Friday, August 29, 2014

Rare Ratings and Recommended Reads

Happy Friday All!

I had an unusual day today wherein I didn't have any reviews or interviews scheduled, so I thought I would put together a post that featured some of my recent favorite reads. In four years and over 550 reviews on this blog, I've only given a 5 star rating to 30 books. Apparently, I'm a bit stingy with my praise ;-) Lately though I've come across a number of books that have joined the ranks in my rarest of rating categories, and sometimes my short 3-4 paragraph reviews just don't allow me to say all the things I want to say, so below are a few gushing words about three books that simply blew me away.

(Available now from Avon)

After three long years of war, starkly handsome Wynter Atrialan will have his vengeance on Summerlea's king by taking one of the man's beautiful, beloved daughters as his bride. But though peace is finally at hand, Wynter's battle with the Ice Heart, the dread power he embraced to avenge his brother's death, rages on.

Khamsin Coruscate, Princess of Summerlea and summoner of Storms, has spent her life exiled to the shadows of her father's palace. Reviled by her father, marriage to Wintercraig's icy king was supposed to be a terrible punishment, but instead offers Kham her first taste of freedom—and her first taste of overwhelming passion.

As fierce, indomitable Wynter weathers even Khamsin's wildest storms, surprising her with a tenderness she never expected, Kham wants more than Wynter's passion—she yearns for his love. But the power of the Ice Heart is growing, dangerous forces are gathering, and a devastating betrayal puts Khamsin and Wynter to the ultimate test.

The Winter King is one of those books I bought strictly for me, a book meant just for fun in between review reads that I never intended to feature on the blog, but I fell so much in love with Wynter and Khamsin that it became impossible for me not to fangirl about it just a little.

I am someone who absolutely adores characters that are largely underestimated; men and women who are beaten down, isolated, or social pariahs in their given worlds, and from the moment I bore witness to the treatment Khamsin endures at the hands of her father I knew she was a woman I would want to spend time with again and again. Despite being an outcast in her own home, Khamsin is full of fight and fire, going toe to toe with Wynter from beginning to end without once being cowed by the force of his personality or power.

Wynter is driven by pain and vengeance, fair in his dealings with Summerlea but also firm and unyielding in the terms of their surrender. He's the type of man whose presence can be felt before he even enters a room–literal and figurative cold clinging to him and making people suck in a breath as he walks by, but that only serves to make his gradual thaw thanks to Khamsin all the more enjoyable.

For lovers of sweeping fantasy worlds and lead couples who are strong individually but even stronger together, The Winter King should not be missed.

(releases September 9th from HarperTeen)

Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she's not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She's even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won't risk her future, or the dare, on something so matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.

Now time's running short. Sam must decide who she can trust...and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

It's the rare book that can enrage me to such a degree that I have to get up and walk away from it just to give myself a breather. Rites of Passage is the first book I've had to set aside for the sake of my emotional health in years, and that means it's something truly special indeed. I'm not typically someone who hates villainous characters, instead I tend to love them because they hold me in some kind of sickeningly fascinating thrall that ensures I'm caught up in the story, but I hated some of the individuals in this book with the fire of a thousand suns.

The people surrounding Sam, especially the ones who should have been in her corner cheering her on every step of the way, are cruel, cowardly and so infuriating my fingers are actually trying to curl into fists as I'm typing this. Through it all though, Sam is extraordinary, and her story is one I will never be able to forget. Pre-order this book immediately.

*My full review and an interview with Joy will go up next week, so be sure and check back then!

(releases October 14th from Balzer + Bray)

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. The Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been searching for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild their kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, Winter’s future king—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of half of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself—only to find herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics, and to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Confession time. I have a few bookish pet peeves as I think we all do. One is when characters swallow insults and hurtful words or actions from those closest to them without a word of protest. Who absorb the blows and then easily forgive when no adequate apology has been given or olive branch extended. Perhaps I'm a more vengeful person than most, but I like my characters to have some backbone and stand up for themselves when the situation calls for it (though I do acknowledge that there are times when inaction is better than action and silence a mightier weapon than words).

Meira is my dream heroine. She's madly in love with her best friend and wants nothing more than to please the man who's raised her after her parents died when Winter fell, but though she loves and respects them both, she doesn't allow them to run roughshod over her. When they hurt her deeply, she lets them know it, but she does so with maturity and inarguable logic rather than emotional words honed to sharp points and carelessly aimed. She's also a fighter to her core, someone who refuses to stay down even when the illusion of safety found at rock bottom is a nearly overwhelming temptation.

I can't say enough good things about this book (and I'll say more when my review goes up in October), so I hope you add it to your lists!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Jewel

The Lone City #1
Amy Ewing
Young Adult/Dystopian
358 pages
Available September 2nd
Source: BEA

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.

Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence... and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.

The Jewel, like the overall design of its cover, has some notable similarities to a number of well-known dystopian tales, familiar elements stealing much of our focus in the early chapters since we can’t help but draw comparisons. Before we can get ourselves too tangled up trying to figure out which plot threads or world-building elements we’ve seen where though, our attention is beautifully redirected, and we find ourselves riveted as Ms. Ewing takes those familiar pieces and reworks them to create something that stands on its own.

