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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REVIEW: Born of Betrayal by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Born of Betrayal is almost a companion book to Born of Defiance. Readers finally get Fain Hauk's story and this misunderstood, wounded warrior gets his own chance at redemption and love in Kenyon's traditional style.  Fain hasn't been all that lucky in love following his ill-fated romance with Galene as well as shamefully marrying a human (something just not done in Andarian social circles).  Needless to say Fain's life--like that of Galene and their now adult son, Talyn, hasn't been full of sunshine and rainbows. He too is a social outcast and has faced tortuous harships, even slavery.

Fain, Galene, and Talyn reuinite at a time of military and political crisis.  There is obvious tension and animosity but this dissipates. Learning the truth that he has a son, Fain attempts to connect with Talyn and eventually reunites with Galene. All in all, the plot and character development follow the expected format.

What as interesting about this book was the set up for the next phase of League books including political tensions and the introduction of new characters. This particular book felt very choppy and could have benefited from better editing to help with the flow of the story. I'm still a fan but this isn't the strongest entry to the series.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#BornOfBetrayal #SherrilynKenyon #League #romance #futuristic #bookreview

Top Reads of 2015

I've read a total of 429 books this year! Here's a list of some of the hits and misses.  These I "read" in 2015, but were not necessarily published this year. To see my YA favorites, go here!

My 5 Star Favorites:

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Aernaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Deceptions by Kelley Armstrong
  • Eighth Grave After Dark  AND The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones
  • Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  • Bitter Bite by Jennifer Estep
  • Predator One by Jonathan Maberry
  • Burned by Karen Marie Moning
  • All Played Out by Cora Carmack
  • Asa by Jay Crownover
  • Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews
  • Blood Games by Chloe Neill
  • Never Never by Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher
  • Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

My 4 Star Favorites:

  • Single Undead Mom's Club by Molly Harper
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • What You Need by Lorelei James
  • Boundary Lines by Melissa F. Olson
  • Reap the Wind by Karen Chance
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  • Bourbon Kings by JR Ward
  • The Veil by Chloe Neill
  • Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs
  • The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith
  • Insider by Olivia Cunning
  • The Master by Kresley Cole
  • The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

The Middle of the Pack:

  • Spider's Trap by Jennifer Estep
  • Binding Ties by Shannon K. Butcher
  • Cujo by Stephen King
  • Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson
  • Bully by Penelope Douglas

Favorite Graphic Novels:

  • anything DEADPOOL!
  • anything BUFFY or ANGEL
  • Bob's Burgers Vol. 1
  • Dresden Files: War Cry
  • Dresden Files: Down Town
  • The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Trashed by Derf Backderf
  • The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Maus & Maus II by Art Spiegelman
  • Fables, Cinderella and Fairest series
  • Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
  • The Secret Service: Kingsman by Mark Millar
  • Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison
  • Katana: Vol. 1 Soultaker by Ann Nocenti

Skip These!

  • Trick Twenty Two by Janet Evanovich
  • Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Tall, Dark and Immortal by Cat Devon
  • The Demon's Librarian by Lilith Saintcrow
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
  • Tomes of Terror: Haunted Bookstores and Libraries by Mark Leslie

#favorites #bestof2015 #bookstoread #whatimreading

REVIEW: Toxic by Kim Karr

I won this book on Goodreads! Thank you to Berkley/NAL!

Toxic chronicles the tumultuous relationship of bad boy entreprenuer Jeremy McQueen and socialite turned CEO Phoebe St. Claire. These two have a steamy past which ended in ruin some five years before based on jealousy and deceit by both parties. Much has changed when they cross paths again.

Phoebe is the CEO of her family's financially collapsing empire after her father's imprisonment.  She's woefully lost, having recently broken things off with her fiance, Dawson.  Jeremy has found success as a club owner and by marketing an elite membership to those willing and able to pay the price.

These two rekindle their relationship, vowing, albeit unsuccessfully, to put the past aside. Together they just might find true happiness and save Phoebe's family business but old habits of distrust die hard and despite best intentions and the powerful physical and emotional chemistry between the two, their relationship just might remain too toxic for it to last.

