Having interviewed Kass Morgan last year and given the success of the CW series based on the books, I was plenty eager to give The 100 a try. While I haven't read a staggering amount of YA dystopian, the books in the genre that I have tried (e.g. classics like The Giver and the Uglies series), I absolutely loved; given my background, my initial impressions of the premise were highly anticipatory.
The book is told from four different teenagers' perspectives--Clarke, Wells, Bellamy, and Glass. All narratives aside from Glass's are told in a concurrent timeline, through the eyes of the delinquents who have been forced to settle on Earth for the first time in centuries. While Glass's story, which takes place back on the mothership, was initially the least interesting, it eventually pans out to serve as an anchor--a tie to the surviving, but still unstable lifestyle back in space.
Kass Morgan creates a vivid high-tech world in The 100, where citizens are divided by social standing and resources are limited--of course, except to the upperclass. Back on Earth, the prospects are obviously grim, but it's still a thrill of a journey to follow Clarke, Wells, Bellamy, and the other 97, as they each rediscover a planet that they've only read about in books, yet have such a deep internal connection with. I appreciate the idea of providing different points of view, but think it was slightly too ambitious for the author to try to squeeze a Lord of the Flies-esque conflict AND a love triangle AND an undercurrent of radiation's aftereffects (say what?) into everything. It's all interesting until it just becomes too much; I'd have much preferred one central conflict with stronger relationship-building and more background insight.
While there is no one thing fatally wrong with any of the characters, all four of them are too generic, too idealized. Everyone loves having attractive/smart/clever characters to read about, but they all start to blend together when the author tries to make them all perfect, especially since everyone thinks in close third person. The unrealistic and unextraordinary characterization prevented me from developing any sort of attachment to any of them. The only one that seemed remotely human and believable was Bellamy, our resident rebel. But then again I've always been a sucker for bad boys with a past...
That said, the story itself is filled with drama and tension between the main characters (and secondary characters!) which makes The 100 exciting to read. The sheer nature of the resettlement of our planet is enthralling; Morgan does well with engaging readers to the surprises and twists scattered throughout the novel. There's definitely lots of action-filled scenes and, love it or hate, an INTENSE cliffhanger ending, that just leaves you thirsty for more.
Structurally, I found The 100 quite hard to work with. The constantly changing perspectives get a bit disorienting because it's not just a "he said, she said," but rather a "he said, she said, another he said, another she said." Kind of exhausting. On top of that, each of the narratives are very heavy on backstory which, in good fiction, is absolutely necessary. But when it takes up 50% of the book in the form of italicized flashbacks, it gets out of control.
Pros: Fascinating storyline and world-building // Engaging; keeps you hanging on constantly // Dramatic Earth-bound adventures and minor plot twists // Bellamy is a strongly written character // Ending makes me want to read the second book! That's what ultimately matters, right?
Cons: Abundance of flashbacks is annoying; causes disorder in the flow of the storytelling // Constant narrative shifts also gets chaotic // Stylistically unimpressive // All the characters are grossly idealized (i.e. sweet, pretty/handsome, kind, brave, etc.) and thus pretty forgettable (with the exception of Bellamy) // Cliffhanger ending may cause distress
Verdict: Despite my numerous quips with the lacking characters and structure of The 100, I found myself enjoying it while reading and left wanting more once finished. It's definitely a plot-driven sci-fi novel with lots of action and lots of suspense; if that's your thing, you should totally give it a chance. Kass Morgan's debut is one of those books that isn't mind-blowing, but is still hard to put down, so I definitely understand its appeal to mainstream young adult audiences. While unimpressive in a literary lens or by composition, The 100 is still a promising first installment in an exciting dystopian series.
Rating: 7 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): Not perfect, but overall enjoyable; borrow, don't buy!
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, FSB Media!).
What I love about 21-Day Tummy is that it isn't just a book on weight loss and diet management; it's unique in that it also places importance on the digestive tract. Many of the recipes and theories revolve around the bodily chemistry regarding certain foods and exercises, so this diet plan is one that targets both shedding pounds and metabolizing your digestive system.
If you suffer from weight gain due to digestive slowdown, this is the perfect book for you. It is well backed and well explained, so anyone can follow and understand the logistics of the dieteven if you have minimal experience with dieting. That's what I love about Vaccariello's diet guides; they're so accessible!
The recipes, as expected, are amazing. Just looking at the photographs makes my mouth water, and I love how each ingredient is elaborated upon. There are helpful lists of digestive do's and don't's throughout the book, which are entertaining and useful for the kitchen. Other helpful tools include measurement conversion charts, grocery shopping lists, green lights and red lights of foods (regarding how they'll treat your stomach), and myths about certain foods busted or confirmed.
I find it really helpful that the regimen's goal is to not only flatten tummies, but also regulate the inner workings of the body. It takes the focus off the scale and tape measures, and places it onto feeling and being HEALTHY.
Pros: Methodical, biologically sound approaches to dieting and improving the digestive system // Lots of tried-and-true recipes that are worth testing // Real-life testimonies and weight loss plans and interviews of successful dieters included
Cons: Some recipes don't include pictures and are difficult to follow // I'm skeptical of the timeline. Although the book doesn't necessarily claim to change lives drastically in 21 days, it keeps dieters on a schedule that seems a bit too rigid
Verdict: I personally was not really able to follow this diet book because it deals a lot with digestive issues rather than just wholesome, healthy eating, but I appreciate how specific the regimen is. It isn't something I could actually stick within fact, it doesn't seem very lenientbut I recommend Vaccariello's newest diet book for those who struggle with acid reflux and eating the right way due digestive problems. With the perfect amount of motivation and realistic, delicious-looking recipes, 21-Day Tummy helps you look and feel your best by using a targeted approach of not only eating well, but also taking care of what's on the inside.
Rating: 7 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): Not perfect, but overall enjoyable; borrow, don't buy!
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, FSB Media!).
Saxton has a completely original and well-planned story going on in his first installment of the 7 Scorpions series. The characters are engaging, amiable, and while not 100% realistic, do together, create the perfect cast of "action film" stars we love to read about.
In a time of the world's despair, one man, one villain, attempts to take over and recreate society, and the protagonist, super-human Vincent Black -- an example of what results when the government messes with things it shouldn't mess with -- seems to be the only key in stopping him. A myriad of futuristic technologies, fantastical creatures, and gruesome, nearly video-gamesque violence is captured between the pages of this dystopian novel.
While I think the story itself is a keeper, I can't say the same thing about the writing style. It doesn't flow properly, and it's very mediocre and repetitive. It's something I would expect from someone who is not a writer by trade, but still has the perseverance to carry on such an imaginative narrative. While not overly lush (I consider it the exact opposite, actually -- it's quite acute), Saxton's technique still unnecessarily detailed; for example, characters' clothing choices are always elaborated upon, there is always a dialogue tag, the same punchlines are used over and over again, et cetera.
There are definitely some moments I wince while reading -- just because of the awkward or overrated wording -- but if you're in for an adventurous, action-packed read, definitely consider Rebellion to keep you intrigued.
Radical Rating: 7 hearts- A few flaws here and there, but overall enjoyable.
Inspired by the Salsbury fraud scandal of the 1970s, After I'm Gone explores how the enigmatic Felix Brewer's sudden disappearance echoes through lives of his wife, daughters, and mistressthe five women he loved and left behind. Both a legal thriller and dazzling sashay through a span of decades, Lippman's newest novel is elaborate, emotionally charged, and deeply probing.
In present-day Baltimore, as retired cop Sandy Sanchez reviews a cold case involving the murder of Julie SaxonyFelix's woman on the sidehe notices there are discrepancies from every angle, from every testimony, and he can't help but grow intrigued by the seductive, unsolved story of Felix Brewer, his family, and how it could all be connected to a dead Julie Saxony. The novel slips in and out of each eventful decade, from the fateful Valentine's Day of 1959 when Felix and young, fresh-faced Bambi first met, to Felix's unannounced departure and the aftermath thereof, and finally, to Sandy's determined investigation. The toll Felix's desertion takes on Bambiboth financially and emotionallyas well as the way each of his well-fleshed daughters are affected, will raise great sympathy within readers, but will inevitably keep them on edge, itching to find out: how did Felix manage to leave without a trace, and why did he go without seeing to the well-being of his beloved family?
After I'm Gone is such a well crafted, well explicated mystery novel. It combines an elaborate, arduous tangle of lies, secrets, and even sacrifice, with a sharp, fast-paced procession of revelations. These continuous shifts, shocking discoveries, and impending truths never stop surprising you until the very end, which I think is a fabulous ploy. It's one of those books where you think you have everything figured out untilbam!something happens halfway through and changes the entire plot, and then, at the last few chapters, the same thing happens againand again, and againbam! bam! bam! The intimate, perplexing glimpses into the lives of the Brewer women through the years of a husbandless and fatherless development really bring the story to life. The way Felix's betrayal affects his daughters' marriages, senses of dignity, and identities transforms this high-stake detective novel into one with human disparitiesfaults of the fleshand that's what made it so powerful for me.
