Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mini-review: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Title: Beastkeeper
Author: Cat Hellisen
My rating: 4 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.

Well, shame on me for dismissing middle grade books as books for kids. Beastkeeper was wonderful.

I’ll try to explain why I loved this book so much. Firstly, the writing is beautiful. Cat Hellinsen knows her way with words. It was such a pleasure to read this book and I kept returning and rereading some phrases.

“She wondered what flavor silence was, and if it grew hard and brittle if you threw it away, or if people sometimes stepped on wads of discarded silence and it stuck to the soles of their shoes and made their footfalls softer.”

Beastkeeper is very atmospheric. From the first page I was immersed in Sarah’s strange magical world.

The next reason I liked this book is an interesting and original approach to Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairytales, I usually try to check out retellings and this one I found intriguing. The girl who is the beast? Family curse? I was sold. And I totally didn’t see those twists coming.

I should probably warn you that Beastkeeper is not a sweet and happy Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This story is darker and there is no happily ever after. This is a heartbreaking story about love and loss, about sacrifices. This is a story where it’s not clear who are the devil and the hero. The ending is bittersweet.

All in all Beastkeeper surprised me a lot and I recommend it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: Coming in from the Cold (Gravity #1) by Sarina Bowen

Title: Coming in from the Cold (Gravity #1)
Author: Sarina Bowen
My rating: 5 of 5 Stars


“A deeply romantic story that warms with slow-burn eroticism and genuine insight into loss and love. Sarina Bowen’s debut glows with intelligence and a lovely sweetness.” —Mary Ann Rivers

I completely agree with this praise from Mary Ann Rivers. Actually Coming in from the Cold reminded me Mary Ann Rivers’s The Story Guy. It had the same overwhelming effect on me, when I felt too much, when I was so connected with characters that it’s almost painful.

This book surprised me a lot. I’ve read Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series and I liked it. So I had positive expectations about Coming in from the Cold. But it was so much more than I expected. I loved this book. It was a very emotional and deep story.

Willow Reade got stranded in the car with ski racer Dane Hollister during a blizzard. Their instant mutual attraction, closeness in darkness in the car led to a night of passion. But what next? Willow is recovering from her breakup and trying to adjust to unwanted farmer life. Dane doesn’t do relationships because of his secret.

From the first sight Dane has it all: he is handsome, famous and rich; he is surrounded by beautiful and willing women. But no one knows the real Dane, no one knows his secret.

Members of his family suffered and died from genetic disease and he is the next.
So he doesn’t make friends, he doesn’t do relationships, only one-night stand. Sarina Bowen made an amazing job by portraying Dane. I could feel his longing for normal relationship, his desperation. He is so lonely and he is angry and he is afraid of his future. As a woman I usually connect more with a female character, but in this case I felt for Dane, I desperately wanted him to be ok, to be happy. I loved this other side of him: kind, caring, vulnerable.

Willow was a very likeable character. I loved her interactions with her chickens.

Another aspect that surprised me was how sensual writing was. After reading The Ivy Years series I knew that Sarina Bowen can write great steamy scenes, but her writing in Coming in from the Cold blew me away. Before I thought that the author who writes the most sensual romance is Cara McKenna. Now I’m not so sure. Sarina Bowen did something special here. I especially loved the scene with raisins.

I can’t believe I’m saying it, but my only complaint is that there was a little bit too much sex in Coming in from the Cold. Not that I’m against sex scenes in my books. I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of erotica. But in this book sex was a way to show readers emotional turmoil and it helped to understand characters better. So I think it would be better if there were a couple of sex scenes less.

As always I can’t write a proper review on a book I loved. So I just say this: Coming in from the Cold is a sensual and emotional romance, which will make you think and feel. Read it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Trade Me (Cyclone #1) by Courtney Milan

Title: Trade Me (Cyclone #1)
Author: Courtney Milan
My rating: 4 of 5 Stars


I’ve meant to read Courtney Milan’s book for a while. Both Keertana from Ivy Book Bindings and Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves praised her historical romance, but as I’m not a big fan of this genre and other books came into the way. When I’ve heard that Courtney Milan was releasing a NA novel I was quick to pick it up. I’m so glad I did it.

