Friday, November 30, 2012

ARC Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Title: The Sea of Tranquility 

Author: Katja Millay 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Release Date: November 31st, 2012

I went into The Sea of Tranquility a little skeptical, a little excited, and just a little wary too. When novels have been hyped up, much like this one has, I always have to face the fear that it will disappoint me; that it won't be as good as I want it to be. With The Sea of Tranquility, however, I needn't have worried. Katja Millay's debut is flawlessly written, hitting the reader right in the gut, making them feel every emotion as if it were theirs. It's the type of contemporary that might as well have been written for me - slow-burn romance, heavily character-driven plot, flawed characters, and two tortured souls. It isn't a perfect novel - very few are, after all - but it is a novel that deserves its hype, its following, and to be read by every reader, no matter their genre preference.

The Sea of Tranquility is not an easy novel to read. While its first half can be excruciatingly slow, developing our two main characters and enriching the plot, it's the second half of this heartbreaking story that, contrary from making me cry, made my entire body shake in fear, disgust, and sadness. It was the type of deep despair that renders your eyes tear-less, but your soul broken anyway.

The Sea of Tranquility alternates between the perspectives of Nastya, the new girl in town, and Josh, the boy who has witnessed his entire family die before his eyes and, as such, the entire town leaves him alone. Nastya is broken, physically and mentally. While she keeps a tough exterior, a past traumatic experience is eating at her from the inside and against her own will, she is drawn to Josh, another kindred broken spirit. While their initial interactions are far from friendly, slowly the two of them begin to form an unlikely friendship and, most surprisingly, trust. While they seem impenetrable, obscure, and downright strange to the rest of the world, they find solace in one another and creeping manner in which their quirky friendship turns into love is incredible to behold. It's the type of slow-burn that will take your breath away and at the same time, you understand that the feelings these two have for one another run far deeper than simple affection; they are, for lack of a better term, each others family. In each other they find the redemption and comfort and understanding they don't even realize they're looking for or need to complete themselves.

In addition to the romantic element, however, a heavy undertone of mystery remains present throughout the story. We, as the reader, are left in the dark when it comes to Nastya's mysterious past and while we can observe, physically, that she has scars and her left hand doesn't work quite alright, we still don't know what happened to her or the full extent of that mental damage. With alternating perspectives, we are witness to the slow changes that Josh and Nastya inflict upon each other, but we are also witness to glimpses of Nastya's past and if those flashes of horror don't frighten you, the eventual truth definitely will.

I've mentioned that The Sea of Tranquility isn't a perfect novel - and it isn't. It is a deeply psychological tale of two tortured teens and it is told with a talent that I find breathtaking. Yet, the beginning of this story is rather slow. It takes awhile to get going, but once it does, you won't be able to put this down. Nevertheless, the most important part of this story, its ending, was strangely lacking. Millay spends chapters upon chapters building up Nastya and Josh into characters we love and she then spends chapters upon chapters creating their love story. Through all this, the reader is immediately sucked in and utterly invested in the tale. Once the drama begins to creep in, our hearts have been ripped out and when the eventual revelation of Nastya's past comes to light, our hearts are just shards of broken glass. Unfortunately, however, the manner in which Millay pieces them back together and glues them is a

I truly enjoyed this novel and while my initial gut-reaction was to give this 5 Stars, I found, upon reflection, that I couldn't. The Sea of Tranquility is one of the most surprising, original, and heart-wrenching tales I've read - ever - but its ending left me a little unsatisfied. While I know many readers will disagree with me on this front, as they may have found the ending to be wholly satisfactory, I did think it was a little rushed. We are cheated of the opportunity to see Nastya grow and change and confront her past which she has been hiding from for such a long time. In fact, the monumental impact of Nastya's past is covered rather quickly in one chapter and then another very short epilogue of sorts. I found myself wishing for both a quick injection of Josh's perspective and perhaps even a more conclusive epilogue that revealed a little of Nastya's conditions after her ordeal. Normally, I would have been satisfied by the nicely wrapped-up ending, but I found that for a novel that spend so much time just introducing us to the characters and later creating their romance, the eventual revelation of their journey to discovering the truth about each other and dealing with it was a little short in comparison and just a tad-bit of a cop-out.

Nevertheless, I cannot recommend this book enough. Truly, it is a story that took my breath away and the depth of emotion I felt for these characters is unparalleled. It's one of those novels that will stick with you for a long time to come, just because it is so different from everything else out there and the basic fact that it inspires so much feeling. I feel as if I know Nastya and Josh nearly as well as Katja Millay herself probably knows them - that is how well she enables you to understand these characters. Furthermore, the troubles they faced were realistic, were never over-dramatic, and the cast of secondary characters that graced this tale were beyond phenomenal. I cannot adequately express my awe for Millay or my love for this story - one that I will never forget - and I am already eagerly anticipating whatever Millay writes next. Truly, this is one novel you will regret missing out on. If it doesn't make you think or change your life just a little bit, then you're reading the wrong story.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a honest review.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Flawed by Kate Avelynn

Title: Flawed 

Author: Kate Avelynn 

Rating: 2.5 Stars 

You need to know straight off the bat that this is one of those reviews you should take with a grain of salt. I read Flawed just after finishing Juliet Marillier’s masterpiece, Daughter of the Forest, and you should know, that reading order did no wonders for this novel. While both novels are vastly dissimilar, they both contain protagonists who have suffered through difficult situations and while Sorcha, the compelling heroine of Marillier’s tale, managed to make me weep and feel with intensity every feeling she felt, I unfortunately can’t say the same about Sarah, the protagonist of Flawed. Furthermore, Flawed is a novel that left me confused. I was forced to simply think about this book when I was finished with it – just not in a good way. It didn’t compel me to question society and think deeply about the issues this book covered, it simply made me think about why the book ended the way it did and how I actually felt about it – two questions I’m still not sure I entirely have the answers to.

Flawed is one of the most perfectly names books I’ve come across. It is flawed, just as the characters and the lives they lead are as well. Flawed starts off immersing us into a world of horror, sadness, and misery. Sarah and her older brother, James, have grown up in an abusive household. Not only does their father repeatedly beat them, but their mother is a drug addict and as such, they have been forced to rely solely on one another as they’ve aged. At a young age itself, the two siblings made a pact: James would protect Sarah from their father’s beatings as long as Sarah promised never to leave him. While Sarah sees nothing harmful in this simple promise, the true repercussions of it are felt later on in her life as she begins to fall for Sam, the sweet-spoken and gentle friend of James. As James witnesses their romance blossoming, his own pent-up feelings for his sister – not-so brotherly ones, mind you – begin to come to the surface. In this flawed world, is there any real hope for Sarah?

No, there isn’t. I hate to say it, but this book ends on a note that leaves me angry, upset, and feeling like I wasted my time because, to put it bluntly, this is not a story of hope. It isn’t even realistic, which is usually the other option when we are faced with novels that don’t feature around a theme of hopefulness. I’m getting ahead of myself though – we’ll talk about the end at the end. Firstly, what you need to know is that Flawed is a surprisingly quick read. It’s short, its chapters are short, and it will have you turning the pages in anticipation. Sarah and Sam’s romance is sweet – if you’re into sweet. I, on the other hand, yearned for more substance from Sam. If you liked Zeke from The Immortal Rules or Jase from My Life Next Door, then chances are you’ll love Sam. Like Zeke and Jase, Sam is perfect - too perfect. For a novel named Flawed, Sam ironically has none, which, for me, makes him a romantic interest who was sweet, but nothing else.