Perhaps the key element in shifting our focus from what we’ve seen before to what’s in front us currently is Violet herself, Ms. Ewing isolating her socially to such a degree that our time with her feels uniquely intimate, we as readers sharing in her fear of the future in a way those who are with her physically simply can’t. Her isolation comes after she’s auctioned off, waking up in her new home with a mistress so brilliantly hateful that our allegiance to Violet–already strong–soars off the charts. Though she has a friend in Annabelle, her mute lady-in-waiting, that friendship is shallow at best simply due to the fact that they both exist under the Duchess’s thumb. True friendship is based on loyalty and trust, two things that neither Violet nor Annabelle can give to one another no matter how much they wish to, so we become the only ones capable of supporting Violet fully.

Even though our extreme distaste for the Duchess would have had us rooting for any heroine forced to endure her changing moods and the rewards and punishments that accompany them, Violet proves herself more than worthy of our unwavering affection. Through her stark terror of the unknown she stands tall and strong, fighting well-chosen battles with the Duchess to show she is not going to lose herself in the title of surrogate, but also knowing when to let the Duchess win a round or two as well. We fear for her with every chapter, the Duchess utterly unpredictable in her day to day treatment of Violet, and so we spend our time wondering if the next chapter will be the one to show us that what we’ve already seen of this world isn’t yet the worst of it.

While both Violet and the Duchess inspire a great deal of love and hate respectively, the romance between Violet and Ash leaves us a bit wanting. Part of the problem is Ash comes into the picture late in the story, past the halfway mark, so we simply don’t have the same time to get to know him as we do Violet. By that point we’ve also come to value the aforementioned intimacy established by Violet’s loneliness, and Ash’s presence adds a new distance to our relationship given the speed with which their feelings develop. Granted the seriousness of their circumstances make the swiftness of their romance a touch more believable, but there just isn’t enough page time between them to achieve the emotional depth always hoped for with a romantic relationship.

Overall, there are some true highlights to The Jewel, namely in protagonist Violet and the villainous female royalty who believe social status is the only determining factor of human worth, but the romance and the initial similarities to other books of the same genre keep this first installment from a higher rating. We’re left rather abruptly at an enormous turning point as well, so those who dislike being kicked out of the story right when the action picks up should be aware upfront of the type of ending they can expect.

Rating: 3.5/5

Find Amy:

This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cover Reveal: Covering Kendall

Today I'm really excited to share with you the cover for Covering Kendall by Julie Brannagh, a contemporary romance releasing from Avon on October 21st. I'm a huge fan of sports-themed romances, I think mostly because I'm lacking even a single athletic bone in my body, so I look forward to meeting Drew and Kendall!!

Kendall Tracy, General Manager of the San Francisco Miners, is not one for rash decisions or one-night stands. But when she finds herself alone in a hotel room with a heart-stoppingly gorgeous man-who looks oddly familiar-Kendall throws her own rules out the window…and they blow right back into her face. Drew McCoy should look familiar, he’s a star player for her team’s archrival the Seattle Sharks. Which would basically make Drew and Kendall the Romeo and Juliet of professional football…well, without all the dying. Not that it’s an issue. They agree to pretend their encounter never happened. Nothing good can come from it anyway, right? Drew’s not so sure. Kendall may be all wrong, but he can’t stop thinking about her and he finds that some risks are worth taking. Because the stakes are always highest when you’re playing for keeps.

I like this cover well enough, it's perfectly cute, but I do have to wonder why there's nothing football related anywhere on it. Oh well, I still want to read it ;)

Waiting on Wednesday: Dreamfire

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Kit Alloway
Paranormal Young Adult
Releases February 24th, 2015 from St. Martin's Griffin

From Amazon:

Unlike most 17-year-olds, Joshlyn Weaver has a sacred duty. She's the celebrated daughter of the dream walkers, a secret society whose members enter the Dream universe we all share and battle nightmares. If they fail, the emotional turmoil in the Dream could boil over and release nightmares into the World.

Despite Josh's reputation as a dream walking prodigy, she's haunted by her mistakes. A lapse in judgment and the death of someone she loved have shaken her confidence. Now she's been assigned an apprentice, a boy whose steady gaze sees right through her, and she's almost as afraid of getting close to him as she is of getting him killed.

But when strangers with impossible powers begin appearing in the Dream, it isn't just Will that Josh has to protect–it's the whole World.

I've only read one other series that deals with dream walking (I think. I've read a lot of books so it's possible I've read more than one about this particular ability and just don't remember. Awesome.) and I absolutely loved both books so I'm hoping I'll have the same luck with Dreamfire. Maybe dream walkers are going to prove themselves to be young adult fail-safes for me. I have high hopes.

