January 3, 2017

Top 9 2017 Debuts

Top 9 2017 Debuts

Can you believe 2017 is already here? It’s hard to believe that only a month ago, we were completing our 2016 book surveys and buying Christmas gifts!

If you’re behind (like me), don’t worry. Add these top 2017 book debuts to your TBR today to make sure you’re on top of the great new books coming out this year!

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval (Caraval, #1)Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Pitched as the never-before-told origin story of the sea witch from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” told in the vein of Wicked – from the villainess’s point of view

Black Rose by Bree Barton

Bree Barton’s BLACK ROSE trilogy, pitched as Graceling meets Pride and Prejudice, about a girl who, on the eve of her marriage to a prince, discovers she has dark, forbidden magic, magic that her powerful family’s sole purpose was to destroy.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

WintersongBeware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Song of the CurrentCaroline Oresteia has always been destined for the river. Her father is a wherryman, as was her grandmother. All Caro needs is for the river god to whisper her name, and her fate is sealed. But at seventeen, Caro may be too late.

So when pirates burn ships and her father is arrested, Caro volunteers to transport a dangerous cargo in exchange for his release. Secretly, Caro hopes that by piloting her own wherry, the river god will finally speak her name.

But when the cargo becomes more than Caro expected, she finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies. With much more than her father’s life at stake, Caro must choose between the future she knows, and the one she never could have imagined.

This immersive fantasy debut set along the waterways of a magical world will entrance fans of Sabaa Tahir and Victoria Aveyard. Sarah Tolcser weaves an epic story of danger and destiny with enchanting world-building and captivating characters.

Heartstone by Elle Katherine White

HeartstoneThey say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

Shimmer and BurnTo save her sister’s life, Faris must smuggle magic into a plague-ridden neighboring kingdom in this exciting and dangerous start to a brand-new fantasy duology.

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King, #1)Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a reimagining of the evil queen from Snow White based on Asian folklore and mythology. In order to become Empress of Feng Lu, Xifeng must unleash a jealous god on the world and set free the viciousness of her own soul.

What debuts are on your must read list for this year? Share in the comments below!

Posted January 3, 2017 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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January 2, 2017

Review | Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Review | Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeThree Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Publisher: HarperTeen, September 2016
Pages: 398
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.
The last queen standing gets the crown. 

In Fennbirn, the island kingdom set apart from the rest of the world, the battle for the crown is a dangerous ritual. Every generation, a three sisters are born, destined to fight each other to the death for the honor of wearing the crown. But this year, with these sisters, things just aren’t going as planned.

The premise of Three Dark Crowns drew me in instantly. Hunger Games meets female Game of Thrones? Yes, please!

While the novel had all the necessary elements to create a YA fantasy battle of the royals, it dropped the ball. Why? The narration. Simply, it took too long for something to happen, and I found myself running out of both patience and sympathy for the three young women thrust into this destiny.

Despite each girl having her own unique brand of magic (nature, poison, and elements), their lives were remarkably similar. Each had friends who thought they were the absolute best, someone who hated them, and some twisted romance. Creating such similar plot lines did each character a major disservice: they quickly became hard to tell apart, and I started to not even try.

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Three Dark Crowns picked up in the last quarter of the book as each magical faction brought the sisters together at Beltane to showcase their talents. With tempers starting to run high, the pace of the narration finally began to turn. I loved the showcase sections, the love affairs brought to light or destroyed, and the way the sisters found unity with each other.

However, I didn’t realize Three Dark Crowns was a series. I had hoped for a stand alone novel and was looking forward to a neat tie-off in the end. Instead, the story concludes with a cliffhanger, one that I’m not entirely sure I want to read on to the finish.

3 Stars

Posted January 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 1, 2017

The 2016 End of Year Survey

There’s something so refreshing about the new year. Maybe not the resolutions – to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I kept one throughout the year – but the chance to start over, afresh, revitalized…[insert adjective here] grabs me every time.

After running myself ragged last year trying to keep up with the blog while balancing work (where I write 80% of the time), planning the wedding (where a simple DIY event became a much more involved ceremony), and my family and friends, I’ve decided to make some changes to how I view things. In short:

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Seriously. I found a gray hair from all the stress of this last year (or I’m putting the blame there at any rate 🙂 ). But there’s more about this coming later this week – I bet you’re here for the survey!