Sam aside, Sarah was a compelling heroine. It was evident that she was torn, both between accepting her love for Sam and staying true to her promise to her brother. Sarah realizes that James’ feelings for her are not normal and while she keeps him at an arms length physically, she too realizes that she needs James just as much as he may need her. Unfortunately though, this is never further explored. We have on our hands an intriguing psychological situation of two siblings who are too close, all due to their circumstances, but we can never see the repercussions or true impact of this type of a relationship. It isn’t quite incest in the way Forbidden is – these two don’t love each other and they don’t struggle to want to be together. Instead, they rely on each other for support, but in an unhealthy manner. While I found this all very interesting, I was disappointed that this was never explored further.

What prevented this novel from progressing to the depths it could have gone to? Well…the ending. It was convenient. Avelynn creates raw, tortured, and different characters, but instead of dealing with them, we have a rather convenient ending that very abruptly ends the story. A cop-out? I believe so. I guess readers were meant to cry and scream at the injustice of this ending or feel terrible for our protagonist, but contrary to all that, I just felt a massive dose of disappointment. Now, contemporary isn’t my preferred genre, so perhaps I go into it expecting a little bit more to really “wow” me, but somehow, this book failed to deliver.

My personal qualms aside, as a piece of literature, I believe Flawed tackles on more than it can truly handle. We have an abusive father, a drug-addict mother, and two psychologically messed up siblings, one of whom is the victim of unrequited love with his own sister. Hmm…seems plenty complicated to me. Now, throw in a best friend romance, a protective older brother, lots of sneaking out to make-out, and some issues concerning sex and we literally have two books on our hands, only they’re smashed into one and the issues concerning both fail to be developed to their full potential or degree.

All in all, I can’t say I really recommend Flawed. On the other hand, it was a novel that kept me entertained, captivated, and I enjoyed it a lot while reading it, but the overall impression it left with me was one of disappointment. I feel as if this novel could have been so much more and truly had the potential to resonate with the reader, but alas, I know this is one I’ll be forgetting easily. Yet, it seems as if I am – as I usually am, really – a black sheep when it comes to this novel. In fact, the majority of preliminary reviewers have loved this one and if you’re a fan of contemporary, issue books, or very sweet romances, you won’t be disappointed. If, however, contemporary isn’t your usual cup of tea, you only pick up issue books with severe persuasion, and you need your romances to have a little more, you may want to look elsewhere.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Archangel by Sharon Shinn

Title: Archangel (Samaria, #1) 

Author: Sharon Shinn 

Rating: 4.5 Stars 

I'm at a loss for words when it comes to Sharon Shinn's Archangel. Utterly torn in fact. I was so sure this novel would earn a hearty 5 Stars from me and make its way to my 'favorites' shelf, but alas, I couldn't bring myself to fall in love with this as I thought I would.

I suppose I'll start at the beginning. I woke up early today morning with plenty of time left before I really needed to be out of bed. Thus, I perused my Kindle library and stumbled upon this. I thought I'd read a chapter or two before lazily making my way out of bed, but before I knew it, it was time for lunch (I completely missed breakfast!) and I was just over half-way done with this book. Needless to say, I devoured my lunch as fast as I could, read till nearly the end of the novel, forced myself to do some productive work, and went about finishing this tale.

Archangel is the first of a series of five novels that all take place in the fantasy land of Samaria. From the surface, Archangel is nothing more than a romance. Gabriel has been chosen by Jovah, the God, to become the next Archangel, or ruler of Samaria. Every twenty years a new Archangel is installed and they assume their power when they sing during the annual Gloria ritual with their angelica, or chosen bride. The angelica is chosen by Jovah as well and Gabriel is told that her name is Rachel. Thus, with less than six months before the Gloria, Gabriel must find his wife.

Rachel, however, proves elusive to find. While she was born a farmer's daughter, her home was destroyed when she was young. Thus, she spent her years with a traveling pack of nomads before she was sold into slavery to work in a rich man's household. It is there, quite coincidentally, that Gabriel finds her. Although her life has been hard, Rachel's spirit has never been broken and just as she is about to receive freedom, Gabriel whisks her away to be his bride. Needless to say, the headstrong young woman and the impatient angel don't get along and their relationship is strained.

Archangel chronicles the beautiful, blooming love story between Rachel and Gabriel. It is slow, achingly realistic, and allows you more than enough time to become wholly invested in their affair. Yet, more than that, it is a novel of two people, their faith, and a nation. Archangel switches between the third person perspectives of both Rachel and Gabriel, giving us a well-rounded picture of both our protagonists as well as their land. Samaria is a fantasy nation that Shinn has richly imagined, and her world-building is artfully crafted. Not only are we made to understand the heavy undertone of religion that surrounds this land, without it ever becoming preachy, we are also made to witness the politics that lie in the nation. Perhaps best of all, though, is that Shinn uses her religious country as a realistic force in the novel itself.

Gabriel, as the incoming Archangel, knows the inner-workings of his country and has grown up believing in Jovah. Yet, there are doubters in the land and many of the theological discussions are fascinating, while never straying into the realm of "preach-like" in the least - a feat I was amazed to see accomplished. Furthermore, Rachel's perspective growing up with nomads allows us to see the multi-racial diversity of the land, not to mention the different customs they held.

Yet, what pulled me in about this novel were the characters themselves. Both Rachel and Gabriel are such intense and complex characters, that I can't truly claim to know them fully, even now. With her past, Rachel has become stubborn, unwilling to allow anyone close to her heart and her unyielding will often does more harm to her life than good. Furthermore, her actions are driven by the fact that she has never had choices in her life and as such, she seizes the opportunity to be free of Gabriel's clutches, despite the fact that they gradually fall in love. Gabriel too is multi-dimensional, having grown up to assume the task of Archangel, and his growth under Rachel's influence is slow-burning and moving. What I love about their relationship most of all is that it is full of arguments and mistakes and very, very few tender moments, but their estrangements from one another shape their marital life and the distances they put, both literal and metaphorical, only make their relationship stronger.

So, what went wrong? In all honesty, I can't be completely sure. We have a villain in Archangel and while I was satisfied with the manner in which that particular plot wrapped up, I don't know if I can say the same about Rachel and Gabriel's romance. No, don't get me wrong - I loved it. I'm thrilled by the ending, but I remain disappointed by Rachel's lack of growth. Or rather, enough growth. While I understood where her stubborn, hard-will nature stemmed from and even saw the logic of her actions at the end of the novel, since Rachel needed some time to be her own person and take her own actions before she could back to Gabriel and even that had to be by her own choice, I somehow didn't enjoy the manner in which everything played out. Was it rushed? Was Rachel's contemplation of taking in another suitor mystifying? Or was it just her constant denial of her love for Gabriel and that, even when they reunited by the end, she couldn't allow herself to show her emotions? I don't know. I feel as if Rachel took the logical next step in her progression, but it was such a small step and I wish the novel could have continued on for us to really see more and feel 100% satisfied in her relationship with Gabriel.