There's a purposefully vague, but consistently dark and pressing tone to the novel that's both eventful and stylistically entertaining. Readers remain in the dark about Felix's character, which makes him even more puzzling; but then again, it doesn't really matter because it's his reverberations that make up this book, not the man himself. This is the first Laura Lippman mystery I've read, but based off her commanding voice and complicated, wrenching storylines, she's an author I'm now more than eager to try again.
Pros: Rich in historical detail and legalese // Addictive // Reminiscent of the extravagance and flair of the '50s and '60s // Contrived, complicated, original plot // Bambi and daughters are so well portrayed, so lifelike // Mystery seems impossible to solve, and remains unpredictable even until the very end // Weaves complex emotions about family and love within the crime // Will surprise you multiple timesnot your average linear whodunnit // Thrilling, engaging
Cons: Sandy isn't likable // Too detailed and slow-moving at times // Timeline gets confusing to keep up with
Verdict: Sandy Sanchez doesn't know what he's in for when he takes on two details of a cold case that at first glance, other than the painfully obvious and quickly dismissed suspicions, have no plausible relation: the untimely appearance of Felix Brewer's mistress's dead body, and the means of survival the man's family turned to in his wake. Equal parts murder mystery and narrative family drama, After I'm Gone contains surprisingly touching wisdom about the tragedy of idealism and how nobody, no matter how beautiful their face or honest their soul, ever really gets what they want. Full of unstable alibis, tenderly guarded secrets, and the buildup of multiple unexpected but long-dreaded twists, Laura Lippman's latest crime novel provides soul-searing, electrifying insight on not only greed, selfishness, and cowardice, but also on identity, the gray areas between marriage and unfaithfulness, and the meaning of fatherly love.
Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read that will be worth your while; highly recommended.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC!).
Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith
Release Date: August 16th, 2011
Page Count: 189
Source: ARC from Little Bird Publicity for review
"I need some information. Can you help me get it?"
"OK." I'm opening my post but I have a pen and pad ready.
"I need some statistics about which part of the country babies are abandoned most often, what time of year, and where to find them -- outside hospitals or police stations or under hedges or in phone boxes."
"Oh, OK. Yes, of course." I move the phone receiver into my left hand and hold it against my left ear so that I can make some notes. Mad cow, I write.
After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do: She spray-paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald's Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There's her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison's eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and -- last but not least! -- her psychic postman. Together, their idiosyncrasies and their demands on Alison threaten to drive her mad... if she didn't need and love them all so much. Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, Alison Wonderland is a literary novel about a memorable heroine coping with the everyday complexities of modern life.
What Stephanie Thinks: I will say that Helen Smith, like all British literary novelists do, has a certain restless charm in her writing. For once though, I didn't totally fall in love with the story behind it.
Alison Wonderland premise doesn't even sound terribly exciting; from the blurb, I hardly gain an understanding of what exactly, the plot and main point of the book is. After reading it, I still haven't gained a sense of it. Such a shame, because it's a completely readable novel. The prose is paradoxically both smooth in tone and choppy in structure. It sounds weird, but it fits well. Alison's insights are attentive, and her friends amicable. But the storyline is so erratic: random crimes occur and fantastical creatures appear, which I cannot relate to the book at all -- and it overall makes for a confusing and tiresome read.
To sum this book up, I would say it's a bit of Sherlock Holmes meets Bridget Jones... except a little lot hilarious and a lot less sexy. However, in my opinion, the cleverness and conscience Smith discloses through her writing parallel with those of Doyle and Fielding, so it isn't all that bad of a read.
Stephanie Loves: "I stare out at the sea, trying to make out the horizon. I cannot see where the sea ends and the sky begins. The stars are very bright, a shower of electric lights. When I look back at the sea I can see the stars reflected in the water. I didn't notice them before; I only saw the blackness. I can't see where the sky ends and the sea begins."
Radical Rating: 6 hearts-Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back.
I'm sobbing right now, guys. SOBBING. Okay, maybe not literally tears-flowing-down-my-cheeks sobbing but I'm in this messy state of existence where my heart is in a million shards, and a helpless I've-finished-this-book-so-now-what-do-I-do guttural moan escapes from the depths of my soul every few seconds.
Yeah. I've got it that bad.
Now that you know my current state of emotional health (and of my drama queen tendencies), let me quickly summarize my thoughts on this book, in case you are not interested in reading my entire review in all its fangirly and incoherent glory:
My. New. Favorite.
See the direction in which I'm headed?
All Our Yesterdays is thrilling, jolting, and one of the best time-travel romances I've ever read.
Emphasis on ever.
During a time of deep bureaucratic brew in Washington DC, Marina Marchetti finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a sensitive, highly guarded affair. As if her hopeless crush on her genius best friend, James Shaw, doesn't make her lifewhere she's too plain, too out-of-place, and too ignoredhard enough. Now, she's caught up in a dangerous political battleground, and there's no telling if her lifeor James'swill be safe, or even significant, ever again.
In another timein an alternate, but simultaneous world set four years into the futureEm makes a dreadful discovery: in order to save herself, save humanity, she has to kill him. It's the only option she has left; her past selves have tried every other method, and each of them has failed, and proceeded to write them down onto a piece of paper which she finds in the drain of her prison cell. It's the last thing in the world she wants to do, but she knows there are certain sacrifices she has to make. Alongside Finn, the one boy who's suffered with her, comforted her, and loved her throughout it all, she's determined to succeed in this critical mission upon which the entire world depends... because this time, it may be her last chance.
There was not one page in All Our Yesterdays that didn't have my full, aching attention. The plot moves quickly and it moves consequentially; it pained me even to blink because that's how desperately I didn't want to miss anything. The shifting perspectives between Marina and Em not only create a mounting sense of anticipation, but also masterfully connect the two different worlds, the two different narrators, which brings the entire story revolving around the pivotal time machine, into full circle.
The intense storyline was enough to impress me, but on top of this, Cristin Terrill just had to breathe life into her characters. She depicts such a genuine dynamism in every single onethe kind that could only result from the affliction each of them has been through. Your heart will break along with James's, Marina's, and Finn's, I guarantee it.
Marina starts off as a bit of a brat, and it isn't until the boy she loves hardens before her very eyes that she realizes the horrors of a dangerously brilliant mind and an equally determined heart. I connected with her in her imperfections and her tragic vulnerabilities; while she's not the kind of person I'd beg to become best friends with, she is a terrific protagonist and her account is not only mind-bending, but also highly moving.
Em is a different kind of narrator. She's unwavering and she's clevera lethal combinationand the past four years have toughened her up greatly. However, a wisp of that hopeful, loving person she used to bethe kind who just wanted to believe in the good in peoplestill resides deep inside of her, even after all she's been through. That is her weakness.
Finn is by far the most affecting character. He made me laugh out loud and wince, my heart clamp up, and my gut drop. He's basically the perfect book boyfriend: clever, hilarious, strong. The thing is, Em, whom he's in love with, can't detach herself fully from her past... and that is his weakness.
A fierce love's war meets The Butterfly Effect when Em and Finn realize time travel isn't a wonder; it's an abomination. Their efforts to keep everything that has ever happened from ever happening, however, does have its disastrous consequences, including putting their own lives and existences at stake. Time is complex and perplexing that way; it has a mind of its own, and whatever repercussions it delivers for messing with it, they'll have to withstand. After all, in this type of war, sacrifice is the only effective weapon that exists.
All Our Yesterdays is electrifying, devastating, and THE GODDAMN REASON I'LL PROBABLY NEED THERAPY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. Sorry, I'm sorry. It's just that this book has messed with my emotions so much; I can't even control my outbursts now. I swear this is the last time I'll do that.
Pros: Unpredictable and suspenseful // Unique take on time travel // Purposeful in message and tender in tone // Realistically frightening dystopian setting // Expertly portrayed dynamism in characters // Gorgeous, perfectly balanced romance // FINN FACKIN' ABBOTT // Just a bleepin' phenomenal book, okay?? Don't even ask, just go buy
Cons: A couple plot holes, as expected from a time travel story with its paradoxes and whatnot; did not detract from my enjoyment, though (obviously)
Love: "Ready?" I say, more to myself than Finn.
I raise the key to the door, but before I can put it in the lock, Finn slides his hand around my neck and pulls me against him, muffling my squawk of surprise with his lips. He kisses me like I've never been kissed before. Kiss is too small a word for it. It's like he's pouring every ounce of love and lust and regret, every moment of pent-up longing from months in a cell, into me. I press up into him, and when he pulls away to rest his forehead against mine, I'm dazed and out of breath.
