Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: Starglass by Phoebe North

Title: Starglass
Author: Phoebe North
Series: Starglass, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Release Date: 23 July 2013

Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a job that doesn't interest her, and living with a grieving father who only notices her when he's yelling, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she's got.

But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain's guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath her ship's idyllic surface. As she's drawn into a secret rebellion determined to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares most about. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the decision of a lifetime--one that will determine the fate of her people.

I'm conflicted about this book, or rather how I think about it. On the one hand it does some things really, really well; others it does satisfactorily, but some things frustrated the hell out of me. I'm going to try and talk about all of these things.

The stuff it does really, really well: Diversity. First of all, this is a Jewish spaceship. Peopled solely by Jewish people. It's so nice to read about some religion other than Christianity, honestly. I loved that. Then there's the fact that the book opens with a letter from a lesbian woman to her daughter. I nearly did a fist-pump at that. The fact that gay is not shuffled to the back like it's something that never happens. I really appreciated the fact that the author used this science fiction setting to explore the issues of homophobia and gay rights. The right of choice is a strong theme throughout the book.

Other things worked for me, but didn't raise that 'hell-yes' feeling in me. Like how Terra reacted in certain situations. How she felt about her situation, and her role in the greater scheme of things. The way the community developed and changed over the 500 years they were traveling to their destination was eminently believable. The writing was straight-forward and easy to read through. This was a quick read - I'd fly through 20-30 pages before I even realized I had. I was glad that romance wasn't a focus, really glad actually, though I think it probably will be in the next book.

But, yeah, there's always a 'but'...But, there were things that left me shaking my head in frustration. I'm a character reader. I love characters, they are what makes me invest in the story first and foremost. Second is the world. Preferably I'd have both of these in my books. Great characters that feel real in a world that fascinates and intrigues. Unfortunately Starglass fell down for me in both categories. The only character that is really developed in this book is Terra. And she's so damn passive that I could never really love her. She accepts whatever she's told, by whomever deigns to tell it to her, and just goes along with it. Eventually she starts to question, but it was a little too late for me. Though she spends a good deal of the book working towards personal agency, time and time again she simply falls into patterns that leave her following someone else's plans. However, this is the first book. I will say that by the end I had hope that maybe, just maybe, Terra would show the growth I might have glimpsed in her last act in Starglass.

I mentioned that I like intricate worlds, and I kind of expect them when you're on a spaceship that left Earth 500 years ago. This could have taken place in a walled community cut off from the rest of the world. There was little to no advancement in technology - except for the fact that kids are grown in hatcheries instead of born now - computers are pretty much a non-entity; jobs are shopkeepers, bell-ringers; guards; bakers; botanists, etc. Then there's the fact that they set sail, as it were, for a planet that they know NOTHING about. Five hundred years flying through space and you don't even know if this planet you're heading towards has air we can breathe, water to drink, or if it's at all habitable. It strained credulity for me. I had a hard time swallowing the lack of advancement in a people that could build a spaceship like this.

I didn't even really get to get a good feel for the fact that we're in space until near the very end - when we finally reach our destination.

Conflicted. Still. I was hoping that writing my review would give me a better idea where to rate this.

Grade: C+

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Iced by Karen Marie Moning

Title: Iced
Author: Karen Marie Moning
Series: Dani O'Malley, Book 1 / Fever, Book 6
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 30 October 2012

The year is 1 AWC—After the Wall Crash. The Fae are free and hunting us. It’s a war zone out there, and no two days are alike. I’m Dani O’Malley, the chaos-filled streets of Dublin are my home, and there’s no place I’d rather be.

Dani “Mega” O’Malley plays by her own set of rules—and in a world overrun by Dark Fae, her biggest rule is: Do what it takes to survive. Possessing rare talents and the all-powerful Sword of Light, Dani is more than equipped for the task. In fact, she’s one of the rare humans who can defend themselves against the Unseelie. But now, amid the pandemonium, her greatest gifts have turned into serious liabilities.

Dani’s ex–best friend, MacKayla Lane, wants her dead, the terrifying Unseelie princes have put a price on her head, and Inspector Jayne, the head of the police force, is after her sword and will stop at nothing to get it. What’s more, people are being mysteriously frozen to death all over the city, encased on the spot in sub-zero, icy tableaux.

When Dublin’s most seductive nightclub gets blanketed in hoarfrost, Dani finds herself at the mercy of Ryodan, the club’s ruthless, immortal owner. He needs her quick wit and exceptional skill to figure out what’s freezing Fae and humans dead in their tracks—and Ryodan will do anything to ensure her compliance.

Dodging bullets, fangs, and fists, Dani must strike treacherous bargains and make desperate alliances to save her beloved Dublin—before everything and everyone in it gets iced.

Okay, I finally went through and gathered my thoughts, from when I first read it, and from discussing it throughout the past year+ with friends.

I've put off writing this review, or even rating this book, since I first read it in 2012. You have to understand where I'm coming from, the Fever series was something I spent FIVE long years reading, rereading, speculating, discussing, and waiting for the completion. And it was beautiful, perfect...EPIC. I loved it. Even now that it's finished it remains at the top of my favorites list. The scope and ability that KMM showed in that novel blew my mind.

I had reservations about Dani. I couldn't stand her voice in Dreamfever and Shadowfever. Feck and Dude was every other word, it felt like, and I wasn't looking forward to reading a whole book of it.

Then I opened Iced and was surprised as hell to find out that I didn't hate Dani. I began to get to know her, to understand her, and her voice was so much different than what I'd previously read that I settled in hoping that my fears were mislaid.

Surprisingly, to me, I actually liked Dani. I don't love her yet, but I could see that happening. There are things she did that irritated the hell out of me, but she's an incredible character - tough and bitten, naive and innocent - rolled into one, believably.

Unfortunately, because there's been no change in age or growth from when we knew her in the Fever series I can't help but feel like KMM changed her to suit her purposes. There's no reason that her voice would change this much considering Iced picks up before Shadowfever even ends. So, while I was relieved and happy that I liked Dani, I was also skeptical about the authorial intent...and worried about what other characters would change to suit their new purpose (with good reason it turns out).

The "mystery" (these are supposed to be episodic books, with a "monster of the week" type of storyline) in this book was weak. Honestly pretty boring and I didn't give a crap about it for most of the story. Up until the last 20%, when it had me riveted, and the climax fight scene was fantastic. I loved how they had to work together, and how well they integrated their very different talents.

And now we're going to come to my main problem. The sexualization of a FOURTEEN year old girl by TWO GROWN ASS MEN. I can't really get into it without spoilers, and the rest of my complaints involve spoilers as well, so read on at your own risk.