Nevertheless, I can't deny I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will definitely be picking up the fifth book, which continues the story with another character from this novel, if not the others, which are separate novels of their own. Yet, I am still flabbergasted by my rating and my overall thoughts on this one. I'd highly recommend it though, to anyone looking for an interesting new take on angel fantasy, or just someone who loves music. Of course, that cover does no favors for this novel (I can't re-call any scene where Rachel held a glowing blue orb and a feather in her hands...and she has blonde hair!), the story inside more than makes up for it. I'm hoping that, someday down the line, I will be older and wiser and sit down to read this book and wind up loving the ending and giving this the five stars I still believe it deserves. Until then though, I'll probably keep these characters in my heart and hope that others will discover Sharon Shinn's masterpiece as well.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

DNF Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Title: Enclave (Razorland, #1) 
Author: Ann Aguirre
Rating: DNF/2 Stars
In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember. As a Huntress, her purpose is clear—to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She’s worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing’s going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce’s troubles are just beginning. Down below, deviation from the rules is punished swiftly and harshly, and Fade doesn’t like following orders. At first Deuce thinks he’s crazy, but as death stalks their sanctuary, and it becomes clear the elders don’t always know best, Deuce wonders if Fade might be telling the truth. Her partner confuses her; she’s never known a boy like him before, as prone to touching her gently as using his knives with feral grace. As Deuce’s perception shifts, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat only due to their sheer numbers, show signs of cunning and strategy… but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. Despite imminent disaster, the enclave puts their faith in strictures and sacrifice instead. No matter how she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she’s ever known. 
Enclave is amongst the few dystopian novels that has actually received a level amount of praise from practically everyone. As far as I know, there are no “haters” of Enclave, although there are those that feel simply ambivalent towards the novel, and as such, I went into it fully expecting to love it. Much to my disappointment, however, not only did I not fall in love with this novel, I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. I was less than hundred pages from the end when I came to sudden realization that I simply did not care. Thus, this book is sadly joining my pile of DNF novels.

In theory, Enclave is a book I should have loved. We have a kick-ass heroine, an enigmatic young hero/romantic interest, and a unique dystopian world.  Yet, everything was simply lacking in some manner or the other. What struck me first about the story was its lack of world-building. I’ve already mentioned that Aguirre has imagined a fantastic new realm, only we don’t know all that much about it. Of course, we are given details of the inner workings of this utopian society and are introduced to the “Freaks,” or zombies, but we are left completely in the dark as to the origins of this world. It isn’t a huge qualm as far as world-building qualms go and while our protagonist herself didn’t know the answer, a few theories as to how the Freaks came to exist or the manner in which the utopian society was formed would have been enriching to say the least.

Nevertheless, my true qualm took place in the shape of our protagonist, Deuce. Deuce is kick-ass, sweet when it comes to young love, fierce when it comes to fighting, and loyal when it comes to her job, but that’s all she is. Either than a couple of adjectives – strong, brave, kind – Deuce isn’t made up of much. In my eyes, she never had any real substance and I was unable to understand or connect with her as there wasn’t a person there to understand in the first place. It’s difficult to put into words, but more than just a lack of connection with Deuce, I couldn’t care for her or see her perspective on certain issues. Furthermore, this extended into her romance as well, making it all just fall flat for me.

Yet, the last straw in this novel was the love triangle. I thankfully didn’t make it to the point where this issue became an obvious forefront, but from skimming through other reviews, I can tell that it’s distasteful at best. Not only does it continue on in the sequel (turn-off much?), but it also centers on a former rapist. (I have no right to judge in this instance, however, since I haven’t seen how Aguirre deals with this issue and it CAN be dealt with very effectively, as can be seen with Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles.)

Nevertheless, with any mention of a love triangle, I am usually running in the opposite direction and that, combined with the lackluster romance already present and my lack of feeling for the characters or their world simply resulted in a novel I couldn’t bring myself to continue. Yet, I haven’t quite given up on Ann Aguirre. I hope to read (and love!) her adult Sirantha Jax Series soon for as an author, Aguirre’s writing leaves little to be desired. Unfortunately, I simply seem to be the black sheep when it comes to this novel and, considering I’ve read too many dystopians, utopians, and zombie-related novels lately, I’m just hard to impress. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: Burning Blue by Paul Griffin

Title: Burning Blue 

Author: Paul Griffin

Rating: 3.75/4 Stars 

Where do I start when it comes to Burning Blue? It's different. In a genre of literature so popular, it's hard to find anything similar to it. It's part mystery, part romance, and part something else entirely. I can't quite wrap my head around it to be perfectly honest. On one hand, I loved it. It was intriguing, kept me flipping the pages, and startled me with its eventual revelation. On the other hand, I was expecting something a little different when I went into it. Although there are such few male-narrated novels out there, this was one instance where I felt like having a male-narration was just easier when in reality, I wanted the female protagonists inner perspective so badly. Yet, at the end of the day, Burning Blue is the type of book I can only regard with warmth since truly, it's a book I can't imagine not recommending. 

Nicole Castro: gorgeous, model, beautiful, smart, sweet, kind. Burned. When a mysterious attacker throws acid on Nicole Castro, the most beautiful girl in town, not to mention one of the nicest people as well, it's all the people of Nicole's suburban town can talk about. When Jay coincidentally bumps into Nicole, just days after the attack, he can't help but feel for her. Unlike most of the residents of their town who pity Nicole and only wish to see the scar beneath her bandages, Jay knows what it feels like to be treated as a freak, an outsider - after all, he's lived like that his whole life. Thus, when an unlikely friendship strikes between the two, Jay knows he has to find out who did it. Who threw the acid at Nicole? Surprisingly though, sometimes, the answers are staring you in the face all along... 

Burning Blue is one of those novels that starts out unusually slow, only to pick up and leave you flipping the pages, eagerly wanting to find out more. While the mystery behind Nicole's acid thrower is the obvious forefront of the novel, I was pleased to see the amount of depth it covered as well. Jay, the narrator of our story, has a strong and distinct voice, one that is a touch snarky, kind, and afraid. It is Jay, better than anyone else, who understands what Nicole is going through for he too has been marked out, labeled, and ridiculed in his past. As a victim of bullying, amongst other issues, Jay and Nicole bond through their understanding of one another. Yet, what I loved most about their friendship was that it didn't blossom overnight. If anything, these two had their own mix of troubles, hurdles to cross, and efforts to make to find true friends in one another. Yes, there is an undercurrent of romance between the two, but it's subtle and I appreciate that Griffin never allowed the potential romance to dominate the novel and turn it cliche. Everything was balanced out in such a way that spoke volumes about the writer's skill. 