"Now," he whispers, the words ghosting over my lips, "I'm ready."
Verdict: Shocking, exhilarating, and breathtakingly romantic, this YA dystopian thriller will consume you and frighten you and shatter you to pieces. I promise you, All Our Yesterdays will leave you writhing, gasping, and reeling in the aftermath of its frenzied, enthralling story of what happens when time travel goes utterly, horribly wrong. With a powerful narrative voice, intoxicating characters, and a romance that is all of tender, complicated, and heartfelt, Cristin Terrill brings readers a staggering debut that simply cannot be missed.
Rating: 10 out of 10 hearts (5 stars): I'm speechless; this book is an extraordinarily amazingly wonderfully fantastically marvelous masterpiece. Drop everything and go buy yourself a copy now!
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, JKS Communications!).
The biggest disappointment about this book was that it actually sounded inspirational and intriguing in its sci-fi backdrop. An impending apocalypse combined with a mission from a stranger to spend the last day on Earth performing random acts of kindness--excellent. Add to that a developing "romance" between two teenage outcasts who've been surviving on the streets and only have each other--I really thought this story could have gone somewhere.
Unfortunately, it was subpar in pretty much every literary criteria. The cheesy and uneventful character interactions, story line, and so-called "inspirational" message actually had me wondering how exactly this could sit well with any reader. Unless you are a 10-year-old who has never experienced real-life conflict involving family, friends, and romantic love, I'm confident you'd read this and feel the same way. I cringed at a lot of the dialogue, and got really, really exasperated by the time I finished the last page.
Schroeder's writing itself is not incredibly flawed, but that's a pretty basic statement because it isn't profound or particularly thoughtful either. Her prose lacks an engaging element that I'd associate with a pre-apocalyptic and/or teen-oriented novel, and I feel the randomly interspersed pages of verse are unseasoned, as well. Most writers can get away with underdeveloped prose, but in poetry, the quality of writing shows. And I was shown how poor it was all throughout the book.
The worst part is the stilted and superbly unrealistic/cringe-worthy dialogue scenes. And before you try to argue that it's sci-fi, it isn't supposed to be realistic--that's not what I mean. Obviously "end of the world" stories aren't meant to be realistic contemporary fiction, but they should still immerse a reader into the fictional setting. All We Have Is Now failed miserable at doing this overall.
Emerson and Vince are supposedly each other's "one and only" (although not initially in a romantic way), but their dialogue is stiff and gives me secondhand embarrassment. Not only are the two protagonists poorly portrayed, but they're also VERY difficult to like and relate to, mostly because I found a lot of their characteristics to be inconsistent. For instance, Vince is the smooth-talking "cool" black guy whom Emerson doesn't realize she's in love with, but he has strange bouts of emotional outbursts, and can be really pushy and obnoxious. Emerson is the troubled runaway who is afraid to reconcile with her estranged family, but she's prude, whiny, equally as unnecessarily emotional, and just plain stupid at times. I'm not saying that to be offensive; she seriously reads like a one-dimensional cartoon character.
I could have gotten over the unpleasant characters (maybe) but what bothered me even more was the story itself. Yes, it starts off as a provocative Mitch Albom-esque plot, but turns into something I became weary of immediately. The ending takes a 180° turn and (if you can't guess it already), here's a quick spoiler to get off my chest: SPOILER START: The conclusion isn't dark and wish-welcoming like the synopsis suggests. In fact, the apocalypse turns out to be a government hoax to teach US citizens a lesson to appreciate what they have (WTF!) and everything returns to normal the next day. No end of the world, no lives lost, no deep, dark, revealing, or even remotely inspirational matter. Just a bunch of psychological effing-up. Literally that's what we encounter about 80% of the way in, and then there's a bunch of happy endings (yaaaayy) and a ridiculous last chapter. :SPOILER END. A better writer COULD have even made this ending jaw-dropping or uplifting in some sort of way, but Schroeder accomplished neither. The construction of the conclusion itself was poor, with very unlikely conflict resolutions that occur in a couple pages (that happens in real life?!) and a rushed, cheesy, and very unbelievable ending.
I didn't see it coming because I refused to even believe that the author would take a turn like that... it was completely out of the realm of possibility... and then it happened -_-
Pros: Appropriate for younger YA or middle-grade audiences (very clean "romance," and even the darker themes are portrayed lightly with a definite resolution) // Inspiring message about appreciating what you have // Extremely easy to read and flows well
Cons: Pretty much everything else: Stylized and very basic, unimpressive writing // Numerous unsuccessful attempts to be profound and engaging // Character interactions, action scenes, and overall plot (especially the ending) are difficult to believe // The verse portions don't have ANY effect on me; I could have gotten the same thing out of this book without them // The budding "romance" (romance in quotations throughout this entire review because I don't really even consider it one) between Vince and Emerson just doesn't make sense // Emerson is unlikable, unrelatable (typically characters are one or the other), shallowly written, talks in a ridiculous, childish way, has random inappropriate mood swings etc. etc. etc. // Vince is just as bad: tremendously cheesy, unbelievable, has similar weird mood swings (I know they're teenagers and all but c'mon...) // The worst ending/conclusion plot twist ever
Verdict: Unfortunately All We Have Is Now has very few redeeming qualities; it was unimpressive and quite cringe-worthy in almost every way. The characters are neither endearing nor enduring, the plot-line is very quick to resolve and painfully anticlimactic, and the ending just sealed the deal, leaving me dumbfounded (and NOT in a good way!). I feel like my standards have gotten much higher since when I first started reviewing, because I probably would have given this a decent 2.5-star rating previously; now, however, I'm just getting tired of tolerating stilted action and unintentional character flaws. While the suggested readership audience is ages 12-18, I would recommend it more for ages 10-14--if you even decide to pick this book up--because of its unrealistically optimistic plot and empty characters (maybe middle schoolers won't notice). My opinion may not sit well with Lisa Schroeder readers, as I know she has a large YA fan base, but I simply didn't like this book, even though it was a quick-paced and uncomplicated read.
Rating: 3 out of 10 hearts (1.5 stars): Not a fan; I don't recommend this book.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Lisa Schroeder and CBB Book Promotions!).
Review: Embarking on tragedy, Amaryllis in Blueberry is a deep, probing novel surrounding the implications and consequences of neglect, unfaithfulness, and ignorance upon a middle-class suburban family whose fate is redirected as a result of thoughtless actions and their reckless outcomes. As a whole, I feel this book tries too hard to have as profound an effect as The Poisonwood Bible did, with a reference right inside the jacket flap. Now, I've read The Poisonwood Bible and it's one of my favorites; I know Amaryllis in Blueberry is not exactly the samethe themes, morals, and overall effect are all differentbut the premise itself is one that cannot be created without being compared: a mother, father, and four daughters are plucked out of Betty Crocker America and plopped into the wilderness that is Africa, and their lives are changed forever.
Here's a line that sums up the Slepys:
"[They] are all islands unto themselves, and while each island may have clean water and electricity and toilets that flush, being isolated on an island is lonely indeed."
Each of the characters, while extensively explored and unrooted, are at their foundation, very shallow. I didn't particularly like or dislike any of them.
Dick Slepy, head of household, is extremely ordinary and particularly foolish for constantly urging the impossible:
"[He] thinks he can will himself a Dane and will his wife affectionate and will his children respectful, [and also] thinks demanding a perfect family, while snapping a photo of what looks like one, is the equivalent of having one."
Seena, on the other hand, is complex and ephemeral, like the angel of death herself, but she's equally out of touch with reality, and so even though Meldrum does fabulously at portraying her mother's perspective, I didn't know whether to have compassion or resentment for her. Seena's actions are the pivot point of the entire novel, and their repercussions will take away breaths, taint souls, smother goodness, stain lives, and stalk her forever; this in and of itself was fascinating to read, fascinating discover how small acts of selfishness and of passion could unravel and destroy what's left of everything.
Stylistically Amaryllis in Blueberry is profuse in description, but still frustratingly vague. While I liked the richness, I found Meldrum's prose too redundant and syrupy at times.
However, in terms of message and delivery, I was awed by the convoluted, conscious way in which the painful truths of the human heart are presented in the backdrop of Africa. The last few chapters will especially consumeand not to mention, confuseyou, so even thought it starts off sluggishly, I definitely recommend reading it until the very end.
Pros: Fantastic biblical allusions and references to Greek mythology // Gorgeous prose // Vivid, memorable, and well-expressed characters // Poignant, tender message about humanity and society
Cons: Flowery language that isn't as penetrating as it would like to be; I had to reread some sentences several times to get their meanings // Far-fetched attempt at imitating The Poisonwood Bible
Love: "... Envy is not green. And rage isn't red hot, and the blues have nothing to do with blue. Envy is more dust-colored, a transparent sort of gray. It quivers, like heat rising. Rage itself is not any shade of redit's not any color at all. It's a smell, a fried-up fish. Melancholy? The blues? Melancholy's more of a shimmer than any color. And it creeps: blues on the move."