I did enjoy some smaller aspects of it. There's some food shortage issues that I'm interested in seeing more about. The world itself is interesting as hell, still. But I'm afraid to see the characters I know and love destroyed, turned into lesser versions of themselves. I'm going to read the next one, and hope and pray that KMM gets back on track...but I'll probably wait until Jenny's read it and given me a run-down (that she promised :P)

Here's a Q/A with KMM after Iced was released. I'm going to highlight the parts the infuriate me the most. But be warned again. Spoilers ahead.
Q&A Link

Q. Is Dani older in BURNED?

A1. Crimeny, is it really all about sex?

Q. Yes. Now answer my question.

A2. Although Dani is 14 at the beginning of BURNED, she does mature by the end of the book. Someone asked if she would be 17. I said possibly.

No. We're not worried about the sex. I'm worried about Dani being taken advantage of...when she clearly has no idea what these MEN want with her.

Q. Do you write about pedophiles?

A. No. I write about life. I write with verisimilitude. I write about men who look at a 14-year old superhero woman-child (who is also an assassin—where is the moral outrage over that? Priorities, the UK would say, get some) and can see the women she will become one day. I write about men who will do anything to keep her alive long enough to become it—even knowing they may never be the one lucky enough to get her. I write about men who know that being gentle and making pleasant requests of a young woman who is stronger, faster, smarter and has more balls than pretty much everyone on the planet would be as effective as trying to chisel a sculpture from stone using feathers. Ryodan never lusts over Dani. Dancer never lusts over Dani. Christian has a few very realistic death-by-sex Fae moments but there is no question he is drawn to her “light’and her ‘innocence’ not the skull and crossbone panties he glimpses when she is freezing to death that ‘charms’ him. Not turns him on. Charms him. Do they have hard dicks? The 9 and death-by-sex Fae always have hard dicks. The wind blows.They breathe. It’s that simple. I was 13 when I first noticed a man looking at me like he wanted to have sex with me. How old were you? Although I didn’t act on it for a long time after that, I remember to this day being thrilled by it. Exhilarated. I was becoming a woman. Dani is an odd duck: raised by TV she has seen everything the world has to offer but experienced very little of it. She gets the actions, not the emotions. Yet.

Part of what may have been difficult for any readers who felt disturbed by the way I wrote the characters in ICED is this: I have always given my reader a way in to the men, a heroine through which the reader could connect on a sexual and romantic level to the Alpha males I write. ICED is the first book I’ve written that does not do that. I gave you no mature eyes through which to experience romance (of which there is none yet.) There is no woman in ICED through which you can comfortably lust after my Alphas. Yet. Stay with me. Keep the faith. This made it difficult for some readers who tried to view the Alphas through Dani’s vantage and felt an ‘ick’ factor. Well, stop it! You weren’t supposed to do that anyway, LOL.

Of all the condescending responses I've ever read. OMG. FUCK YOU. I DO NOT READ to lust after the Alpha. I don't put myself in the place of the "heroine" so I can experience her lust for the hero. I have NEVER done that. Don't try to lay the blame for your lust filled innuendos and situations on me.

And fuck you very much for telling me I read the novel wrong.

*And then there's this where KMM says Ryodan will "eclipse Barrons".

One last note about Ryodan: He will eclipse Barrons. Blot him right out of your soul’s sky.

Why's he gotta be more than Barrons? Why can't he just be different? Why do I get the feeling this means that there's a Dani/Ryodan HEA in the works?

I do have some theories/speculations that I could go on about where things would turn and make me happy again, satisfied. But I don't know if I can bear to hope for them to happen. I don't foresee any scenario in which I'm happy with Ryodan and Dani ending up together.

Here are a couple of fantastic reviews that I agree with 100%: bean and Cory and Jenny.

Grade: D-

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Release Day Giveaway: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

See my review here.

RED RISING by Pierce Brown
Published by Del Rey – Random House
Hardcover: 978-0-345-53978-6
Ebook: 978-0-345-53979-3

See what all the buzz is about on Goodreads

“Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow.”—Scott Sigler

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

BUY LINKS (print and ebook)

About Pierce Brown
Pierce Brown spent his childhood building forts and setting traps for cousins in the woods of six states and the deserts of two. Graduating from college in 2010, he fancied the idea of continuing his studies at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a magical bone in his body. So while trying to make it as a writer, he worked as a manager of social media at a startup tech company, toiled as a peon on the Disney lot at ABC Studios, did his time as an NBC page, and gave sleep deprivation a new meaning during his stint as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign. Now he lives Los Angeles, where he scribbles tales of spaceships, wizards, ghouls, and most things old or bizarre.

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Review: Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Title: Magic Burns
Author: Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: April 2008

Down in Atlanta, tempers—and temperatures—are about to flare...

As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels has seen her share of occupational hazards. Normally, waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. Now Kate is going to have to deal with problems on a much bigger scale: a divine one.

When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta's paramilitary clan of shapeshifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. During a flare, gods and goddesses can manifest and battle for power. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug-of-war between two gods hoping for rebirth. And if Kate can't stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive.

My love for Kate Daniels started strong in Magic Bites; when I first read it, I didn't think it would be possible for me to love her - or her world - more. I was wrong. The Kate Daniels' series just gets better and better!

Kate's been doing pretty well since the events of Magic Bites. She's settling into her new job at the Order and continuing to take jobs for the Guild. Unfortunately, things are about to go crazy. It's not just the normal magic-tech fluctuations that Kate has to worry about now, there's a flare coming. Increasingly strong magic-waves, slamming into the world one after the other, until it culminates in magic flooding the world so deep that impossible things can happen; creatures they thought safely in myth and legend begin to walk through Atlanta, perhaps dragons can even fly the skies, and just maybe gods will be able to live.

Magic Burns has everything I loved about Magic Bites and then some. The flare just ups the ante, making everything more urgent, more exciting, and more important. Nothing, including just traveling through Atlanta, is simple during the flare. Kate gets pulled into a mystery on multiple fronts: the Pack asks for help in tracking down a thief, a little girl's mother is missing, and a mysterious bowman keeps showing up out of nowhere. The mythology in this book fascinated me. I loved how Ilona Andrews made it seem so effortless to weave together so many different strands with such imagination. I don't want to say too much about the plot itself for fear of spoiling, but it was more strongly and tightly put together than the first book.

If I thought I loved Kate before, this book solidified my feelings for her. She continues to be kick-ass, keeps smarting off, and still fights to protect. Kate's loyalties run deep - she may have been raised to be a loner, but the attachments she forms are deep and unbreakable. She will never betray someone she cares about, and she'll give her own life to save theirs.