In addition to Jay's narration, we are treated to small glimpses of Nicole's voice through diary entries that are scattered throughout the novel. It was here that my minimal issues with the novel began to creep forth, but it never become truly grating until the very end of the story. You see, Nicole's diary entries barely give us access into her head. It is Nicole who has acid splashed on her face and while we witness more into her psych than other outsiders, since we are privy to Jay's unique perspective, it still remains to be an outside perspective. Through Jay, we feel for Nicole and understand her predicament and grow to admire her courage in the face of her tragedy, but do we really know the girl beneath? Not really. Frankly speaking, I wish we did. Burning Blue is a stand-alone and, as such, it wrapped up perfectly, but I found myself wishing for more of Nicole's dark, gritty, and even depressed perspective into this issue. It made me curious to know what she was going through and while I'll definitely give Griffin props for writing a unique outsider perspective that was this thoroughly enjoyable, it still left a little to be desired. 

Well, that minor qualm aside, Burning Blue truly did have a plethora of redeeming qualities. Jay won me over with his narration and Nicole won me over with her budding friendship with Jay, but even more than that, the mystery in this novel fascinated me. More than a who, my mind was churning through the possibilities of why? By rendering someone else disfigured, you aren't making yourself any more pretty, so why do it in the first place? I was so impressed by Griffin's discussion of this issue, amongst others dealing with beauty, and the eventual revelation came as a complete shock. A complete shock. I've read my fair share of mystery novels and I'm sure if you look through my reviews, half of them will complain about having predicted the plot beforehand, but not this one. I love that feeling of being utterly surprised and if for nothing else, it's worth reading this book just for the mystery and the psychology behind it. If you're even remotely interesting in humanity and the types of issues that compel people to do the terrible things they do, you can't afford to miss out on this one. 

Overall, Burning Blue was a thoroughly impressible novel. I found myself strangely attached to all the characters - even the plethora of secondary ones - and I am thrilled to report that not only is the plot unpredictable, but this contemporary fails to fall back on typical tropes and cliches such as the Absent Parent Syndrome. Family is another important aspect to this novel and if I had the time, I could go on about all the themes this book espouses. Yet, more than that, it makes you think. In my opinion, it could have been even more provocative had we seen more of Nicole's perspective, but there's always wishing for a sequel from her PoV in the future...who knows? Either way, Burning Blue is an intriguing new contemporary you won't want to miss out on. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Series Review: FBI/US Attorney Romance Series by Julie James

I've been on a small huge contemporary binge lately. I usually steer away from this genre, but when I'm in the mood for it, I devour it like no tomorrow. Thus, as you can see, you're getting a flood of romance/contemporary novels in the upcoming weeks even though Valentine's Day is FAR away. I really don't know how to review romances, so any/all feedback would be great! :) 

Title: Someone Like You (FBI/US Attorney, #1) 
Author: Julie James 
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Of all the hotel rooms rented by all the adulterous politicians in Chicago, female Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde had to choose the one next to 1308, where some hot-and-heavy lovemaking ends in bloodshed. And of all the FBI agents in Illinois, it had to be Special Agent Jack Pallas who gets assigned to this high-profile homicide. The same Jack Pallas who still blames Cameron for a botched crackdown three years ago—and nearly ruining his career. Work with Cameron Lynde? Are they kidding? Maybe, Jack thinks, this is some kind of welcome-back prank after his stint away from Chicago. But it’s no joke: the pair is going to have to put their rocky past behind them and focus on the case at hand. That is, if they can cut back on the razor-sharp jibes—and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension…
Julie James is easily one of the most well-known authors of chick-flick/contemporary novels, so when I went into Something About You, I was expecting a ton of laughs, a good romance, and had just a tiny seed of doubt in my mind, wondering whether the novel would live up to all the hype. Well, it did. Goodness, did Something About You deliver! 

I think what makes this novel such a hit, at least with me, is the joint collaboration of a steamy, sweet, and compelling romance along with an intriguing murder mystery. When we are first introduced to Cameron, the lawyer who is the protagonist of our tale, it's impossible not to fall in love with her endearing voice. Not only is she hilarious, snarky, and full of sass, but her close friendships define her and she truly came alive as the novel progressed. 

Yet, while Cameron was a heroine I loved, I couldn't help but fall for Jack - hard. I don't know why, but there's something about a rugged guy with just the perfect amount of stubble that is irresistable. Now, not all guys can pull it off, but the Jack in my mind definitely can! ;) Jack is an interested character, one whose past has been tough and molded him into a solitary individual, yet one who is deeply caring beneath that taciturn exterior. Jack and Cameron have a past that neither of them is particularly fond of, but the undercurrent of chemistry and tension between them is undeniable. I adored their witty banter and their slow road to romance was excellently written. For something that starts out as a purely physical attraction, it definitely turns into something infinitely deeper which I loved. 
Nevertheless, Something Like You isn't a perfect novel. It has its cliche moments, but most disappointingly, the murderer is revealed to us at around 25%. While this method worked perfectly in Libba Bray's The Diviners, I would have liked a little more of "the guessing game" before the reader found out about the murderer. Overall though, this tactic definitely worked well into the plot and the collaboration of the mystery and romance was seamlessly woven. With just one novel, Julie James has definitely earned a fan in me and if her other books are anything like this one, I can admit that the hype surrounding her novels is truly well-deserved. 

Title: A Lot Like Love (FBI/US Attorney, #2)
Author: Julie James
Rating: 2 Stars
The FBI wants her cooperation. As the daughter of a billionaire and the owner of the city's top wine store, Jordan Rhodes is invited to the most exclusive parties in Chicago. But there's only one party the FBI wants to crash: the charity fundraiser of a famous restaurateur, who also happens to launder money for the mob. In exchange for her brother's release from prison, Jordan is going to be there—with a date supplied by the Bureau. Agent McCall just wants her. As the top undercover agent in Chicago, Nick McCall has one rule: never get personal. This "date" with Jordan Rhodes is merely an assignment— one they're both determined to pull off even if they can't be together for five minutes before the sarcasm and sparks begin to fly. But when Nick's investigation is compromised, he and Jordan have no choice but to pretend they're a couple, and what starts out as a simple assignment begins to feel a lot like something more.
You’d think that after reading and loving one Julie James novel, I’d enjoy the other just as much, but unfortunately, that simply wasn’t the case. A Lot Like Love follows a different storyline from Someone Like You, one just as intriguing, mysterious, and crime-filled, but unfortunately, its characters fell flat for  me.

It is evident, even from my second Julie James novel, that the woman follows a formulaic plan – one that evidently works. We have Nick, our standard rugged, handsome, and utterly sexy FBI agent who is both dangerous and appealing at the same time. We have Jordan, a rich, beautiful, and utterly captivating woman who is sassy and becomes easily riled by Nick. Thus, we have our basic set-up for any Julie James love story. Yet, somehow, I wasn’t won over by this magical formula this time. With Someone Like You, not only was the romance a slow-burner, but it was one where the personalities of the characters were so easily distinguishable. I felt as if I knew Cameron and Jack intimately as people before I knew them as a couple but somehow, that simply wasn’t the case in this scenario. I felt as if I barely knew Nick or Jordan, let alone why they were constantly at each other throats. Furthermore, the chemistry in this one seemed to sizzle and fade away for me. 