Every year Jamie at the Perpetual Page Turner puts together the annual End of Year Book Survey. All graphics and survey questions are hers. Click here to learn more or link up your survey!

And without any more ado…

 

Number Of Books You Read: 122
Number of Re-Reads: 2
Genre You Read The Most From: Romance/Fantasy

 

best-YA-books-2014

1. Best Book You Read In 2016?

I have a few:

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

The Widow by Fiona Barton (review soon!)

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

 5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

Ruthless (Lawless, #1)Series started: Ruthless by Lexi Blake (review soon!)

Sequel: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Series ender: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

Lisa Kleypas (how did I just discover her?!)

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

I stayed pretty close to my comfort zone (fantasy YA, fairy tale retellings, romance, mystery, and thrillers) this year.

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Empire of Storms, hands down.

 9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

Easy.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

11. Most memorable character of 2016?

The mermaid in Esther Dalseno’s Drown.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

  • Drown by Esther Dalseno
  • Salt to Sea by Ruth Sepetys
  • A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (review soon!)

13. Most ThThe Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randelought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?

Anything by Lisa Kleypas (again, how did I miss this?)

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?

“I am not worried, Harry, I am with you.” Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?

Shortest: The One You Want by Gena Showalter

Longest: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. MartinAfter the Woods by Kim  Savage

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

After the Woods by Kim Savage

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

I have to pick one?

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Naomi Carson and her brother, Mason in The Obsession. #familygoals

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

Book club pBlackhearts by Nicole Castromanick, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

Teach Drummond of Castroman’s Blackhearts

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Illuminae and Gemina, hands down.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot, the queen of feel-good chick lit.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?

Tie between Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Yes, even though I The Widow by Fiona Bartonknew what happened in the end.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

The Widow by Fiona Barton

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

GEMINA. OH MY GOSH.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann. Here’s why.

 

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. OA Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)ne Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

 

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?

Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman

3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?

The third Illuminae file installment and 6th Throne of Glass!

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2017?

To not be afraid to put a book down when it isn’t for me.

6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

None yet!

Posted January 1, 2017 by Ellen in monthly rewind / 1 Comment
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November 28, 2016

A brief hiatus

It’s that time of year again! Yes, the time of jingle bells, cheers, and cocktails, but also shorter days and longer to-do lists. In order to keep up with the holiday madness this year, I’m going to take a brief break from blogging.

Don’t worry – I’ll still be around. There’s a massive list of behind-the-scenes blog tasks that I’ve wanted to take care of ever since I moved from Blogger, and reviews that are waiting to be written! Leave me a comment or get in touch on Twitter! I’ll be posting sneak peeks of my #TBTBSanta gifts there!

Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and a little extra sprinkling of joy to you all. I’ll see you after the holidays!

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Posted November 28, 2016 by Ellen in the canon talks / 0 Comments
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November 8, 2016

This Just In! 9 New Books on my TBR

Top Ten Tuesday

I love fall. Sure, the caramel lattes are fabulous, the scenery stunning, and the ability to wear leggings 24/7 are major winners in my book. But the best thing about fall? The great new book releases!

Here are the latest nine books I’ve added to my TBR. Some are old stories, some are new books. What are you adding to your queue? Let me know below!
Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons (Rose Gardner Mystery, #2)Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons by Denise Grover Swank

After falling head over heels for Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes, I can’t wait to get my hands on the next Rose Gardner mystery (and learn the truth about Joe’s identity)!

 

 

 

 

Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club, #2)

 

Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare

A twist on Beauty and the Beast as a part of Clare’s Billionaire Boys Club series? Yes please!

 

 

 

Satisfaction (Lawless, #2)

 

Satisfaction by Lexi Blake

Contemporary romance at its best. I fell in love with Blake’s Ruthless (review coming soon!) and I can’t wait to get my hands on her next installment!

 

 

 

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Loved Benjamin’s past work, so when I found The Swans on the GoodReads Best Book of the Year nominations? I’m in!

 

 

 

The North Water

 

The North Water by Ian McGuire

I admit it – a novel aboard a whaling ship is way out of my league. But the mystery just looks so intriguing…

 

 

 

The Moon in the Palace (Empress of Bright Moon, #1)

 

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel

Another GoodReads find, this book also is outside of my comfort zone. Which is exactly why I want to read it.