I just really like the sound of this one, I'm a sucker for characters who are emotionally or physically damaged in some way, and Josh, with weight of loved one's death on her shoulders, fits that bill pretty perfectly. Plus, romance. I'm easy to please, what can I say ;-)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Heir of Fire

Throne of Glass #3
Sarah J. Maas
Young Adult/Fantasy
565 pages
Available September 2nd
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

Heir of Fire returns us to beloved heroine Celaena Sardothien, but the girl we find in the opening third of this book is a very different girl from the one we've known thus far, stripped of her arrogance and torn from the anger and rage that have acted as the mooring line tethering her to the mortal coil. Without the beautiful ferocity of her vengeance driving her forward, we're left with a Celaena who embodies vulnerability, the number of times she's been beaten down finally totaling one more than she's seemingly equipped to handle. Where a Celaena who's lost a bit of her fight may sound like someone who would frustrate, instead we find we've never wanted to embrace her more, her gorgeous humanity proving that weakness is not in the simple needing of help, but rather in needing it and refusing to ask for it.

Celaena is well aware she's hit rock bottom in the wake of Nehemia's demise, and because she's cognizant of her emotional state, she takes the lifeline thrown to her by Rowan and begins to lift herself up out of the darkness. It's not to say she meets Rowan with open arms and a smiling face, oh no, even in a bad place she's still got a spark of her fire, and she and Rowan embark on an epic battle of wills that's as amusing as it is breathtaking. Ms. Maas could have taken an easier route with this story, the separation of Celaena and Chaol at the end of Crown of Midnight and the introduction of Rowan in this third installment acting as the opening notes of an all-too familiar melody, but thankfully she doesn't rob characters or readers of the tale they deserve. In place of romance, what grows between Rowan and Celaena is the type of friendship every single person who reads this book yearns for–absolute and unwavering when each of them needs an extra shoulder to carry some of their weight.

Some readers may find themselves a touch disappointed given the fact Chaol and Celaena are not reunited at any point despite the impressive length of Heir of Fire, but their separation is nothing if not necessary. Chaol's fear of who Celaena truly is would have only compounded her own reluctance to embrace her heritage, dragging her down rather than building her up as she so desperately needs in the wake of Nehemia's loss. Ms. Maas instead makes the brilliant decision to keep them apart, allowing each of them room to grow into who they need to be without the other's expectations or reservations limiting the scope of what they can achieve. We of course ache for the two of them to find their way back to one another and overcome the nearly insurmountable obstacles facing them as a couple, but we can only smile in anticipation as we read, knowing the wait will more than worth it in the end.

Overall, Heir of Fire is a stunning addition to this series, the slowness of it in parts granting readers the time to explore the fabric of each character, getting to know them in a way action sequence after action sequence wouldn't allow us, and then, when we've just been lulled into a sort of reflective quietness, we're smacked in the face with a reminder of how brutal the King of Adarlan can be. Our hatred for him burns brighter than ever before in the closing chapters, but through the blinding haze of our rage is the comfort that comes from knowing that Celaena, now ready to accept every part of herself, will never let his actions go unanswered. She will come at him with everything in her overwhelmingly impressive arsenal, and I simply cannot wait for the moment when she returns her every loss to those responsible tenfold.

Rating: 5/5

Find Sarah:
This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Trial By Fire

The Worldwalker Trilogy #1
Josephine Angelini
Paranormal Young Adult
384 pages
Feiwel & Friends
Available September 2nd
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

Trial by Fire has all the makings of a sprawling fantasy novel, sharing with us a world full of unfathomable creatures and witchcraft, but at its heart is a heroine who keeps us anchored at all times, fully invested in her emotional well being from beginning to end. Ms. Angelini ensures we don’t get weighed down by all the supernatural elements by introducing us to young Lily in our world, letting us bear witness to a heartbreaking moment where her romantic hopes go down in flames, and neither Lily nor we escape without feeling the burn. Only once we’re thoroughly connected to Lily thanks to a shared pain and disappointment does Ms. Angelini shift us to a completely different Salem, one full of monsters and magic where the lives of many are regulated by the tyrannical hands of few.

Lily is a true joy of a heroine, her hope that longtime friendship with best friend Tristan has finally reached the pivotal moment in which it becomes more in the opening chapters something that instantly resonates, causing us to wish for the best for her even when we know thanks to the synopsis that neither our wish nor hers will come true. After having a brutal dose of reality shoved down her throat, Lily could have easily wallowed in her misery and drawn no blame from us, but instead she picks herself up upon finding herself in an alternate Salem and does her best to make sense of it. This determined attitude continues throughout Trial by Fire, Lily fielding whatever is thrown at her with a joke at the ready and a willingness to do whatever it takes to learn, adapt, or fight when the need arises.

Many readers–like myself–who have read innumerable young adult novels over the past few years have developed a bit of a nervous tic whenever a young woman finds herself surrounded by several guys her age, dreading the moment where the mere presence of two men in her life ultimately results in the development of romantic feelings for both of them. Luckily for us however, Ms. Angelini doesn’t lead us down that well-worn path, Rowan and Tristan’s positions by Lily’s side staying blessedly free of frustrating romantic entanglements. What we get instead is an intriguingly complex relationship between Lily and Rowan, his former relationship with the other version of Lily, Lillian, an aspect of the story that has us riveted to the pages. The feelings between them are tangled threads of misplaced anger and distrust, and as the story progresses, the addition of hesitant affection and genuine friendship only serves to tangle those threads further until the two of them become a beautiful knot of romantic possibility.