Ultimately, I think I may be a black sheep for this novel. Julie James is still an author I am pining to read more of as I adored Someone Like You, but it seems as if my enjoyment of her novels is dependant on her character development – as it is with most books I read. Thus, I will hopefully have more success with her romantic novels outside of the FBI Series. Nevertheless, A Lot Like Love, was certainly fun and had the perfect series of elements to make a romantic novel sure to make women swoon everywhere – I just wasn’t one of them. 

Title: About That Night (FBI/US Attorney, #3)
Author: Julie James
Rating: 3.5 Stars 
Though Rylann Pierce tried to fight the sparks she felt for billionaire heir Kyle Rhodes the night they met, their sizzling chemistry was undeniable. But after being stood up on their first date, Rylann never expected to see him again. So when she finds herself face to face with Kyle in a courthouse nine years later, she’s stunned. More troubling to the beautiful Assistant U.S. Attorney is that she’s still wildly attracted to him. Just released from prison, Kyle Rhodes isn’t thrilled to be the star witness in a high-profile criminal case — but when Rylann comes knocking at his door, he finds she may be the one lawyer he can’t say no to. Still as gorgeous and sharp-tongued as ever, she lays down the law: she doesn’t mix business with pleasure. But Kyle won’t give up on something he wants — and what he wants is the one woman he’s never forgotten...
After my disappointments with A Lot Like Love, I took a break from James’ FBI/Attorney Series and tackled both of Julie James’ stand-alone romances. In all honesty, I feel really bad for this book and its characters – it isn’t easy to follow-up a couple like J.D. and Payton from Practice Makes Perfect, my previous Julie James read, so really, I would have probably enjoyed this book a lot more if I hadn’t read it after what is, in my opinion at least, James’ best work. Yet, About The Night reminded me again of why I love the steamy lawyer/criminal/FBI agent pairings that James usually writes about, at least in this particular series, and in my eyes, it was a definite improvement from the last installment.

About That Night is really, at the core of it, the most cliché of all James’ romances. Or second-most cliché after The Sexiest Man Alive. Either way, it has a fairly predictable plot and after the initial court meetings in the beginning of the novel, our protagonists, Kyle and Rylann, have little to do with law. If anything, About That Night focuses more on their own journey, both in trying to convince themselves that they don’t want to have an emotional relationship with one another as they wind up having just that. Sound familiar? It is, but yet, it’s a formula that never fails to work.

Furthermore, I loved these two. Not only was their chemistry sizzling, but their banter and slow understanding of each other through conversation warmed my heart. I’m a sucker for those “I-Met-You-Years-Ago” romances and About That Night definitely delivered. While I was disappointed that its plot wasn’t as involved in mystery as I would have liked, James has an addictive writing style that is impossible to not enjoy. If you’re looking for something light, fun, cute, page-turning, and steamy, Julie James is one go-to author you can’t miss out on! ;)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Adult Mini-Reviews: Feed (Newsflesh Trilogy) and Tempting the Player

Author: Mira Grant
Rating: 4 Stars
In 2014, two experimental viruses—a genetically engineered flu strain designed by Dr. Alexander Kellis, intended to act as a cure for the common cold, and a cancer-killing strain of Marburg, known as "Marburg Amberlee"—escaped the lab and combined to form a single airborne pathogen that swept around the world in a matter of days. It cured cancer. It stopped a thousand cold and flu viruses in their tracks.It raised the dead.Millions died in the chaos that followed. The summer of 2014 was dubbed "The Rising," and only the lessons learned from a thousand zombie movies allowed mankind to survive. Even then, the world was changed forever. The mainstream media fell, Internet news acquired an undeniable new legitimacy, and the CDC rose to a new level of power.Set twenty years after the Rising, the Newsflesh trilogy follows a team of bloggers, led by Georgia and Shaun Mason, as they search for the brutal truths behind the infection. Danger, deceit, and betrayal lurk around every corner, as does the hardest question of them all:When will you rise?
Feed is one of those books that deserves a full review from me, but I just can't deliver. What can I really say about Feed anyway? I suppose that the first thing you need to know is that Feed isn't a book for everyone. It takes place in a futuristic world where zombies are a part of everyday life, but opposed to leaving it at that, Grant gives you what you really crave - world-building. Mira Grant's world-building is so detailed, precise, and complete that it can almost be hard to get through the first half of this story as it bogs down the pacing. Thus, it's really only in the second-half that the plot, centering heavily around politics and conspiracies, comes to light.

Personally, I found the first half of this novel really hard to get into. Not only was it too detailed, the narration was of a higher calibre than I was used to and the characters in this novel are more serious than anything else. Yet, I grew to love them and the fierce sibling dependency of Sean and Georgia Mason warmed my heart. Feed lacks romance, which was surprisingly refreshing, and throws you into a world so real that you fail to find anything lacking.

What really makes Feed such a popular novel though, is its plot twists. Just like those long novels that are totally worth it in their end, Feed is completely satisfying. Its layout of including blog articles written by Sean and Georgia is ingenious and frankly speaking, it's one of those stories that makes you realize how little work some other authors pour into their novels. Feed, as I mentioned before, isn't for everyone but if you love politics, world-building, and well-rounded characters, not to mention a unique plot featuring zombies, this is the book for you!

Title: Tempting the Player (Gamble Brothers, #2) 
Author: J. Lynn 
Rating: 3.5 Stars 
Chad Gamble, all-star pitcher for the Nationals, is one of the best players on—and off—the field. And right now, the notorious bad boy wants Bridget Rodgers. But with her lush curves and snappy comebacks, the feisty redhead is the kind of woman a man wants to settle down with…and that’s the last thing Chad needs.When the paparazzi catch them in a compromising position, Chad’s manager issues an ultimatum: clean up his act or kiss his multi-million dollar contract goodbye. To save his career, his meddling publicist says he'll have to convince everyone Bridget isn’t just his flavor of the week, but his girlfriend. Being blackmailed into a fake relationship with Chad Gamble isn’t easy, especially when the sizzling physical attraction between them is undeniable. With a month to go on their arranged pretense, it's going to take every ounce of willpower they have not to fall into bed together...or in love.
I'll admit it: Tempting the Player was far better than J. Lynn's first foray into the world of adult fiction, Tempting the Best Man, but it wasn't quite enough to rock my boat. In their entirety, Lynn's novels are entertaining... and that's about it. Which is precisely why I pick them up when I need to get my mind off of a few serious issues and simply relax, but really, I can't award these books any more than 3 Stars because I just like them. I don't love them like I did On Dublin Street or even Seducing Cinderella, two novels which fit under the same romance category but manage to actually provide some depth unlike the Gamble Brothers Series.

