Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
First Published: 2015
Young Adult, romance
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a terrible surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she may be falling in love with a murderer.
Shazi discovers that the villainous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. It's up to her to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
"So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?"
"Shazi? Honestly, I pity the wolves."
I've been trying to figure out a way to open this review for the last two hours, but I just don't know where to begin. So, I'll jump right into things - from the very first page, this novel grabs hold of you and refuses to let go, as it urges you to figure out what's going on, and find out the truth behind all this apparent cruelty.

Ahdieh made such a clever choice by opening the book with Jalal and his father and their worry and love towards Khalid, because that opening immediately colors what we think of him, allows us to be sympathetic towards him where Shazi and her friends cannot, and promises us that there is more to this boy king than meets the eyes.

Which also creates delicious tension between us and Shazi herself as we read of her coming to the palace with malicious intent, but hope she will be open enough to realize there is more to this story as she interacts with her murderous husband.

While I strongly suspected the nature of the truth, my biggest unanswered question was always why. I wanted to understand Kahlid. And I was blessed with a heroine who, despite vowing to avenge her friend, cannot close herself to these questions either, especially as she comes to know the man she's supposed to hate. Shazi is everything I wanted her to be - strong and stubborn, almost foolish in her bravery, but also loving and loyal.

Khalid and Shazi's love story is heartbreaking. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I cannot pretend there aren't some insta love elements to it, but despite my usual tendency to condemn and story who has those, The Wrath and the Dawn managed to completely win me over. I don't know how Ahdieh did it, but she managed to make the instant connection between these characters, the way Shazi immediately stood out to Khalid and how just a few conversations managed to melt her walls into something very natural and poetic. Into something captivating and genuine. Something that almost glowed in its rightness.

So yes.
Now, let's talk love triangles. Mostly to say - there isn't one in this novel. While The Wrath & The Dawn does have two guys in love with the same girl, the girl in question knows who she wants throughout it all. Even if it breaks her heart to admit it, even to herself.

That second guy I mentioned is Tariq. Sometimes, the book left our protagonist and the super engrossing main story to go and peek into his life and what he's going through... and, admittedly, those were my least favorite parts of the whole affair. I wanted them to be gone and stop threatening my beautiful ship, even though as far as secondary love interests go, Tariq is pretty decent as a human being and all.

But while Tariq didn't steal my heart, there were two side characters that totally did - Khalid's cousin Jalal and Shazi's handmaiden Despina. These two are so incredible. Not only do they offer constant support and levity for our main characters respectively, they also kick butt. I really wanted more scenes between these two, and this book definitely left me desperate for more of them.

The few things that stopped it from being a rounded five stars was the fact that, for an Arabian Nights retelling, I barely got any stories! What were there, one and three quarters of a story? I wanted more because those were fun, and they would have added some element of time to Shazi and Khalid's blooming romance.

Despite this, this book was utterly fantastic in my opinion. I started reading the sequel almost immediately.
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Destiny Binds by Tammy Blackwell | Book Review

Destiny Binds by Tammy Blackwell
First Published: 2011
Paperback & Omnibus
Young Adult, fantasy
Scout Donovan is a girl who believes in rules, logic, and her lifelong love of Charlie Hagan. Alex Cole believes in destiny, magic, and Scout. When Alex introduces Scout to the world of Shifters, men who change into wolves or coyotes during the full moon and Seers, women who can see your most private thoughts and emotions with a mere touch, the knowledge changes everything and everyone Scout thought she knew.
One of my all-time favorite YA shifter series, and all time most underrated series, is the Timber Wolves Trilogy. People, I implore you, stop reading this review and go read this novel instead. You will not regret it.

Destiny Binds starts the epic journey of Harper "Scout" Donovan, a kick-ass, headstrong young woman who will take none of your shit, thank you very much. But she is not just strong, inside and out, she's also funny, smart and logical, but most important - loyal and loving. So what if she happens to be stubborn, snarky and odd looking? the girl is my perfect kind of heroine.

As many of these stories go, and mark this down because it's just about the only typical thing about this whole series, Scout's journey begins with the arrival of Alex Cole and his brother Liam into town. Alex is every girl's dream - sweet, charismatic, loving and... hot, with two killer dimples and a tortured past that gives out that edge we so love. Can you blame Scout for falling for him? I sure can't.

But there are things to consider... such as Alex's threatening brother, and Scout's protective brother (and also a personal favorite of mine), the infinitely awesome Jace Donovan, who is against the Coles for some reason. And as Scout and Jace are closer than real siblings, their relationship built equally on banter and devotion, Scout can't just ignore what he thinks.