Verdict:Christina Meldrum skillfully examines the exquisite human psyche by bringing to light the importanceand devastationof deception, hidden meaning, falsified untruths, and verified dismissals; this is what makes Amaryllis in Blueberry thought-provoking, strangely beautiful, and absolutely stirring. While some of the prose was a bit too lavish, and the idea of an ordinary American family meeting its ruin upon being caught up in Africa, unoriginal (Barbara Kingsolver ripoff, hello), in its essence, this book is a rare and startling glimpse at a tragedy turned extraordinary, brimming with perceptive truth and soul.
Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read; highly recommended.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by LibraryThing Member Reviews in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!).
I got up to Chapter 9 of The Amish Midwifeabout 100 pages of teeth gritting and eyelid droopingbefore I had to put it down. While there are some interesting aspects to midwifery I enjoyed discovering and some issues regarding Lexie's coming-to-terms with her discarded Mennonite faith, everything else about the actual story, the writing style, and the characters, was unsatisfactory.
I knew I couldn't like the main character the moment she first referred herself (emphasis on first, meaning she does it more than once) as the "handsome counterpart" to her "handsome boyfriend." Do people really talk about themselves like that? Not to mention the way she treats her so-called boyfriend, leaving him without closure just so she can aimlessly tread murky waters on the other side of the country on a matter on which she is entirely clueless. She can't seem to think of anyone but herself, and doesn't have a compassionate bone in her body. This all annoyed me; it's one thing for me not to be able to relate to Lexie, but to actually not like her is an entirely different story.
This book is classified as "romance," but let me tell you: if the romantic interest does not show his face by page 100, something is terribly wrong. I admit I haven't tried my hand at Amish romances before, but even for a religious storyline, I'd expect faster action or at least proper character introduction 1/4th of the way through. I didn't even get to the romance part of this story and I was still sick of it... big red flag.
There isn't much else I can say about this one. Nothing worth mentioning that I enjoyed; nothing interesting enough to keep me reading. I actually had to fight from falling asleep in more than one sitting while reading, which means there's a large problem beyond my sleep deprivation that made it really difficult for me to read The Amish Midwife, and that problem would be The Amish Midwife itself.
Pros: Realistic tone // Struggles with faith are well-captured
Cons: Painfully slow pace // Lexie is incredibly dislikable // Character interactions are detached and flat
Verdict: With an entirely self-absorbed and socially oblivious main character, a troubling so-called "romance" story structure, and a HUGE (read: not huge) family secret that lacks all of suspense, action, and intrigue, Clark and Gould's first installment in The Women of Lancaster County was a major letdown for me. Regulars to the genre may enjoy this one better because it does have its individual aspects, such as matters of Lexie's misplaced faith and her vocation, so if you've tried Amish romances before and have liked them, please don't let my review discourage you. As for me, The Amish Midwife has turned me away from all Amish fiction; I now know to stay away from this genre.
Rating: 2 out of 10 hearts (1 star): Not completely a lost cause, but could not finish; I did not enjoy this book.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!).
Anathema (Cloud Prophet Trilogy #1) by Megg Jensen
Page Count: 185
Release Date: 18 April, 2012 (newest edition)
Publisher: Dark Side Publishing (self-published)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!)
Megg Jensen triggers readers unto a dark, deceptive journey into the fantastical world of Keree in her exciting young adult debut, Anathema. Forbidden by her master, King Kandek, to go outdoors or even near windows without his direct supervision, slave girl Reychel starts off terribly naïve and terribly sheltered. Slave life is all she has ever known, and her impending fifteenth birthdaythe day she will be branded like an animal with Kandek's emblemwill mark her serving status officially. On the morning of, however, her best friend, Ivy, suddenly disappears, which twists every ounce of confidence she had into turmoil. For the first time, Reychel is completely alone, and she must face the excruciating pain and humiliation of the branding ceremony by herself.
The day of her fifteenth brings about stranger extremities, including a shady offer to be snuck away from Kandek's authoritarian rule. Once she flees from Kandek, however, she discovers everything in her life has been a lie, and realizes freedom does not necessarily come with escape from the kingdom. In order to fulfill a prophecythat still doesn't seem completely legitimateand save the innocents of Keree, Reychel must come to terms with her identity and learn who to trustbut more importantly, who not to.
I really enjoyed this thrilling, eventful story about manipulation, deceit, and true friendship. Reychel's voice as a young slave girl is very strong, thanks to Jensen's fast-paced, unrestricted style. While not masterful in tone, Jensen is swift, smooth, and gets the point across, which is all I'd ever ask for to begin with. The plot moves very quicklyI finished the book before I even realized!and the concept of the slave trade is compelling as well. I love the magical elements toolots of powers, such as telekinesis and soothsaying, going on.
No event is ever predictable in Anathema, except of course, the ending. I was disappointed by it because of how thrilling of a ride the rest of the book was in comparison. There's also a touch of romance in this one, but it's very plain, rather boring, and again, pretty predictable. The moment we are introduced to the hero, we know he will be the heroine's love interest, which is honestly not exciting. I think Anathema could have done fine without the so-called romance.
In terms of plot, there is continuous action and depth, but with characters, there is much lacking. There are way too many characters introduced in the progress of the book, but none of them are actually deeply probed, Reychel included. Even with her first-person narration, I feel like I still don't know her well, and felt no sympathy for her by the time I closed the book. Jensen does a fabulous job at making her characters likable or dislikable, depending on their roles, but none of them really pop up from the pages. This weak characterization distinctly affects Reychel's portrayal, which I didn't care for. The author tries very hard to depict her as noble, brave, and the "kind" heroine, but I just didn't click with her; there's something missing from her personality, which just doesn't make her seem appealing. Ditto with the supporting characters, except I didn't mind not liking them; I just would have liked to see stronger characterization from the narrator, at least.
Anathema is very chaste. The language is mild and the romance, even milder (SPOILER: absolutely no sex (booo!); the furthest the romance blooms, is one kiss). There are some violent scenes, but they certainly won't be scarring anybody anytime soon. It isn't the mild content that makes me see it this way; rather, it's the rather childish outcomes and immature characters. Like I've mentioned, the characters, including our protagonist, are underdeveloped, which makes them seem very foolish and juvenile at times. The plot does have its dangerous, deviant moments, but overall lots of scenarios or difficult to buy, with ideal results... very happy-go-lucky, which may annoy more mature readers. Considering the type of edgy young adult fiction written today, I would suggest this one for younger teenagers, maybe of ages 11-15.
Love: "Sounds easy enough." Tania snapped her fingers. "Hard would have been fine too."
Pros: Twists and turns are shocking // Plenty of secrets // Breathtaking climax // Heart-pounding mystery and suspense // Great young adult voice // Fast-paced plot // So much going on! // Enchanting magical elements // New concept of fantastical slave trade // Lovable (or equally heinous unlovable) supporting characters
Cons: Too chaste // Unrealistic situations // Unexplored characters; too many are introduced at once, but not really probed // Reychel, protagonist, while valiant, is unlikable // Unrealistic romance aspect that should have been left out // Overall very idealized; many outcomes are just best case scenario, rather than believable // Writing style isn't anything fancy // Stiff dialogue
Verdict: Anathema launches readers into a rich, intoxicating world full of magic and beauty, but also of injustice, deception, and lies. Overall very chaste in tone, but still containing glittering dark moments, this fresh fantasy novel is achieved in plot, but needs some attention on characters and character interaction. I enjoyed Anathema a lot, and recommended it for younger teens in for an electrifying, complex read.
Springtime in Bluffton, South Carolina heralds thirty-five-year-old Kate Vaughan's annual tradition of trying New Things. This spring, her pastwhich she's tried so hard to keep in place over the past decadewill come marvelously apart; her New Things will make everything change, and everything begin.
Composed of flashbacks of only the component parts of Kate's childhood and early adulthood that have led up to the present moment, And Then I Found You details the most determined, devastating decision a mother should ever have to make. These brief evocations slowly clarify her past, and are intermingled with her current conflicts with Rowanthe perfect boyfriend whom she still isn't completely satisfied withand with her inability to let go of what's already happened.
Without giving too much away, I will say I was awed by the plot, especially because it actually happened in the author's life, but was very disappointed by the story itself. Don't get me wrong; Henry's prose is elegant and coherent, but I just feel the book as a whole is kind of boring. Everything that happens isn't excitingat least not as exciting as the author tries to convey it as. She flits across the complexity of human emotion but doesn't exactly capture it, which is why I couldn't connect with this book, either.