 

 

A Gentleman in Moscow

 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Found on theSkimm one Friday, and after reading the blurb, I can’t wait to dive into Towles’ 1922 Moscow.

 

 

The Thirteenth Tale

 

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This book has just moved back to my TBR after an unsuccessful read attempt. It has such good reviews, I feel like I need to try it again…

 

 

The Friend Zone (Game On, #2)

 

The Friend Zone by Kristin Callihan

My new favorite contemporary sports author? Yes, please.

 

 

 

 

Posted November 8, 2016 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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November 7, 2016

Review | Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank

Review | Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover SwankTwenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank
Series: Rose Gardner Mystery #1
Publisher: Createspace, July 2011
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

For Rose Gardner, working at the DMV on a Friday afternoon is bad even before she sees a vision of herself dead. She's had plenty of visions, usually boring ones like someone's toilet's overflowed, but she's never seen one of herself before. When her overbearing momma winds up murdered on her sofa instead, two things are certain: There isn't enough hydrogen peroxide in the state of Arkansas to get that stain out, and Rose is the prime suspect.
Rose realizes she's wasted twenty-four years of living and makes a list on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt: twenty-eight things she wants to accomplish before her vision comes true. She's well on her way with the help of her next door neighbor Joe, who has no trouble teaching Rose the rules of drinking, but won't help with number fifteen-- do more with a man. Joe's new to town, but it doesn't take a vision for Rose to realize he's got plenty secrets of his own.
Somebody thinks Rose has something they want and they'll do anything to get it. Her house is broken into, someone else she knows is murdered, and suddenly, dying a virgin in the Fenton County jail isn't her biggest worry after all.
Winner of The Beacon 2010 Unpublished Division, Mainstream Category

Rose Gardner doesn’t want to make a fuss. She would rather go completely unnoticed, thank you very much. After living her twenty-four years with her overbearing, bossy mother, Rose finally loses her patience. Storming out of the house, Rose makes a list of 28 wishes, 28 things she wants to do before she dies. And since she just had a vision of her death, it’s time for Rose to strike out on her own. Unfortunately, the very day Rose declares her independence, her controlling mother is found dead…and all fingers are pointing at Rose.

Rose is, without a doubt, one of the most naive characters I’ve come across, but it worked for her. She’s sweet, innocent, and the highlight of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. Her character journey, from a young, innocent 24-year-old girl to a slightly-less-innocent but more independent woman is the star of the story. I loved her. Her gentleness and sweet nature creates her problems, but also gives her allies. It was a perfect balance, only going into overly sweet every once in a while.

I accidentally picked up Thirty-Five and a Half Conspiracies from the library a few weeks ago, not knowing it was part of a series, so I had a clue that the hunky next-door neighbor Joe McAllister wasn’t what he seemed. But, oh, I loved every damn scene that he was in. There was something so obviously off about him (his secrecy, his intimate knowledge of Rose’s murder case, and his middle-of-the-night activities) but his sweetness and obvious attraction to Rose made me rush to the end to make sure they had a happily-ever-after.

The romance of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes is a winner in my book. Soft and sweet, but tense and hot, it quickly won me over, despite Joe’s secrecy. It brought me into Rose’s world, and I can’t wait to return in Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons.

4 Stars

Posted November 7, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 28, 2016

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa JamesThe Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
Series: Fairy Tales, #3
Publisher: Avon, December 2011
Pages: 367
Format: Paperback
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Destiny will be decided between the sheets in this all-new tale of The Princess and the Pea.
For Olivia Lytton, betrothal to the Duke of Canterwick—hardly a Prince Charming—feels more like a curse than a happily-ever-after. At least his noble status will help her sister, Georgiana, secure an engagement with the brooding, handsome Tarquin, Duke of Sconce, a perfect match for her in every way . . . every way but one. Tarquin has fallen in love with Olivia. Quin never puts passion before reason. And reason says that Georgiana is his ideal bride. But the sensual, fiery, strong-willed Olivia ignites an unknown longing in him—a desire they are both powerless to resist. When a scandalous affair begins, they risk losing everything—Olivia's engagement, her sister's friendship, and their own fragile love. Only one thing can save them—and it awaits in the bedroom, where a magnificent mattress holds life-changing answers to the greatest romantic riddle of all.

I’m not sure how I feel about The Duke is Mine. After falling for James’ other installments in the series, I was ready to love Olivia and her duke’s story. That isn’t quite what happened.

The other novels in the Fairy Tale series started with a bang, but The Duke is Mine took a long time to start. A long time. After reading page after page of dialogue between Olivia and her twin sister, Georgiana, I felt my interest waning. Then at Quin’s lackluster introduction to the story, I checked GoodReads to see if this installment was a dud. Surprisingly, reviewers raved about it. So I kept reading.

Although I am glad I kept reading, I wished The Duke is Mine picked up the pace much earlier. Until Olivia and Georgiana arrive at Quin’s home for his mother’s marriage competition (what else to call it?), the story slogged. It’s at Quin’s family home that both he and Olivia come alive.

All this said I loved Olivia’s feisty nature. She is stubborn as a mule but luckily more charming. Standing up to Quin’s mother, especially when she made no qualm about her perception of Olivia and her fiancee, must have been difficult, but she did it without a second thought. Her ability to find the fun in life was a quality lacking in not only Quin but society as a whole at the time.

Quin, on the other hand, needed to come alive much earlier to make a lasting impact. He was stuffy, aloof, and a little cold. Thankfully, James switches the narration between the two of them, giving us a chance to remember why we’re cheering for him. As his story comes out, it’s easier to see his kind, protective nature, but it would have been nice to have some explanation for his attitude earlier on.

My other issue with The Duke is Mine is the cheating. Olivia is engaged to another man. Quin’s mother has all but announced his betrothal to Olivia’s sister. It made it hard to hope for their romance when they were potentially hurting so many other people. I liked how James handled part of the situation, but View Spoiler ».

The romance was there, creating tension and atmosphere throughout the book. There were moments I loved and others I didn’t. The Duke is Mine might not have been my favorite of the series, but I enjoyed the rest.

3 Stars

Posted October 28, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 20, 2016

Review | O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton

Review | O is for Outlaw by Sue GraftonO is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #15
Publisher: Ballantine Books, January 2001
Pages: 354
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Through fourteen books, fans have been fed short rations when it comes to Kinsey Millhone's past: a morsel here, a dollop there. We know of the aunt who raised her, the second husband who left her, the long-lost family up the California coast. But husband number one remained a blip on the screen until now.
The call comes on a Monday morning from a guy who scavenges defaulted storage units at auction. Last week he bought a stack. They had stuff in them—Kinsey stuff. For thirty bucks, he'll sell her the lot. Kinsey's never been one for personal possessions, but curiosity wins out and she hands over a twenty (she may be curious but she loves a bargain). What she finds amid childhood memorabilia is an old undelivered letter.
It will force her to reexamine her beliefs about the breakup of that first marriage, about the honor of that first husband, about an old unsolved murder. It will put her life in the gravest peril."O" Is for Outlaw: Kinsey's fifteenth adventure into the dark side of human nature.

Oh, Kinsey.

O is for Outlaw might have broken her heart. And mine.

As I put this book down, I remembered writing how I wished Kinsey showed more of herself in the novels, letting us as readers get to know her better. I got my wish.

Kinsey Millhone was married twice (and prefers to be single, thank you very much). We met her second husband in E is for Evidence, but her first is rarely mentioned…until we get to O. In Outlaw, Kinsey finally reveals their relationship when news arrives that Mickey Magruder, the pointedly-ignored first husband, has been shot and is in a coma in Los Angeles.

I’ve always wondered at Kinsey’s determined lack of information about her relationship with Mickey and her reaction to his condition solidified my theory: he was her first love. You know, that one we’re always slightly irrational about, even years later? Mickey Magruder, a paranoid vice cop a decade her senior, was the guy who broke Kinsey Millhone’s heart.

Being Kinsey, she can’t help but start investigating, despite the investigating cops’ warnings. She unravels the life of a serial playboy, a man destroyed, and an addict in recovery. In discovering so much about Mickey’s current life, she understands his past a little better and finally comes to terms with their relationship. But it’s the last scene that had me sniffling back tears.

The mystery in O for Outlaw was up to par, and Kinsey’s snooping nature brought light into an otherwise emotionally heavy story. The difference? Mickey’s shooting rocked her to her core, so her typical unbiased perspective was deeply slanted.

I wanted to know more about the characters, their situations, and their relationship to her, but there was only so much room in the book. Still, O is for Outlaw was a surprisingly intense story, one that I’m thrilled finally was told.