The only small drawback to this first installment is the persistence of one vitally important question: why Lily? We know from the beginning that Lillian is responsible for bringing Lily to her world, and while we eventually get the first small inklings as to why Lillian began her campaign of blood and death, we’re left completely in the dark as to what Lillian needs Lily for in the first place. Granted, this is the first book in the series and the answer to that particular question is likely one that has layers upon layers that will be revealed in time. Overall though, Trial By Fire is action-packed, the death toll rising with every chapter, but where there is pain and suffering there is also warmth and hope in the form of young Lily, and I simply can’t wait to see the type of woman she becomes.

Rating: 4.5/5

Find Josephine

This book was sent to me by the author free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cathy Reviews: Thorn Jack

I'm so pleased today to welcome my mother in law Cathy back to the blog to share her thoughts on Thorn Jack!

Night and Nothing #1
Katherine Harbour
Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
352 pages
Harper Voyager
Available Now
Source: Finished copy from publisher for review

Finn Sullivan has lost her older sister to suicide. Fleeing the memories left in San Francisco, she and her father move to an upstate New York town filled with socialities, hippies, movie and Theatre folk, where every corner holds possibilities and mysteries. As she settles in and begins college at the local university, HallowHeart, she discovers her sisters journal, filled with ominous musings on otherworldly beings.  She also meets the devastatingly handsome Jack Fata—and the rest of the enigmatic Fata family. 

As Finn’s fascination with Jack and his family deepens—and theirs for her does the same—she learns that they and the rest of the town denizens are far more than they seem, both for good and evil. Her sister’s journal suddenly seems much more menacing and realistic than she could ever have imagined.

Soon Finn learns that attention from the Fatas brings dangerous consequences. To free herself and save her friends and her love, Finn must confront the Fatas and unravel the secrets surrounding her sister’s death.

Most of us grew up hearing or reading fairy tales. Being Irish, I'd heard many stories about the fae but always thought of them as whimsical or benign. Not so true of the mystical characters that Katherine Harbour has created. Ms. Harbour has done a wonderful and titillating job of weaving a story where we can't distinguish good from evil until it's too late.

After the death of Finn's sister, Lily Rose, she and her father move back to the tiny town of Fair Hollow, her father's old home and hometown. This is a town filled with a sinister history. The description of the students at the college Finn attends reminds you of those you might see at a renaissance fair, complete with historical costumes. You can easily envision all of the students running around in velvet and lace.

Finn makes two immediate friends, Christie and Sylvia. The three of them soon discover that some of the residents of Fair Hollow are not exactly what they appear to be. Finn might not have delved deeper into the strange goings on in town if not for her sister's journal though. A journal filled with stories of faeries and other mythical creatures. And then there is Jack!!! Finn is captivated by Jack even after she realizes he is not what he seems and is missing something crucial.

Ms. Harbour does an excellent job of making our heroine the right combination of young woman with a savior complex and just plain frustrating. Like in any good horror story, Finn runs blindly ahead into danger, causing us to want to scream at her to STOP, but we're also glad that she's plunged ahead because we're hanging on to see what happens next.

Ms. Harbour uses literary references, such as Yeats and Shakespeare, to reaffirm the possibility that there may indeed be a faerie world and most of us just can't see it. There are a lot of Gaelic references as well, but don't be put off because there is a glossary at the back of the book. And thrown in for good measure is an old hotel that would rival the one in The Shining.

For me, Thorn Jack was a page turner, filled with mystery, dark thrills, and romance. As we read the epilogue, we hear soft voices that lead us to believe that we have not seen the last of the faerie world. I find that exciting and can't wait for the next book.

Rating: 4/5

Find Katherine:

This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my (or in this case, Cathy's) honest opinion.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: I Want It That Way

2B Trilogy #1
Ann Aguirre
Contemporary New Adult
352 pages
Available August 26th
Source: BEA

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Nadia Conrad has big dreams, and she's determined to make them come true—for her parents' sake as well as her own. But between maintaining her college scholarship and working at the local day care to support herself, she barely has time to think, let alone date. Then she moves into a new apartment and meets the taciturn yet irresistible guy in 1B….

Daniel Tyler has grown up too fast. Becoming a single dad at twenty turned his life upside down—and brought him heartache he can't risk again. Now, as he raises his four-year-old son while balancing a full-time construction management job and night classes, a social life is out of the question. The last thing he wants is for four noisy students to move into the apartment upstairs. But one night, Nadia's and Ty's paths cross, and soon they can't stay away from each other.

The timing is all wrong—but love happens when it happens. And you can't know what you truly need until you stand to lose it.