Now, the romance in this book, and series as a whole, is really unique, and I mean that in the best way possible. In this book alone we are introduced to a heroine who picks a guy when confronted with a sort of love triangle, instead of twiddling her thumbs for three books. Then, there is the beautiful slow build to Alex and Scout's romance, starting slowly from simple attraction, into wary friendship, and then into far, far more.

But it doesn't end there, because the romance of the Timber Wolves trilogy can only be truly appreciated when looked upon as a whole, and it is truly a sight to behold.

So, I've sang enough praise about our main characters, but have I mentioned the array of utterly fantastic supporting characters? First, there is Talley, best friend to Scout and the kind of girl who sees the best in everyone, while also understanding her friends to their core. So yeah, she's going to see the best in you... but she also knows your worst.

Then, there is Charlie, Jace's best friend and cousin who is Scout's crush for, like, forever. He's a peacemaker, the logical one in any situation. Together; Scout, Jace, Talley and Charlie are the Fantastic Four of their small town.

And then there was the ending. Not gonna lie, I cried, both times I read it. The one thing I feel I need to say is that Ashley is a stupid bitch, and I don't brandish the B word lightly.

Blackwell is not afraid to take chances and mess with her readers, and it simply works.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian | Book Review

Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian
First Published: 2007
Adult, Paranormal Romance
He comes to her more dead than alive, a towering black-clad stranger riddled with bullets and rapidly losing blood. As she struggles to save him, veterinarian Tess Culver is unaware that the man calling himself Dante is no man at all, but one of the Breed, vampire warriors engaged in a desperate battle. In a single erotically charged moment Tess is plunged into his world—a shifting, shadowed place where bands of Rogue vampires stalk the night, cutting a swath of terror.
Haunted by visions of a dark future, Dante lives and fights like there is no tomorrow. Tess is a complication he does not need—but now, with his brethren under attack, he must shield Tess from a growing threat that includes Dante himself. For with one reckless, irresistible kiss, she has become an inextricable part of his underworld realm…and his touch awakens her to hidden gifts, desires, and hungers she never knew she possessed. Bonded by blood, Dante and Tess must work together to thwart deadly enemies, even as they discover a passion that transcends the boundaries of life itself….
A small confession: I usually give a series somewhere around two to three books to impress me, if the series is of the intertwined standalones verity, for the simple reason that one couple/protagonist may not be my favorite, but another might be.

So it's always somewhat of a trial and error process to figure out if it was these set of characters I didn't like, or the authors storytelling (although, sometimes it's fairly obvious).

Kiss of Midnight, the first of the Midnight Breed series, was an underwhelming experience for me, especially considering the hype surrounding this paranormal series. But, this being a series of standalones, I gave it another chance... only to be disappointed again.

It's fair to say I will not be reading another book in the Midnight Breed world.

The one word that pops to my head when I think Kiss of Crimson is "meh". It was an okay story, for the most part. A fast, mindless read to pass time with that I can barely remember now, two years later. But I will give these books that - they are readable. So if you're looking for something that won't demand too much of you... pick them up.

My biggest issue with this book (and the likes of it) is the romance itself, and this being a paranormal romance... it's a pretty big deal. But I never understood Tess and Dante's love. It came about too quickly, with the physical element of it happening too fast for my liking. The startling "you're my life" type of declarations sprang out of nowhere, considering neither could name the other's favorite color to save their lives, not to mention anything more fundamental than that.

I find it really hard to swallow romances where it feels like if you were to ask our two main characters to describe each other, they won't be able to fill up more than two sentences. This isn't love - it could be attraction or infatuation or even in lust, but not in love.

Therefore, I simply didn't believe their love. And that kind of means I didn't believe the story, period.
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Historical Romance Done RIGHT | Top 7 Authors You Need To Check Out

One of my favorite romance genres is historical. There is just something so compelling about the setting, about the lords and ladies, about the rules that are both ridiculous from a modern point of view but create the most delicious tension between the characters.

But you gotta know how to write them well, you know? Same as any other genre, it's very easy to write a bad historical romance, and much harder to write an excellent one.

Here is a list of seven woman who know how to create the perfect historicals, in no particular order

This lady is one of my auto-buy authors. Whenever I need a good historical, I always check to see if there's anything new of hers I can get.

Her historicals are just so damned fun, and the swoon if off the charts! She also does sweet fantastically well, and you'll believe her damaged heroes and strong yet vulnerable heroines can heal each other without an ounce of doubt in your mind!