Before I tell you how much I loved this book I want to mention this amazing author’s note, where Courtney Milan gives readers insight into what was happening behind the scene. I’m very curious about why the author decided to write a book this way, what he or she was thinking while writing and what research had been done. So it was a very pleasant addition to the book.

Don’t let the blurb fool you. It makes Trade me sound like an average NA full of tropes and silly drama. Trade me is a well-written novel with complex and absolutely lovable characters, believable romance and amazing family dynamics. Though I admit that plot is a little unbelievable.

Our heroine Tina Chen is a daughter of Chinese immigrants. She is a college student who’s juggling studying, working and trying to support her parents and little sister who is ill. Her life is hard, but she doesn’t give up. Tina is amazing character. It’s difficult not to root for her. And then we have Blake. He is not an average student; he is the son of owner of Cyclone Technology. During discussion about poverty Blake makes an off-handed remark which Tina just couldn’t ignore. So she loses her temper and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life. To her shock Blake offers her to trade their lives.

Tina assumed Blake is the rich and spoiled guy, who has all he wanted. But as she accepts his offer and begins to live his life, she discovers that Blake is not that simple. He is caring, hardworking and he has his own secrets.

Romance was sweet and touching. Tina was hesitant to start anything with Blake. Though there was undeniable mutual attraction between the two of them from the start she tried to stay away emotionally. I can totally understand her motives but I found myself wishing for them to be together.

Blake’s father Adam Reynolds is a very interesting and complex character. At the first sight he is this awful cynical swearing demanding billionaire, gradually the other side of this ruthless businessman revealed to us. He is loving and protective father. Their father-son relationship with Blake was one of my favorite aspect of Trade me. It is a complex and bittersweet mix of love, caring, loyalty and at the same time fear to disappoint, pressure from father and resistance from son.

My one but rather big complaint is how Adam Reynolds’ issue was handled. When this big thing about Blake’s father was revealed I was shocked, because I didn’t see it coming. Also I was curious about what would happen next. But I was disappointed and even angry because of how it was tackled. I mean what was the message? If you have big money you can just pff… make it all go away? Just like this? I don’t like this message. I think the guilty party got off too easy.

Tina’s relationship with her family is another great aspect of this book. Tina’s parents are constant source of worry, sometimes they embarrass her, but it’s obvious how much they love her. When Tina needed help, her mother dropped everything and came to the rescue.

So if you want character driven contemporary romance with diversity Trade me would be a perfect choice. Speaking about diversity, wait for the second book in this series. It would be about Tina’s trans friend Maria Lopez and an Asian hero. Just look at its cover!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mini-review: Last Will and Testament (Radleigh University #1) by Dahlia Adler

Title: ast Will and Testament (Radleigh University #1)
Author: Dahlia Adler
My rating: 2 of 5 Stars


Last will and Testament could be so much better. Despite it being the forbidden love story and I’m a sucker for this kind of stories, this book didn’t work for me at all.

The life of Lizzie Brandt, college student is spiraling down. She is partying, drinking and on top of that she is sleeping with Trevor, who has a girlfriend. Sudden death of her parents brings a jarring stop to her life. Now Lizzie is a guardian to her two little brothers and she needs to keep her scholarship which means to straighten her grades. Here comes Connor Lawson. He is TA in Lizzie’s class. Unexpectedly Connor helps Lizzie to find an apartment and helps her to study. The more time they spend together the more difficult it is to stay apart.

The first thing that didn’t work for me was writing style. Actually it remained me of Price of a Kiss (Forbidden Men, #1) by Linda Kage. The same upbeat style with swearing, which made very difficult for me to connect with Lizzie. I wanted to feel her feelings, but she came as this shallow, too optimistic person.

My next complaint is how grieving was portrayed. Lizzie just lost her parents, so I expected to feel for her loss, her pain. But I didn’t. The same was about her brothers.