I think what makes Tempting the Player so much better than its predecessor is the fact that it has a predecessor. If Tempting the Player had been a stand-alone novel, I doubt I would have enjoyed it this much, but seeing Lynn's writing grow was definitely rewarding. With Tempting the Player, Lynn takes on a fairly standard/cliche approach to her romance (seriously, there is NO such thing as an "original" romance novel I'm afraid) but she grabbed me in with her unique protagonist. While Madison and Chase's childhood romance was sweet in Tempting the Best Man, meeting Bridget, a woman who was proud of her curvy figure, flamboyant dress sense, and wasn't afraid to be herself, was entirely refreshing. It was her who made this novel as amazing as it was for me, merely because she was so sensible for much of it and I truly felt as if I could connect with her wacky personality. Chad, on the other hand, has an ego I'd like to hack at with an axe. If anything is a turn-off, it's a guy with a giant ego, so needless to say, Chad didn't really "woo" me in - not as much as Chase did at any rate.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that if there is any reason to pick this up, it is to prepare for the third novel because I am so excited for Tempting the Bodyguard. We're introduced to the protagonist who (I'm assuming) will be featuring in the last novel of this trilogy and believe me, she is unique. Thus, I have to give Jennifer Armentrout J. Lynn props for creating different protagonists, all while using the same-old story line to make her novels pure, pure fun.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Title: Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2) 

Author: Laini Taylor 

Rating: 5 Stars 

If Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a dream, a mirage, a masterpiece of writing and phrases and words, overlapped and edited and fine-tuned to create a perfection of romance, snark, and pulsating chemistry, all tinged with a palpable undertone of bittersweet, Days of Blood and Starlight is like a hard slap, the cold splash of water, and the startled opening of ones eyes into the bleak, war-ridden, fragile, and bloody reality of life. Unlike most trilogies which follow in a steady rhythm of romance or action or paranormal mystery, Laini Taylor breaks all imaginary constraints and reveals to us the completely unexpected, for Days of Blood and Starlight is as far removed from its predecessor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, as any novel could possibly be. In fact, the only similarities between the two lie in Taylor's atmospheric writing, her distinct characterizations, and the general plot continuation. In all other aspects though, Laini Taylor has surpassed my wildest expectations and written a novel that I can claim, in full confidence, that is far, far better than its predecessor. I gave Daughter of Smoke and Bone 5 Stars, just as I did Days of Blood and Starlight, but in reality, this novel deserves 500 Stars.

Days of Blood and Starlight picks up not long after Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended with Karou coming to the realization that the only family she's ever known has been murdered by the only man she's ever loved. Thus, the tone for Days of Blood and Starlight is set; one of revenge, grief, heartbreak, sorrow, despair, and yet, despite all that, hope. What stands out the most, to me at least, is how real Taylor's novel is. Both Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight unfold in a sequence of events driven by fate, by destiny, and not entirely by choice, much like our own lives. While we all do have a certain amount of say in the direction our lives lead us, it is only by fate that we meet the people who will change us or affect us in different ways and no one can deny that, at the end of the day, despite all the scattered events throughout our lives, everything comes together and makes a certain degree of sense. Things happen for a reason. For me, Days of Blood and Starlight seemed to echo that very same idea. All the events in Karou's life, first as Madrigal and later as Karou, were leading her up to this point. In fact, nothing could have progressed in this manner if Madrigal had not fallen in love with Akiva, if she had not been beheaded by the Wolf, and later if Akiva had not destroyed Loramendi, the home of the chimeras.

This, I feel, is the magic of Laini Taylor's writing. Or perhaps it's the magic of her plot. Either way, her stories unfold in such a realistic manner and best of all, she ensures that all this is palpable to the reader. Karou already made a niche in my heart in Daughter of Smoke and Bone  but with Days of Blood and Starlight  my heart wept for her. We see Karou at her most vulnerable and, at the same time, her most strong - mentally at least. It can't be said that Laini Taylor doesn't allow her character to grow, for she does. Each and every character we come across, from Akiva to Hazael and Liraz, his siblings, to Zuzanna and Mik, all experience some type of growth and change throughout this book. Akiva, especially, becomes a truly fleshed-out being, one whose personality is no longer as flat or connected to Karou's love as it once was. Now, seeing him as an individual with regrets, grief, and aspirations of his own, it is far easier to grow to truly love him as another person and not simply as Karou's lover.

Furthermore, Laini Taylor simply outdoes herself with the world-building in this piece. Somehow, the battered, torn, and bloody land of Eratz has become such a real place in my mind that I wish to visit it and see it, for its simultaneous beauty and terror, all at once. Yet, for all its good qualities, I do have a few minor qualms with this novel, primarily, the set-up of the book itself. Unlike Daughter of Smoke and Bone,  Days of Blood and Starlight flits between the perspectives of Karou, Akiva, Zuzanna, and a plethora of secondary characters we are unfamiliar with. While I enjoyed, for the most part, the round and full picture this type of storytelling provided us with, I also found that some small chapters could have been entirely done away with. I kept expecting them to play a greater role in the novel, and unfortunately, they didn't. In addition, the secondary (or quarterary?) characters we're introduced to have such little screen time that it's tough to feel anything much for them beyond fleeting thoughts.

Nevertheless, that is a small qualm to have with a novel so perfect in every other way. Days of Blood and Starlight exceeded all my expectations (and mine were HIGH!) and surprised me with an uncanny amount of depth and a shocking slew of plot twists that had me simultaneously thrilled and upset. Furthermore, the amount of emotion this novel inspires is noteworthy. Taylor makes you feel for Karou and Akiva and while their romance, and their interactions for that matter, is extremely minimal, the bittersweet tone of their love is still felt. Neither Karou nor Akiva is at fault here and Taylor makes us see this so clearly in this piece that now, it is impossible to know in what direction the story will head. It ends off, much like Daughter of Smoke and Bone did, with a bittersweet kind of ending that leaves you aching for more, worried for these characters, and at the same time, filled with hope. I doubt I'd trust any other writer to take on such a complex novel - for truly Taylor has transformed a simple love story and made it into an intricate piece that leaves me with the knowledge that I still haven't understood it all, not fully. Needless to say, I cannot wait for the final installment in this trilogy. If there's anything I can count on, it's this: Laini Taylor will not disappoint.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Series Review: Kate Daniels (#2-5) by Ilona Andrews

For those of you who actually look at my "Currently Reading" sidebar, you'll have noticed that I sped through this series last week. Thus, instead of bombarding you all with four long, drawn-out, and rather similar reviews, I figured I'd condense them all into one giant series review below. None of these reviews contain spoilers for the series, but the blurbs do. You can read my reviews without needing to know too much about the series itself, but if you want a background, you can check out my review for the first novel, Magic Bites, HERE. Once again, none of these reviews contain spoilers for the series and are perfectly understandable even without prior knowledge of these books. 

Title: Magic Burns (Kate Daniels, #2)
Author: Ilona Andrews
Rating: 4 Stars
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’s 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 at stake. During a flare, Celtic god Morfran supersedes goddess Morrigan for witch coven worshippers of the Crow, and sea monsters from the Underworld enter via the Cauldron of Plenty. Kate starts looking for Pack maps and 13-year old Julia's witch mother, and ends up uniting shapeshifters and vampire zombie controllers to save the world.
Well, consider me humbled. The Kate Daniels Series is easily the most popular UF/Paranormal Adult Series out there, but after reading Magic Bites, the first novel, I wrote the entire series off. Magic Bites was decent. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything mind-blowing either. Magic Burns, on the other hand, is simply amazing. Ilona Andrews seems to have taken every qualm I had with Magic Bites, built upon it, developed it, and turned this series into one I just love.