The Lord of Ian Mackenzie was one of the first historicals to really steal and move my heart, and made Ashley an instant buy for me. Her Highland Pleasures series (also known as Mackenzie series) is one of my favorite historicals romance. She knows how to make unique heroes (such as the titular Ian), tantalizing romances and heroines you can root for full heartily. 

I haven't read any of Ashley's contemporary or paranormal, but if they're half as good as her historical romances, they're definitely worth a shot!

I have been very vocal in the past about my love for Banks' historicals. While I genuinely dislike most of the contemporary romances of hers that I've read, I love her as a romance writer. Something about the setting allows Banks to focus less on the sex, and more on the story. And when she does that, it's simply magic. I have read Never Seduce a Scot three times now, and I cry every time

Banks has that magical quality to make you connect to her heroines and heroes, and make you root for them to the depth of your soul. 

Also, her brand of romance happens to be the kilted kind. Yum!

Courtney Milan is one of the more unique authors on my list, because she really tackles tough subjects in her historicals, especially the Brothers Sinister series, although her Tuner series doesn't lack for thought provoking content. 

She looks at the historical settings through the eyes of characters that have to deal with prejudice, expectations and rules that they do not agree with. Females fighting to enter "male" professions, women who rebel against the institute of marriage, rape (although in a short novella)... So many interesting situations through the lens of the time period they're in.

And of course, the fantastic romances that will make your heart thump and swoon. 

 I found her by complete accident when The Duchess War was free on kindle and I have thanked my lucky stars since.

Lisa Kleypas is a pretty new discovery, but boy is she a landslide. I have enjoyed every single novel that I have read by her. Some of them tackle unique situations for historical romances, such as a romance between a Gypsy and a lady, or a Governess and her lord. But she does it in such a fun, heartwarming way.

She really does write such enjoyable historicals that lighten the heart and make you smile non-stop.

Julia Quinn is the historical romance writer for you when you need a fun romance. I always know that when I want to read something fun and light (with some angst, brooding and tormented pasts), Quinn's my girl. And damn if her books are not super readable. I start them and suddenly I look up and the book is over and it's three a.m. and there's work tomorrow but oh well.

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake was the historical that made me love historicals. The romance, setting and characters proved to a judgmental me who didn't think she'd enjoy the Victorian setting and woman oppression that HISTORICALS ARE SO DAMNED WONDERFUL!

McLean's books are fun and light, but also have very deep undertones about female equality and acceptance, so they have a very nice balance to them.

What about you? What are some of YOUR favorite historical authors that you think I should check out? Did you find new authors to sink your teeth into in this list? Tell me all about it bellow! 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis | Book Review

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis
First Published: 2015
Adult, Contemporary Romance
Cedar Ridge, Colorado, is famous for crisp mountain air, clear blue skies, and pine-scented breezes. And it's the last place Lily Danville wants to be. But she needs a job, and there's an opening at the hottest resort in her hometown. What has her concerned is the other hot property in Cedar Ridge: Aidan Kincaid-firefighter, rescue worker, and heartbreaker. She never could resist that devastating smile . . .
The Kincaid brothers are as rough and rugged as the Rocky Mountains they call home. Aidan has always done things his own way, by his own rules. And never has he regretted anything more than letting Lily walk out of his life ten years ago. If anyone has ever been in need of rescuing, she has. What she needs more than anything are long hikes, slow dances, and sizzling kisses. But that can only happen if he can get her to give Cedar Ridge-and this bad boy-a second chance . .
Y'all must already know I adore Jill Shalvis. She is a queen of romance - and Second Chance Summer has all her signature traits - great characters that are fun to read of, whether it be the main characters or the supporting cast, funny banter and great small town setting.

That being said, I wasn't as enthralled as I usually am by this novel. I'm not sure what it was really, because it had all those things I normally love about her.

Maybe it was because Lily and Aidan had history together that we didn't really get to see, but effected their current relationship. There was a lot of things they knew about each other that we didn't get to see them find out, and so while logically I knew they had probably learned that ten years ago, in that period we're barely privy to, it also felt like a cope-out. Like, all those wonderful parts of building a relationship were robbed from us.

Maybe it's just me.

This was probably why I felt like the "I love you"s came too early and with little basis. It's because these two characters were in love before, but we didn't get to see it!