I Want It That Way is everything there is to love about the New Adult genre with none of the overly familiar elements that make so many of this book’s contemporaries frustratingly repetitive. Over the top relationship drama is replaced with a believable obstacle for our couple to overcome, and we’re thankfully graced with two people who are mature and level-headed enough to both talk–and listen–to the other person on good days and bad. The romance between Nadia and Ty is one that feels beautifully genuine, the challenges they each face with school and life splashed across the pages, coating us in their accomplishments and struggles until we’re so invested in the outcome of their story that we can’t bring ourselves to set the book down before the last page is reached.

Nadia is gloriously real, someone who feels as though she could have easily lived down the hall from us at school, free of any kind of fictional exaggeration to make her more interesting to readers. She’s not running from a dark or sordid past and is free of trust issues courtesy of past relationships, instead she’s financially strapped but on a scholarship, determined to make her way through school but open to having fun while she’s at it. Despite her complete understanding that Ty doesn’t want a relationship because his first priority is his son, she stays endearingly calm and collected when affection turns into so much more, tucking her love for him away without any pity for herself or resentment toward Ty. Even as their romance reaches its breaking point, Nadia proves herself to be heads above the rest, nursing her hurt without doing anything stupid to deliberately hurt Ty before deciding to fight for what she wants.

Ty is as real as Nadia is, his romantic appeal stemming from his obvious love for his son and his desire to provide for him while working to make sure his own dreams come true as well. He’s tired, stressed, and on any given day in over his head, but we feel how every ache and pain he experiences is more than worth it when Sam smiles or laughs, and the caution he exercises with Nadia in order to protect Sam only serves to make us fall a little more in love with him. He doesn’t fight his feelings for Nadia or push her away, instead he makes it clear how much he wants her and a life with her even if it’s not a possibility for the two of them at that exact moment. His reaction to Nadia’s slight voyeurism kink is enough to make us break out a multitude of fans, waving frantically to reduce the blush in our cheeks as we root for their happily every after with every fiber of our being.

Overall, I Want it That Way is New Adult at its very best, Nadia and Ty on their own gorgeously layered and infinitely relatable, but they're also surrounded by an extraordinary cast of secondary characters in Nadia’s roommates. Up next is the romance between Nadia’s brother Rob and her best friend Lauren, and I couldn’t be more grateful that we have so short a wait in between books.

Rating: 4.5/5

Find Ann:

This book was sent to me by the author free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Cold Burn of Magic

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Black Blade #1
Jennifer Estep
Paranormal Young Adult
Releases April 28th, 2015 from K-Teen

From Goodreads:


It’s not as great as you’d think, living in a tourist town that’s known as “the most magical place in America.” Same boring high school, just twice as many monsters under the bridges and rival Families killing each other for power.

I try to keep out of it. I’ve got my mom’s bloodiron sword and my slightly illegal home in the basement of the municipal library. And a couple of Talents I try to keep quiet, including very light fingers and a way with a lock pick.

But then some nasty characters bring their Family feud into my friend’s pawn shop, and I have to make a call—get involved, or watch a cute guy die because I didn’t. I guess I made the wrong choice, because now I’m stuck putting everything on the line for Devon Sinclair. My mom was murdered because of the Families, and it looks like I’m going to end up just like her…

I think most of you know by now that Jennifer Estep is an auto-buy author for me, so it's pretty much a given that any book of hers will be on my must-have list. I adored her previous YA series, Mythos Academy, and was quite sad to say goodbye to Gwen, Logan and company earlier this year when the final book released. Imagine my joy however when she announced the first book in this new series! Yes to a girl with dubious talents who makes the decision to save a cute boy. I can't wait to meet Lila!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: The Beautiful Ashes

Broken Destiny #1
Jeaniene Frost
Paranormal New Adult
304 pages
Available August 26th
Source: BEA

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
In a world of shadows, anything is possible. Except escaping your fate.

Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been gripped by visions of strange realms just beyond her own. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse—her hallucinations are real, and her sister is trapped in a parallel realm. And the one person who believes her is the dangerously attractive guy who's bound by an ancient legacy to betray her.

Adrian might have turned his back on those who raised him, but that doesn't mean he can change his fate…no matter how strong a pull he feels toward Ivy. Together they search for the powerful relic that can save her sister, but Adrian knows what Ivy doesn't: that every step brings Ivy closer to the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could doom the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side and Adrian on the other. And nothing but ashes in between…

The Beautiful Ashes is a story that highlights all the things Ms. Frost does oh-so well, the easy-to-devour fluidity of the writing style combining with a determined underdog of a heroine to ensure we do everything in our power to keep reality from infringing and robbing us of our reading time. Without a great deal of history or long descriptive passages, we still have a solid grasp of the world in which Ivy and Adrian live, easily finding our footing with the supernatural elements without the weight of innumerable unanswered questions slowing us down. There's certainly much to discover about the demon realms and those who rule them, but Ivy always seems to ask extraordinarily well-timed questions, demanding her answers right at the moment we most wish her to so we all find ourselves let into the loop together.