With Magic Burns we begin to see Kate Daniels – the real Kate Daniels. Underneath her tough, mercenary exterior, she is every bit as vulnerable, human, and relate-able as we’d like her to be. Not only is she far more fleshed out, real, and flawed, giving her a three-dimensional and realistic appeal, she’s sarcastic, amusing, and her dialogue is never boring, even for a minute. Furthermore, with a new story line, better world-building, and the introduction of Julie, a young girl who brought out the best in Kate, Magic Burns was off to an excellent start. Now, just throw in a super sexy shape shifter, who just happens to be the Beast Lord, and we have a novel to simply salivate over.

Needless to say, Magic Burns utterly mesmerized me. I read the majority of it staying up late into the morning and later finished it while brushing my teeth, pulling on my clothes, and eating my breakfast. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the page and the feel-good, warm, and homely feeling it left me with wasn’t something I could resist for very long. If you weren’t a fan of Magic Bites, I’d urge you to pick this one up at once! It isn’t worth missing.

Title: Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels, #3) 
Author: Ilona Andrews 
Rating: 4.5 Stars 
Investigator for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, Kate Daniels keeps humans safe in Atlanta. But when her werewolf friend Derek is dying in human form, from attack by the mysterious Reaper team at the Midnight Games, she and Curran, the Beast Lord, must fight together to win the Wolf Diamond topaz and save his Pack and her friends.
I’m telling you, this series just keeps getting better and better. While the greatest asset this novel has going for it is the attraction between Curran and Kate – and that may just be the reason I picked it up so quickly after Magic Burns - it blew me away in every other aspect as well. Magic Strikes amps up the stakes, not only on the general plot line, but especially on Kate, her life, and her past. If we thought we knew Kate before, she’s now become a confidant as we are privy to her inner secrets, understanding her like never before. Furthermore, this series finally seems to have some type of direction – a villain – to guide it. (Not like it needed one, mind you.)

Yet, what stands out the most to me is how much growth Andrews’ characters experience. It is an extremely gradual, extremely realistic kind of development that goes to show just how well Andrews’ know their characters, their limitations, and just what makes them tick. In addition, this husband and wife duo never loses their witty humor, entertaining banter, or sarcastic remarks that keep you flipping the page and mark a classic Kate Daniels novel. Perhaps most intriguing, though, is the amount of research these two put into their work.

Every Kate Daniels novel is relatively formulaic – Kate encounters a problem that she, as a merc, has to undertake and solve. Usually, these problems cause her to need to work closely with the Pack, and by default, Curran, and they all have some sort of mythological lore driving it. It is this aspect of it that grants so much mystery to the series as the research is authentic, the lore fascinating, and the ultimate incorporation of it into the novel phenomenal. It seems as if with every book I read, I keep becoming a bigger and bigger fan, not only of this series, but of this amazing duo as well.

Title: Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels, #4) 
Author: Ilona Andrews
Rating: 5 Stars 
Kate Daniels keeps the peace in Atlanta for the Order, humans caught between the vampire controlling People led by her biological father and best kept secret, Roland, and the shape-shifter Pack, led by her mate-to-be Curran, the Lord of the Beasts. But her look-alike aunt Erra, Babylon's god of chaos and terror, has come to town controlling seven naked warriors: Deluge (flood water), Tremor (earth quake), Gale (hurricane wind), Torch (fire inferno), Venom (disease poison), Beast (animal monster), and Darkness (overpowering dread).
Magic Bleeds is, without a doubt, my favorite of all the Kate Daniels novels. Not only does it center around my favorite plot line yet, one with an evil villain, cruel family members, and past vengeances, but the sexual tension between Curran and Kate is off the charts. Seriously. It seems as if these two have taken forever to get together, but it is so worth the wait. Needless to say, I was re-reading their interactions throughout this novel with a silly grin plastered to my face and absolutely no regrets about how ridiculous I looked. It was all just so, so worth it. *sigh*

For me, Magic Bleeds was special merely because of Kate and what her romance with Curran meant to her. It seems as if, for the first time in this series, we see Kate for her inner insecurities – she, like every human, wants to be loved. Just because she’s a killer doesn’t mean she doesn’t yearn for the type of happily-ever-after romance that every woman wants and with Curran, she allows herself that hope – that area for vulnerability. For Kate, this is HUGE. Thus, seeing her struggle to reach a level ground with Curran, meet his terms while staying true to herself, trusting him to love her, believing that she can actually receive love, is all so endearing. Magic Bleeds definitely focuses on a mysterious plot with a killer, battles, and epic villainous encounters, but it also has something the other novels seemed to have lacked just a little bit – heart. 

Title: Magic Slays (Kate Daniels, #5) 
Author: Ilona Andrews 
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Plagued by a war between magic and technology, Atlanta has never been so deadly. Good thing Kate Daniels is on the job. Kate Daniels may have quit the Order of Merciful Aid, but she’s still knee-deep in paranormal problems. Or she would be if she could get someone to hire her. Starting her own business has been more challenging than she thought it would be—now that the Order is disparaging her good name, and many potential clients are afraid of getting on the bad side of the Beast Lord, who just happens to be Kate’s mate. So when Atlanta’s premier Master of the Dead calls to ask for help with a vampire on the loose, Kate leaps at the chance of some paying work. Turns out this is not an isolated incident, and Kate needs to get to the bottom of it—fast, or the city and everyone dear to her might pay the ultimate price . . 
Magic Slays wasn’t nearly as good as Magic Bleeds, but it was pretty darn close. I’ve said it before, but it deserves repeating – this series excels because of its characters. Its formulaic-ness never becomes a problem simply because the characters are so lively and real. Even secondary characters such as Jim, Curran’s best friend; Derek, a werewolf who’s good friends with Kate; Julie, the orphan child Kate is guardian too; and especially Andrea, Kate’s best friend, have all played HUGE roles throughout this series and their continued presence, depth, and dialogue just contributes towards making this series as amazing as it is.

With Magic Slays, we begin to see the potential cracks in Kate and Curran’s relationship as they transition from their honeymoon phase to truly needing to work together, all within the constraints of Pack Laws. Much like with Magic Bleeds, it was Kate’s inner reflections that made this novel as remarkable as it was for me. Kate learns more about her past, her parentage, and her true purpose in life and with all these heady revelations, there is bound to be backlash, confusion, and worry. Ilona Andrews manages to convey these emotions so perfectly that, despite the fact that Kate is different from any of us, we can still understand and empathize with her. Even her relationship with Curran, although strained at times, was a pleasure to watch unfold merely because it was so realistic, all while maintaining a strong and healthy companionship.

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what makes this series brilliant. It’s a combination of everything really; intriguing plot, hair-raising mysteries, well-researched lore, unique world-building, incredible romance, and, at the heart of it all, a protagonist who is impossible not to love. Kate is someone I actually look up to now, someone I admire, and she is just that real to me. Ilona Andrews has gained a fan in me and I only hope that, despite the disaster that was Magic Bites, this series continues to receive the hype and popularity it maintains – and rightfully deserves. 