While this will not be the first book of Shalvis I recommend someone to read, if you already love her you're bound to enjoy it. 
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Friday, January 20, 2017

Before Jamaica Lane by Samantha Young | Book Review

First Published: 2014
New Adult, Contemporary romance
Despite her outgoing demeanor, Olivia is painfully insecure around the opposite sex—usually, she can’t get up the nerve to approach guys she’s interested in. But moving to Edinburgh has given her a new start, and, after she develops a crush on a sexy postgrad, she decides it’s time to push past her fears and go after what she wants.
Nate Sawyer is a gorgeous player who never commits, but to his close friends, he’s as loyal as they come. So when Olivia turns to him with her relationship woes, he offers to instruct her in the art of flirting and to help her become more sexually confident.
The friendly education in seduction soon grows into an intense and hot romance. But then Nate’s past and commitment issues rear their ugly heads, and Olivia is left brokenhearted. When Nate realizes he’s made the biggest mistake of his life, he will have to work harder than he ever has before to entice his best friend into falling back in love with him—or he may lose her forever….
This book was just so much fun, which is one of my favorite type of contemporary stories. So it comes as no surprise to me that this is probably my favorite book in the series. From page one, the characters jump out at you like they're real people. You can see them so clearly in your head, that it just might make you say "they're adorable" out loud. It sure did me.

This book made me laugh, because Olivia and Nate have the best conversations. The dialogues were flowing, fun, funny and sweet... the kind of conversations best friends have--because they are.

This is another selling point for this book - it does the friends to lovers trope to perfection. I've always believed that the best relationships out there are the ones where you marry your best friend, and this book is one of those books that prove me right.

If you've read one of Young's novels, you know how fantastic she is at writing smart, funny characters, which both Nate and Olivia are, and how she manages to build such a rich environment for her characters to exist in through their relationships with their friends and loved ones. Before Jamaica Lane is a prime example of that talent.

However, don't go into this story looking for innovation. In it's essence, the story is fairly predictable. I didn't read the synopsis before buying it, having loved this series before, but immediately knew upon hearing how inexperienced Olivia was and how experienced Nate is where this story was getting.

This didn't stop the story for being hella enjoyable for me, but I did feel it was worth mentioning. 

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Dublin Street by Samantha Young | Book Review

On Dublin Street by Samantha Young
First Published: 2012
New Adult, Contemporary romance
Jocelyn Butler has been hiding from her past for years. But all her secrets are about to be laid bare…
Four years ago, Jocelyn left her tragic past behind in the States and started over in Scotland, burying her grief, ignoring her demons, and forging ahead without attachments. Her solitary life is working well—until she moves into a new apartment on Dublin Street where she meets a man who shakes her carefully guarded world to its core.
Braden Carmichael is used to getting what he wants, and he’s determined to get Jocelyn into his bed. Knowing how skittish she is about entering a relationship, Braden proposes an arrangement that will satisfy their intense attraction without any strings attached.
But after an intrigued Jocelyn accepts, she realizes that Braden won’t be satisfied with just mind-blowing passion. The stubborn Scotsman is intent on truly knowing her… down to the very soul.
On Dublin Street is one of the first contemporary novels I read back in 2013 that truly blew me away, especially taking in how high my expectations were because of the hype. Young's first foray into adult territory is written and executed amazingly well, with a story that keeps you reading, characters you can root for and a romance that will make you swoon. 

The novel is narrator by our main character, Jocelyn "Joss" Butler. A sexy, smart and caring young woman who has some heavy baggage from her family's untimely death. But don't worry, she's working on it. Or trying to. Unlike a lot of heroines (whom I find annoying, honestly), Joss doesn't sit around waiting for things to change. She's actively trying to get better. And sometimes, the actions she took made my heart ache, because I just wanted for her to get her HEA already.

And I wanted her to get it with Braden, our hot, rich caveman. It's very easy to err and make a douche out of an alpha male, but when you do it right, like with Braden, you get a charming mix of attitude, personality and tenderness. Braden is wickedly smart, impossibly stubborn, and somewhat manipulative, but he uses those powers for good. He follows his guts and listen to what his heart tells him, and more often that not he's right.

And most importantly - if Braden wasn't this way, his romance with Joss wouldn't have worked. Joss needs someone who can stand on equal grounds with her. Someone who won't back down until all her walls are rubble and she has no other choice but to surrender. Someone with whom she wouldn't need to put everything to words. 

As a side note... holly hawt chemistry batman! These two should stay away from flammable stuff otherwise they will catch on fire! It doesn't even matter whether they're arguing, bantering or getting along, they just heat the place up. 

My favorite side character from this installment has to be Braden's sister and Joss's roommate, Ellie. She's sweet, funny and absolutely adorable, not to mention a good friend and sister. She's a key factor in Joss's recovery, not just decoration.

So if you're looking for a good contemporary, you should pick this one. It really does have everything!
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