Ivy is a young woman who has lost more than we can even begin to fathom in the days preceding our introduction to her, but though her grief for her parents and her fear for her missing sister is obvious, it doesn't keep her at arms length as is often the case with characters in deep mourning. Thanks to her repeated exposure to things no one else could see growing up, the revelations Adrian brings with him regarding demons and other worlds go over exceedingly well, with Ivy accepting his information and explanations with little fanfare and no shortage of relief. Because we don't have to spend a number of chapters watching as denial slowly bleeds into belief, we're able to settle into Ivy's journey to rescue her sister much faster, and once she and Adrian set off we find ourselves unable and unwilling to be parted from them until we reach the final page.

As Ms. Frost has demonstrated so many times before, her ability to write dangerously sexy heroes is something special; a true treat for readers who are always on the lookout for another fictional boyfriend to add to their lists. Adrian is dark and tortured in ways we only fleetingly glimpse in this first installment, and his relationship with Ivy is one of palpable tension and want that builds and builds without spilling over. We're left with a deliciously unfulfilled craving, knowing Ms. Frost's decision to make us wait for certain things will only make the moment the two of them finally come together all the hotter. The push and pull aspect of their romance due to the well-known fact that Adrian is destined to betray Ivy does hover right on the edge of frustration a time or two, but ultimately Ivy shows again and again her ability to read our minds and know when we need her to finally force Adrian's hand, demanding he make a move or at least acknowledge the attraction between them.

The only minor flaws to this story are with regard to some of Ivy's choices toward the end, her sudden shift in faith where Adrian is concerned coming somewhat out of the blue and largely unprovoked given his prophesied betrayal has been common knowledge from nearly the beginning. She also seems to operate under the assumption that what she wants–her sister's life–is the most important item on the supernatural checklist, conveniently blocking out the repercussions of her actions in the final chapters in her haste to rescue Jasmine. Those are overall pretty minor quibbles however, and there's little doubt that we'll have the pleasure of watching Ivy grow and mature over the course of the series, sure to eventually earn herself a place right next to Cat on our shelf of favorites.

Rating: 4/5

Fine Jeaniene:

This book was sent to me by the author free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: The Aftermath

The Aftermath #1
Jen Alexander
Young Adult/Dystopian
288 pages
Available August 26th
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Sometimes, I dream that I'm someone else.

A girl with dark hair who doesn't worry about hunger

or thirst or running from flesh-eaters.

In her world, those sorts of things don't exist.

Since the spring of 2036, when the world changed forever, Claudia and a small clan of survivors have roamed the streets of a very altered Nashville: polluted and desolate, except for the ever-present threat of cannibal Hoarders. Together they must undergo punishing tests of endurance and psychological challenge sometimes with devastating consequences all just to live another day.

With food and water in dwindling supply, and with danger lurking around every corner, no one can be trusted. And as her world starts to make less and less sense, Claudia begins to realize something terrifying: she is just a pawn in some sort of game, and all of her actions are being controlled from afar by a mysterious gamer. So when she meets a maddening and fascinating outsider named Declan, who claims to be a game moderator, she must decide whether to join him in exchange for protection and access to the border.

If they play the game right, they are each other's best hope for survival and a life beyond the only world Claudia's ever known: the terrifying live-action game known as The Aftermath.

The Aftermath has one of those horrifyingly fascinating premises; the kind that floods our minds with all kinds of questions the moment we crack the spine and doesn’t allow our curiosity to taper off for a single page until we reach the very end. After reading the blurb however, we can’t help but have a few reservations despite how intrigued we are, wondering if our upfront knowledge about the gaming aspect will hinder our overall enjoyment because it’s something we know that our protagonist unfortunately doesn’t. Being aware of something a character isn’t can sometimes be frustrating as a reader, but luckily Claudia learns the larger truth about The Aftermath–the fact that it’s a live role playing game–early on, thus removing the burden of being alone in our knowledge and allowing us to settle in with her as we try and figure out how blood and death became required sport.

Claudia is someone we learn quickly is the type of person to whom we’d want to hitch our wagon were we unlucky enough to find ourselves in The Aftermath, her confidence making her a leader who oozes reassurance yet at the same doesn't pretend their world is anything other than brutal. Even when she learns that so many of her words and actions are not her own, she stills radiates capability and determination, making us want to follow her wherever she decides to go. She genuinely cares about those in her clan despite her newfound knowledge that they are nothing more than puppets whose thoughts and actions never really belonged to them, wanting vengeance and payback for all they’ve suffered and hoping it’s within her ability to grant it.

While Claudia is a young woman we thoroughly enjoy spending time with and the subtle romance with somewhat enigmatic Declan has our feelings pinging wildly over our emotional map, the true strength of this novel is in the mystery surrounding the game. We’re fed small revelations in perfectly sized pieces, satiating us temporarily before our curiosity reaches the frustrating stage but at the same time leaving so much more just outside our grasp, a carrot dangling to lead us down the path Ms. Alexander has laid out for us. The explanation for how the game to came to be is relatively simple, and in its simplicity lies believability and plausibility. We can’t help but cross every part of our bodies that can be crossed in the hope that our reality will never reach such a state, but Ms. Alexander makes it painfully clear how easily it could happen, showing us in terrifying detail how the forward march of scientific and technological progress is both astounding and alarming.