My biggest issue however, is Kate. She's just really, really snobby and difficult to understand, or respect, for that matter. I adore all the characters around her, from her sisters to her best friends to her loversthey are really well createdbut she herself is really dislikable. Her mindset is incredibly selfish and stuck up; her mantra is "you don't know what I've experienced so get away from me and stop trying to sympathize with me." I know Henry was trying to convey the difficult emotional burden upon a mother who is forced to part with her child out of "selflessness," but she sacrificed Kate's character to do so. My detachment from and dislike of the protagonist soured the entire mood and perspective of the story.
I was proud at Kate's growth, though; throughout the book, she learns she needs to love herself before loving anyone else, and this is something to which all readers will be able to relate. Compassion, even through wistfulness, matters; you just have to be willing to freely give it.
Pros: Henry is an accomplished storyteller // Secondary characters are lovable // Fascinating premise // Kate's character development is clear
Cons: Highly dislikable protagonist // Style is decent, but really mediocre... very forgettable // Not that resonating // Predictable, unsatisfying ending // Rather dull and not suspenseful throughout
Love: "People talked about heartbreak, but in Kate's opinion, hearts don't break, they merely ache and throb until you learn to ignore that same heart all together."
Verdict: And Then I Found You wasn't as I good as I thought it would be. The plot revolving around a mother reuniting with her long-lost daughter seemed touching, but in the book, it just isn't portrayed very movingly. However, I am impressed with Patricia Callahan Henry's ability to craft a beautiful, feel-good story about self-actualization and self-discovery. The overarching message is quite affecting as well; this is a book about loss, and about findingboth those you love, and yourself.
6 out of 10 hearts (3 stars): Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, for the Itching for Books blog tour.
The Angel (The Original Sinners #2) by Tiffany Reisz
Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Publisher: MIRA (Harlequin)
Page Count: 410
Source: I received a complimentary ARC from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review, as part of the virtual book tour
What Stephanie Thinks: The first word that came to mind the moment I thought of how to start this review, was victim. Having read and worshipped the first book in this series, The Siren, I realized what it and The Angel have in common is that they both revolve around victims. Not victims in the most literal sense, but victims to, none other, but the Original Sinners. Which brings us to ask: who exactly are the Original Sinners? In Reisz's first book, the answer is unclear, but in this kinkier, more frustrating, and dare I say it... hotter sequel, the blurry lines are finally distinguished. Our Original Sinners are Nora, Søren, Griffin, Kingsley, Michael, and very possibly... the tenacious Wesley. But hush! ...you didn't hear it from me.
In The Siren, the victim was Zachary Easton, the one book editor who could really whip Nora into shape (her work, I mean!) and the one who unknowingly taught her a valuable lesson of love and trust. The Angel's victim happens to be rightfully intrusive reporter, Suzanne, who, like Zach, will change Nora Sutherlin's life forever, but concomitantly is just a passerby in the Sinners' lives, and will virtually never been seen or heard from again.
But before we get that hopeful, we've got hell and high water to trudge through first.
Suzanne's trying to peruse the one case that should be left alone: that is, Søren's position in the Catholic church. Oh, Søren. Terrifying, poised, perpetually sanctimonious, he's the small-town church's most respected priest, as well as the underground BDSM world's most revered Dom. He also happens to be Nora Sutherlin's lover. But again, shh...
A suspicious tipoff has Suzanne sprawling to get to the heart of the matter, but no one's going to make it easy for her, Søren included. As her investigation progresses, we learn of the overwhelming motives of why she's so desperate to persecute, as well as the more-frightening justifications of why the truth is so carefully hidden in the first place. But again, this is just the victim's story, the thematic narrative, the passing interference. The Sinners' story is much, much more complicated.
Under Søren's orders, Michael and Nora must hide out at trust-fund baby Griffin Fiske's luxurious palace of a home until Suzanne is convinced to leave. They can't be around while the reporter does her snooping; it's obvious she will expose Søren's lifestyle if she finds any incriminating evidence. Thus we embark on the intense, turbulent summer that begins in Griffin's mansion, composed of Michael's Sub training, as well as Griffin's road to adulthood... something he thought he'd never willingly face.
Nora and Griffin's fuckbuddies-and-best-friends relationship is explicit, entertaining, and very wicked; Michael, to say the least, is shocked, but more than intrigued. I love their dynamic, as well as Michael's initial reaction to and eventual credence for it. His character is probably the one that grows the most in The Angel, especially when he's officially appointed an Original Sinner. I was looking forward to lots of gore and submission regarding his Sub training, but there aren't many scenes. Most of them revolve around Michael coming to terms with his scars both physical and emotional and awakening in adolescent sexual discovery, but it's still all amazing. Even more phenomenal, is the effect Michael has on Griffin. With Michael, he's just... home. So proves Nora's theory that he's her Angel, that he's everyone's Angel. It's unquestionable; he's one of them.
The two stories Suzanne's frantic search and Michael's angelhood are intertwined perfectly, just so that there are always dire questions raised and is never a dull moment. Well-played, Tiffany Reisz, very well-played. Even when presented with resolutions, I remained scratching my head and pining for more. As expected, the wit, charm, and addictiveness of her literary voice command the tone of this novel. No complaints whatsoever; Reisz has struck gold again.
Nora's separation from Søren will, no doubt, be one of the most difficult periods in her life, but hey, if she survived five years away from him albeit tearing apart on the inside the entire time she can do a few months. It will force her to face the unvanquishable flame in the pit of her stomach for a certain sensation she's never known before called vanilla love. It will teach her a few things: the difference between true love and true respect, the irony of sacrilege versus sin, and the only way to cope with denial: to subvert it and confront those demons on her own. Certainly, this summer will change her life. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, but it depends on where her heart's been in the first place. Will facing her fears free her, or will they confuse her even more?
I said this for The Siren, and I'm going to say it again: if you are queasy at heart, if you are devotedly Christian/orthodox/vanilla/insipid, and if you like Happily Ever After's, do not pick up this book. Not only will the carnal content will destroy your sacrosanct mind, but it'll also leave scars and you in tears. We're talking casual sex, underage participants, abusive pasts, and even incest (yes, Reisz went there!) between these pages. So if that turns you off, back the f u c k away. You've been warned.
I think returning readers of the first book in the series will get the most out of The Angel, not only because of the recurring characters and themes, but also because of its newfound revelations. This sequel slowly, painfully, and sadistically answers the questions and divulges the hushed secrets that arose in the first book. It's definitely more agonizing, but all the more gratifying. Consider it a 400-page striptease. Dear Lord.
With the exception, of course, of The Siren, The Angel is far more powerful and captivating of a piece of erotic literature than I have ever known. It's equally astonishing, devastating, and foul, but all in different arenas as The Siren: whereas the first novel was heartbreaking, groundbreaking, the second is more adventurous, scarier, darker, more provocative. In the end, Reisz leaves us hanging onto the story of the one person who can make Nora Sutherlin weak on her knees... without a collar and without a cane, but she doesn't let on much, aside from the fact that Nora is finally giving her heart a break. Wesley doesn't make much of an appearance in this book, but he's the title character in the next book, The Prince, out in November. I will forever root for him and wait upon the book with every fiber of my being.
Radical Rating: 10 hearts - I'm speechless; this book is an extraordinarily amazingly wonderfully fantastically marvelous masterpiece.
When a father commits the ultimate act of hatred he could possibly inflict upon his own children, three-year-old Audrey is shoved into emotional turmoil, into an uncontrollable mess. The persistence of an atrocious memory plagues her with a lifetime of guilt and defeat, which strips her of what "life" should really be.
Composed of journal entries in lyrical verse spanning from 2006 to 2009 (during Roth's her middle adulthood), Arms Akimbo exposes readers to the rawest, cruelest emotions in childhood trauma's wake, unrestricted by the limitations and rules of prose. There are smatterings of explanatory paragraphs that show how poetry truly is the best platform for conveying emotions, but the majority of the memoir is poems. Poetry, we learn, is the best platform for passion, for rage; it is the ultimate release and ultimate relief, and eventually, the ultimate remedy. While the poems flow easilythe stream of consciousness isn't at all difficult to followI can't say they're of particular literary merit. Arms Akimbo isn't enjoyable because of the poetry; it's enjoyable because of the tragic story enfolded within. Similarly, for the prose sections, the sentences are choppy and disconnected, which may in fact be for poetic effect, but overall weaken the quality of the writing.
What I do commend is the way Roth weaves her painful past with tidbits of her renewed present including the parallel aspects of love, religion and her Jewish roots, motherhood, and a miserable separation. Her mind's disease gets worse when the past interferes with present struggles; just when she thought she'd healed, the ghosts return. This healing process essentially mimics the up-and-down roller-coaster of life: how the moment things start going smoothly, everything falls to pieces, and that's what makes it so relatable.