The romance didn’t work for me either. There was no chemistry between Lizzie and Connor. This was a forbidden romance: he is a teacher, she is a student. There was so much at stake for both of them. I wanted a big conflict; I wanted turmoil of emotions… But there was none of that.

Also there was all that unnecessary angst. As I’ve told not once I like angst. But, and it’s a big BUT, I don’t like angst for the sake of angst. I want my angst to have some purpose in the book. I don’t like when the author brings some bitchy ex-girl who makes unbelievable stuff to tear apart our couple.

All in all this wasn’t a book for me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: Whatever Life Throws at You by Julie Cross

Title: Whatever Life Throws at You
Author: Julie Cross
My rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
Life loves a good curveball…

Seventeen-year-old Annie Lucas's life is completely upended the moment her dad returns to the major leagues as the new pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. Now she's living in Missouri (too cold), attending an all-girls school (no boys), and navigating the strange world of professional sports. But Annie has dreams of her own—most of which involve placing first at every track meet…and one starring the Royals' super-hot rookie pitcher.

But nineteen-year-old Jason Brody is completely, utterly, and totally off-limits. Besides, her dad would kill them both several times over. Not to mention Brody has something of a past, and his fan club is filled with C-cupped models, not smart-mouthed high school “brats” who can run the pants off every player on the team. Annie has enough on her plate without taking their friendship to the next level. The last thing she should be doing is falling in love.

But baseball isn't just a game. It's life. And sometimes, it can break your heart…

Whatever Life Throws at You is a lovely story and I enjoyed it. I should probably admit right away that I know close to nothing about baseball so I can’t really say if all baseball references were correct. When it comes to sport-centered books I’m usually hesitant to pick up one, but though baseball plays a big role in this novel I wasn’t overwhelmed. So even if you’re not a sport fan, don’t let this steer you away from this book.

Though Whatever Life Throws at You is definitely a love story, my favorite aspect of this book is Annie’s relationship with her father. They have such a strong bond and there are so much love, caring and support between them. It’s so wonderful and it made me tear up several times while reading.

As for the romance, unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. Something was off. I felt like where wasn’t enough chemistry between main characters. Also it is sort of a forbidden love as Annie is seventeen years old High School student and Brody is a nineteen years old baseball player. There are many things at stake for them, especially for Brody. I wasn’t convinced that there was something between them that they would risk it all. Maybe my mistake was that I started reading Whatever Life Throws at You right after I’ve finished Hero by Samantha Young, where chemistry between main characters was off chart.

After reading the blurb I expected this book to be about Annie adapting in her new school and finding new love. As it turned out it is more about family and yes, new love, but we don’t see much of Annie’s school life. Annie is a very likeable heroine. She is such a smart-mouth, her witty remarks and comments made me laugh. She is also strong-willed, competitive, caring and loving person.

Brody in my opinion isn’t developed enough. I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to know what was behind his decisions.

There was also this little part that I loved. Annie is a runner and she is very competitive. There is this girl on her track team, who is Annie’s competitor. It’s obvious they are not best friends, because of all this tension, but I really appreciate that Julie Cross didn’t go with the angry-hate-each-other-girls road. Here we have a healthy competitive relationship where girls obviously respect each other. I especially liked this particularly scene

where Annie hold back and let the other girl to win the trial.

I also liked the side story about Annie’s father.

When we first met Savannah I thought “She would be great for Annie’s dad”. I hoped that there would be something between them. So I was delighted when they sorted out their past and their feelings.

Whatever Life Throws at You by Julie Cross is a sweet and heartwarming novel about family and love. Despite it having several flaws I recommend it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review: Hero by Samantha Young

Title: Hero
Author: Samantha Young
My rating: 5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
Alexa Holland’s father was her hero—until her shocking discovery that she and her mother weren't his only family. Ever since, Alexa has worked to turn her life in a different direction and forge her own identity outside of his terrible secrets. But when she meets a man who’s as damaged by her father’s mistakes as she is, Alexa must help him.

Caine Carraway wants nothing to do with Alexa’s efforts at redemption, but it’s not so easy to push her away. Determined to make her hate him, he brings her to the edge of her patience and waits for her to walk away. But his actions only draw them together and, despite the odds, they begin an intense and explosive affair.