Overall, The Aftermath is an utterly tense and completely absorbing first installment, the pages flying by and the hours seeming to pass in a matter of minutes, leaving us horribly disappointed when we reach the last page for no other reason than it means Claudia’s story is temporarily at an end.

Rating: 4/5

Find Jen:

This book was sent to me by the author free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Flourish: The Gifted Dead

Happy Friday Everyone!

As of last Saturday, Fridays for me have taken on entirely new meaning in that they are now the day before I get to see my beloved Jamie in Outlander. Did anyone else watch the premiere last week? OMG! I may or may not have stared rapturously at the screen the moment he came on, and I can neither confirm nor deny having to wipe away drool when the episode ended. He's glorious.

I digress though. My original reason for bring up the topic of Friday was to let those of you who didn't see my introductory post a couple weeks ago know that I've started a sporadic feature on the blog called Friday Flourish where I post some of my recent cover design work. Friday Flourish came about thanks to a little inspiration from the awesome Mary at The Book Swarm as a way of sharing some bookish creativity that's a bit more personal in nature.

Several months ago, by chance and the best luck ever, I was introduced to author Jenna Black (as well as the amazing Kristen Simmons and Mindee Arnett) at a dinner before one of their signings in Cincinnati. Conversation that evening led Jenna to reach out to me when she decided to self-publish her upcoming novel, and thus we began the design process for The Gifted Dead. I'm beyond proud of how this cover turned out and extraordinarily thankful to Jenna for letting me be a part of this publishing journey with her, so I hope you all love the final product as much as we do!


Politics and magic make dangerous bedfellows.
Deep within the Order, the seeds of corruption have taken root. While younger generations of the Gifted have embraced modern democratic values, a secret society of old-guard zealots seek a return to the past, when only European men of distinguished bloodlines held power.
Now, three venerable European families and a maverick American each plot to seize control of the Order and shape it to their will. A cutthroat game of political intrigue will decide the winner; and the stakes couldn't be higher, for ruling the Order carries with it the power to grant—or deny—an afterlife.
What begins as a battle of wills could turn into an all-out war. And magic could prove deadlier than any missile.

"Filled with great world building, fascinating characters, and political intrigue, this novel harks back to the sheer scale of traditional fantasy novels but gives it a very modern twist. I love it!"
--Keri Arthur, New York Times bestselling author of Fireborn

The Gifted Dead will be released in September, so be sure and add this one to your lists! If you'd like to check out an exclusive interview with Jenna in which she shares all sorts of juicy tidbits about what this story holds in store for readers, you can do so over at Fangirlish.

Find Jenna:

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If you want to see more of my work, including some fun fan art posters, you can check out my full portfolio online at Seedlings Design Studio!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: My Beautiful Enemy

The Heart of Blade Duology #2
Sherry Thomas
Adult Historical Romance
304 pages
Available now
Source: Finished copy from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Hidden beneath Catherine Blade’s uncommon beauty is a daring that matches any man’s. Although this has taken her far in the world, she still doesn’t have the one thing she craves: the freedom to live life as she chooses. Finally given the chance to earn her independence, who should be standing in her way but the only man she’s ever loved, the only person to ever betray her.

Despite the scars Catherine left him, Captain Leighton Atwood has never been able to forget the mysterious girl who once so thoroughly captivated him. When she unexpectedly reappears in his life, he refuses to get close to her. But he cannot deny the yearning she reignites in his heart.

Their reunion, however, plunges them into a web of espionage, treachery, and deadly foes. With everything at stake, Leighton and Catherine are forced to work together to find a way out. If they are ever to find safety and happiness, they must first forgive and learn to trust each other again…

My Beautiful Enemy is a second chance romance; a story that alternates between the couple's original courtship and the distance that exists between them at present as they're forced to both emotionally and physically battle their shared past. While Ms. Thomas is a gifted storyteller with the ability to write deeply layered characters, the past vs. present setup of this novel works to the detriment of the overall romance, so much time spent reliving the past with Catherine and Leighton that we don't get the opportunity to really embrace the people they've become since then. It's certainly vital to their story to understand what happened to both all those years ago, but we can't help but wish the story wasn't split quite as equally between the two moments in time and instead focused more on rebuilding what a miscommunication brutally tore down.

Part of the reason the split format of this novel is a touch frustrating is due to the fact that every intimate moment between them, aside from a few fade to black love scenes toward the end, happens in flashback. We're left then with scenes that should be full of romance and tenderness, but casting a shadow over what's taking place on page is the knowledge that at present, while we're reliving that time with them, Leighton is engaged to someone else and Catherine is haunted by his abandonment and the many losses she suffered as a result. Every time we're sucked back in time, the itch to return to the present and watch the hand of fate work is nearly overwhelming, and we find ourselves rushing through the Chinese Turkestan chapters to get back to present-day (relatively) London.

