to know him, to truly know him...which of course is for me to know and you to find out!
I can't talk about Remington without mentioning the true or real reason this book sets itself apart from others. It is revealed pretty early that Remy has a temper. And as I was reading, I kind of shrugged it off, thinking, okay, so he has a short fuse like Travis Maddox from Beautiful Disaster. But as the story progressed and pieces started clicking together, I realized this story has so much more depth than originally believed. Katy Evans is a brave woman to write about a topic that is not only misunderstood but, until recently, hasn't really been talked about. I am being vague on purpose because I don't want to completely give it away since Evans truly does a great job at keeping readers wondering what actually ails Remington. But I will give you a hint-- think Silver Linings Playbook. If you've had the chance to see the movie starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro, then you will know what I am talking about. If you haven't, I highly recommend everyone see it because it truly is an eye opener about a topic that more people need to be made aware of.
Katy Evan's REAL became real for me during--in my opinion-- the most pivotal part of the story which is when Remington goes into an uncontrollable rage during a party after another victorious win. Again, I don't want to get too detailed here to refrain from spoilers but when you see through Brooke's eyes what they have to do to contain him and he whispers, "Don't let her see," it was at that point that I shed a tear. Because I knew what Remington was dealing with was larger than just having a short fuse. I wasn't prepared for the book to become so serious, but I quickly embraced it because with such a topic comes a sense of realism and with realism sparks a honest, emotional reaction.
I am not under any illusions. I know the book isn't perfect and has a few flaws. Could the editing have been a little better? Yup. Was the beginning a little shaky? Yup. Were there parts that seemed repetitious? For sure. But you know what? All of those things I can overlook for a first time author because Katy Evans not only delivered in every other way, but she far exceeded my expectations. I have every confidence that those little kinks will smooth out as Evans hones her skills over time. But there is no doubt in my mind that she has the "it" factor and I can see REAL becoming a bestseller the more word gets out about it. Hell, I can even see movie potential and I am not just putting that out there lightly. But for now, I look forward to sitting back and watching REAL climb to greatness and anxiously await for its sequel, MINE.
My Review: Have I died and gone to heaven? That's sure what it feels like after reading KatThis review can also be viewed on my blog: The Muses Circle
My Review: Have I died and gone to heaven? That's sure what it feels like after reading Katie McGarry's debut novel Pushing the Limits. The book's premise sounded exactly like something I would enjoy, after all, I love misunderstood bad boys and the good girls that grow to love them. Let's face it, not every author is good at writing bad boys, unless you're NY Times best selling author Simone Elkeles, writer of the sizzling hot Perfect Chemistry series. So you can imagine my hesitance going into Pushing the Limits.
Pushing the Limits was not what I expected, in a good way. For example, based upon the synopsis, I automatically assumed the abuse that Echo suffered was from her "jock" boyfriend. I don't know why, but I had it in my head that maybe one night they were at a party, he slipped something in her drink (or attempted to get her drunk), and tried to molest her which resulted in the "freaky" scars on her arms and loss of memory. Boy was I wrong about everything. The plot itself is way more complex than that which is one of the things I absolutely love about this book.
First and foremost, when I started reading, I didn't expect the chapters to alternate between Echo and Noah. I love this technique because I enjoy being able to get into the heads of more than one character. Plus, it gave me the heads up that this story wasn't going to be just about Echo which again, I just assumed based on the book blurb. This is just as much as Noah's story as it is Echo's. And while I was blown away by Echo's dysfunctional family dynamic, it was Noah's relationship with his brothers and best friends that had me shedding some tears. I think the less I say about the actual plot of both of their stories will be more beneficial for you as the reader, so I am just going to leave it at that.
I also like how the author explored the different views on grief and the depth of Echo's therapy sessions. It's revealed pretty early that Echo had an older brother named Aires, who died while on active duty. He was her world, her rock when things got crazy at home. She used to keep him company while he worked on restoring a classic car and when he died, it became her passion: she wanted to fix the car up in her brother's honor. Echo's father, on the other hand, thinks it is a stupid idea and rather sell the car. Some people rather forget when they are grieving. I also give the author tremendous credit for writing about mental illness, memory loss after a traumatic experience, and how it not only affects a teen's home life, but that of their social life in a school setting. Let's face it, kids can be cruel; I see it every day as a teacher. In general, students are either trying to look cool, or trying to blend in so they don't draw unwanted attention. If a rumor about someone starts to go around school, most rather believe it than go up to the person in question and find out the truth for themselves. Sad but true.
McGarry is also great at writing secondary characters. I absolutely fell in love with Isaiah who is Noah's best friend and "foster" brother. While Beth annoyed me a bit, one particular scene that I will not spoil changed my view of her greatly. There were still scenes where she made me roll my eyes, but I get where the attitude comes from. Since I am on the topic of Beth, I recently found out that Katie McGarry will be giving Beth her own book. At first I was doing cart wheels because...well, let's just say there is major chemistry between Beth and Isaiah. So of course I thought, awesome, the author is going to write Beth and Isaiah's story. But when I read the little sneak peak at the end of Pushing the Limits...I'll let you be the judge of it. If it's going where I think it's going, that really sucks, but I am willing to give McGarry a chance since Pushing the Limits really did blow me away. She knows her characters better than I do, so I guess she has something up her sleeve! I'll just have to trust her on this!
This book should definitely be filed under Mature Young Adult. McGarry does not hold back on cursing, sexual situations, and some drug use. If these things bother you, then this book isn't for you. But just be aware that Pushing the Limits is so much more. These things just add to the realism of the story. I truly commend her for tackling controversial topics, even some I haven't mentioned in this review, such as the Foster Care system and the affects it has on children, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Like I said before, I am a huge Simone Elkeles fan and the biggest compliment I could give Katie McGarry is that Pushing the Limits reminds me so much of Elkeles' novels. Yet she is able to create her own voice, her own style. I look forward to Beth's story next, and hopefully Isaiah's after that!
My Review: First, let it be known how much I love mermaid mythology. Yes, I startedThis review and more can be viewed on my blog at: The Muses Circle
My Review: First, let it be known how much I love mermaid mythology. Yes, I started out like most young girls, fascinated with Disney's The Little Mermaid and falling in love with Splash starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. As an English major in college, I had the opportunity to take a Legends, Fairytales, & Folklore course and was exposed to all kinds of mer tales from around the world. Some tales were sweet while others showed a very dark side to these sea creatures. It is no secret that mermaids have recently become popular in Young Adult literature and it has been exciting to read different authors' perspectives. But just like the overabundance of vampire and werewolf novels out there, it's getting harder to find a mer story that stands out from the rest. Maybe that is why I was so psyched when I came across Lies Beneath. It's just a shame that the book didn't live up to my expectations.
Here's what I liked. If you've read any of my reviews before, then you already know how much I enjoy reading books from the male perspective and how hard they are to find. I give Anne Greenwood Brown kudos for writing Lies Beneath entirely in Calder's point-of-view. Not only that, she nailed it.
I also liked the author's writing style. The chapters were not overly long and I enjoyed the poetry that was weaved throughout. It was also nice to see each chapter labeled with a title. I find it kind of fun when authors do that because I like to see how a title connects within that chapter.
One of the biggest things that drew me to this book was knowing that the author was taking what we think we know about mermaids/mermen and giving us a completely different mythology. Mermaids that survive by absorbing human emotions and energy? Cool! Cold blooded killers? Intriguing! I really liked what the author brought to the table, such as Calder not being born a merman, but being turned into one. The silver ring that appears around their necks when they are in their mer form. The depths that they will go to exact revenge and the consequences of not keeping your word if you should break a mer promise. So much potential that somehow just gets...lost.
Here is where I had issues with Lies Beneath. The story absolutely starts off strong. Calder tells us from the very first couple of pages that he is a killer, that's how he survives, but he hasn't made a kill in several months (9 months I think, right?). His three sisters, Maris, Tallulah, and Pavati, lure him to Michigan to exact revenge on Jason Hancock, the man responsible for the death of their mother. I say lure because while Calder feels bonded to his sisters, he desperately wants to be free from them. Maris, the ring leader, reluctantly agrees to cut the ties that binds him to them if he helps finish what they have set out to do. So far so good, right?
But once Calder gets to Michigan, that is sort of where the story falls flat. They decide the best way to get Jason Handcock is through his daughters. They at first think it's best to go for the youngest girl but Calder becomes fascinated with Lily, the eldest daughter of Hancock...and the story becomes boring. Seriously! The majority of the book is Calder watching, following, and...stalking Lily Hancock. He sleeps in the hammock outside her house at night. He gets a job at the same place she does. I've seen the "stalker" technique used before (for lack of a better term or phrase) and while in some books it works (Twilight, for example), it fails epically in Lies Beneath. Why you ask? I wish I could give you a good reason why. I tried going back to find some examples as to what bothers me about Calder, why I didn't feel myself swooning for him like I have for many other male lead characters. Maybe it's because he just doesn't seem fully developed, which is odd considering the book is in his point-of-view.
This also leads me to my dislike for his love interest, Lily Hancock. It's really rare for me to dislike BOTH the male and female main lead characters of a story. Actually, this may be a first. I thought Lily was going to be this rebellious, no nonsense kind of girl by the way she was first described. She annoyed me with all of the mermaid poetry and the blatant disregard for the "killing" parts. I guess I have to give it to Calder since even he was a bit annoyed that she had this romantic image in her head and no matter how he tried to redirect her back to the truth, she refused to see it. I'm not stupid, I get that in order for us to have a happily ever after, she has to forgive and come to terms with the things he has done. But to completely IGNORE it? Yeah, I have major issues with that.
Here is also a major mistake I found that became distracting. It's revealed early that Calder was born human and was made into a merman. When he was a small child, he was on a boat with his parents. A mermaid, later to become his "adopted" mother, capsized the boat and killed his parents. She showed mercy by turning him. But later in the story Calder thinks to himself, "They were out there somewhere. They might have even loved me. Did they search for me still, all these years later?" (page 241). HUH? Didn't she kill his biological parents??? If anyone has read this book and is reading this review, please feel free to let me know if I am wrong. Maybe I didn't read it correctly, but I could have sworn Calder said early in the story that they were killed.
Another thing that bothered me is how Calder and his sisters' mermaid mother died. I know she was caught in a fisherman's net. And I am assuming the fishermen never saw her? Or did they? If they did, then mermaids would be out of the closet, right? This isn't exactly a mistake but this is the kind of thing that happened a lot throughout the story. The author throws out some great ideas but doesn't fully explore them or give us enough details.
While I absolutely loved the structure of the novel such as the male point-of-view, the edgy, dark mythology, and writing style, there really wasn't a whole lot of substance to hold it together. The story focused too much on Calder spying on Lily. The characters weren't fleshed out enough. I get there is going to be a sequel but there could have been way more character development without giving away too much story. In any case, I am thankful to NetGalley and Delacorte Books for Young Readers for giving me this opportunity to read and review Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown.
My Review: Christine Feehan. Sherrilyn Kenyon. J.R. Ward. Lara Adrian. What do these autThis review and more can be found on my blog, The Muses Circle
My Review: Christine Feehan. Sherrilyn Kenyon. J.R. Ward. Lara Adrian. What do these authors have in common? Quite a few things, actually. They have not only written some of the most memorable alpha male vampire heroes known in the romance genre, but also have successful, long running series. Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon used to be on my top 5 favorite authors list. Feehan's Dark series and Kenyon's Dark Hunter series consisted of books that were so good that I would buy them automatically just because their names were on the front cover. But recently I've found myself not doing that so much anymore. Series that I once found so unique and exciting have become predictable while others have gone off the deep end due to authors trying to create new twists to keep the story lines fresh. Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series is up to 27 books so far with Feehan's Dark series trailing at 23-- and as much as I hate to say it, they both should have ended many books ago. I can only imagine the pressure that fans put on authors to keep a series going and there are just as many authors that rather stick with what they know then try something new.
Then there are those authors that surprise you, such as J.R. Ward and Lara Adrian. Since this review is about Lara Adrian's Midnight Breed series, I will save my comments about J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series for another time. What I love and respect about Lara Adrian is that her Midnight Breed series technically ended with Darker After Midnight, book 10. Of course I didn't realize this until a couple of months ago when I started reading it in preparation for Edge of Dawn, book 11. When it finally started dawning on me that she was wrapping things up the closer I got to the end, I remember thinking, wow, an author that knows it's time to pull the plug and end on a bang. After all, I don't think I am the only one that was getting tired of Draco (the SOB needed to die ages ago even though I get he was the main villian) and she was running out of Breed warriors to write about (at least those that fought under Lucan). So if the series ended with book #10, what is Edge of Dawn, book #11 about?
Edge of Dawn takes place 20 years after the end of Darker After Midnight. Vampires are now out of the closet to humans and Lucan and the rest of the Breed have been working diligently for 20 years to create a peaceful coexistence. Mira, the adopted daughter of Nikolai and Renata, is now fully grown and a captain of her own squad of Breed warriors. She is still suffering from the loss of the only man that she has ever loved, Kellan. But when she is sent on a personal mission and is taken captive by a mysterious rebel leader, she soon realizes that the man she thought she had lost to an explosion years ago may not be dead after all.
Even though Edge of Dawn lists as book 11 in the Midnight Breed series, technically it is the first in a new series that just so happens to be set in the world of the Breed. All of the children that were introduced towards the end of the series, such as Lucan and Gabrielle's son Dare, Nikolai and Renata's adopted daughter Mira, Chase and Tavia's twins, Aric and Carys, and the parentless Ethan and Kellan make an appearance. This is why Lara Adrian is brilliant. She was wise enough to know that any more then 10 books would be pushing her luck as far as trying to find a new hero and also stretching the plot out. But, who says the world of the Breed has to end? And what better way to continue on and to keep it fresh then to jump 20 years in the future, add a new villian/threat that must be destroyed, and use the kin of the previous main characters in past books as the new heros/heroines for future books. Absolutely brilliant!
There is not much more for me to say. Lara Adrian delivers. Even the shortened length of Edge of Dawn works. Normally her Midnight Breed novels run around 350 to over 400 pages. Edge of Dawn is only 288 pages which concerned me at first but it was perfect. You could read Edge of Dawn as a stand alone but if you are a fan of her previous 10 novels in the series then you will love how she revisits previous characters and also gives us glimpses of future ones to come. One secondary character that was introduced in Edge of Dawn that I absolutely became enamored with is the alpha Breed cage fighter Rune. HOLY SH*T is he H.O.T! Even his name is sexy! I'll probably have to wait another 10 books before his story gets told, but at least I have something to look forward to!
My Review: First and foremost, before I even delve into this review, let's turnThis review and many more can be found on my blog at: The Muses Circle
My Review: First and foremost, before I even delve into this review, let's turn our attention for a moment to the cover and title of this book. Hot guy with a gun, wearing a sexy black tight v-neck t-shirt, and a bad ass motorcycle (later I would find out its name, Phantom) in the background. Hell On Wheels??? Oh, HELL YEAH! I really can't explain my joy when I came across this book. Maybe it's because I have a thing for bikers-- I am obsessed with the FX tv show Sons of Anarchy, and my boyfriend just so happens to ride as well. Also, the romantic suspense genre is starting to get a bit...boring, especially when it comes to the hero being a covert special ops agent. But combining the two worlds? I'm game! Now, I know it's been done before, how could I forget Jaci Burton's Wild Riders series. But the key is, it hasn't been over done. Julie Ann Walker is a new author that I was hoping would give us something fresh in this overly saturated genre. While she doesn't fail in this mission (like that? hehe), she does have some work to do to smooth out the kinks.
First with what I liked about Hell On Wheels. The story opens with 2 people that are deeply hurt by loss but in completely different ways. You have Ali, our heroine, who has just been told that her beloved older brother Grigg has been killed on a mission. Then you have Nate, our hero, who not only suffers from the loss of his best friend, but also is being torn to shreds with guilt. Why does he feel guilt you ask? Well, that is for you to find out! What I can say is that Walker is fantastic with evoking emotions. It's been a long time since a romance novel has caused me to tear up or to feel heaviness in my chest. There are two scenes that come to mind, one with a flash back scene between Frank and Grigg and another with secondary characters Frank and Becky. I will leave it up to you to pin point the exact scenes.
Not only does Walker give us a great tortured hero (who is alpha, but not over-the-top) and smart heroine (helpless females get on my nerves after awhile), she also is good at creating realistic and likeable secondary characters. Each of these characters have a role that we've seen done over and over again, such as Ozzie the geeky tech, Becky the house mechanic, and Frank, the gruff boss who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Once these characters were introduced, I thought the book was going to go down hill. But somehow Walker brings a freshness to these cliche character types. Ozzie is my favorite. He is hilarious, not only because he annoys everyone with his singing and song choices, but because he is constantly quoting movies. Might I also add that while at first I imagined Ozzie to be nerdy since he is a wiz with computers and techie stuff, my imagination quickly changed with the way Walker describes him: "The guy was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Mr. Spock's favorite hand gesture ad the slogan 100% Trekkie, which was slightly incongruous when compared to the shoulder holster and the mean-looking, matte-black gun secured to his side. He looked like some strange combination of geek and warrior. The man you'd call if you needed to invade a small country or translate a message written in Klingon." Sexy, right? :)
If you are a fan of lots of sex scenes, you won't find it here. BUT WAIT! What Walker DOES do exceedingly well is sustaining the heat meter. When an author can create sexual tension, build on it, and you don't even realize the book is halfway over and the main characters haven't done the deed yet, then you know the author has a skill. And what's even better is the fact that Nate and Ali aren't the only ones that have a serious case of sexual tension. So does Frank and Becky, which will be the main leads in book 2, but I am getting ahead of myself!
Now to why I only gave Hell On Wheels a 3 star rating. The beginning of the book absolutely scared me. The first couple of chapters didn't flow and I had to keep telling myself that this is a new author, give it time, the wrinkles will start to smooth out. And thank God they do. But some of her word choices were repetitive and it wouldn't have been that noticeable if they weren't bigger words, like "capitulated" and "surreptitiously".
I also got annoyed with the way she wrote some of Ali's inner dialogue. I get that Ali doesn't like cursing, but does she really spell out the word "hell" as "H-E-Double Hocky Sticks" in her head??? Imagine that throughout the whole story. Yeah, quite irritating. My other big issue is the majority of the characters sounded the same, like they all had the same voice. Each character should sound different, have a distinct personality and I felt that other than maybe Ozzie, the dialogue and prose kind of runs together. I will say it does get a better by the middle to the end of the book; Nate starts to sound like Nate and Frank starts to sound like Frank.
My last issue is something that happens with many first books in series. While I loved her secondary characters, there were a few minor ones that she spent too much time on. There were paragraphs I skimmed and a few pages I skipped. And I hate doing that. It's always tough to find a balance when you're trying to build your world and set up your characters for future books.
Overall, I think that Hell On Wheels was a solid first book in a planned series. For a debut author, I think Julie Ann Walker has a lot of potential. While she isn't as steamy a writer as say veteran erotic romance author Lora Leigh, they do share a similarity in plot formula, such as the hero who falls in love with his best friend's baby sister, or the hero who thinks he is too old and jaded to be with the woman he wants. Lora Leigh is the queen of writing those plot devices, so we shall see how Walker makes them her own. I also think she has a great sense of humor, especially the Dum Dums lollipop drama between Becky and Frank. You will see what I mean when you read the book! Speaking of those two, Frank and Becky's story will unfold next in In Rides Trouble, due out next month on September 4th. I know, the release dates for Hell On Wheels and In Rides Trouble are only a month apart! Book 3, Rev It Up, comes out on October 2nd. I look forward to reading some more biker, special ops yumminess!
Absolutely LOVED this book! Vincente...my God did I want to smack him upside the head a few times because he was so damn stubborn-- but can you faultAbsolutely LOVED this book! Vincente...my God did I want to smack him upside the head a few times because he was so damn stubborn-- but can you fault a man for thinking he is doing the right thing by trying to stay out of the woman he love's life because of his fear of bringing her into the life of death and brutality? I love me some conflicted bad boys!
Can't wait to get my hands on Maksim's story. Well done, Nancy! <3...more
My Review: Overall, I think Hollyweird by Terri Clark was a super fun, quick read. If you finCheck out more of my reviews on my blog: The Muses Circle
My Review: Overall, I think Hollyweird by Terri Clark was a super fun, quick read. If you find yourself overwhelmed after reading books with heavy topics and you are looking for a story that is entertaining, will make you laugh, and doesn't require putting on your thinking caps, then this book is definitely worth picking up.
Hollyweird's premise is simple. Aly King wins a contest that was being promoted in EnterTEENment Magazine. What does she win? A once in a lifetime opportunity to meet Dakota Danvers, the hunky star of a popular CW show called Paranormal P.I. With her gothy, best friend Des and 21 year old sister/soap star wannabe Missy (who serves as their annoying, diva chaperone) in tow, they head to Hollywood. Never in their wildest dreams did they ever imagine their teen idol is actually a demon in disguise (the son of Satan to be exact) and that they would have to work closely with an undercover fallen angel named Jameson (who is trying to earn his halo back) in order to save the world from evil. Yes, it's as funny as it sounds!
If you haven't figured it out yet by my little summary, Terri Clark has created some memorable characters. By far my favorite has to be Des, Aly's best friend. I'm not sure if it's because she reminds me of my old goth days or if it's because Des doesn't fit the typical stereotypes that most goth characters fall under. There is this big misconception that goth kids wear all black because they are depressed, worship the devil, only listen to Marilyn Manson, and wouldn't be caught dead with "normal" looking teens. Des is proof that just because you have a few piercings and wear darker clothes doesn't mean you are an unhappy, Satanic worshiping outcast. Even though Aly and Des have completely different styles, they don't let outer appearances get in the way of who they are on the inside.
I love Des's sense of humor and her crazy words and phrases she comes up with, which Aly affectionately adds to her mental "Des Dictionary". A great example is in the beginning of the book when Aly and Des arrive in Hollywood. Des is so nervous that she pukes a little in her mouth which she calls "interna-hurl." "Guystraction" (being distracted by boys), "tattegory", and "pierconify" are just a few of the many other words she creates.
Let me not forget to mention how funny the text messages were from God to Jameson. When Aly and Des figure out the truth about Dakota, Jameson is torn as to whether he should reveal his own identity. Suddenly, a "Stairway to Heaven" ringtone goes off on his phone. When he checks to see who texted him, the message says:
From: God "Maybe Zeppelin was a little obvs?"
Sooo funny! Also, Jameson must check in with the archangel Michael from time to time. What cracks me up is how Jameson calls him "Mikey". Who knew that giving God a sense of humor would work so well? Then again, I am not sure why I'm so surprised. Maybe it's because the last few books I've read have been more serious in nature. It just came to me yesterday that Hollyweird's humor reminds me of the movie Little Nicky starring Adam Sandler. If you liked Little Nicky then you will love this book!
Here are a few things I had issues with. While I loved the alternating chapter perspectives between Aly and Jameson, I felt that about halfway through the book, the voices of the two merge together. What I mean is, in the beginning, I could easily tell which chapter was in Aly's POV and which was in Jameson's without the chapters even being labeled at the top. But somewhere in the middle of the book, their distinct voices as characters fade away. I would be reading and easily forget who's head I was in. I'm not sure what happened since the story and characters started off strong.
I also felt that the way the girls find out about Dakota's true identity was a bit rushed and sudden. I get that the book is only 240 pages, so things do have to move along. Also, this may sound strange, but I guess I didn't care for the revelation that other supernatural creatures like werewolves and witches also exist. Obviously this has a lot to do with how the story ends, so I won't go any further.
My last complaint is the romance and chemistry between the two main characters. While I loved Aly and Jameson as a couple, the whole "I-would-sacrifice-everything-for-you, even-risk-never getting-my-halo-back" formula doesn't work, especially since they have only known each other, oh like, FOUR DAYS! Don't get me wrong, I am not a complete "instant love" hater. I just feel that there wasn't much development between Aly and Jameson due to the craziness going on in the book. Maybe if there had been some more scenes between them, more tender moments, I could believe the "I-would-die-for-you" kind of love. But the romance is quite lacking, the heat factor is...well, cold. I can't even remember if they kissed. Isn't that sad?
Hollyweird's cover art and synopsis were spot on as to what I expected from this book! The story was light-hearted, hilarious, and never takes itself too seriously. If you keep these things in mind, you will enjoy this book immensely!
My Review:This Is Not a Test absolutely blew my mind. There is no other way to sayThis review and more can also be found on my blog: The Muses Circle
My Review:This Is Not a Test absolutely blew my mind. There is no other way to say it. I actually went into this book with low expectations. Come on, 6 students stuck in a high school while a zombie horde tries to find a way in? A protagonist who no longer wants to live? In the wrong hands, this story could have turned out a complete mess. But thanks to Courtney Summers, This Is Not a Test is a gripping, frighteningly realistic portrayal of not only human survival, but of finding the will to live.
There have been a few reviews floating around that have basically said that This Is Not a Test is not a zombie book, but a story that just so happens to have zombies in it. I would say that there is some truth to this statement. You could take the zombie aspect out and replace it with a natural disaster, an alien invasion, etc. HOWEVER, if you think this somehow makes the book less scary, think again. I had the pleasure (or displeasure depending on how you look at it) of reading the novel during a storm that knocked out my power for about 12 hours. I couldn't sleep since it was so unbearably hot, so I lit some candles and decided to give the book a shot. I finished it in less than 6 hours and it left me shaken. The title of the book combined with the eerie, blood splattered cover only intensified what lie between the pages. To put it bluntly, I was thoroughly creeped out and the feeling didn't leave me right away.
Every protagonist in a story has issues to face or overcome. And most of the time, these issues are revealed methodically and are carefully paced to keep the reader engaged. Courtney Summers does something quite different with her protagonist. Before jumping into the novel, I pretty much thought I had the story figured out. Zombies take over, Sloane's whole family is killed, therefore, she has no reason to stay alive. I couldn't have been more wrong because Summers drops a bomb on us within the first few pages of the story. Sloane's nightmare began way before zombies ever entered the picture. It started when her father began physically abusing both her and her sister Lily. What kept Sloane going was her sister's promise that they would one day run away together. However, she was never prepared for Lily to betray her by taking off and leaving her with their monster of a father. We learn this within the first few pages of the book as well as the fact that because of this, Sloane has given up on life. She is ready to commit suicide, preferring to face death than be her father's punching bag. But before she can follow through with her plan, the world as she knows it comes to an end. The dead roam the streets looking for human flesh. If it wasn't for a small group of survivors, she would be zombie food or become one herself. But did them saving her only prolong the inevitable? I guess this is why I find Sloane such an interesting, complex character. While the others have fond thoughts of their parents or a sibling or a significant other, all she has is the painful memories of her dead mother, abusive father, and selfish sister.
One of the most heartbreaking parts in the story is when Sloane is talking to Rhys after he discovers her desire to end her life. She says to him, "I wouldn't have left you like that. Not like [Lily] did to me...She always said I'd die without her and she left anyway."
"But you didn't die," [Rhys] says.
"I did," I say. "I'm just waiting for the rest of me to catch up.”
Here is another line that gives you a clear view of Sloane's despair. “Waiting around to be saved is like waiting to die and I have done more of both than anyone else in the room.”
This Is Not a Test is an extremely well written story that has a beautiful flow to the writing style. The chapters are short which compliments its somber tone. What absolutely amazed me about this book is the fact that not once did I wonder how the epidemic started nor was it ever mentioned or explored. 9 times out of 10, when I am reading an apocalyptic tale, I want to know why, when, and how. I think the reason it never crossed my mind with this book is because the story's main focus is not on the zombies scratching at the door. This is Not a Test is a character driven novel that focuses on the human psyche in extreme circumstances. It's about the decisions and sacrifices that have to be made, the trust that is formed and broken, etc.
That being said, I must warn you this book is not for the faint of heart. It will test you emotionally, ethically, and morally. It covers an array of controversial topics such as abuse, suicide, abandonment. But as the story progresses, and hidden truths come to surface, a whole new set of topics are introduced. If pushed to the extreme, would you sacrifice one life for another? Would the guilt of split second decision making be too much weight on your shoulders? Would you rather take your own life than try to survive in a world overrun by the dead?
If you are looking for a book that will give you a few hours of mindless entertainment, this one is not for you. However, if you want a story that will touch you emotionally, challenge you morally, and keep you on the edge of your seat, then I recommend This Is Not a Test. If you are a fan of The Walking Dead tv series or the Aftertime book series by Sophie Littlefield, then you are in for a treat. If you haven't, you definitely need to check them out, especially since Sloane reminds me of both Andrea (The Walking Dead) and Cass (Aftertime). I thank LibraryThing.com and St. Martin's Griffin for giving me the opportunity to read and review this riveting novel.
Loved it! And thankfully I wasn't one of the people that went into this novel thinking Entwined With You was the end of the series. I know quite a fewLoved it! And thankfully I wasn't one of the people that went into this novel thinking Entwined With You was the end of the series. I know quite a few people that didn't get the memo that Sylvia Day was expanding the series to 5 books instead of 3. So sadly, this book got many negative reviews within the first few days of its release since people were furious that it sort of ends suddenly. I guess if I thought it was the end of the series, I would have been disgusted as well.
Gideon and Eva's relationship is heating up-- how that is possible I don't even know since this couple scorches the pages. I'm loving the twists and turns, especially with other minor characters. I anxiously await the next in the series. My only major gripe is the fact that despite 300+ pages, only a week or 2 has passed in the actual story and I guess I am just anxious to see where things go--especially since the author has other novels she is working on and no date set in sight for book 4. Considering the fact that this series has rocketed her career even higher, I would think she would focus on seeing the crossfire series through. Then again, she is a very popular author who has many series in varies stages and is under contract, so I guess she has to do what works best for everyone, despite fans impatience.
Either way, I look forward to book 4 and just hope she can keep the momentum up rather then make it feel like she is stretching the story out to make more money. I know quite a few other series from other authors who have done this and ruined a perfectly good series by adding nothing but filler.
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My Review: It's4.5 Star Rating
*GIVEAWAY ALERT* Enter to win 1 of 3 paperback copies of APOLOGY by Jon Pineda. US Giveaway only! Ends 8/31. ENTER HERE
My Review: It's hard to believe that Jon Pineda's novel, APOLOGY, barely hits the 200 page mark. Why? Because as I sat back and went through my notes to prepare this review, I was pretty much stunned at all of the themes and thought provoking, philosophical questions that I had written in the margins, not to mention the span of years that is covered within the story. I'm not even going to lie-- I tend to like my novels 300+ pages. Maybe it's because it gives me that false sense of getting my money's worth. Or maybe it is just hard to wrap my brain around the idea of an author being able to write a story with depth in under 200 pgs. Whatever the case may be, I admire an author who can shatter my illusions as to what makes a truly memorable novel.
Here is what I liked about APOLOGY. The structure of the novel is broken into 8 parts, each part containing short, concise paragraphs (sort of like snapshots) that alternates between present day and flashbacks. This format and writing style makes for a very quick read. But don't let that fool you into thinking the story is poorly written. Pineda has an almost poetic-like style to his writing and there are many times I found myself reading a line and stopping to appreciate it. One such part is when Shoe finds his nephew's ball by the little girl:
"The ball lay hidden in the grass like some kind of giant egg. He picked it up, as if he were being watched, and slipped the ball under his flannel shirt. He hunched to hide this held object. Pressed to his side, it felt like a tumor that had moved on its own, out of his body and into a strange kind of freedom that was never meant to be. No, it was a stolen egg from long ago."
I also enjoyed the third person narration and was pleasantly surprised at the many different perspectives we see the story told through. You may think at first that some of these characters are unimportant to the story, such as the woman who comes forward and confesses to seeing Shoe leave the construction site that fateful morning. Why do we need to see things through her eyes? Who cares? I will get to its importance shortly.
One of the most interesting aspects of APOLOGY is Pineda's ability to create such a dynamic character in such a short amount of time. At the heart of the story is a man known as Shoe. He lives temporarily with his brother Paul and at the beginning of APOLOGY he has just found a job working construction. His brother's wife looks at him with disdain, and he is ridiculed at work, not only because he is an immigrant, but because of an old injury that causes him to drag his foot/leg, hence his nickname "Shoe". He has always felt like an outsider, plagued with hardship after hardship and because of this, has lived in a constant state of anxiety, waiting for more bad things to happen. He is an interesting, complex character because it's almost as if he is one man split in 2. On the one hand he is this introverted, deformed man that everyone, including his brother's wife, believes is this creepy, unintelligent outsider. But as the story progresses, you learn that underneath that rough exterior is a man with a heart of gold, a man whose real name is Exequiel. This is a man who refused to raise his voice during heated arguments with the only woman he ever loved because he had enough insight to know those were the type of men she was used to being with and he refused to fit that mold. He raised another man's child as if he were his own. And maybe the most amazing, self-sacrificing thing he has done of all, is taking the blame for a tragic accident caused by his nephew, Mario, which results in years of prison time.
While there is no doubt Shoe has a good heart, there were times I had to stop and wonder who's really to blame for the way people view him. Society has a huge role to play, after all, we constantly stereotype, judge, and belittle immigrants. But could this possibly be Shoe's fault as well? I hate that I even had to come to that conclusion but I think that is one of the lessons Pineda tries to teach us. That no matter how many times society fails you, which in Shoe's case is all the time, you can't give up. Giving up means they win, they can get away with it. And that is not what you want to teach your children.
I know that many immigrants try to live under the radar and fear that any kind of spotlight could cause issues for them and their families. On that fateful morning, Shoe wakes up and arrives to work early, hoping to impress his boss and prove his ignorant co-workers wrong. But his moment of positivity is shattered when he sees the body of the little girl and his nephew's ball with his name on it lying next to her. Shoe is stricken with fear and hopelessness. He automatically assumes that no one would believe him if he came forward because he is so used to bad things happening to him. Shoe takes his nephew's ball with him and decides silence is better than taking the risk of being accused.
When Mario later confesses to him what happened, Shoe asks Mario why he didn't tell someone and he gave the same answer he told himself: he was afraid that no one would believe him. This troubles Shoe and he realizes the error of staying silent. What kind of example is he setting for his nephew? He could have been a hero which he later realizes when another man comes forward to take the credit for finding the little girl, but Shoe will never know because of his silence.
While immigration is one of the main ideas throughout the story, there are so many other thought-provoking themes this novel presents and here are just a few.
: The concept of words coming back to haunt you. Before the little girl, Teagan, is tragically injured, Tom, her twin brother, says in a moment of irritation that he wishes she would get out of his life. They are words that cause him to carry around guilt for a long time. And they are words that made me wince because I think everyone at least once in their life has said something to someone that they later regret.
: Why bad things constantly happen to good people. Shoe is a good man but the author gives us plenty of examples of the hardships thrown his way since he was a small boy.
: The regrets of keeping silent VS. the consequences of coming forward and doing the right thing. Through Shoe and Mario's eyes we are shown the regret and guilt of keeping silent. But what I love about Pineda is that he never just gives us one way of looking at things. Earlier, I said that there was a woman that saw a man with a shovel and an odd gait that morning. Originally, the police thought the suspect was African American. The woman, who had just had a baby, battled with whether she should stay silent or come forward. She decided to come forward because a) she wanted to set a good example for her child and b) she didn't want the police to pin the incident on an African American man when she knew that the person who did it was not. You can't help but respect the woman for her bravery in coming forward because let's face it, sometimes doing the right thing is not always easy. But the consequence of her coming forward is Shoe being blamed.
: How lives intertwine and how 1 action can set off a series of events. I think the author sums it up nicely here in an abstract kind of way: "...Tom touched a bright ring of color near one of the engines. It was just to see if it had dried all the way. His fingertip caught briefly in the track. He stared at the spot, his fresh red print. Lines ran parallel and others converged."
The only issue I had with APOLOGY is how vague the author is with the nationality and ethnicity of his characters. I'm not sure if it was done on purpose or if Pineda assumed readers would be able to pick up on the subtle hints he leaves here and there throughout the story.
APOLOGY is a powerful little novel that should not be overlooked. I can see this book being used in a Multi-cultural Literature or Sociology class. I can also see this story being further explored in a feature film. It somehow reminds me of the 2011 award winning movie A Better Life, starring Demian Bichir. And after viewing the book trailer, I think APOLOGY has a shot if the right people in Hollywood snatch it up.
Like menage? How about a little m/m action? What about a possessive alphThis review and more can be viewed on my blog:The Muses Circle
4.5 star rating
Like menage? How about a little m/m action? What about a possessive alpha male that doesn't want to share? Well, I don't know how the hell Charity Parkerson did it, but the extremely talented author was able to cram all of these elements and more in UNSURPASSED, the first book in her new No Rival series which is only 85 pages. (my kindle actually says 79, but who's counting? :) I'll be honest, I usually steer clear of novellas (anything under 100 pages), mainly because more often than not they leave something to be desired. Most of the time shorter novels suffer from lack of character development, rushed plots, which in turn causes the actual love story to feel implausible. But something drew me to UNSURPASSED. Maybe it was the careful wording of the synopsis that had me intrigued. There was just something about the book blurb that hinted this story was somehow going to be different from the rest. Oh, how I love to be right! This review may be a little shorter than some of my others mainly because I want to avoid spoilers. Part of the appeal of UNSURPASSED is the twists (and there are quite a few!) so I will try my hardest to stay away from any major plot points.
Here is what I liked. UNSURPASSED starts off like any other typical menage story. Ryan and Max, co-owners of a gym, seem to have one thing on their mind-- to finally possess their friend Aubree, the sexy blonde that walked into their establishment months ago. At the time, Aubree was looking forward to trying out a kickboxing class their gym offered, never expecting to gain Ryan and Max's friendship along the way. While she savors their closeness, she can't help but yearn for more...and working out at their gym is sending her hormones into overdrive. Who wouldn't get all hot and bothered watching two sexy alpha males pump iron? However, being equally attracted to two men at the same time is foreign to Aubree and fears their rejection if they should find out about her dirty little fantasy. After all, how can she choose just one? There is Ryan, the kind of guy who always has a smile on his face and a good sense of humor. Then there is Max, the brooding silent type. Best of both worlds, right? It's not until they show up at her apartment for dinner when she starts to realize that maybe the attraction she feels isn't so one-sided. Could they BOTH want her? When she agrees to go with them to a weekend party/charity event hosted by famous MMA champion Drew Alexander, Aubree never expects her wildest dreams to come true...and then shattered.
Up until the party, the plot was going in the direction I had expected. Ryan and Max are a pair of hot alphas that compliment each other and fit into the typical mold of the kind of men I expect in a menage story. Usually one is the easy going guy, the other is the more serious one. But then something unexpected happens. Once Drew Alexander enters the picture, all of my preconceived notions went right out the window. At first I was on guard, just like Aubree was. Drew is the kind of man that can melt the panties off of any woman with his looks alone. Then he opens his wicked, sexy mouth and automatically you get the sense that this is a man that is a player and is used to getting whatever he wants, whenever he wants with little effort. Aubree thinks she knows Drew's "type" and has him neatly put into a box. But she can't deny his outrageous sense of humor and provocative banter and is surprised how much she enjoys the harmless flirting. Here are a couple of my favorites:
"Just think," he said, allowing a bit of devilry to show. "If you hadn't shown up this weekend, you wouldn't have met me. That would've been a real shame for you."
Aubree narrowed her eyes, but her grin gave her away. She was ready to play along. "How do you figure?"
"You would've missed your chance to seduce me, and although I'm not easy, I'm totally worth every moment...You'd better get started." He made a show of looking at his watch. "I don't know what time you usually go to bed, but I've only got a few hours left in me. Wine me, dine me," he paused and smiled roguishly. "Well, you know the rest."
The look on her face was priceless. It was a mixture of flattered and exasperated. She raised her hands and dropped them back to her sides as if she had no idea what she should say. "You make me want to scream."
He nodded his understanding. "Don't worry. You will. I can hear my name on your lips and reverberating off these walls already."
Again, I was really worried that Drew was trying to take advantage of Aubree, but once his true nature is revealed and her involvement in bringing out this different side of him, I was a goner just like her. You think Ryan and Max are alphas? Well you haven't met Drew yet :)
"I'm fighting my nature here as we speak. I want to throw you over my shoulder and steal you away from this place. I want to hide you away while I show you every pleasure your body is capable of enduring. I don't intend to let you come up for air until I've touched, tasted, explored, and penetrated until you've accepted you are mine."
Ryan and Max...playboy Drew...a shocking betrayal...who will Aubree end up with? Usually, it doesn't take rocket science to answer this kind of question in romances like this. It's always quite apparent. But by the time I got to the end of UNSURPASSED, I realized this story doesn't follow the typical formula. Parkerson kept throwing in twist after twist that constantly left me asking "what if". I so wish I could get more into detail, but I will have to leave it at that!
For those wondering about the sex scenes...SCORCHING hot and perfectly paced. The scenes weren't so overpowering that it felt like it took away from the story. Nor did they feel contrived. They were well written and satisfying yet at the same time leaving you wanting more more MORE.
So why only a 4.5 rating instead of the full 5 stars? Sometimes I annoy myself with my attention for detail. After reading the story in one sitting, I noticed some questions I had jotted down along the way. These are very minor things, but I have to wonder if the story had been a tad bit longer, if these questions would have been absolved. Why did Aubree want to join the kickboxing class at Ryan and Max's gym? Was it just for fun or did she have a life threatening experience that caused her to want to take it as a form of self defense? The obvious answer is wouldn't she have just taken an actual self defense class if that were the case? I'm probably over-thinking it. That leads me to question number two: why does Aubree seem to have a low self esteem? Yes, as women, we are constantly criticizing ourselves. But there are quite a few times in the story where she doubts her appeal, first with Ryan and Max, then later with Drew. So I was just curious if this self esteem issue stems from previous bad relationships. Lastly, in the synopsis, it states that Max and Ryan are ex-marines yet I don't remember this being mentioned once in the story. Maybe I am wrong or my eyes were moving faster than my brain, but I wonder how this connects to the story.
UNSURPASSED is a refreshingly well written erotic romance that packs a lot of punch. Charity Parkerson is at the top of her game and it is no wonder that she is a multiple award winning author. To be able to add in the erotic elements on top of well developed characters AND unexpected twists to keep you guessing til the very end all within an 85 page novella is no easy feat. I wait with bated breath for UNDAUNTED, book 2 in the No Rival series.
Ever since the hit television show Sons of Anarchy came roaring into my life, I have been fascinated with MC culture. Obviously, I'm not the only one. Suddenly, the image of what a biker used to look like has a new face. Not all bikers must have long grizzly beards, fat beer bellies, and smell as if they haven't bathed in days. SOA helped reinvent the biker image and has given many authors inspiration to write about motorcycle clubs. While these hardened men may have the tats and sport a beard, underneath the leather cut is hot, sculpted muscle. I recently took a break from reading MC romance, mainly because the genre had become oversaturated with the same old story lines. It almost seemed like authors were trying to purposely make their novels more edgy, more twisted as if that is the key to writing a successful romance now. Anyway, I found myself getting irritated, so I decided to turn my attentions to something else for a bit. Then I came across the yummy cover for Severed Angel by K.T. Fisher and Ava Manello. Was it a book about angels? Demons? Imagine my surprise when I read the blurb and realized it was going to be a book about an Australian MC. That caught my interest and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give this one a shot.
So here are some of the things I enjoyed about Severed Angel. As much as I wanted to give one whole star just for the drool worthy eye candy on the front cover, I was obviously looking for something different in the overall story and plot and thankfully the authors delivered the goods. First, you have Eve, a British girl who is traveling to Australia to visit her best friend, Teresa, who she hasn't seen in years and to participate in her wedding. Teresa's father is a member of the Severed MC, an Australian motorcycle club, and the man she is betrothed to, known as Prez, is the President. Angel (aka Gabe), our hero, is the VP of the club. But we will get to him later >=) Also, our heroine Eve has a 2 year old daughter. Since she will be visiting her best friend and helping her prepare for the wedding for a whole month, she decides it's best to let her mother watch little Elizabeth, as the travel alone may prove too much for a 2 year old. I like this unique twist. It's very rare to see a heroine with a child in novels like these, so I giveFisher and Manellocredit for trying to portray a realistic female character. My curiosity was piqued just by the set up of the story alone.
At a glance, the Severed MC is not that impressive, nor are the members terribly scary guys like in some of the other MC novels I've read. While this may sound like a negative thing, I kind of found it refreshing. Like I said before, it seems like authors are trying to purposely make their novels more violent, more over-the-top on purpose to get a reaction, create a buzz whether positive or negative. While the men in the Severed MC may look the part, with their tattoos and everything, they are relatively decent guys. This particular MC is pretty clean cut; they don't sell drugs and try to run a legal operation. This may sound boring, but what they lack in illegal activity they make up for in their sexual appetites. WHOA. These guys are HOT. Eve gets quite an eye full during her stay, such as when she walks in on a foursome (3 guys on one girl). Then she sees Dragon and his old lady Diane partaking in some light BDSM...and they don't mind being watched. So yeah, while the men of the Severed MC may like to live on the right side of the law, they sure do know how to have a good time between the sheets. Or on the pool table. Or against the wall. You get the point!
Then you have the complete opposite with the Carnal MC, whose Vice President is Angel's twin brother, Satan (gotta love these names!). The Severed MC and the Carnal MC also serve as a sort of metaphor for good vs. evil because as laid back as the Severed MC is, the Carnal MC couldn't be more corrupt. Not only do they rape women and kill people (which is what got Eve in trouble in the first place), they consort in all kinds of illegal activities. And Satan, Angel's brother, is the head of all the trouble. It's almost like a classic Cain and Abel tale. I'm not trying to get all biblical here or even suggest that authors Fisher and Manello were trying to go there, but it's an interesting connection. There is one little instant where I kinda felt bad for Satan, when his and Angel's childhood was discussed. But my flicker of compassion was snuffed out quickly. The man is just evil, or has let anger and jealousy eat away at any kind of humanity he may have had, especially when you learn some of the horrible things he has done.
Back to the Severed MC guys, I thought K.T. Fisher and Ava Manello did a great job with Angel's MC "brothers". Ink, Dragon, Disney, Cowboy, Prez-- I absolutely loved their names and enjoyed learning how they got them through Eve's perspective. Like most MC's, they were a true brotherhood and had each other's backs. I especially appreciated the way they treated Eve.
I am assuming everyone wants to know about our hero and heroine, so I will get right to it. The chemistry and sexy time between Eve and Angel was SMOKIN' hot. There were quite a few hot scenes, like when Angel walks in on Eve pleasuring herself. WOW. And you gotta love his reaction:
He takes the vibrator from me, tossing it aside. "You won't be needing this anymore," he smirks.
Sweet Mary mother of God, Angel is one sexy alpha male! I loved the flirting between Ink and Eve and how it made Angel jealous. Sometimes adding in the third wheel or the "competition" can be annoying, but there is something really sensuous and sweet about Ink that sets him apart from the other guys. I definitely would like to see him get his own novel later down the road, but considering this is a 2 book series, I'm not sure if that is going to happen. We will just have to wait and see.
Last, but not least, the cliffhanger ending. I promise to keep this spoiler free, but I do have to make a quick comment on it. First, I understand readers' frustrations at cliffhanger endings, especially authors that get in the habit of writing books that are under 200 pages. Sometimes readers feel strung along and it can get annoying. But I think the ending of this book is a perfect example of when a cliffhanger ending works. To be quite honest, I was at a solid 3 stars before I reached the last stretch of the story. But once I got there...the twist at the end was what made me give Severed Angel that extra half a star in my rating. I won't say any more then that, but if I could give Fisher and Manello a fist bump, I so would right now!
So here is what I struggled with. While there is definite chemistry between Eve and Angel and I do find them to be an interesting pairing, the story suffers from lack of character development as a couple. I originally thought this could be because of the length of the novel, that perhaps if they had made it longer, they could have added more. But then I remembered Eve was supposed to stay for a month in Australia and to be quite honest, the way her time there was described, it felt more like days, maybe a week or two at the most had passed. So the timing definitely felt off. Anyway, what bothered me the most was that not once, other than Eve telling Angel she misses her daughter, do you get a conversation where they talk about their pasts, to really get to know each other. All the hang-ups Eve has about her ex? I was waiting for her to open up and tell Angel about what an asshole her ex was, how she never had an orgasm with him. How he walked out on her and their daughter. She tells more to Ink then she does to Angel. Actually, it's sad that I can remember the scene where Eve talks to Ink about her horrible ex, yet I can't think of one conversation between her and Angel in those regards. Maybe there was an unspoken conversation that the authors decided not to add, but it was sorely needed. For example, Eve got mad on several occasions because Angel would leave in the middle of the night while she was asleep, leaving her to wake up alone in bed the next morning. Maybe if she explained to him about her hang-ups in regards to her ex, Angel would understand and not make those mistakes. Also, when things start to get serious, I was waiting for "the speech". You know, how her and her baby girl are a package deal. Does Angel even like kids? Yeah, he thinks to himself at one point that Eve should get her daughter and move permanently to Australia, but it's never a spoken conversation. They never had the kid talk. It felt like it was a lot of hot sex, but not enough was spent on building their emotional relationship to make it feel more believable.
I also was not thoroughly convinced or thrilled with the plan the Severed MC comes up with to take down the Carnal MC. I really can't say any more for fear of spoilers, but it was a weak part in the plot. Enough said about that.
I know this is kind of a trivial thing to complain about but there was one paragraph that irritated the hell out of me because of the repetitive use of the phrase "I don't think":
"I don't think she's really given Sue a chance. Whenever we've talked on the phone, she's always dropped in a complaint or a moan. I don't think she's fully gotten over her mother's death, and until she does, I don't think she'll be able to accept Sue in her life or her dad's."
Lastly, Eve's best friend Teresa really pissed me off. Again, I am refraining from spoilers, but something happens and she blames Eve for their misfortunate circumstances. I get what the authors were trying to do and the reason behind Teresa's behavior, but it was just wrong. First of all, Teresa is the one who has lived in the MC world and decided to marry the Prez of Severed. Yes, they are a relatively laid back MC compared to others, but still. You will always have a rival. What ticked me off more is the fact that SHE was the one who just HAD to throw a fit and whine to get her way to go out shopping when the whole compound was on lockdown. If anyone should be blamed, it should be her, not Eve. And I don't care if she was my best friend or not, it would take a lot more than an apology to get me to forgive her for the accusations and cold shoulder.
Severed Angel by K.T. Fisher and Ava Manello was a pleasant surprise. It has some refreshing qualities that will help make it stand out from other MC romances. This is a perfect example of a story that didn't need all the extra bells and whistles in order to achieve what it was set out to do. Although, I'm not gonna lie. The cover did serve its purpose. It definitely caught my attention and gave me something to drool over for awhile. This book could have been the full package if the authors would have found an equal balance between the physical side of Eve and Angel's relationship and the emotional one. But they still have time to redeem themselves as they are busy writing book 2 in the series, titled Carnal Desire. And thankfully it doesn't look like we have a long wait as the tentative release date is May 31st.
My Review: I have been extremely lucky in the past month or so to have had the opportunity to read YA novels with unique male protagonists. As an ed
I have been extremely lucky in the past month or so to have had the opportunity to read YA novels with unique male protagonists. As an educator working with mostly reluctant readers, it is very difficult to find Young Adult books with interesting male leads that will keep teenage boys engaged. After having read The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe and now Duplicity by the brilliant N.K. Traver, it almost feels like I hit the jackpot.
Without adding the science fiction element, the story is quite simple. Brandon Eriks is a 17 year old tattooed bad boy that gains pleasure out of hacking into bank accounts and credit cards for a nefarious organization. Of course he gets his cut, however he doesn't really need it since his parents have plenty of money. Brandon seems to fit the stereotype that comes with being tattooed and pierced-- he isn't doing well in school, he treats everyone with disdain, and is in constant dispute with his parents who start to think drugs might be the reason for his attitude and lack of motivation. Brandon doesn't care what anyone thinks; in fact, he has everyone thinking EXACTLY what he wants them to. Well, except for one anomaly-- Emma. Emma is the one person that sees beyond the attitude, beyond the tats and piercings. And for awhile, Brandon allows it. For once, he lets someone get close. But it can't last. Not with how his parents pick up and move every year. No, it's better for a clean break now rather than heartbreak later.
Then things get a little...crazy. One night while running a program to begin another "hack" job, his computer starts sending him messages. Personal, scary messages:
"HERE'S THE GAME, HACKER. I'M DONE WATCHING YOU RUIN PEOPLE'S LIVES. HEARD THE PHRASE 'YOUR OWN WORSE ENEMY?' YOU'RE ABOUT TO LIVE IT."
Thinking someone has messed with his computer, Brandon tries to brush it off until he starts to notice strange things happening to his reflection in mirrors-- his reflection doesn't follow his every move, instead it moves on its own, leaves messages through the glass, and starts to make physical changes to his appearance. Tattoos and piercings are removed (somewhat painfully), clothing replaced with a completely new "preppy" wardrobe, until finally, one day, it is HE that is replaced by his "duplicate". Now Brandon is on the other side of the mirror, watching this "replica" of himself take over his life. What's worse is the fact that Obran (the name Brandon gives his duplicate) appears to be mending the relationship with his parents, getting better grades in school, and getting a little too close to Emma. Why was he pulled into the mirror? Most importantly, how will he get out? That's something you'll have to figure out by reading this suspenseful cyberthriller!
If you like anti-heroes, then you will enjoy Brandon. He definitely isn't perfect and from the very first page you know he is partaking in illegal activities and makes no apologies about it. Bank accounts, credit cards-- he hacks into them all and is looking forward to moving on up to social security numbers very soon. So why should teenage boys pick this book up when the male lead is a slacker and on his way to becoming a criminal? Because despite his less than role model qualities, he is relatable. How many kids do you know have parents that work extra hours to keep their million dollar homes, brand new cars, their lake house but spend absolutely no time with their children? Parents that move every year, yanking their kids out of school, never staying long enough to lay down roots? That is Brandon's life. Despite his standoffish appearance and front he puts on, all he really wants is to be noticed by his parents. He wants to be able to stay in one place long enough to make long lasting friendships and relationships, however, keeping people at arm's length, especially Emma, is the only way to guard himself from being hurt when it is time to move.
Another aspect of Duplicity I liked is that Brandon and Emma's relationship is already established at the beginning of the story. I thought this was a unique twist to the book and allows us to get right into the action.
While there are not too many secondary characters in the book, the one that stood out to me was Seb. Once Brandon is pulled through the mirror into this alternate "landscape", he eventually meets Seb, an androgynous, mysterious hacker that wants to work with him to get out and back to the real world. Seb has a particular set of skills that Brandon definitely needs to attain their goal, but he is unsure if Seb can be trusted. I'll admit-- I was just as wary about Seb as Brandon was. However, Seb was hilarious and definitely serves as the comic relief in Duplicity. And as the story unfolds, you learn there is more to Seb then meets the eye, things that will have your eyes widening in shock and pulling on your heart strings.
The science fiction element of the story was fascinating and the technology aspect of the story will grab teenage readers and keep them invested since we live in a world where our kids are more technologically inclined then us adults. But even less tech savvy people can enjoy this fast paced thriller even with the introduction of supercomputers and nano chips, etc.
Duplicity is an engrossing piece of literary genius-- from the concept to the plot, to the flawed anti-hero who wants to be seen but is terrified to get attached-- it is hard to believe this book was written by a debut author. The ending will leave you wanting more--is it open ended, left for you to draw your own conclusions or did the author subtly set it up for a possible sequel? I guess we all will have to wait and see. I have no doubt we will be seeing more of N.K. Traver.
Phenomenal X...where do I even start? I should start with the fact that as soon as IThis review and more can be read on my blog:The Muses Circle
Phenomenal X...where do I even start? I should start with the fact that as soon as I saw the cover, it was added to my goodreads TBR pile without even knowing what it was about. I knew I just HAD to read it. When I finally did check out the blurb, I wanted to drop everything I was doing and start it immediately. Phenomenal X by Michelle A. Valentine was surprisingly original in the sense that instead of another story about an MMA fighter, we finally have the first book (that I know of) that gives us an inside look at the world of Professional Wrestling. Being a huge wrestling fan when I was a kid, I couldn't contain my squeal at this unique spin on an otherwise overtaxed plot device. Sting, Ultimate Warrior, "Macho Man" Randy Savage-- these were the big, muscle bound, testosterone driven men I used to watch pound each other in the ring every week. Now I get to add Xavier to my list of favorite wrestlers =D.
The story definitely starts out strong. Anna, our heroine, is on a plane, leaving behind her old life in Portland to make a new one in Detroit. As she sits and frets about her angry father who definitely does not approve of her moving away, she becomes aware of a tall, broad shouldered, tattooed man moving through the plane to first class. They lock eyes and Anna knows he has "bad boy" written all over him, the kind of man mothers tell their daughters to stay away from. Startled at her own visceral reaction at the site of this stranger, she tries to focus on what awaits her in Detroit. But she can't help her curiosity when the kids in the seats in front of her start waving their hands, trying to get the man's attention, calling out, "X! X! Back here! Can we get your autograph?" Then the whole plane is abuzz, excitement in the air that "Phenomenal X" is actually on the plane. If only Anna knew who the hell this "Phenomenal X" guy actually was. In an interesting turn of events (don't want to give the whole beginning away), she suddenly finds herself sitting beside him in first class. And that's when sparks start to really fly! I really did enjoy how Anna and Xavier aka "Phenomenal X" first meet. The author did a decent job giving us a different way for the main characters to meet without dragging it out. Within two pages, I was hooked.
Anna starts off as a strong heroine, very likeable in the beginning. I can only imagine how stifling it must be to be raised by a controlling parent/parents, to have every single moment of your life micromanaged, every single dream not your own, but someone else's. That being said, sometimes change is scary, especially when you are used to having someone else make all your decisions for you, so I commend Anna for telling her father enough is enough and getting on that plane. Once she arrives in Michigan, it is almost like a culture shock for her. Between trying to fight her attraction to Xavier, keep up with her vivacious cousin Quinn, hold her own at a new job that she knows nothing about, and ignore her father's constant hounding states away, Anna has quite a lot on her plate.
Xavier definitely had that mysterious bad boy persona going on and he is 110% Alpha =D. Valentine has a gift for writing strong, sexy, dominant men with an edge. I could tell by some of the teaser quotes before reading the book that X was going to be on my list of favorite alpha male characters. He might not be at the tippy top of my list, but he at least made it. Xavier also suffers from the tortured hero syndrome that many authors use, but again, I give Valentine credit for trying to give us a different take on the wounded hero. I felt quite a few pulls on my heart strings as Xavier's painful past is slowly revealed. No child should ever have to go through what he did and understanding his past makes sense as to why he is constantly telling Anna he is no good for her. But it doesn't mean he heeds his own words. He can't stay away from her, she's like an addiction, one of the only people that isn't trying to use him because of his celebrity status. One of my favorite scenes is when Xavier stops a guy from potentially date raping Anna. Oh man, X is even more incredibly sexy when he is pissed off and all of his protective instincts are on full alert. (I included the excerpt on my blog post HERE).
Together, Xavier and Anna were a hot couple and the chemistry was scorching. There was a nice build up in sexual tension and I like how Xavier went from trying to get Anna in his bed, to him respecting her enough to want to try being friends. They come up with these ridiculous, yet cute "rules" to keep things completely platonic. This was a great way for the author to create sexual tension and give the characters time to get to know each other without them automatically jumping in bed together (or at least the illusion of time since the time frame of the story spans only a few weeks if that). Xavier does have quite a few sexy lines in the book, like here:
“I don’t typically beg, beautiful, but if begging gets me access between those creamy thighs, I will. Just give in to your desires.”
I also like Anna's spunky attitude towards Xavier when he makes her angry. He gives her permission to use his real name, Xavier, and hates it when she refers to him as "X" like everyone else does. It's her way of putting him in his place which was cute. On a more serious note, I like how she tries to be there for him during his horrible nightmares--he doesn't like her seeing him in such a vulnerable state, but she handles him with care.
The secondary characters were also a treat in this book. Once Anna lands in Detroit, she moves in with her eccentric Aunt Dee and her beautiful cousin Quinn who she views as more like a sister. Quinn helps her get a job as a waitress at the bar she works at. I really liked Quinn. Usually, authors make the naive heroine have a promiscuous, slutty sidekick which is so irritating. But Quinn is not like that. Yes, she is more outgoing and wants to help Anna loosen up and date, but she is far from a slut. I also adored Nettie and Carl, a black couple that owns a diner where Xavier frequents when he is in town. They play a very important role in X's life, especially for becoming the successful, humble man he is now. I'll leave it at that so I don't get tempted to give away any spoilers.
Valentine also switched up the use of POV in the story. It starts out with Anna's name at the top of each chapter, which prompted me to believe that the perspective was going to switch back and forth between her and Xavier. It's not until chapter 10 that we get to see things through X's eyes. I'm still unsure how I feel about that. I didn't completely hate it and it kept me on my toes because I never knew when his perspective would pop back up again. But I guess you could say that I wished to see more of the story through his POV.
There were a few things that kept Phenomenal X from getting a 5 star rating. The first thing that bothered me was when Anna loses her job at the bar. She convinces her boss to fire her instead of her cousin when Quinn is accused of stealing (I'm being vague on purpose). When Anna goes home, nothing is mentioned by Quinn about the drama at work. Wouldn't you apologize or thank the person who saved your job?
While Anna started out as a strong heroine, she began getting on my nerves towards the end of the book. I felt that she was way too pushy about X revealing his past. If someone spends their whole life never telling a soul about their past, it's going to take time for that person to open up. He kept telling her to back off, but she wouldn't listen and kept pushing. There were also a few awkward scenes in the bedroom, revolving around "protection". I don't want to spoil anything but yeah...you'll understand what I mean. Anna also becomes a little clingy and makes a few unwise decisions near the end of the story that causes a whole bunch of drama and puts X's career in jeopardy. What the hell happened to the independent girl from the beginning of the novel?
While I absolutely loved that X was a wrestler, sadly, that was the only original aspect of the book. The story felt contrived in many places and the plot was very predictable. Don't get me wrong, I am okay with authors using the same formula, but if that is the road you're going to travel, then you need to find ways to make it feel fresh. Valentine can definitely write a good story, she knows how to write a sexy as hell alpha male, but it's the plot devices that felt a bit forced or way too obvious. They should be seamlessly written in. It's almost like I could hear the author saying, "oh, I am going to throw that in there so this will happen."
Phenomenal X was a solid, addictive read, a great start in the Hard Knocks series. I might as well warn everyone that the story does end on a major cliffhanger. I have high hopes that book 2 will smooth out some of the kinks.
Katana was an absolute pleasure to read. It was one of those books that didn't require a lotCheck out more of my reviews on my blog, The Muses Circle
Katana was an absolute pleasure to read. It was one of those books that didn't require a lot of hard thinking, yet has all the elements of a great YA novel. That is NOT an insult. Let me explain. Before Katana, I had read 2 books back to back that were quite demanding. Both had stories centered around new mythology and world building. While I absolutely love books that are unique and don't fit a particular mold, those qualities do not neccessarily define what makes a good novel. Katana was a refreshing read, filled with action, romance, history, and perfectly placed comic relief.
The story opens with Rileigh and her out and proud best friend Quentin leaving the mall after buying a gift for a wedding. A thug tries robbing an old couple in the parking lot and without her even realizing it, Rileigh comes to their rescue. When the thug comes back for a second round, this time to teach her a lesson, Rileigh thinks she is going crazy when she hears a voice in her head and her body busts out martial arts moves that are completely foriegn to her. Thus starts Rileigh's "Awakening", where pieces of her past life starts to collide with her present. Talk about a great way to start a story! I absolutely love a book that grabs you from the very first couple of pages!
As Rileigh tries to figure out if she is losing her mind or not, the mysterious, sexy martial arts instructor Kim enters her life, which only confuses her more since he seems to know more about what's going on inside her mind and body them she cares to admit. She tries to convince herself that Whitley is the boy of her dreams, but has a hard time denying the instant attraction and pull she feels when around Kim. Sounds like one of those annoying love triangles that many YA writers can't seem to do without, right? Well, I think what makes Katana different is that Whitley is really no competition when he is up against the kind of love that lasts for centuries, literally!
While the setting is in present day America, Cole Gibsen does a great job bringing us back to 13th century Japan every few chapters so that we can see how Rileigh and Kim's previous lives intertwine with their lives now. I don't want to get into too much detail here for fear of leaking too many spoilers, but let's just say Cole knows how to pull on the heartstrings and once you read the book, you will understand what I mean about the kind of love that stands the test of time.
I like the fact that this is also sort of an interracial romance. I know that may sound weird, but I am bi-racial-- half Italian, half African American and I have noticed that there are not many young adult books out there where the heroine is white and the hero is of Asian descent. I know that's not what this book's agenda is about (or is it? love doesn't know color, gender and happens when you least expect it) but I like that angle of the book.
Cole Gibsen not only writes a great story but creates interesting characters. I enjoyed learning about Drew, Michelle, and Braden who were also samurai warriors in their previous lives. And in case you are wondering how it can be possible that the spirits of these young people were able to find each other in this life when they could have been anywhere in the world--apparently, the stronger the connection in their previous life, the easier it is for their spirits to find each other in this one.
If I had one thing to complain about-- and this is me just being straight up picky-- it's the whole Sumi situation. Sumi is Kim's receptionist/assistant at the dojo who fathoms herself in love with him. Throughout the novel Sumi makes it abundantly clear that Kim is hers and that they are "meant" to be together. There are quite a few scenes where her jealousy shines through, one in particular towards the end where she sort of threatens Rileigh. Then suddenly Sumi is never mentioned again. I'm not sure if Katana is the first in a planned series-- if so, then maybe we will see her in the next book. It's not that big of a deal, but the last scene with Sumi and Rileigh felt....unfinished.
But that minor complaint doesn't change my 5 star rating :). There is really nothing else negative I can say about Katana. It's a solid YA novel packed with action, laugh-out-loud moments, and a romance worth dying for! If you don't believe me, then let me end this review with a scene that shows how much Kim loves Rileigh.
"Kim? Why are you afraid to touch me?" I asked.
He rotated back...for a moment I thought he would leave without answering my question. Instead, he pushed his shoulders back and reeled around to face me, closing the distance between us in two strides, leaving only enough room to breathe.
"I'm afraid," he whispered.
"Of what?" I whispered back. I was afraid myself, but I couldn't think of why I should be.
"I'm afraid that if I touch you, even for a moment, I might not be able to let go."
Before I could react, he turned and strode out of the room.
Romantic, right? Well then what are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy of Katana today! Kill Bill meets Buffy? How about, Kill Bill meets Buffy who meets Samurai Girl? lol
Skin Deep was a light, fun read. At first I was a bit thrown off by J.M. Stone's writing style, but I quickly got in the groove and was surprised at hSkin Deep was a light, fun read. At first I was a bit thrown off by J.M. Stone's writing style, but I quickly got in the groove and was surprised at how well she can weave in humor. I do think there were parts that could have been cut out, information the main character rambles on about that really had nothing to do with the story. And I would have loved it if she wrote the story in alternating POV because I was dying to get into Luke's head. The beginning was a bit shaky but it smoothed out and the rest of the story was enjoyable. I look forward to checking out book 2 as I am curious to see if Emma's best friend Allie gets with Jackson or Brandon...or maybe both? Hmmmm :)