And no matter how much Kate would like to avoid him, we also get to spend a lot more time with Curran. I love the deeper look we get into him in this book. He's Alpha. I don't know how else to explain it. He's used to being obeyed, getting his way, and demanding without question. He's earned it, honestly - he has several hundred shapeshifters that swear allegiance to him. Not only is that a lot of power, it's a lot of responsibility. So even though he can downright be an ass, it's that responsibility that sticks and reminds me why he is the way he is. He cares about each and every one of his people. He's honorable, to the nth degree, and he's absolutely ruthless when it comes to protecting those he's deemed are his.

Curran and Kate have some of the best chemistry I've ever read. They spark off of each other, nearly combustible in each other's company. Their banter never fails to make me grin; in fact I can just think about some of their moments together and will start to laugh. It was this book that made me start really rooting for them together. I began to see how they could compliment and strengthen each other.

There are plenty of other favorite characters returning in this book, too. Derek, Kate's "sidekick" - one of my absolute favorite characters in the series - begins to show just how awesome he is, and how powerful. There's more Ghastek, coming in with an unexpected offer; an interesting, and somewhat enlightening, scene with Saiman; and a few new characters that make things even more interesting for Kate.

Interesting might be exactly what Kate's trying to avoid, but I love it. Every minute feels fraught with urgency and action. The fact that Ilona Andrews can manage to weave humor into these situations, making me laugh out loud for several minutes at a time, just makes their writing all that much more awesome.

I can't do justice in my reviews on these books. I feel like I can talk for hours about how fabulous they are and never really scratch the surface.

A note on the narration:
Renée Raudman continues to read the series. I mentioned in my previous review that I have some issues with how she portrays certain scenes and the tone that she uses. I don't know if I've gotten more used to it, or if it's gotten better, or if I'm simply better at ignoring how much it irritates me - but those issues didn't pull me out of the story nearly as much this time.

I still think that if you're experiencing the story for the first time, you shouldn't listen to the audio books. Tone can change a lot, and the tone that I felt was conveyed through the books - Kate's voice - is very different than what Raudman uses. Kate comes through as much more passive in the audiobooks than she is in the books, in my honest opinion.

Still, it's nice to be able to listen to the stories that I love so much.

Grade: A

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Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Title: Cinder
Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Steampunk
Release Date:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

I admit, I was nervous to pick up this book, no matter how much I love fairy-tale retellings. So frequently they don't live up to my hopes and dreams. Cinder, while not perfect, absolutely did! I was engrossed and enamoured of the story and characters from the very beginning. Marissa Meyer pulled me in and, even when I was questioning the logic, or despite knowing exactly what was happening, she didn't let me go.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up this book. Sure, I knew it had androids and it was a Cinderella retelling. I expected romance, machinery, evil step-sisters and a prince. While I got most of that, it's put together in such a fascinating way that I couldn't help but be charmed. If you've read any fairy-tales, or fairy-tale-like stories, you will probably see the 'surprise' coming a mile away (or from the very first pages of the book more like) - but that's okay. That's part of the fun of reading retellings.

I find it hard to talk about this book for fear of spoiling anyone that hasn't read it yet (I know there's got to be a couple of you out there yet). Cinder's an interesting character. She's not a goody-two-shoes, she's not perfect, and yet she's one that I can absolutely root for. I wanted to see her get her freedom, not just from her present situation either. I really liked how she took concrete steps to try to forge forward with the life she wanted. While she didn't always think things through, and her planning sometimes did not result in her anticipated goals - the fact that she was trying and determined made me love her.

Prince Kai. *sigh* He could almost be too perfect. Almost. But he isn't. He's real and sweet and charming and…I could go on. I loved the sweet flirting between Kai and Cinder; there were times I literally 'aww'd out loud as I read some of their interactions. I 'ship this pairing so hard! I need them to get together.

There aren't a lot of other characters that get a lot of depth, Queen Leveana - the antagonist - barely does; Dr. Erland gets a bit more (I still hate him); and we at least get some understand of one of Cinder's sisters.

Going back to Dr. Erland - I hate the cyborg draft. HATE. Even with his reasons, I can't help but hate him. One of my friends had some issues with the logic of the cyborgs being used in this way, I didn't have these issues. I have no doubt that this kind of thing would result in prejudice and a feeling of superiority from "real" humans. After all they're "pure," not part machine. So I get that. I did wonder where the hell animal testing had gone though. What, are there no rats or mice in this new world? My issue though was with what the character did, not really the logic of that plot-line.

I also have to admit to some confusion on the sense of place. We're in New Beijing. Okay, where is that? Are we still in China? Asia? Somewhere else? It kind of had a feeling of Euro-Chinese - which could be completely valid as New York is a long ways from York, for example. I think I'd just like a better idea of how the world is laid out and divided amongst the Earthens.

Most of these questions and thoughts popped up while reading and were quickly brushed aside as I was absorbed back into the story once again. They still hang with me, but didn't detract from my enjoyment at all.

Cinder ends on one hell of a cliff-hanger. Things come to a head, stuff happens, Cinder's in trouble and recognizes that everything - including herself - is changing and something new has to happen…and then it ends. I'm dying to pick up Scarlet. And I already can't wait for Cress. If either or both of these turn out as fun as Cinder was, Marissa Meyer's got a new fan.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Title: Clean Sweep
Author: Ilona Andrews
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles, Book 1
Genre: Sci-Fi / Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 2 December 2013

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can't leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Ilona Andrews originally wrote this as a serialized publication, for free, on the web. I read the first couple of chapters as they were released and quickly came to realize that I'd never have enough patience to wait week to week to find out what was going to happen. So I deliberately ignored that it existed. I was anxiously awaiting the day when it would be available for me to buy.

Clean Sweep has an utterly original idea; sure there are werewolves and vampires and magic, but it's all so much more than that. There's intergalactic travel, and aliens, doors through space and incredible weapons. I'm not sure how they do it, but the husband and wife writing team of Ilona Andrews always manages to come up with the most interesting stories and tell them in the best way possible. I'm always utterly engrossed in their books and devastated when I finally reach the end, because there's no more to read.

I've known for a long time that I can count on finding an abundance of subtle humor in books by the Andrews. Clean Sweep is no exception. I laughed out loud more than a few times while reading it. Another thing I can count on is kick-ass heroines that hold their own, don't cow to the uber-alpha heroes (who manage to not be assholes), said heroes that are actually complicated and interesting character in their own right, and beautifully described action scenes.