Only Caine knows he can never be the white knight that Alexa has always longed for. And when they're on the precipice of danger, he finds he’ll do anything to protect either one of them from being hurt again…

I’ve seen a lot of positive comments and reviews about Samantha Young’s On Dublin Street series. But there are five books with the sixth on its way in this series, so I’ve got a little intimidated, because for me a series is always more commitment than a standalone. So when I heard about the release of Samantha Young’s standalone I was quick to pick it up. I didn’t expect that I would like Hero so much.

This book was so addictive that I stayed until the wee hours in the morning reading it. And I don’t regret it though I was really sleep-deprived the next day. I don’t remember when the last time I was so immersed in a book was.

I think Hero worked for me so well because of the romance. It was so intense and overwhelming. Samantha Young did such a great job with the build-up and anticipation. There was so much sexual tension between main characters and the author kept it rising by their every interaction. So when they finally give in to their feelings it was like an explosion and sex scenes were scorching hot.

I guess I should admit that I like angst. And there is a lot of angst in Hero. But even if you don’t usually like angsty books don’t let this stay on your way to this one. Samantha Young knows her job. Several of my GR friends opposed to angst liked Hero.

Aside from steamy and swoon-worthy moments there is a lot of good stuff in Hero. The characers are well-written. I especially have a soft spot for Alexa. She is very likeable. And Caine… What can I say? Swoon…

There is also a great cast of second characters. My favorites are Caine’s best friend Henry and Caine’s neighbor Effie, though she is more of a grandmother to him.

I also liked banters and dialogues between Alexa and Caine.

My only complaint is the epilogue. I like HEA, but it was so sappy, I think this book would be better without it.

So I really loved this book. If you like angsty, passionate and steamy romance with funny banters and well-developed characters, look no more. Hero by Samantha Young is perfect for you.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: This Shattered World (Starbound #2) by Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner

Title: This Shattered World (Starbound #2)
Author: Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner
My rating: 4 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

First of all I want to say that I love the covers to this series. Not only they are gorgeous, but they are true to the story.

Secondly I really like this concept of three companion novels set in one universe and featuring different characters.

When I started reading This Shattered World I hoped that I would see more of Lilac and Tarver. And I did. And it wasn’t a short meaningless appearance just to please fans. Lilac and Tarver played big and important role in the second book. I like how the authors did such a great job incorporating characters from the previous installment.

The structure of the second book is similar to the first. We have main chapters and there are short chapters between them. These short chapters are about a little girl, her dreams or memories. It looks like the authors tried to mimic the structure of These Broken Stars where we had short chapters of Tarver’s interrogation between the main ones. But it didn’t work here the way it had worked in the first installment. Tarver’s interrogation chapters added suspense, little girl’s chapters only added confusion and were jarring interruptions. At the end I don’t see what the point of them was.

I couldn’t help but compare This Shattered World to the first installment. In These broken stars it was just Lilac and Tarver for the most part of the book and readers didn’t actually see much of this huge world. One of my complaints was lack of world building. In This Shattered World we see more of it and I’m very glad about it. In the first book rebellions were only mentioned, in the second Installment we are in the middle of the war.

What This Shattered World was lacking was suspense. While reading These Broken Stars I was constantly on the edge, asking myself questions, guessing and second-guessing everything. With the second installment – not so much. Probably it was because the big revelation have been made in the first book and for me there wasn’t questions who and why.

These Broken Stars was a love-story. In These Shattered World the romance between Flynn and Jubilee took back seat to the rebellion and war.

As for the main characters the authors continue to bring to life amazing couples. Jubilee is such a kick-ass heroine. But she also has a vulnerable side that no one can see. Until Flynn. He is one of my favorite heroes. He is caring, honest, loyal and brave.

I liked Sofia, town girl who helped Flynn. I was intrigued by her and wanted to know more about her. So now I’m really excited about the next installment, because apparently it would be Sofia’s book.

All in all This Shattered World was a great mix of fast-paced sci-fi, mystery and romance. I highly recommend it.