Roth's strength, resilience, and the absence of such in her childhood are what lead her journey of healing. She only wants that lost childhood back and to be able to love unconditionally and trust fully and move on, but even decades after her father's death, his demons still haunt her. Her four-year-long odyssey of not only healing, but also the granting of forgiveness through assurance, complete honesty, closure, imagination, determination, religious awakening, hindsight, prayer, and comfort from her family, help her finally bury those demons so she can rest in peace.
Speaking to herself, past self, sister, mother, father, God, daughter, and partner guides her unending search for reconciliation. Before long, Roth realizes that in order to fully achieve peace of mind, she first and foremost, needs to fully understandnot God, not her father, the perpetrator, butonly herself.
Pros: Powerful in message // Fast-paced // Explicit, raw, and unrestrained // Honest emotion and discovery conveyed effectively
Cons: Weak writing style // Should be chilling, but is stale
Verdict: An unthinkable act of crime and one woman's determination to overcome its devastating aftermath light the way of this distressing and heartbreaking memoir. While stylistically, I found Arms Akimbo to be rather unimaginative and trite, I am impressed with Roth's ability and courage to so brutally speak her mind and so honestly come to terms with herself. I've read better-written memoirs dealing with sexual and child abuse (for instance, The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison), so I'm slightly hesitant with this one. However, I believe every story is different and every story deserves to be told, so I simultaneously do not have many reservations with recommending Arms Akimbo, either
5/10 hearts: Doesn't particularly light any of my fires; I feel indifferent about this book
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via LibraryThing, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)
Ashton's Secret by Liana Laverentz
Release Date: May 28th, 2009
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Page Count: 250
Source: Directly from author for review
From the moment he'd caught her snooping on his property, Meghan Edwards knew Nicholas Hawkinson was the man she'd been looking for. But would this dark, secretive stranger help her solve the mystery of her sister's death?
Nicholas Hawkinson wanted nothing to do with the city-girl photographer who asked too many questions. Five years ago the people of Ashton had been all too quick to accuse him of murder. They still considered him the town's black sheep, a bad boy at best and a killer who got away with it at most. The smartest thing for both of them would be to never mention Heather again.
Her sister was dead, and Meghan knew it wasn't suicide. So did Nick. Whether he liked it or not, Ashton's most dangerous man was the only one who could help her now. And Meghan wasn't leaving until she'd unraveled this sleepy little town's secret -- or died trying.
What Stephanie Thinks: I absolutely love how Laverentz incorporates threatening suspense and jeopardy into her heartwarming romances. Ashton's Secret involves a tough love story because it isn't about two lovey-dovey people who fall for each other at first sight. In fact, Meghan Edwards, though attracted to the tall, dark, and handsome Nick when she meets him in an unfortunate snooping fiasco, hates his guts initially. He's impolite, he's disrespectful, and he just makes her feel like she's unwelcome in the small town of Ashton. Yet she knows he holds the key to her search to find out the truth about her little sister's death.
Which, she convinces herself, is the only reason she's putting up with his crap, the only reason she keeps coming back to Nick, as churlishly as he treats her. But is it really? Is her sister the only reason she's staying? In her subtle prying, in her attempt to get close to the man who may as well have been Heather's lover -- or even her murderer -- Meghan finds a deep, sensitive, and even loving side of Nick she wants to unravel further. And ever so slowly, he just might be letting her in. But Ashton has different plans.
I appreciate the twists and turns this book has, but find it to fall a little flat on the romance. Compared to Laverentz's other novels, this one doesn't give me that tingly swooping feeling I expect from her. Nick and Meghan squabble too much to really seem that in love, though their hot body language does indicate otherwise. Their relationship seems too quick and too unrealistic, but then again, I wouldn't point it out as the essence of this novel. I'd rather classify it as a suspense story because the mystery was definitely enough to keep me on edge the whole time.
Laverentz's writing style is still as clear and smooth as ever, another thing I really enjoyed. The plot is pretty straightforward and is really a puzzle -- which is a good thing! -- but the characters are hard to relate to. This one's a bit lengthy too, so I can't call it an easy breezy read, but I did like it overall. If mystery is more up your alley, as well as tough chicks and even tougher heroes, I'd definitely recommend this one for you.
Stephanie Loves: "His face remained expressionless, but his eyes filled with an unmistakable masculine glow that Meghan felt all the way down to her toes . . .
Bedroom eyes. The man was looking at her with bedroom eyes."
Radical Rating: 7 hearts- A few flaws here and there, but overall enjoyable.
Teresa Hamilton has only ever surmounted to one thing in her life: dancing. A recent knee injury risks not only her dance scholarship, but also the only passion she's ever known, the only future she's ever planned. But Tess, whom we first were introduced to as Cam Hamilton's resilient little sister in J. Lynn's Wait for You, is a big girl, which means she's going to do what she's always done: pick up the pieces of her life and carry on. This doesn't only mean, college; it also means taking the leap of faith by being honest with her feelings for Jase, who swears the two of them would never work.
The problem isn't that Jase is her brother's best friendafter all, it's Tess Jase is afraid of, not Cam; it's that Jase, despite his clear attraction to her, is unwilling to drag her down into anything serious. He has a dark past that never surfaces in his cool, calm nature, but Tess can just tell he has a story to tell, but reluctantly won't. And she'll be damned if he keeps leading her on, but avoiding confrontation.
When an impending problem, outside of Tess's control and radar, grows bigger and eventually implodes in a devastating turn of events, Tess learns that the things holding her backpride, schoolwork, fear of rejection, fear of never dancing againare the last things in the world that she should be worrying about, and that Jase, regardless of his quiet torment, is a good man who just needs to sort himself out.
The physicality of Tess and Jase's relationship is scorching hot, and their explosive encounters are interspersed with frustrating periods where Jase completely cuts off contact, or attempts to collect himself. His suave exterior shatters to pieces in her presence, but he can't afford to fall for her because he has too much baggage, too much going on in his life that she wouldn't understand. I absolutely hated how bipolar Jase was with his mixed signals; it really made me feel bad for Teresa. She is a bit of an emotional and hypersensitive character, but I totally understand why: Jase is infuriating! Teresa had every right to be naggy and needy when Jase treated her that way.
I still fell in love with Jase, though, which is a complex feeling in itself. He's such a well-developed character, who isn't composed solely of a few cardinal personality traits like Cam was in Wait for You; he actually has depth to him, intrigue. He's a stoic herothe charmingly self-possessed mature typewho's only uncharacteristically affectionate with Tess. I actually liked him much better than Cam; he's less two-dimensional and has more to him than just good looks.
Tess is much more likable than Avery too, although in this book's perspective, Avery is viewed as the gorgeous, altruistic good girlthe one who was able to tame Cam. It's not that I don't like this slant on her, but I just wish it would have been better portrayed in Wait for You. At times, Tess is annoyingly naïve, but that has a lot to do with her young age and inexperience, as well as the tough times she's been through, namely her abusive boyfriend from high school. I love how this pivot point of Wait for You is explored much more in Be With Me. The recurring characters, including Cam, Avery, Brittany, plus a few new likable secondary characters, were a pleasant surprise, as well.
The quality of the writing and the procession of the story are both noticeably better and much more compelling in Be With Me than in Wait for You, a tribute to the fact that this book was written under a Harper Collins contract (whereas the first book was initially self-published, then picked up to be reprinted due to its popularity). I'm not saying Armentrout couldn't have written this alone (obviously, she started out self-publishing and was wildly successful with that), but a good editor really does make a difference.
There still are some unbelievable cheesy moments in this book, but not as much as in Wait for You, so overall I enjoyed it much more. Not as many clichés and "coincidences", that's for sure; Be With Me actually had good plot elements, a level of unpredictability and uncertainty, and characters that I actually loved getting to know.
Pros: Liked this sequel much better than the first book // Teresa is a humble, relatable, cute characterlove her personality! // Jase will make your knees go weak // Chemistry is super hot! // Tess and Jase are a perfect couple // The roadblock of emotional unavailability is really well portrayed // Quirky, upbeat tone of voice that I love // Deals with grave issues maturely
Cons: Relationship seems very cheesy and a bit abrupt at times // Jase's mixed signals made me want to slap him in the face! // Story is great, but writing style is a bit amateur... however, it's still a huge improvement from Wait for You
Verdict: "It's complicated." In an emotionally turbulent and heart-wrenching sequel to the ever-popular Wait for You, Teresa and Jase muster up the mutual courage to love, and learn to find a home in each other along the way. Fans of the first book will go wild with Jase, the seemingly smooth-sailing, unreservedly charming new bad boy on the blockone with distress seared into his soul, but wouldn't ever dare to show itexcept to the one girl who brings him to his knees. J. Lynn brings us a novel about baggage, the uncertainty of the future, and the inescapability of the past, that I personally liked much better than the first book in the series. Be With Me is a captivating sequel about strength, resilience, and belonging to and giving yourself to someone wholly.
Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read that will be worth your while; highly recommended.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC!).