A huge, huge, HUGE thank you to Maja from The Nocturnal Library and Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks for encouraging me to continue reading this series. I absolutely LOVED it, so you should definitely check out their reviews for these novels HERE and HERE!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Blog Tour: Swell by Julie Reiman Duck (Review, Interview, & Giveaway)

I am so excited to be on the blog tour for Julie Rieman Duck's latest novel, Swell! A huge thank you to Candace from Candace's Book Blog for allowing me to be a part of this tour! :) On my stop today, I am showcasing my review of this phenomenal novel as well as welcoming Julie Rieman Duck to join me for a short interview today. In addition, there will be a giveaway both for US and International Readers, so be sure to enter! Good Luck! :D

You can check out the other tour stops HERE!

Title: Swell 

Author: Julie Rieman Duck 

Rating: 4 Stars 

For anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you that contemporary really isn’t my preferred genre. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of contemporary novels I can claim to have truly loved and while I can’t add Swell to that pile with rivals like Melina Marchetta, Cath Crowly, and Kristen Hubbard sitting up there, it definitely is added to my list of contemporary novels I truly enjoyed.

Swell is told in a unique manner, each chapter starting out with a few brief paragraphs of our protagonist, Beck, drunk and about to have something very, very bad happen to her. After this short glimpse of the present, we are jilted back into the past as Beck recounts her story of how she met her boyfriend, Christian, and came to become an alcoholic. While Beck’s narration of the past was slow-moving and could drag at some points, it set up a strong foundation, both of Beck’s character, the nuances of her relationship with Christian, and the slow dependency that she grew to have on alcohol. Furthermore, Duck’s writing is addictive – even if you want to put it down, the brief glimpses of the future/present make you keep flipping the pages, anxiously wondering what will happen to Beck.

Thus, I have to give Duck props for her impeccable characterization. Beck is, at first, a girl I would have instantly wanted to become friends with. With her love of art and sweet disposition, she isn’t easy to dislike, but as the novel progresses, her actions become increasingly silly and her alcoholism is horrifying. Yet, what makes Swell so remarkable is the fact that Duck makes you feel so invested in the story, in Beck’s life, that you want her to become alright and even though you don’t condone her actions, you understand them so, so well and even have to wonder, at times, if you would fall into the same traps if you were in her position.

Swell is a dark, gritty, and issue novel, which made it hard to get through because of its subject-matter in many parts, but it’s oh-so-real as well. It never felt dramaticized, cliché, or exceedingly typical and was, truly, an intensely original novel. In addition to Beck, we become close to her boyfriend, the enigmatic and “perfect” Christian. While I never fully warmed up to Christian, there were times when I could forget what a bad influence he was on Beck and simply be happy for their relationship – which is, again, a sign of Duck’s superb writing prowess. Jesse, however, was the character who truly stole my heart. Although Jesse only appeared after nearly half the novel, we get to know him as well – even better in some parts – than Christian.

What do I say about Jesse? *swoons* Well, he is kind, sweet, and an artist just like Beck, but most of all, their relationship blossoms so sweetly through conversation unlike the attraction/lust between Christian and Becca that I fell for it – hard. I will admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that these two started liking each other while Becca was still dating Christian, but their romance still drew me in.

Nevertheless, despite all these wonderful points, Swell never truly won me over until the end. It was perfect. It also had a huge plot twist which I loved and I was left feeling immensely satisfied. However, Swell definitely was a really tough novel for me to get through and I had to put it on hold for a couple days after a point because of how dark it was. Yet, it’s one of those novels that simply demands to be read, both because of its subject-matter and writing. Its characters will stick with you for pages to come but most importantly, the message Duck leaves behind is one of lasting significance. Truly, I can’t envision any other author tackling this on in a better – or more realistically moving – way. 
Born in Los Angeles and raised in San Clemente, California, Julie Rieman Duck wrote her way through school on an old-fashioned typewriter. Somewhere along the line, she was sidetracked by careers in magazine publishing and copywriting. While Julie honed her skills at writing print ads and articles, the stories that moved her heart and soul were bubbling underneath, waiting to escape. It took a medical scare and the loss of her job — on the same day and within 30 minutes of each other — to finally allow her stories to free themselves and be put to paper. Julie looks forward to writing more stories that hit where the heart beats fastest, and the soul reaches out for more.            
Visit Julie at: / / Goodreads / YA Stands (Author Interviews) Every Other Tuesday 

Interview with Julie Rieman Duck 
My Questions for the Interview 
Julie's Responses to the Questions 

What makes Swell stand out, to me at least, is how realistic it is. What enabled you to write such a realistic portrayal of teenage alcoholism? 

While I didn't become alcoholic, I did depend on it quite a bit as a teenager because I was devastated. I was afraid. I hated who I was and I wanted to get rid of it. So I cut my hair, lined my eyes, and drank whenever and wherever I could. A few friends had similar experiences, one going to rehab... I knew this lifestyle as a teenager and it wasn't very fun, in retrospect. This enabled me to write SWELL from a realistic standpoint. It was real. It is real.

An aspect of this novel that I loved was Beck's artistic inclinations and passion for art. What made you think of making Beck an artist and how did her artistic talent shape this novel? 

Art is fun! Before I was a writer, I was an artist. So, incorporating this aspect into who Beck is was easy. Artists (and all creatives) are sensitive people. That is how we create things from our dreams and visions. Beck is an empathetic soul, and being an artist makes her doubly so.

In Swell, Beck's alcoholism is a direct cause of her relationship with Christian. What made you choose peer pressure as a cause for Beck's problem opposed to other reasons that also drive people to drink alcohol excessively? 

I think as teenagers, we are so vulnerable to peer pressure that whatever is demanded of us, we shall conform to. So we drink, we smoke pot, we sleep with our boyfriends even if we don't really want to. Peer pressure drives everything.

It would be remiss of me not to ask you about Jesse, especially as I loved him so much, so what can you tell about him, how you crafted his character, and just how big of an impact Jesse had on Beck.

Jesse is my love! I love him. He was based off a character from the movie, Keith (based on a story by Ron Carlson). Jesse is a positive person in spite of his life experiences. He is the good vibe we all need when we are down. We all should have a Jesse in our lives at some time or another.

What do you hope readers take from this dark, gritty, and coming-of-age story? 

That you can come out of the darkness. You are loved. You are not alone. And although you must go through your dark journey, just know that the other side of the fence holds a future that goes above and beyond this here-and-now experience.

Julie, I loved your thoughtful responses and took so much away from them, so really, thanks for stopping by! 

This is a tour wide giveaway that ends 12/18/12.

One person (open to US only) will win:
  • Paperback of Swell by Julie Rieman Duck 
  • Paperback of A Place in This Life by Julie Rieman Duck 
One other winner (Open Worldwide) will win:
  • 1 ebook of Swell by Julie Rieman Duck
  • 1 ebook of A Place in This Life by Julie Rieman Duck 
  • 1 ebook of The Joy and Torture by Joshua James
  • 1 ebook of Earrings of Ixtumea by Kim Baccellia 
  • 1 ebook of Cornerstone by Misty Provencher 
  • 1 ebook (Kindle) of There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack