Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review: What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton

Title: What Happens Next
Author: Colleen Clayton
Publication date: October 9th 2012
Publisher: Poppy (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)
My rating: 5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
How can you talk about something you can’t remember?

Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still...), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect... or so she thinks.

Witty and poignant, Colleen Clayton’s stunning debut is a story about moving on after the unthinkable happens.

It’s really difficult for me to write a proper review on a book I’ve loved so much. I found myself at a loss for the words, drowning among emotions and thoughts. Though I'm sure I can’t do this amazing book any justice, I’ll try to write my thoughts.

What Happens Next is one of those books that lingers long after you turned the last page. I’ve read several books about rape, but it’s the first one dealing with date rape drugs. Sid couldn’t remember what happened that night. She remembers school ski-trip, how she met Dax Windsor and spent an entire day with him. He is older, handsome and seems to like Sid. She remembers him inviting her to the party and how she sneaked out to go there. But when she went to his house there is no party, just him. She remembers him inviting into the house. But after – nothing. And in some ways it is worse than remember.

Back at home Sid tries to cope with what happened with her. There is her eating disorder; her obsessive running and her insomnia, how she feels uncomfortable in her body and fears men’s attention. Sid pushes away her friends, she can’t confide in her mother, she is surrounded by school rumors about her rebellious sexy ski-trip and she is completely alone. Then she is paired with the school “stoner” Corey and slowly they form an unlikely friendship.

Romance is slow-build and very sweet. I also appreciate that Corey wasn’t the main reason that Sid was able to move on. He supported her, as well as her family and friends helped her, but in the end it was Sid herself who find her strength.

Corey is a wonderful love interest. Among all those jerks in YA he really stands out. Corey is such a nice guy, he is caring, kind. He is not perfect and he has his own family problems, but he is there for Sid, supporting, not pushing her if she is not ready.

There are also great second characters in this book: Sid’s best friends Kristen and Paige, her mother and little brother. They all are so real and I like how close she was to these people.

What Happens Next is a heartbreaking and powerful book. Though it deals with such tough topic as rape at a core What Happens Next is a very moving and filled with hope story. It’s not one of those gut-wrenching, painful and filled with raw emotions books. Yes, I cried; yes, I felt for Sid; it was like I went through her dealing with the rape with her; but at the end this book wasn’t about desperation, it was about moving on. All in all I think it’s my favorite book that deals with the rape. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: The Art of Lainey (The Art of Lainey #1) by Paula Stokes

Title: The Art of Lainey (The Art of Lainey #1)
Author: Paula Stokes
Publication date: May 20th 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
My rating: 3 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.

And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they're sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few "dates", it looks like her plan is going to work! But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.

What's a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you're meant to be with if you're still figuring out the person you're meant to be?

The Art of Lainey is a very cute and adorable book. But don’t wait for depth; it was a book for entertainment mostly. In my opinion it could be so much better.

Our main character Lainey is a popular soccer star; she dates popular jock Jayson and is friends with his sister Kendall. When Jason suddenly breaks up with her at her work for all her coworkers to see, Lainey is devastated. But she doesn’t give up. With the help from her friend Bianca and a copy of The Art of War she tries to get Jason back. She makes a deal with her coworker Micah to fake-date so they can win back their exes. One of my problems with this book was an emotional detachment. I found it difficult to connect with Lainey. She was a little bit shallow and too fixated on Jason to see good things and new possibilities around her. Though she grows throughout the story I didn’t care for her much.

Big part of the book consists of references to The Art of War, by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. While many readers find it interesting I didn’t like it. It felt forced to me and I think the book would be better without it. Though many readers admit that The Art of War was the reason they’d picked The Art of Lainey out of curiosity. So maybe it was the author’s purpose.

Our love interest, Micah is not your typical bad boy. He has tattoos, piercing, mohawk and he smokes. At the same time he is sweet and has a great sense of humor, he cares about his mother and little sister and he wants to go to a cooking school. He is so different from the majority of bad boys in YA. I mean a tall muscular guy with tattoos and bad attitude, often with controlling and anger issues, whose abs make our heroine drool and lust after him. No-no! Micah doesn’t works out, he is lean, and Lainey is taller than Micah. So I found Micah very refreshing. But I think Mycah is underdeveloped. I wanted to know more about his past, about his father. It was as if his problems were only sketched.

Unfortunately, the romance didn’t work for me. I really appreciate that there wasn’t insta-love and their relationship progressed from mutual dislike to friendship to romance slowly. I liked the funny banter between Layney and Micah. Then what’s wrong? I think it is lack of chemistry. Of course there were several swoony scenes, but it wasn’t enough for me. One of my favorite fake-relationship books comes to mind. I mean Isn't She Lovely by Lauren Layne, where the chemistry between the main characters was palpable. There was also great build-up and anticipation. I know it is probably unfair to compare these two books; I only made this example to illustrate what I wanted from the romance in The Art of Lainey.

Also I thought The Art of Lainey would be not only a love story, but a coming of age, finding oneself story. Maybe it would sound harsh, but in the end it was all about choosing instead of a popular, athletic and rich, though not very bright Jason, not so popular, lean, poor, but smart and funny Mycah. What about self-discovery? Isn’t a little bit shallow?

My other complaint is that by the end of the book so many plot lines were unfinished: her relationship with Kendall and Jason, her decision about college.

The Art of Lainey also has some great stuff. This book is very sex-positive. Layney has sex, she likes sex and she discusses it with her friends. I especially liked her mother’s reaction on Layney’s sex life. I think every teenager wants to have such an understanding parent. Actually I liked how parents are portrayed here. They are realistic and present in her life. Of course there are topics Lainey as a teenager is not happy to discuss with her parents, such as sex, but it is obvious they love her and care about her. I also liked relationship between siblings. I mean Micah’s sister and Lainey’s brother. It’s obvious they were close and supportive of each other. Another great thing is Lainey’s relationship with her best friend Bianca. They don’t keep secrets; they are very supportive and help each other in crisis.

Despite all my complaints The Art of Lainey wasn’t a bad book. I give it 3 Stars and for me it is a positive rating. If you want to read a fluffy book with different bad-boy hero and funny banters between main characters, and of course fake-relationship check it out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: Send by Patty Blount

Title: Send
Author: Patty Blount
Publication date: August 1st 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
My rating: 3 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
It’s been five years since I clicked Send.
Four years since I got out of juvie.
Three months since I changed my name.
Two minutes since I met Julie.
A second to change my life.

All Dan wants for his senior year is to be invisible. This is his last chance at a semi-normal life. Nobody here knows who he is. Or what he’s done. But on his first day at school, instead of turning away like everyone else, Dan breaks up a fight. Because Dan knows what it’s like to be terrorized by a bully—he used to be one.

Now the whole school thinks he’s some kind of hero—except Julie. She looks at him like she knows he has a secret. Like she knows his name isn’t really Daniel...

There are things that I liked in Send and things that I didn’t.

I liked

1. Send by Patty Blount takes a different approach on bullying than books I’ve read previously. Rather than centers on a victim, it tells the readers about the bully himself. We see that bullying affects not only victim but also bully, as well as their families.

2. Dan. He is a great main character. When I begin to read this book I wasn’t expecting to like Dan as him being the bully. But I couldn’t help but sympathize with him. There so much guilt and pain inside him, that it difficult to watch. He can’t forget his past, he thinks he should suffer. He makes a big journey trying to forgive and learning to love.

3. Kenny. Kenny is thirteen years old Dan. Nobody, but Dan can see and hear him. Kenny lives in a room inside Dan’s head. It sounds bizarre but Patty Blount makes a great job here. Actually Kenny is my favorite character in this book. He helps understand Dan better. And I liked their banter, arguing and their tender moments.

4. Mystery element. We don’t know what exactly happened with Dan in the past. The author gives us only snippets of information. Though the mystery aspect is not mind-blowing, I guessed early in the book, it makes this book more interesting.

I didn’t like

1. Send wasn’t as emotional as I expected. I wanted it to be grittier, more heartbreaking.

2. Romance. It didn’t work for me. In my opinion there wasn’t any chemistry between Dan and Julie.

3. This disturbing violent scene.

The scene where Julie’s father beats Dan
I don’t see the purpose of it. While Send deals with such a serious topic as bullying and its aftermath, this book is told in rather light tones. So such graphic description of beating was unexpected and unnecessary.

4. Secondary characters. Brandon is a guy at Dan’s new school, whom he tries to befriend. Brandon is bullied by Jeff. I think both Brandon and Jeff were underdeveloped. I also find the ending of this subplot rushed and unfinished. Also I have some issues with how Dan’s parents were portrayed. Dan is very close to his parents, he shares with them his problems, and they are understanding and loving. Actually they are unrealistically understanding. Is it possible that the guy with such a past as Dan has this kind of relationship with his parents?

Send by Patty Blount is not a perfect book, but it deals with this serious topic in a unique way. If you interested in reading a book about bullying and its consequences you should give it a try.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent (Divergent #1)
Author: Veronica Roth
Publication date: February 28th 2012
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
My rating: 5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I'm probably the last person on earth to read Divergent. With all the hype surrounding this series I was a little skeptical about reading Divergent. But I liked it. I liked it a lot. Many readers complained that Divergent doesn’t deserve so much attention. I disagree. Several past years had so many bad dystopia releases, and Divergent is really good, especially in comparison to many others in the genre.

Action-packed books are not my thing, but I couldn’t put this one down. It was fast-paced, one scene was constantly replaced by another, but I never grew bored, I kept turning pages, anxious to know what happens next.

One of the reason I liked this book was Tris. She was a kick-ass heroine. She was courageous, strong, selfless and loyal to those she loved. She’s not ideal, she had her flaws, but she was an amazing heroine.

Another thing I liked in Divergent was romance. Tris and Four’s love story was such a beautiful one. Their relationship developed gradually and realistically. And I couldn’t help but fell hard for both of them.

I can’t say that Divergent is a book without flaws, it has some of them. Mild spoiler ahead. There were several deaths at the end of the book, which happened very quickly. Then the scene immediately moved to the next and reader did’t have time to process what happened. Because of the rush, these deaths didn’t have necessary emotional impact. But despite some flaws I give Divergent five Stars. Maybe I’m too generous, but I enjoyed this book a lot and it deserved them.

I’m really looking forward to the second book. Also I’m so glad I picked this series after all three books have been released.

Audiobook Review: Chill Factor by Sandra Brown

Title: Chill Factor
Author: Sandra Brown
Narrator: Stephen Lang
Publication date: September 29th 2005
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
My rating: 4 of 5 Stars
My rating of Narration: 5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
Five women are missing from the sleepy mountain town of Cleary, North Carolina, and a blue ribbon has been left near where each woman was last seen. Lilly Martin has returned to Cleary to close the sale of her cabin. But when her car skids and strikes a stranger, Ben Tierney, as he emerges from the woods, they've no choice but to wait out a brutal blizzard in the cabin. And as the hours of their confinement mount, Lilly wonders if the greater threat to her safety isn't the storm, but the stranger beside her...

I am a big fan of Sandra Brown. I don’t even glance at blurbs before requesting her books. To this moment I’ve read 34 of her novels. To my shame I haven’t written a single review on any of them. I just… I thought that everyone knows about Sandra Brown and either like her books or not. So I was really surprised when I realized that several of my GR friends haven’t read her novels and only now they begin to discover this author. Now I’m going to write reviews on Sandra Browns books because she writes amazing mystery thrillers with steamy romance. And Chill Factor is not an exception.

Women have been disappearing lately in Cleary, a little town in North Carolina, and a blue ribbon has been left near where each woman was last seen. Our heroine Lilly Martin came to Cleary to say final good-bye to her ex-husband and to close the sale of the cabin. On her way down the mountain through the storm Lilly’s car skids and strikes a man. They have no choice but to return to the cabin. The injured man is Ben Tierney, whom Lilly met a year ago during kayaking. They had an undeniable attraction, but she was still married then. Now attraction is still there, but the more time she spends with him, the more she becomes convinced he's the serial killer. Also we meet town citizens, many of which are hiding secrets. So maybe one of them is the culprit after all?

This book reminded me of Mean Streak by Sandra Brown where main characters also are stranded in a remote cabin and the hero is the suspect. So if you loved Mean Streak you will definitely love Chill Factor. Another her book that comes to mind is French Silk. Only in that case the hero is District Attorney and the heroine is the main suspect of a murder.

Chill Factor kept me on the edge of my seat. You may think that after reading so many Sandra Brown’s books I would guess who the killer is. But no, I was suspecting everyone. The other her book which kept me guessing and second guessing everybody so intently until the very end was Hello, Darkness.

Chill Factor is more character driven rather than action driven story. And I like it. I usually prefer psychological aspect; action-packed books are not really my thing.

And as always the romance was so great. The chemistry between main characters was palpable. Sandra Brown definitely knows how to write an intense and delicious romance.

We meet a great cast of second characters in Chill Factor; all of them are town citizens. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I just say that almost everyone is hiding something. There are many secrets which are revealing by the end of the book. Though the main story is about Lilly and Tierney, there are several interesting subplots here.

I admit I read (or rather listen) Sandra Brown’s books mostly for entertainment, but in this book she also delivers some important messages. The author raises serious topics such as the loss of a child, what it means to be a good parent.

So if you love psychological thrillers with a romance and haven’t read any books by Sandra Brown, you should definitely try Chill Factor. You wouldn’t be disappointed.

PS. I prefer to listen to Sandra Browns books in audio. While my favorite narrator of her books is Victor Slezak, Stephen Lang makes really great job here.

Review: Flat-Out Sexy (Fast Track #1) by Erin McCarthy

Title: Flat-Out Sexy (Fast Track #1)
Author: Erin McCarthy
Publication date: November 4th 2008
Publisher: Berkley
My rating: 4 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)

Independent single mother Tamara Briggs wanted to find a new, sexy, no-strings-attached man - just not one as young as NASCAR driver Elec Monroe. But he sure does get her heart racing. And after she’s tricked into a blind date with him, Tamara gives in to her passion. Things screech to a halt, though, when he asks to meet her children. Whatever happened to wham-bam-thank-you ma’am? Suddenly Tamara has to decide how much risk she’s willing to take to experience the power of true love.

I picked this book by chance. I was in a mood to read some erotica and Flat-Out Sexy caught my eye. I was surprised when I saw that the author was Erin McCarthy. I’ve read True from her True Believers series, and I had no idea she also had an adult series. So I decided to give Flat-Out Sexy a try. I was expecting light sexy mindless read, but this book was so much more.

It's an adult novel, so it has explicit sex, but the sex is only one aspect. Flat-Out Sexy is also character-driven story, with great main hero and heroine and amazing second characters. Our heroine, Tammara Briggs is a 32 years old widow with two children. Her deceased husband was a race car driver, who died in a racing accident 2 years ago. Now Tammara is trying to juggle raising children and career and trying to start dating again. At a party she bumped into Elec. They are instantly attracted to one another which led to a night of hot sex. However in the morning Tamara discovers that Elec is younger than she is (he is 26 years old), he's also a race car driver. So she decides that it was a one-night stand. But despite the age difference and her apprehension of being with racecar driver again they just can't stay away from one another.

I think Tammara is portrayed very realistic. It’s really difficult not to root for her. After being married for more than decade it’s strange for her to be dating again. She has now children to care and consider. She is afraid to be in relationship with a man with a risky job again. She has insecurities about her body after giving birth to two children. And she is so real. I especially liked her relationship with her children.3

Elec is such an awesome hero. It’s hard not to fell in love with him. He is caring and understanding. He doesn’t push Tammara, he tries to help her. I really liked how close he is to his family. It’s little pieces like Elec asking his mother’s advice about chicken pox or his banter with his siblings. It is very obvious they are very close and they love each other. All in all Elec is a fresh air among alpha-heroes who are often just dominating jerks.

There are amazing second characters in this book. My favorites are Suzanne, Tammara’s best friend, and Ryder, race car driver and Suzanne’s ex-husband. I was thrilled when I learned that there is their own book Hot Finish. Elec’s sister Eve and his brother Evan are another great second characters.

Also this book is so much fun. There are many laugh-out-loud moments and Erin McCarthy surely knows how to right funny dialogues.

So if you’re looking for sexy romance with great characters and humor and light on angst Flat-Out Sexy is what you need.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: To Professor, with Love (Forbidden Men #2) by Linda Kage

Title: To Professor, with Love (Forbidden Men #2)
Author: Linda Kage
Publication date: April 26th 2014
My rating: 2 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
Junior in college. Star athlete. Constant attention from the opposite sex.

On this campus, I’m worshiped. While seven hundred miles away, back in my hometown, I’m still trailer park trash, child of the town tramp, and older sibling to three kids who are counting on me to keep my shit together so I can take them away from the same crappy life I grew up in.

These two opposing sides of myself never mix until one person gets a glimpse of the true me. I never expected to connect with anyone like this or want more beyond one night. This may be the real deal.

Problem is, Dr. Kavanagh’s my literature professor.

If I start anything with a teacher and we’re caught together, I might as well kiss my entire future goodbye, as well as my family’s, and especially Dr. Kavanagh’s. Except sometimes love is worth risking everything. Or at least, it damn well better be because I can only resist so much.

I think this is where Linda Kage and I go our separate ways. I’ve read her another book Price of a Kiss (Forbidden Men, #1) and didn’t like it much either. When I read the blurb of To Professor, with Love, I was intrigued. I usually cannot walk away from a story with forbidden romance and I’ve read a lot of books with student/teacher romance. Never the less I found this one unique, because I’d never read a book where the teacher is female and the student is male. In truth, I wasn’t expecting much from To Professor, with Love. I wasn’t expecting depth and meaningfulness, I wanted my dose of romance, angst, steam, real characters and I wanted to feel emotions. Instead I found myself irritated, more than ones I found myself rolling my eyes. One particular scene was so stupid that I wanted to close my book and mark it as “did not finish”.

I think my main problem with Linda Kage’s books was that I couldn’t connect with her characters. I didn’t feel compassion for them and their problems, for that matter I didn’t feel any emotion toward them.

My other complain is that this book deals with a very serious problem, and the author throws this issue at the reader only to add more drama. Also there is the usual: “our heroine meets her prince who miraculously solves all her problems”.

In To Professor with Love the reader meets with Reese Randall and Mason Lowe, main characters of the first book in this series Price of a Kiss. Actually we meet them a lot; several scenes especially featured their problems. In my opinion they didn’t add anything good to the book; on the contrary they distracted me from the main story.

All in all To Professor with Love wasn’t a book for me. But if you liked Price of a Kiss, probably you would like this book.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mini review: Broken (Redemption #1) by Lauren Layne

Title: Broken (Redemption #1)
Author: Lauren Layne
Publication date: September 2nd 2014
Publisher: Flirt
My rating: 5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
When Olivia Middleton abandons the glamour of Park Avenue for a remote, coastal town in Maine, everyone assumes she’s being the kind do-gooder she’s always been. But Olivia has a secret: helping an injured war veteran reenter society isn’t about charity—it’s about penance. Only, Olivia’s client isn’t the grateful elderly man she’s expecting. Instead, he’s a brooding twenty-four-year-old who has no intention of being Olivia’s path to redemption . . . and whose smoldering gaze and forbidden touch might be her undoing.

Paul Langdon doesn’t need a mirror to show him he’s no longer the hotshot quarterback he was before the war. He knows he’s ugly—inside and out. He’ll do anything to stay in self-imposed exile, even accept his father’s ultimatum that Paul tolerate the newest caretaker for three months or lose his inheritance. But Paul doesn’t count on the beautiful twenty-two-year-old who makes him long for things that he can never have. And the more she slips past his defenses, the more keeping his distance is impossible.

Now Paul and Olivia have to decide: Will they help each other heal? Or are they forever broken?

Last year I loved Isn't She Lovely by Lauren Layne. I thought it was a standalone so I was really excited when I found there would be two more books in this series. Broken is Olivia’s story. Though she was sort of a villain in the previous book, I was intrigued by her and wanted to know more about this character. Also I was intrigued by this war veteran damaged emotionally and physically idea. Actually I’ve read several books with similar premise, but they always were lacking something. Broken by Lauren Layne was what I wanted from Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins and Making Faces by Amy Harmon. It had two great main characters, it was filled with passion and sexual tension, and it also shows us growth of our characters. Broken had great pacing and I couldn’t put it down.

PS. I love cover-changes, because the cover of Isn’t She Lovely was awful.