Mack and Susie share a solid, ever-loyal love that everyoneexcept for Mack and Susie themselvesseems to recognize. The onset and eventual defeat of an illness tests this exquisite bond, which exposes its rawest of vulnerabilities, yet at the same time, illuminates upon its unshakable strength. The entire town of Chesapeake Shores will stand by both their sides during the difficult period; many will questionwhile others will emphasizethe importance of faith and God's will. But when it comes down to things, what matters is that Mack and Susie fit perfectlyalways have, always will. And that alone, they know, will get them through it all.
Beach Lane is highly emotional rather than romantic. There's lots of future-planning and emphasis on family matters... reading this book was like watching a short Hallmark movie. It's a quick, enjoyable read with lots of depth within the characters and honest, well-portrayed emotions. Overall, it's chaste and sweethardly a romance, and more a family novel.
There's a cast of marvelous, strong secondary characters, which indicates they were or will be fantastic foundations for their own stories in past and upcoming books in the series. Although Beach Lane is the seventh Woods novel to take place in Chesapeake Shores, it serves fine as a standalone novel; I hadn't read any of the previous installments, and still had no problem keeping up. You can tell with how involved all the characters are with each other, that they each have their own backstories and own lives and loves, which is what makes the intricacy of such interpersonal relationshipsand in just one small town, at that!all the more magical.
This was really an undemanding read, perfect for a brief contemporary escape with an east coast beach setting (guaranteeing a gorgeous view and the lingering scent of salt in the air). The story moved me, but in the end, was pretty unmemorable. There's nothing I adored and nothing I hated; it was just an effortless story I breezed over. I did, however, find it it extremely weird how the entire extended O'Brien family meddles in Susie's dating life, as well as in the lives of others. I know this book is strong on family values, but how realistic is it that an entire townno matter how smallwould stick it nose into such personal matters? Sherryl Woods overdid that aspect a little.
Pros: Effortless stylesuch smooth storytelling! // Deep, grounded, and balanced main characters // Fabulous and likable secondary characters // Clean, chaste romance // One of those books that makes you feel warm and well-loved
Cons: Painfully predictable // No chemistry in the romance since the Susie and Mack have feelings for each other from the beginning // Super-intimate family dynamic that I found weird // A bit too corny for my liking
Love: "It seemed [he] had the ability to rob her of common sense, reason, logicall of those things on which she prided herself. And that made him not only the most inappropriate man she'd ever dated, but the most dangerous."
Verdict: While buoyant in tone, Beach Lane tackles a serious terminal illness that gives it a melancholy feel to it throughout; however, once Susie overcomes her fears and learns to just live her life, there is nothing but triumph. Full of hope and light, Sherryl Woods's seventh book in the Chesapeake Shores series is about believing in yourself and believing in love even in the hardest of timesperfect for all you happily-ever-after fans.
Rating: 7 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): Not perfect, but overall enjoyable.
Source: Complimentary ARC provided by Romance Novel News in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Carolyn!).
Behind the Lies is Zach's story; Zach, the third oldest Montgomery brother: a man of honor who doesn't always do what he wants... just the thing that's right. He happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Jenna Walters finally decides to make a run from her perilous lifeyoung son in tow; Zach's strange desire to help the beautiful, troubled woman out, brings the two lostand nearly hopelesscharacters together, which just may change both of their lives forever.
The characters are so well portrayed and complexdefinitely one of the highlights of this novel. Readers will fall in love with Zach as they discover that as solitary as he is, he deserves greater care and more love than he will accept. He doesn't show it, but he feels deeply; this giftor cursemakes him a good actor but brings him hurt even he cannot recognize and that most do not even begin to understand.
Jenna has never been exposed to this kind of honorable male figure before. In the midst of escaping her past, her abusive marriage, and herself, she is both shell-shocked, and completely disoriented, that such a kind, honest, person would be willing to help save her and her son's lives. But her surprisingly strong instincts tell her Zach is more than a renown actor, more than a pretty facehe's hiding something from her, too. Could he just be another liar?
Perini's grasp of the pen is intelligent, articulate, and forms a great story but I don't think it's particularly affecting. I love how her fiction always has confidential government and military aspects, though. She expertly captures the deadliness of lies and the helplessness of someone forced to be acquainted with crime when there's nowhere left to run.
Behind the Lies connects characters from the first book into its story seamlessly, but still makes for a great stand-alone novel. I got a warm, tingly feeling revisiting the cast I was familiar with from In Her Sights. The loyalty and strength between the Montgomery brothers especially made my heart soar. I was also pleasantly surprised by how the book picks up on lingering family mystery, which isn't revealed, but heavily hinted on. Definitely something to look forward for in the next book.
One thing I wasn't fond of is the unrealistic scenario; I just can't grasp how such an emotionally detached and legally coveted character like Zach would suddenly risk all to help a random woman especially when he's got more pressing matters at hand. I really liked everything else, though, from the sizzling chemistry to the heartbreaking personal development.
Pros: Fabulous characterization // The Montgomery brothers........ // Pitch-perfect suspense and emotion // Super sexy romance!
Cons: Stylistically plain // Starts off slow // Unrealistic situation holistically... the individual scenes are so real and raw, but the entire way Zach and Jenna meet and stay together seems a little forced
Love: Jenna stepped to the stove, peering into the simmering pot. "So, a man who can cook, too? Are there any more surprises?"
Zach gave her a wicked wink. "None with a G rating."
Verdict: I enjoyed Behind the Lies, the second installment in the Montgomery Justice series much more than I did the first. The emotional turmoil and the hot attraction between Jenna and Zach definitely hit home. Robin Perini knows what she's doing, spinning a roller coaster ride of a romantic suspense about two fallen souls finding each other. I'm looking forward to trying the next book, for sure.
Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (3 stars): An engaging read; highly recommended.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Book Monster Promotions, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, as part of the Behind the Lies virtual book tour.
Bel Air by Katherine Stone
Release Date: June 28th, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace (originally issued by Zebra in 1990)
Page Count: 372
Source: Directly from author for review
All that glitters is not gold...
Sometimes it is love.
Bel Air, California, where even the rich and famous marvel at the splendor of their surroundings. It is here, in the lush, sun-bright hills of Hollywood, that Allison, Winter, and Emily search for the courage to dream, to trust, to love.
But there are dark secrets and hidden betrayals that must first be overcome.
A terrible accident has stolen Allison Fitzgerald's dreams, and it has taught her that life is too precious and too fragile to waste. So when she meets a man who evokes a passion in her that she has never known before, she surrenders to his love without questioning his secretive past.
Gifted and beautiful actress Winter Carlyle has learned from painful experience that the people she loves always leave her, and that it is far too dangerous to care, and that she is only liked when she is pretending to be someone she is not. Still, she is willing to risk everything for the doctor who sees beyond the pretense... but is he willing to risk everything for her?
Emily Rousseau only feels safe, only feels free, when she is behind the lens of her camera, safe and free from the men who want her, and want to hurt her. The portraits she takes are works of art, and there is one man, unlike any other man she has ever known, who sees not only the talent in her work, but the loveliness in her. But can she accept the love and face that demons that will free her from her past?
What Stephanie Thinks: Bel Air is everything I want and expect in a sweet romance, with lovely and flawed, yet beautiful characters, an exhilarating ambiance, and a twisted (though eventually resolved) storyline. Stone brings each of her protagonists -- both male and female -- to life by portraying and delving deeply into their pain and pasts, of their loves and longings. I think every reader will be able to relate to, on some level, how intricately hurt each of them are in their own way.
More than the characters, is the stylistic ease and flavor Stone writes with. I can tell her words are penned carefully and thoughtfully, stringing together to produce delicate, sensory prose. To me, the plot was so-so and very foreseen, but the author's technique made each sentence an awing and impressive read.
Overall I don't think this is my ideal romance novel. Keep in mind, it was written some-twenty years ago, but it's definitely outdated, lacking the necessary suspense and just that 'hook' modern fiction has. The plot certainly has its strengths -- skirting on topics such as recovering bodies and recovering hearts, bitter reminiscences and bitter ex-flames, betrayal, death, as well as a discovery of abuse, and emotional trauma -- all stuff that could potentially have been considered 'dramatic' and edge-of-your-seat worthy back in the day, but cannot be said any longer. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the book, but I just don't think it was anything phenomenal of a narrative either.
The characters' motives and the outcome of the plot were inevitable, so there was nothing really that made me hang on to the words on the pages (aside from the gorgeous and elaborate fluidity of style). I didn't have to guess anything, so the end of the book really just felt oomph. I feel I didn't necessarily get anything out of it.
I definitely think some of you will enjoy it more than I did, though; it's simply not keen on my tastes. While the typical predictable 'clean' romance is usually not my thing, I can say Bel Air is a beautifully-woven, affectionate novel about love and light to be cherished and reminded of, when the good gets going and the going gets tough.