4 Stars

Posted October 20, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 17, 2016

Review | The Game Plan by Kristin Callihan

Review | The Game Plan by Kristin CallihanThe Game Plan by Kristen Callihan
Series: Game On
Publisher: NLA Digital LLC, November 2015
Pages: 331
Format: Ebook
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

A beard-related dare and one hot-as-hell kiss changes everything.
NFL center Ethan Dexter’s focus has always been on playing football and little else. Except when it comes to one particular woman. The lovely Fiona Mackenzie might not care about his fame, but she’s also never looked at him as anything more than one of her brother-in-law’s best friend. That ends now.
Fi doesn’t know what to make of Dex. The bearded, tattooed, mountain of man-muscle looks more like a biker than a football player. Rumor has it he’s a virgin, but she finds that hard to believe. Because from the moment he decides to turn his quiet intensity on her she’s left weak at the knees and aching to see his famous control fully unleashed.
Dex is looking for a forever girl, but they live vastly different lives in separate cities. Fi ought to guard her heart and walk away. But Dex has upped his game and is using all his considerable charm to convince Fi he's her forever man.
Game On

I forget how much I love sports-centered romances until I get my hands on one. Ever since Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Lady Be Good, I’ve been hooked on them. There’s an intensity about professional athletes, a passion that fits in perfectly with the plots of today’s contemporary romances. Kristen Callihan’s The Game Plan is no exception.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about Dex, but the more time we spent in his head, the more I loved him. Despite the aggression required for his job, he has a quiet intensity about him that draws you. He’s a man of secrets, rare smiles, and an incredibly gentle heart. The contrast was borderline hypnotizing. I loved the quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) passion that ruled him, whether it was about Fiona or football. He was the fairy tale prince we all hope will arrive on our doorstep one day, but with enough flaws that he wasn’t unreachable.

In contrast to Dex’s romantic nature, Fiona is a pragmatist. She’s honest (except when it comes to her job) and doesn’t have a problem saying what’s on her mind (again…that job). I liked her realism and how her heart warred with it: despite knowing a long distance relationship with a famous football player might not work out, she never entirely gives up.

My only issue with Fiona was how she acted in – you guessed it – her job. See, Dex falls in love with her for her almost brutal honesty, but when it doesn’t transfer to her professional life, it felt off. How would a girl, so vocal about everything else, roll over in her particular situation?

The plot’s tension was tangible. I found myself running back to the office from my lunch break after getting hooked into the story. The Game Plan had this sweet yearning, born first of secret love, then a long-distance relationship. Even after it evolves from that (sorry, no spoilers), the yearning is still there, the search to find an authentic connection. That’s the magic of Callihan’s story: even when the characters should have everything finally go right, someone throws a monkey wrench, messing it up in the best way possible.

4 Stars

Posted October 17, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 15, 2016

Review | The Reader by Traci Chee

Review | The Reader by Traci CheeThe Reader by Traci Chee
Series: Sea of Ink and Gold, #1
Publisher: Putnam, September 2016
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.
Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

I wanted so badly to love The Reader. I always want to like debut novels, since I can only imagine the heart and soul that goes into each word. But Chee’s debut wasn’t for me,

Why? I was bored. The flashbacks were fun reads, but the action in the present didn’t grab me. I felt my mind wandering when Sefia’s aunt Nin was kidnapped, when she follows her trail on a rescue mission, even as she starts to learn to read. There wasn’t enough of Sefia to grab my attention.

I mentioned the flashbacks: those are the winners in the first pages. The heartbreaking narrative as Sefia discovers she’s an orphan, the numbness as she moves through the predetermined route to safety. It was stunning, but not enough to make up for the lack of character in the present Sefia.

I loved the introductory pages as Chee weaves a mythical, almost hypnotic description of a world without books, without readers. It felt engaging, fascinating. But The Reader didn’t live up to this narrative promise. It didn’t have that vibrancy, that urgency Sefia must have felt when she took off after her aunt. It didn’t leave my heart pounding, my mind frantic to find out just what the hell was going on.

The Reader isn’t bad, per se…it just isn’t all the way there. Without the urgency, the emotions, or a powerful protagonist, it fell flat. And after 50 pages, I didn’t want to go on.

 Stars

Posted October 15, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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