Overall, I liked the book. It certainly is steamy; however, I didn't think the eroticism paired with the writing style flowed all that smoothly.  The writing was repetitive, which I noticed not only while reading this in print but more so while listening to the audiobook narrated by Lucy Rivers.  It might be that Rivers' isn't how I pictured Phoebe might sound in my head.  Also, I think this is a book that would have benefited from a different POV.  I would have liked to see alternating narrated chapters from Phoebe and Jeremey. Ultimately, I think my real inability to engage was that I just didn't like Phoebe all that much as a character.

Normally I love a good book that can make me feel all the feels.  However, it was a bit too much of an emotional rollercoaster for me to remain fully engaged with this couple and all the added twists and turns in the narrative.  In fact, these two make Anastasia and Christian seem normal. I soon grew tired of the petty jealousies and the emotional turmoil. While it is a romance that gets a happy ending, Phoebe and Jeremy probably really shouldn't end up together.

Other characters showed promise and I wouldn't mind a few spin-off books or a series to continue their stories. I was elated when Dawson was revealed as a shady character.  I just can't like or trust any fictional character named Dawson--I just cant.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#toxic #KimKarr #EroticRomance #bookreview #Angst #realisticfiction

Monday, December 28, 2015

REVIEW: Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Blackberry Pie Murder is the 17th installment in Fluke's Hannah Swensen series.  Hannah and her sisters are busy trying unsuccessfully to plan their mother's wedding.  Luckily, it's been months since shes or another family member has discovered a dead body in small town Lake Eden.  But when a horrific storm causes Hannah to strike a man and kill him, all bets are off. Arrested for his death, Team Swensen goes on the offensive, determined to discover his identity and and help Hannah. There were some good twists, laughs and plenty of yummy recipes.

I'm behind on the series and enjoyed the opportunity to catch up. This was a solid addition to the series since the last few weren't as great.  Of course this cozy mystery is a bit predictable and rather unbelievable but that is part of the charm.  It was a fast read and the characters are still very likeable.

One drawback is that the inclusion of recipes still makes me incredibly hungry!

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

#cozymystery #HannahSwensen #JoanneFluke #recipes

REVIEW: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's amazing novel following a young woman's decent into insanity.  Esther Greenwood is young, beautiful and talented.  However, she is slowly sinking.  Readers follow her path into darkness with fear that this decent will be her last. This novel is haunting in its echos of Plath's own feelings and experience with crippling depression.

This has always been on my radar as a classic I wanted to and should read.  I'd missed it or delayed reading it for one reason or another.  With the 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge, I finally committed to get to this powerful and amazingly written classic since it fit the "Book You Should Have Read in School" catagory.

Plath certainly didn't pull any punches while depicting Esther's decent into madness or while exploring the stark truths for women at that time.  It's pretty horrifying that this is fiction based in fact but its an important aspect of the past that should not be forgotten. What I liked most about the novel was the ambiguous ending.  Does Esther flourish once she gets out of the santatarium or is it just a reprieve before she begins the decent once more?

I thought a lot about how some students read this in high school. I know the accelerated students did when I was in school.  I'm the last one to advocate challenging a book but I'm pretty shocked it was part of the curriculum given the graphic nature of the descriptions and themes. I don't think a teenager can grasp the whole importance of the narrative that would come with more maturity and life experiences. I wish I would have read it in undergrad or grad school since it would be a powerful book to discuss and write about within an academic setting.

Overall, I enjoyed the book because of the stellar writing but it was rather emotional, especially to read it in a time of year that's supposed to be happy. I recommend the audio as narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She's exactly who I might picture as Esther.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#classic #depression #suicide #feminism #SlyviaPlath #BellJar #audiobook

Saturday, December 26, 2015

REVIEW: Brighter Than the Sun by Darynda Jones

"Brighter Than the Sun" is a novella companion to the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones.  What's special about this selection is that it is Charley's story (or most of it) as told by Reyes Farrow. Still a child himself, Reyes recounts the first time he feels Charley's presence--her birth--and the unbearably beautiful light she exudes. She is a blazing spot in a life filled with utter darkness at the abusive hands of his 'father', Earl Walker.  Convinced that he's made Charley up as a way to endure the pain and humilation brought by his childhood, Reyes grasps hold of her presence and is amazed when he discovers she's real.  

I've always liked Reyes.  Sure, he's the legendary son of Satan. He's complicated, dark, dangerous and uber sexy, but this story proves he is much more than that based on his self sacrifice to ensure the continued safety of his stepsister.  Before now, we've only had Charley's perspective into Reyes' past. This story is certainly a darker turn.  There's humor but not a whole lot of it since that would miss the point entirely.