Despite the emotional distance our repeated jaunts through Catherine and Leighton's painful past causes, both Catherine and Leighton are still a couple with whom it's easy to spend a few hours. Catherine is a bit of a badass, her extensive martial arts training allowing her to throw a blade with ease, move undetected when she wishes it, and hold her own against men twice her size, and it's only too easy to smile at how much enjoyment Leighton gets out of the fact that she could either best him physically or rob him blind before he knew it. Their banter and lightheartedness in the flashbacks are a painful contrast to the coolness and insecurity plaguing their every interaction in the present, drawing us into their story even if we do find ourselves favoring one timeline over the other.

Overall, My Beautiful Enemy features an extraordinarily strong heroine and a perfectly charming hero, but the complexity of the historical aspect of the story (including hard to remember location names) combined with the lack of a true spark romantically in the present-day keeps this tale from making its way on to the shelf of favorites.

Rating: 3/5

Find Sherry:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Storms of Lazarus Blog Tour: Interview + Giveaway

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Karen Kincy back to the blog as part of the promotional tour for the second book in her new adult dieselpunk romance series, Storms of Lazarus. I was able to pick Karen's brain a bit regarding Ardis, Wendel, and the world she's created for this series, so I hope you all enjoy the interview! Be sure and check the bottom of the post for all the details on a special giveaway as well as the full list of participating blogs.

In this second installment, Ardis and Wendel head to Königsberg, Prussia from Constantinople. Is there any particularly interesting historical tidbit or piece of trivia you learned while researching either place for Ardis and Wendel’s adventures?

Königsberg, Prussia is Wendel's hometown, and this city no longer exists in reality. (Neither does Prussia, for that matter.) Königsberg suffered heavy damages in World War II, and the Russians renamed the city Kaliningrad after they took over the city. The castle was demolished, though the cathedral was rebuilt. I had to search through old postcards and photographs of Königsberg to get a sense of this lost city where Wendel once lived. As for Constantinople, that's now Istanbul, so I had a lot of inspiration to work with. My grandpa, who's Armenian, actually came to America from Istanbul.

If you could steal one of the steampunk/dieselpunk gadgets of this fictional world for your own personal use in this reality, which one would you most want for yourself?

I would steal a clockwork dragon. (And I can't say anymore without spoilers!)

If both Wendel and Ardis were asked to name a way in which they felt the other  person was different in Storms of Lazarus from who each was in the beginning of Shadows of Asphodel, what would each of them say?

Wendel would say that Ardis is less sanctimonious, since he did think she was rather prejudiced against his necromancy when they first met. She didn't even want to touch him. But I doubt Wendel would say this to her face. Self-preservation, and all that.

Ardis would say that Wendel is finally free to become the person he could have been. He's no longer forced to work as an assassin necromancer, so he's searching for who he is now and what he wants to do with his life. She's not sure how to help him with his nightmares, but she would be damned if she doesn't try.

In Storms of Lazarus, Ardis gets to spend her first Christmas holiday with Wendel. Given the two of them are currently facing innumerable problems and therefore can’t have what one might call a normal holiday together, what would she say her ideal Christmas Eve with Wendel would consist of if possible?

Her ideal Christmas Eve with Wendel would definitely be warmer and quieter. After all, they didn't plan to spend the holiday as fugitives trudging across the snows of Bulgaria. Ardis dreams of a little cottage where they can be alone together and--finally--relax. They talk about running away together to Switzerland someday, and they aren't entirely joking.

Let’s say you’re granted the ability to jump into any piece of steampunk fiction for a single day. Which world would you be most curious to explore and which character in that world would you most want to meet?

Oh man, I would totally want to meet Nikola Tesla! I'd want to meet him in our world's history, too, but if Tesla were given steampunk technology, I'm sure he would invent something genius. As for places to visit, I'd be really curious about steampunk Japan.

I happen to have an enormous soft spot for characters who are damaged or tormented in some way, and Wendel fits that bill pretty well given everything he’s been through. Who would you say is your all time favorite damaged or tortured hero?

Maybe, just maybe, I'm mildly obsessed with Wendel. He was a character in my very first novel, which will never see the light of day, and he waited patiently until I wrote a better book for him. Besides Wendel, I would have to say I'm still a major Snape fangirl. He's definitely a hero by the end of the series, even if Harry didn't always appreciate it.

Thanks so much for stopping by Karen!

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Sometimes escape is impossible. Sometimes love isn't enough.

1913. Christmas Eve. Ardis hardly expects a quiet holiday with Wendel, between fleeing Constantinople and hiding from an ancient society of assassins. And they owe a debt to a certain archmage.

In Königsberg, Prussia, they work with Konstantin on the next evolution of Project Lazarus. Wendel once called Königsberg home, the city now besieged by the Russians and their clockwork engines of war. This may be Wendel’s last chance to save his family and find redemption, but he's tormented by nightmares and tempted by laudanum. Ardis fears her love isn’t enough to save Wendel. Her hands are full piloting the automatons, and she's terrified to tell him a secret of her own. Will they—and their love—survive the storms of war?

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Karen Kincy (Redmond, Washington) can be found lurking in her writing cave, though sunshine will lure her outside. When not writing, she stays busy gardening, tinkering with aquariums, or running just one more mile. Karen has a BA in Linguistics and Literature from The Evergreen State College.

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