I know you've read that blurb, and if like me you hate love-triangles (with the passion of a thousand fiery suns), you might be slightly concerned. There is a love triangle that's formed in this book, BUT - hold onto your hats - I liked it. I really liked both Sean and Arland and, most importantly, how Dina reacted to them. The chemistry is fantastic, and I just find myself wanting more, more, more! I have my guesses about who she'll end up with - it's pretty clear to me - but I'm still going to enjoy each moment of the dance between the three of them.

Dina is a great character. She's young, with some tragedy under her belt - and there's an overall mystery to her past and present that I'm dying to see solved - but she's got this great sense of life about her. She's vivid and uncompromising - I mean that she won't give up. She loves life and cherishes it. She wants to enjoy it, so she sets out to follow her path and earn what she wants. She's logical and thinks (why is this such a rarity in books these days?); Dina doesn't let anyone else control what she does or doesn't do, and she takes her responsibilities seriously. And when two alpha males start showing interest in her she doesn't fall all over herself in an attempt to please one, or both, of them. She maintains herself. I love that.

Speaking of the two males: Sean and Arland. Sean's a werewolf stronger than other werewolfs; the alpha-strain werewolf, bred to be faster, stronger...more. I liked that he didn't really know the truth of everything when it started. He takes it pretty well though, and at the end I can completely understand (and agree with) his decision. Once he realized that Dina's not a helpless female, I loved how he treats her. With respect and care. Intent on keeping her safe, but at the same time realizing that she's able to do that herself too. He trusts her to keep herself safe, and helps her when she asks for it. I can't help but respect that. And ... well, hell, I just want him. When he starts flirting? Damn. Sexy as heck.

And then there's Arland. Just as sexily flirtatious. When he turns on the charm I admit I wondered at his motivations at first, but by the end I was healthily intrigued. He's honorable - in fact that's nearly everything to the vampires - but he's also a predator, through and through. And I love, love, love how he reacts to coffee. Made me laugh out loud. He treats Dina like a warrior, worthy of respect. There's no looking down on her because she's a woman - he knows that women can be just as powerful, just as deadly as the males. Misogyny? You can trust that you won't find it in this book (or any book by Ilona Andrews).

Though I normally hate the grand-standing that happens between ALPHA males in books, I loved how Arland and Sean came to terms with each other. How they got to know one another, and gained some respect for each other. Their last interaction made me laugh out loud and had a grin splitting my face for the last few pages of the book. In fact I'm still grinning like a fool here.

I haven't even touched on the plot. It drives the entire story - isn't that what is supposed to happen? Yes, yes it is. Maybe I've been reading too much crap lately, I don't know, but it's such a breath of fresh air when I read a book that combines all the things I love into a single set of bound pages. The plot here is fascinating. It allows us to learn more about the characters, the world, and pulls the reader through the pages of the book to inhabit the world we're reading about.

I want to live there by the way. I want to visit this inn, travel the worlds, meet these characters.

Ilona Andrews' books always reduce me to feeling like a squeeing fangirl, mostly because that's what I become. With such great characters, an actual plot, in an intricately conceived world...who can blame me?

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: One Enchanted Season by C.L. Wilson, Erica Ridley, and Elissa Wilds

Title: One Enchanted Season
Authors: C.L. Wilson, Erica Ridley, and Elissa Wilds
Series: N/A
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Paranormal Romance, Sci-Fi Romance
Release Date: 5 December 2013

Three bestselling and critically acclaimed authors of paranormal romance weave stories inspired by classic holiday songs.

'tis the season to enchant...

In C.L. Wilson's UPON A MIDNIGHT, an angel helps a troubled woman heal the wounds of her past so her soul can relearn how to sing.

Erica Ridley delivers magic with LET IT SNOW, in which a treasure hunter breaches an enchanted castle only to become trapped inside with a cursed princess and a suspicious tree.

And in SNOWMAN, Elissa Wilds weaves a tale of forbidden love that bridges two very different worlds, when a snowy stranger appears at an isolated mountain cabin seeking much more than shelter from the storm.

Step into a world where the nights are long and dark, snowflakes sparkle like fairy lights, and the hearth fires burn as brightly as the passion of newfound love.

I'll be honest, I only requested this because of C.L. Wilson. I loved her Tarien Soul series and she hasn't released another book since the finale of that series in 2010. I feel like I've been eagerly anticipating her next book forever! Then I saw this, not only a new original short story, but a sneak peak at her full-length novel, The Winter King due out 29 July 2014!! I had to get it.

Thankfully her story was the first one in the anthology, so I didn't have to skip to it. "Upon a Midnight" was a nice, sweet story about a woman finding peace from her past and her guardian angel learning exactly what it means to be made for someone.

Upon a Midnight by C.L. Wilson
Kat has some seriously emotional baggage that's being carried around with her. Though she loved her parents, and was loved in turn by them, her father kept them on the run and her life with them was about upheaval. When they died in an accident, she was sent to live with her horrible grandparents - seriously, these two....I was so mad at them, at what they did to Kat. She bears the scares, deep and painful still, of these experiences and they affect her every day life. On top of all that, Kat worries that she may finally be going crazy - just like her father.

Micah - have I ever mentioned how much I love that name? - is Kat's guardian angel. He was made to protect her, because Kat's so much more than she ever imagined. And it's imperative that she be able to do the task she was destined for. Unfortunately, her history may just make that impossible.

I loved Kat. I loved how, even with her past, she didn't let it ruin her. She forged ahead, determined to still help others. I really admired her. Micah was perfect, but what I loved most about him was his support of Kat. His purpose is to protect her while she completes the task, however when she believes she won't be able to do it, he doesn't demand or insist, he supports. I love that.

My only, tiny, niggle with the story is how quickly Kat was able to deal with her issues. There's so much intense emotional history that it's hard for me to quite believe that she was able to put it all behind her so easily. I was so happy that she was that this didn't bother me a lot, but I think I would have liked more time spent on her healing from the trauma of her past.

Grade: B

Let It Snow by Erica Ridley
Full disclosure - I did not finish this story. In fact I only got about two percent into it. My problems completely stemmed from the world that couldn't decide what it wanted to be. You had characters sending out pleas to gods - plural - and planning to go to midnight mass for Christmas Eve. That made me pause and wonder, but I went with it and kept reading.

You have a main character that carries a sword, talks of magic, and mentions how he purchased a pirate ship - and then you find out a few paragraphs later that airplanes are still flying the friendly skies. Wha--?? M'kay, then. Moving on.

That's when I come to the point where the "hero" of the story is beseiged by six bounty hunters. I'm just going to add the quote and my exact notes from when I read it:

...when a pair of bounty hunters used silver bullets to announce their presence. Four more bounty hunters fell in behind them.

Lance had his sword in hand and through the chest of the closest attacker before the hunter had a chance to pull the trigger a second time. Two razor-edged claymores appeared in Sancho's mitts from out of nowhere, and for several adrenaline-filled minutes, the only sounds were the clang of swords, the sharp report of gunfire, and a series of wet thuds as the bodies of the would-be assassins hit the ground and stayed there.

Bounty-hunters "announcing" their presence by firing a gun - how inept are they that they can't hit an unaware target?

SIX bounty-hunters, presumably with guns, can't take out two lonely guys with only SWORDS?

Sancho (Lance's friend) can apparently wield TWO CLAYMORES at a time - do you have any idea how BIG these freaking swords are? They're HUGE. They're meant to be handled TWO-HANDED.

Then the bounty hunters are apparently still firing their guns and still can't hit our hero.

I'm done.

Grade: DNF

Snowman by Elyssa Wilds
I admit, I had little patience by the time I started this novella. Then it seemed like maybe I'd be in for a treat, because it started off interesting enough - even if I wanted to smack the heroine for idiocy in a snow-storm, at least she recognized that she'd been stupid. But then we get to the part where other female characters can't even be bothered to be given a name. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

After that, I'm not sure if I just lost what little interest I had, or what, but I started skimming and all I saw was 'blah, blah, blah'.

I knew it was time to give up here too.

Grade: DNF

OH! And the preview for The Winter King? LOVE. I'm SOOO excited!!

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Title: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising Trilogy, Book 1
Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction
Release Date: 28 January 2014

Darrow is a miner and a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he digs all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of the planet livable for future generations. Darrow has never seen the sky.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better future for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow and Reds like him are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow joins a resistance group in order to infiltrate the ruling class and destroy society from within. He will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

That blurb up there, it doesn't even begin to do justice to the mastery that lies in these pages.

I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.

That, right there, is how it starts. Instantly hooking me and not letting me go for nearly 400 pages. I wasn't expecting this. I expected another standard-fare dystopia - we've all read them. They are everywhere now, aren't they? The underdog hero fighting against a corrupt system for a brighter purpose. It seems like it shouldn't be so much more than that. I'm not a huge reader of science-fiction, and when I found out this takes place on Mars far in the future, I had my doubts.

But there enters Darrow, a protagonist unlike any other I've read. He's the best Helldiver there is, able to quickly and nimbly gather the precious Helium3 that's so needed. He spends his life happily doing all he's known. He's a pawn, gullibly believing the lies that have been told him his entire life. Not even considering another possibility than the 'truth' he's always known. Until tragedy strikes, and his wife, Eo, is killed by the ruling Golds.

Eo was with us such a short time in the novel. We heard about her, and then only saw her for a couple of chapters, then she's gone. And still it felt like the still-beating heart of me was ripped out. She's such a dynamic character. A dreamer. The catalyst for change - no matter the cost. And the cost is high, not just to her, but to Darrow. And she's never forgotten. I was nearly 90% into the book when Eo was mentioned (one of many, many times) and I started crying again.

Thus starts Darrows first transformation - from ignorant, accepting youth to rage-filled, betrayed husband. His need for vengeance is deep, and he gets his chance. All he has to do is give up everything about himself, everything Eo loved, to become one of his enemy. He'll be reshaped into a Gold, a Trojan Horse slipped in their midst to bring down the corrupt regime. He's to become the knife between the ribs they never saw coming.

I mentioned Darrow's first transformation, but it's not his last. He learns and grows, adjusts and readjusts. He knows he's not the strongest, or the smartest. He doesn't have the strategy perfected. He can't win this on his own. Darrow's fallible. God, how I loved that. He makes mistakes, mis-judges things, hell, he does things that made me cringe. And yet, I was always right there with him. From beginning to end I couldn't help but root him on, willing him to find a way.

It's not just Darrow that's great here, either. He's surrounded by such complex characters, with diverse motivations - sometimes I wasn't even sure where loyalties lay, who was going to betray whom and for what. We learn, right along with Darrow, that the Golds aren't all cut from the same cloth. This changes the way Darrow, and I, saw things. Obviously, some stick out more in my mind than others - and I hope we haven't seen the last of them. But still, I wasn't sure who to trust, and even when I gave trust it was wary and worrisome. What if they were biding their time? I spent most of the book on the edge of my seat....needing to know.

"You do not follow me because I am the strongest. [Redacted 1] is. You do not follow me because I am the brightest. [Redacted 2] is. You follow me because you do not know where you are going. I do."

I read for characters, you might know that by now, that's what will always intrigue me and pull me through the story. But I love worlds, too. Pierce Brown has created such a diverse, complex, intriguing world that I'm in awe of it. The color system he's devised, the way and reason it's implemented, how each group is kept under the thumbs of Golds - blew.me.away. It was logical - imagine that. How it came to be made sense and it was absolutely heart-breaking. I think this world devastated me so much because I can imagine it happening. It scares the ever-living-hell out of me.

On top of all this awesomeness you have the writing that immerses me so deeply into the world, the story that I couldn't let go of it. I can't do this novel justice, I could ramble for ages on how it made me feel, how I laughed out loud, cried and pleaded, and at times it even made me squeal in delight. Red Rising is, hands down, the best science-fiction novel I've ever read. Pierce Brown is brilliant, and I can't wait for the second novel in this trilogy - already I'm anticipating having all my expectations shattered.

Grade: A

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Mine Under the Mistletoe by Kat Latham

Title: Mine Under the Mistletoe
Author: Kat Latham
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 5 December 2013

Thanks to a transatlantic house swap, California girl Ashley Turner is finally going to fulfill her lifelong dream of a proper English Christmas. Her holiday plans did not include a sexy stranger climbing into her borrowed bed in the middle of the night. But in the light of day, Ashley can't help but wonder if Santa has delivered early...

Game designer Oliver Stansfeld can't wait to leave dreary London—and all its difficult holiday memories—for sunny San Diego. But a freak ice storm and a grounded plane have forced him back to his already-occupied flat. To make up for the mix-up, the least he can do is show his pretty houseguest where to get the perfect Christmas tree before he leaves.

The more time they spend together, the more their attraction grows, and soon Ashley is tempting Oliver to give in to the spirit of the season and snuggle up for the rest of the winter. As the ice melts and flights start taking off again, he must choose between giving in to the past or risking his heart on a chance at love.

Mine Under the Mistletoe ended up being an endearing mix of fun and poignant - I wasn't expecting the poignant when I picked it up, but it really added to the story. I do, however, wish it had been a little bit longer to deal with some of the very intense feelings it began to address in the two main characters.

Ashley's one of those people that is determined to find the best in everything. She's a bit naive, but utterly kind, caring and optimistic. That's not to say that she doesn't recognize the bad things that happens - she understands them very well - but she adapts and forges ahead. I found myself liking and respecting her quite a bit (which helped with the naivete that showed up occasionally).

Oliver is dealing with some heavy, heavy guilt. This is what I thought needed to be addressed a bit more. His sister was in a car accident when she was fourteen and apparently both brain damaged and paralyzed. She died on Boxing Day the previous year. It's well understandable why Christmas is so hard for Ollie, and why he's so desperate to get anywhere but here.

I really enjoyed the way that Ashley didn't push Ollie. She let him come to terms with his issues, and his worries on his own. He'd share them when he was ready and could. And he did. It was incredibly sweet watching these two bond. I did have a bit of a problem with the quickness and intensity of Ashley's feelings though. After just a couple of days they're in love, and with all the grief they were both dealing with I felt that was a little unlikely. I did see how they could make it work though, and was happy they were going to - and the epilogue at the end left me smiling and sure in their HEA.

Grade: B

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Review: Season of Second Chances by Brighton Walsh

Title: Season of Second Chances
Author: Brighton Walsh
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 5 December 2013

When a storm strands Claire Hanlin in Chicago on Christmas Eve, the last person she expects to come to her rescue is Logan Dawes, the man she almost married two years ago. The chemistry between them is dangerously potent, but with nowhere else to go, Claire accepts Logan's offer to stay with him for the night.

Back in the home they shared, surrounded by reminders of Logan and his young daughter, Claire begins to realize how much she misses the family she almost had. After a few cups of Christmas cheer, she falls right back into her ex's arms-even though she knows it means setting herself up for heartbreak all over again.

The magic of the season has thrown him together with the woman he's never stopped loving, and Logan's not about to pass up this gift. He's not the workaholic he was two years ago-his family comes first. Now all he has to do is prove it to Claire, before the snow stops and she flies out of his life for good.

Second chance romances one of my top five story-lines in contemporary romances, I was looking forward to seeing how Claire and Logan dealt with the issues that separated them previously. How they would be able to forge a future from the remains of their past.

From their first meeting it's clear that the chemistry between the two of them is off the charts high. The sparks practically fly off of each other when Claire ends up at Logan's condo in the middle of a snowstorm that strands her in Chicago.

I really easily identified with both Claire and Logan - their feelings as they navigated through the feelings they're still dealing with. It felt so incredibly real, so understandable. Claire, hurt and determined not to let herself fall into it again; Logan regretting the decisions he'd made, wishing he could take them back and not lose the best thing that had ever happened to him. And then there were the little things: Claire thinking how much she missed the simple touches, when Logan finally apologizes it touched my heart with how sincere it was - how utterly unstoppable. This was doubly impressive considering this was a novella of only about 70 pages.

My only complaint is that the whole time they're falling in love, again, the issue that broke them up in the first place was never even a concern. The snowstorm discarded the possibility of it being a problem, and so they were stuck in a fairy-tale like situation where real life didn't intrude. Thus by the time they did have to deal with the reality of it, the only way to resolve it was through a grand gesture - which I'm just not a fan of. I'm never sure that the grand gesture translates into a life-long change, so I really, really appreciated the epilogue here. It cemented my surety in their happily-ever-after and simply made me happy for both Claire and Logan that they found a way to make it work - no matter how difficult it may have been.

Season of Second Chances is an incredibly sweet, sexy, real romance that touched my heart and made me sigh with happiness. This is the first thing I've read by Brighton Walsh, but I've already added some of her other books to my wishlist.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Review: One Thousand and One Nights by Ruth Browne

Title: One Thousand and One Nights
Author: Ruth Browne
Series: N/A
Genre: Post Apocalyptic Fiction
Release Date: 30 September 2013

Sheri spends her days fighting zombies and her nights chained to a wall, earning her every breath by telling stories to her captor Aleksy — stories that make them both forget the ruined world. Sheri could put up with the conditions — at least she knows her sister is safe in the community Aleksy leads — until she realizes she’s falling for him...even though he wants her dead.

When Aleksy allowed Sheri and her sister into his compound, he didn't know about the zombie bite on her back. It's only a matter of time before she turns into one of the rising dead and threatens their existence, but Aleksy has a secret need for Sheri and her stories. For everyone's safety, he chains her to his bedroom wall, hoping for just one more day. But how long will the community allow Aleksy to ignore his own rule: always kill the infected. Always.

I'm not even sure where to start with this. I requested this book for review because I loved the idea of a Scheherazade retelling. Sometime between when I requested it and when I opened the file on my Kindle tonight, I forgot it was in a post-apocalyptic setting with zombies because I was very confused at first. My own fault though, and quickly rectified when I glanced at the blurb again.

I'm going to start with the biggest problem for me: Aleksy's been keeping Sheri CHAINED in his bedroom, by the throat, for nearly FOUR months! One time, in the book, she's chained so tightly that she can only squat near the wall - no rest for her legs, knees, back, ankles, feet - and anytime her head droops with sleepiness, the collar chokes her. And she's attracted to this guy?

I kind of get the caution - she's been bitten, and the bite's still healing, maybe she's going to turn and then she's a danger to everyone. But she's not mindless yet, obviously, because she's telling you stories. Why the ever-living-heck do you have to treat her like garbage? Water but no food, chained day and night, punished for the most minor things.

But Sheri keeps coming back. That's right, she gets let out of the compound to go look for more stories. Granted, she does have her sister there, but honestly she gave up hope of the people ever trusting her, and she hardly ever got to see her sister - she was kept secluded from her. So what's the effing point??

Like the stories Scheherazade told, there are tales within tales in this book. We jump back in the timeline more than a few times to learn more about Sheri and Aleksy and how they came to be the people they are at the point of the true story. Unfortunately this usually just irritated me and I ended up skimming. Also, I got irritated when I had to keep reading the stories that she was telling Aleksy. I wouldn't have minded small bits, but there were pages and pages of them - I've read Sinbad, I've read the Brothers Grimm tales, I don't need to read them again.

And this is completely nit-picky, but I seriously can't stand it when people include guns in their novels and they either don't know how they work or don't know how to describe it properly. There was one point where Sheri's shotgun made a "click-click" noise - I'm not sure why - and had a leather holster - most shotgun holsters aren't leather. Then there's the time when she takes the same shotgun, after they're in zombie territory, and loads it - pumping it to eject the empty shell. Why wasn't it loaded in the first place? And pump action shotguns don't make a clicking noise, that's too tame a word for it. Like I said, nitpicky.

There was a point, at about 45% into the book, that I was starting to get into it. I was invested in Sheri's life and how things were resolved for her. I was ignoring the things that bothered me, and hoping the resolution to Aleksy keeping her caged would be redeemed. Then I hit the end and it all went to hell. After a quick sex scene we're treated to her giving an ultimatum - I leave or you let me live without the chain - and no answer from Aleksy but him thinking she'd already stolen his heart.

Give me a freaking break.

Grade: D-

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Review: Star of the Morning by Lynn Kurland

Title: Star of the Morning
Author: Lynn Kurland
Series: Nine Kingdoms, Book 1
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Release Date: 5 December 2006

Darkness covers the north, since the black mage has begun his assault on the kingdom of Neroche. Legend has it that only the two magical swords held by Neroche's king can defeat the mage. Now the fate of the Nine Kingdoms rests in the hands of a woman destined to wield one of those blades...

In this land of dragons and mages, warrior maids and magical swords, nothing is as it seems. And Morgan will find that the magic in her blood brings her troubles she cannot face with a sword-and a love more powerful than she has ever imagined.

It's so hard for me to review the books in this series, it's one of my favorites and has been since the first moment I started reading them. The year wait between books was, at times, truly awful...and always worth it. This is the first book, in the first trilogy set in the Nine Kingdoms and it really centers around Morgan, and Miach (MEE-ach).

Morgan's spent a good portion of her life learning to be the best of the best, at sword-play. She had no time for soft sentiments, or nearly anything but the next siege she can stage. But when the man that was the closest thing she's known to a father asks a favor, Morgan can't deny him anything. Morgan is such an incredibly competent, kick-ass woman. She is absolutely comfortable in who she is, calloused hands and all. She knows that it's unlikely for anyone to be her equal in battle and has no problem ensuring that she gets the respect she deserves. I just love her.

Miach. *sighs happily* What can I say about Miach? He's absolutely the best. I love him, dearly. Even with the deception against Morgan about who he truly is, I loved him from the very beginning. As Archmage of the realm, it's his duty to ensure its safety - no matter the cost, even to himself. Miach is honorable, sweet, smart, so incredibly kind, and so incredibly powerful - not that he lets it go to his head. He's also one of the most down to earth characters I've read.

The story here is pretty standard, Morgan sets out on a quest, with some companions - meets with some unexpected allies and foes and learns more about herself and the world in the process. This isn't your standard epic fantasy though. Don't take that to mean the world isn't well-developed, because it is. I can picture it clearly, feel the urgency of need to protect it, and understand easily how all the different groups work together (and against one another).

But the thing I love most while reading these is how much I end up smiling and laughing. The banter between the characters, their thoughts and actions...all of it combines to just simply make me happy. As I was reading this time I ended up highlighted passage upon passage of dialogue between different people, and more than once I had someone ask me what I was laughing at.

I highly, highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a fun fantasy-romance with great characters. I wish I could get more people to read them, because they're so special to me.

Grade: A

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Review: Can't Let Go by Jessica Lemmon

Title: Can't Let Go
Author: Jessica Lemmon
Series: Love in the Balance, Book 1.5
Genre: Contemporary Romance (prequel)
Release Date: 3 September 2013

Can't Let Go is a PREQUEL novella to Hard to Handle, a "before" the happily ever after...


Sadie Howard would never admit there's such a thing as love at first sight, but she can't deny the connection between her and sexy Adonis Aiden Downey. She also can't deny she loves to kiss him-his mouth might be his most precious asset. Despite every promise to herself not to get involved any deeper than a first date, she can't keep from seeing more of Aiden . . . in more ways than one.

Aiden Downey had no idea the hot blonde from the club would trigger his protective, gentle nature, but the moment she drops her guard and he sees the real Sadie Howard, he's a goner. When a family crisis puts the brakes on their budding romance, can Aiden find a way to hold on to her? Or will he lose the best thing in his life just as quickly as he found her?

Okay, first things first - I was clear on this to start, but I want to be sure there's no confusion - do not expect a resolution to Aiden and Sadie's story in this novella. This is a prequel about how they meet, and the very beginning of their relationship. This is a book about the mistakes people make even when they're looking at the person that may be the best person in the world for them. About the things that come up and decisions made that can ruin something before it even really has a chance.

I have to admit that I'm conflicted about this novella. I'm not generally a fan of prequel stories like this where there's not really any resolution - at least not positive resolution - and I considered not reviewing this until I finished Hard to Handle where Aiden and Sadie's story is truly resolved. I want to talk about Can't Let Go though.

The title is pretty good actually. Aiden can't let go of his ex-wife - he hasn't told his family about his divorce that's a year old, because his mother's been going through chemo and he didn't want to add stress to her life. I get that, but at the same time this frustrates the hell out of me. Especially when you're trying to start a relationship with someone else. On the other hand, Aiden's incredibly caring and intuitive. He like verbally sparring with Sadie, he treats her with respect and he is very serious about her. I liked him a lot, except for that one deception with his family.

Sadie was pretty great, too. I liked that she's got a smart mouth, but isn't over-the-top snarky. She's got some snark and some sarcasm - and I love it. She's been burned, her fiance left her for someone else just before the wedding was going to take place, and she was finally taking a chance on Aiden. What I didn't like is that she apparently fell immediately for him. After guarding your heart for so long, to the point where you don't even go on more than a single date with someone, I can't see that happening. Especially not to the extent that she did.

After just 2 dates, over a week and a half period, she's thinking love. Excuse me while I frown over here. I just don't buy it. I do buy the connection and like and chemistry and that they'd likely have a great relationship...but love? Give me a break.

Because she fancies herself in love with him, she acts and says some completely selfish things near the end that irritated me. Even if she were really in love with him, then I don't like the way she reacted. It's not normal to think only of yourself when someone is going through something like Aiden was at that moment.

And this is where I'm conflicted. I want to see Aiden and Sadie happy. I'm going to read their book, because despite the things that irritated me, I do like them both. I think they're great together, and that they made some stupid mistakes and decisions. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing them work those issues out.

Grade: C+

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Review: Wrecked by Shiloh Walker

Title: Wrecked
Author: Shiloh Walker
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 2 April 2013

In the nineties, Abigale Applegate and Zach Barnes were the most beloved sitcom child stars in the world. Then they grew up and left Hollywood behind...

Whatever happened to Abigale Applegate?

She’s been wondering the same thing.

With her Hollywood dreams long gone, Abigale now has a nice, neat, uncomplicated life—until the day her perfect fiancé needs to talk. Dumped, a little more than shattered, and totally confused, Abigale turns to Zach, her best friend since forever, to help her pick up the pieces. He does it with a gift—a copy of Wreck This Journal. She can vent her frustrations, and sketch out a new plan. Zach just hopes he’s part of it. Because he’s been in love with Abigale his entire life.

When the journal falls into Zach’s hands, he discovers Abigale wants a new man. And fast. Nothing more than a hot distraction. Zach has a strategy, too. He’s going to be that man. It’s his last chance. Abigale might be out to shake up her life, but Zach’s out to reinvent it. Now, all he has to do is convince Abigale that life can go as planned.

I first became intrigued with the idea of this book when I heard something mentioned in regards to Wreck This Journal; I've had my eye on it ever since. Finally, finally I read an excerpt and was hooked. I immediately purchased it, and settled in to read.

Wrecked (previously titled Wreck This Life) had me at the beginning with the friends-to-lovers trope - I love this set-up, so much. But what kept me invested was the characters themselves. Both Abby and Zach were childhood stars on a sitcom, both of them got out of the life, and both try to live normal lives now.

Abby's now a caterer, that likes to have complete control through planning every step of her life. She had a life plan from seventeen onwards and when she's thrown off track she's not sure how to handle having her plans so thoroughly ruined. In comes Wreck This Journal, and Abby comes up with a new plan. Not a life-plan, but a for-now-plan. I love how she takes these small steps to becoming more who she is - letting life happen a little and going with the flow. The rewards are well worth it.

Speaking of the rewards - Zach is a fabulous hero. He's been Abby's best friend since they were kids. She's always known she could count on him. What she didn't know was that he's also been in love with her since they were kids. Unable to stand being away from her, he settled in the same town she did - starting his own business, a tattoo shop. And can I just say how sexy it is that he designs and does tattoos? Being completely shallow here for a moment, the descriptions of his tattoos … they just make him hotter. But on top of that Zach's funny and kind and steady - he's comfortable in the best possible way.

I knew from the first moment I saw them together they were meant to be together. They have a great chemistry and it's easy to see why and how they fall in love. Speaking of chemistry - the scene where Zach paints a temporary tattoo on Abby's torso? Smoking hot!! Shiloh Walker has some great steamy scenes in this book.

I had a few minor issues - one of them centering around a euphemism choice that's not really important. The other one was addressed in the story itself. I'm not a fan of misunderstandings and lack of talking about how you feel, but I really liked how these were utilized here. Abby does misunderstand something, but I liked that she came to the (truthful) conclusion on her and went about reconnecting with Zach without him having to chase her down - not that he wasn't trying! And towards the mid-point of the book I was ready to shake both of them so they'd acknowledge what they felt to the other - but how this was addressed later in the book really made me re-evaluate, and when they did declare their love, I was so, so happy.

I'm so glad I finished out 2013 reading this book - Wrecked is a fantastic, sweet, sexy, and fun contemporary romance and I'm hoping against hope that we get stories about Zach's brothers (who make a brief appearance here).

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: Nine Kingdoms Novellas by Lynn Kurland

So, I'm starting my re-read of the Nine Kingdoms series by Lynn Kurland, anxious to go re-visit Miach and Morgan - but I couldn't jump in without reading these two short story prequels.

Title: "A Whisper of Spring"
Series: Nine Kingdoms, Book 0.25
Genre: Fantasy Romance

Symon of Neroche is sitting in his home, which is more of a hunting lodge, contemplating the problems from the north of his kindgom when in walks an unexpected guest. An elf, banished from his homeland, comes asking for help in rescuing his sister, Iolaire - princess of Ainneamh.

Iolaire was stolen from her home, banished by default for leaving - regardless if it's against her will - and stuck in Lothar, the black mage of Wychweald's dungeon. Her choices seem slim, become Lothar's wife, or die like her cousin.

Symon quickly agrees to attempt to save a woman he has secretly dreamed about for years, though it may mean his life in trade.

Lynn Kurland long ago become one of my favorite authors for her smart, witty, sweet romances. I can't help but love her characters. Symon is charming, gentlemanly, and incredibly kind - on top of being a very, very powerful mage. Even that might not be enough against Lothar, but he still instantly agrees to go rescue Iolaire. Granted his reasons might have some small personal reason, but I know he'd have gone anyway. What I really love about Iolaire is that she's strong - she, in the end, can save herself. And she's not afraid to stand up against her overbearing brother either. Which is pretty humorous.

I always, always, always, end up laughing when I'm reading these stories. The banter between the characters just makes me chuckle.

Reading the Nine Kingdoms series is a bit like coming home to a comfortable fire, listening to and chatting with great friends.

Grade: A-

Title: "The Tale of the Two Swords"
Series: Nine Kingdoms, Book 0.5
Genre: Fantasy Romance

Mehar of Angesand is fleeing from home, running to the palace, looking for help deciphering her mother's book of spells from the king or his mage. Her abrupt departure, leaving her betrothed in the dust, ends up with her having a price on her head and men on her trail. When she finally does arrive at the palace it's to find it in ruins, with just two men, apparently servants, Gil and Alcuin, lingering.

Gil doesn't correct her belief, wanting to be simple Gil - perhaps named after his father's favorite hound - instead of Gilraehan the Fey, Prince of Neroche...King, in fact with his father recently dead. Gil's looking for a bit of peace to figure things out after the devastating defeat his family suffered against Lothar of Wychweald.

When Mehar shows up, Gil begins to wish that he could perhaps choose differently than has been planned for him - no more so than when his intended shows up at the palace after just a few short days of getting to know Mehar.

Having read Star of the Morning before this, I heard about The Tale of the Two Swords extensively, and was ecstatic to see the story (within a story) presented here. It's everything it is promised to be - full of romance, and intrigue, with danger lurking just there. The writing is typical of Lynn Kurland, strong men with courtly manners; women who have more power than they realize and the desire and ability to use it and fantastic banter that makes me grin.

"I suppose," she said pulling back, "that you'll need someone about you to remind you you're merely a man when you begin to take yourself too seriously."

"And you won't?" he asked, cocking his head to one side.

She shook her head. "I am your warp threads, my liege, ever fixed in my affections. Let someone else correct your pattern. My task is to wrap you in peace and comfort, not strip you of it."

*sighs happily*

"I need a sword, Gil. I'll need some way to guard your back. To guard my own if you're guarding our children. I could weave things into it."

He looked at her quietly for a moment or two, then nodded. "As you will, love."

Grade: A-
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