Stephanie Loves: "'Emily, please don't go.'
'Rob, why not?'
'I'm afraid you won't come back.'
Her obvious surprise reassured him a little.
'With all the collateral you have?'
'What collateral?' he asked. The ring, which you do not want? The flannel nightgown? 'What, Emily? Are you leaving your camera?'
'No,' she said softly. 'I am leaving my heart.'"
Radical Rating: 6 hearts-Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back.
Belonging (Where the Heart Lives #1) by Robin Lee Hatcher
Page Count: 277
Release Date: 23 August 2011
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!!)
Review: At ten, Felicia Brennan Kristofferson was orphaned; at twenty-six, she was orphaned for the second time. The deaths of her adoptive parents leaves her completely independentsave the malicious "cousin" who wants her to marry into the Kristofferson family to face the fate of inevitable domestic houselifeso the teaching job that brings her to Frenchman's Bluff, Idaho, is a havena godsend.
The small, close-knit town welcomes Felicia with open arms, but there are a few who underestimate and actually disapprove of her position. Their suspicions are not without reason, however; the previous two schoolteachers each stayed less than one year each, before marrying off and ditching the children completely, so some parents are concerned she just may be taking advantage of the job, as the others did.
Felicia's incredible dedication to her career, her students, and to God, however, proves that she only has one motive to be in Frenchman's Bluff, and that is to serve the Lord and the children. Her heart contains nothing pureness, and maybe a few nostalgic bruises; she is determined to take this fresh start and make it right. I was amazed at how well and how deeply her character is explored. All of the characters are remarkably well-developed, secondary characters included. I loved the good guys and hated the bad; Hatcher makes it very easy to tap into the minds of each cast member, from the main character, to the antagonist, which I know is not an easy feat in and of itself.
The plot is tasteful and well-crafted, incorporating bits of Christian values smoothly. The storyline is not terribly exciting, but it's planned perfectly, and mighty clever. The development of Felicia's relationships with all the townspeople, as well as with Colin and Charity, is a real treat. While I did like how the inspirational messages weren't forced, I did feel sometimes the book was unreasonably preachy. Felicia silently prays or makes a plea to God at every ill thought and every remote turn in plan; not only is this slightly annoying, but it's also unnecessary. As a character, she's irritatingly sensitive; she tears up at every reminder of her past. I know it's sad, and I know she's a fragile woman, but that kind of behavior is girly (in a bad way) and weak. I would have liked to have seen more strength from Feliciathe kind of strength acquired over ten years, of overcoming the heartbreak of being torn apart from family at a young age. Colin's character is a bit more relatable; he too, has an upsetting past, but his safe, widowed, day-to-day life is his own way of recovery. His dedication to his daughter, especially, is incredibly real and hits close to home.
Stylistically, Hatcher is a gem. Her words flow smoothly and beautifully. The procession of the story moves seamlessly; I didn't have to plod through it at all! One thing that did irk me was the curtness of the dialogue: lots of one-worded responses from not just one, but all of the characters. Maybe this was the norm in 1897, but to me, it just sounds unwelcoming. The deep probing ofthe scars, fears, and secrets ofeach of the characters' minds makes up for it, though. I really have no complaints on how Hatcher chose to portray her characters fully.
I cannot confidently classify this as a romance novel. In the traditional sense, yes, it's a romance in that boy meets girl on the first page and boy gets girl by the last, but it's rather unorthodox. There is no attractionin fact, there is unattractionuntil about halfway throughout. Then small, totally non-sexual, tingly feelings rise in Colin and Felicia's stomachs whenever they see each othermore than a several timesand then they abruptly SPOILER get married and live happily ever after. I will say their relationship is complex, especially with Colin's initial reservations and Felicia's interaction with his young daughter, but it just didn't seem at all romantic to me. It bothered me that Colin's character is compromised when it is revealed that he never was in love with his wife. He loved her, of course, and is still grieving her death, but his marriage to her is described as "practical." I feel this is uncharacteristic and was only included so that his relationship could further with Felicia. Again, this makes the so-called romance unrealistic and a bit stilted. For a content advisory, there isn't one; the romance is 100% chaste (absolutely no sex, absolutely no physical interaction except at the endin hindsight, this may be why I didn't enjoy it as much) because it sticks to traditional 19th century Christian values.
The power of staying faithful to God and leading life with a pure, wholesome outlook prove to be the key to happiness in Belonging. Through Felicia, readers understand and rejoice because, no matter what troubles and turmoils arise, God always saves and protects. Accidents will occur, plans will be ruined, and people will try to get in the way, but in the end, maintaining a loving, kind heart is what makes individuals truly belong.
Pros: Amazing character development // Easy, smooth flow to story; book moves and finishes quickly // Well-penned writing style // Colin and Felicia have a strong rapport, though not necessarily a romance // Strong morals on family and love // Believable situations and characters // Not too dense with historical information; fictional town and setting actually quite charming
Cons: Slightly preachy in religious message // Felicia is pathetic at times // Romance is poorly developed // Dialogue sometimes unrealistic and lacks emotion
Love: Kathleen could scarcely believe those words had come out of her mouth ... She must be losing her mind.
Or perhaps she was beginning to find it.
Verdict: Belonging is a clean, gorgeously-crafted Christian historical that encompasses an absenceand a discoveryof belonging, a passion for God, and a huge misunderstanding, or rather: several small misunderstandings that constitute for one conflict of fate. By demonstrating the importance of determination, dedication, and faith, Belonging conveys the almighty power of lovefor God, for family, and for oneself through one woman's search for a place to belong. The religious undertone is strong, and the characterization, stronger; Hatcher has succeeded in telling an inspirational, absorbing, and completely feel-good story.
Beneath the Surface by Joya Fields
Release Date: December 15th, 2011
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Page Count: 242
Source: From the author, via Innovative Online Book Tours for review, as part of the Beneath the Surface book tour
She's fighting to stay independent he's determined to protect her no matter what...
Brooke Richards survived the earthquake that took her parents and most of her leg, but she needs time to regroup. A trip to Florida for a state-of-the-art prosthesis and to visit her best friend Linda seems ideal. But the trip turns traumatic when Brooke witnesses Linda's boat disintegrating in a fiery explosion. Police Officer Garrett Ciavello believes the blast was intentionally set to hide something Linda found on a dive. When Brooke offers her expertise in underwater archeology, Garrett accepts her help with the investigation. But since his fiancée's death years ago, Garrett has become overprotective, and as they are drawn to each other, Garrett realizes he will risk anything to keep Brooke safe.
Brooke is fiercely independent. Garrett is fiercely protective. Will they heal each other's wounds and find a killer.. .before it's too late?
What Stephanie Thinks: Ever since the accident that took most of Brooke's leg, as well as all of her trust, all of her security, away, Brooke's been cautious to take risks. Risks including anything outside of her now-smooth, now-bland life, as well as risks regarding relationships and men. Which is why when she meets sexy alpha-male police officer Garrett, she shoves the attraction away, swallows it like sour bile. She can't fall for a guy like him. She has better things to focus on.
Such as the fact that she's positive someone intentionally rigged a boat she and her best friends were on because of the mysterious metal box they had discovered in the ocean. The detectives are skeptical, but she has no other way to explain it. She's been on her haunches lately, with a sickening feeling that she's being watched, but has no proof not yet. She needs to find that box, as well as the person who wants to keep her away from it, as soon as possible.
Garrett is more than willing to help, but of course, she pushes him away. She's strong, she's independent. She doesn't need him. Yet somehow, after a period of one week.... they fall in love? Say what. Garrett and Brooke's relationship confuses me very deeply. She isn't that vulnerable and Garrett really isn't THAT charming. But for some reason she throws all her principles away and herself onto this hot policeman. Yeah. Believable.
The dialogue and sequence of events really don't make sense to me either. I mean, they make sense logically, in terms that they flow well and are clearly portrayed, but not realistically. I'm not just talking about the blooming romance, which, might I say, has no chemistry whatsoever. I'm talking about the entire mystery as a whole. The process of finding the murderer seems very unprofessional, very lucky (as Brooke escapes murder attempts numerous times... is she really that smart, or is the villain just that dumb?) and I can't say it was intriguing at all.
I liked the storyline of brooding hero saves reluctant and heartbroken marine biologist, but was disappointed by the choppy, awkward, and highly unrealistic depiction. Fields can write a story, but not so much a story that is enjoyable. Nothing had me wanting to read more, nothing made me tingle nor induced any strong emotion in any way. It's a fairly short read (but it wasn't fast-paced for me. It dragged on a lot!) so if you'd like to give it a try, sure, but don't expect too much of it.
Stephanie Loves: "Right now, he wanted her here for himself, wanted her soft curves and firecracker personality close to him." firecracker personality! I love that.
Radical Rating: 6 hearts-Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back.