If you are a fan of the Charley Davidson series, plus want and need more Reyes, definitely check out this novella.  Readers won't be disappointed and it fits nicely within not only the story through book 10 but also with what is fated to come to pass in future novels. As usual, the audiobook narrated by Lorelei King (@LoreleiKing) is amazing! She is truly the Audiobook Queen.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#CharleyDavidson #BrighterThanTheSun #DaryndaJones #ReyesFarrow #romance #paranormal

REVIEW: Dragonbane by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The latest entry in Kenyon's Dark Hunter series; however, also brings together other story arcs, especially Lords of Avalon. I won't harp on the highly complicated--and rather overwhelming--background to the story.  The basic gist is that, Maxis Drago is the mysterious dragon who lives in the attic of Sanctuary.  As it turns out, he's estranged from his mate, Amazon warrior, Seraphina, who pops in unexpectedly needing his help locating their teenage kids. Too bad their existence is a shock to Max, but he is determined to help save them.

What follows is highly complicated but also formulaic for Kenyon's writing.  There are an abundance of characters--some old, some new--, as well as, an intricate mythology and vocabulary of terminology--not always expertly described. As a general fan of the Dark Hunters series, even I was confused at times.  It is bad when I need a chart!  Kenyon really needs to publish an updated volume to the Dark Hunter's Companion.

Max is Kenyon's characteristic wounded warrior.  He's powerful, intelligent, loyal, yet unforgiving. He's been through hell and lived to tell the tale. All the drama and lore behind his role as the Dragonbane was rather confusing.  I think I understand but this is definitely one of those books where I'll have to revisit it again, probably before the follow up is published. Per typical Kenyon, Max and Sera are ill-fated lovers from the start but they are destined to end up together. The turn around for all of the heartache and betrayals is a bit quick but expected. Sera was rather irritating, at least in my opinion--not one of my favorite Kenyon heroines.

I did think it was interesting how events in this book are ultimately setting up for an important series arc.  I look forward to subsequent books to discover the implications of all the twists and turns. Overall, I liked that Max finally got his own book. I remain a fan of the series and am in awe of Kenyon's large scale world-building and character development.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#Dragonbane #DarkHunters #SherrilynKenyon #mythology #dragons #fantasy #bookreview #romance

REVIEW: Fangs For the Memories by Molly Harper

"Fangs for the Memories" is an adorable and humorous prequel in the Half-Moon Hollow series by Molly Harper. This short story is a trip down memory lane--bookstore owner, Mr. Wainwright is newly dead as is vampire newbie, James Jameson.  Another paranormal romance has yet to bloom but readers are in store for a fun read and more than enough opportunities for a good laugh.

A major wedding (Zeb's Titanic themed werewolf shindig) is upcoming and Dick Chaney (no, not that one) needs a date. Enter Andrea, the pessimistic voluntary blood donor who has been burned by "clever", "charming" and "handsome" one too many times.  However, a surprisingly steamy kiss, plus a near death experience, changes Andrea's tune and ignites one of the romantic relationships near and dear to reader's hearts.

This is a fantastic short story, especially for those who can't get enough of Half-Moon Hollow.  As always, I recommend the audiobooks narrated by Amanda Ronconi. Cute, funny and a little bit sexy.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#vampires #humor #review #shortstory #AmandaRonconie #MollyHarper

REVIEW: Midnight Bites by Chloe Neill

Midnight Bites is a Chicagoland Vampires anthology release featuring two stories.

The first, "Howling for You", follows reader favorite, Jeff Christopher--shapeshifting tech wiz and hacker and ally to Cadogan House.  This is number 8.5 in the series--in between Biting Bad and Wild Things. For years, he's patiently kept his eye on Fallon Keene.  Too bad she's the beautiful yet only sister to the North American Central Pack Apex, Gabriel. Balances of power and politics make it exceedingly difficult for either Jeff or Fallon to divulge or act upon their feelings.

When an important pack totem is stolen, Fallon must enlist Jeff's help before it's too late. Great action and mystery elements drive this short story that has a satisfying conclusion for readers and Jeff + Fallon shippers.

I originally read this last year; however, I enjoyed it again with this audiobook release. It fits well within the Chicagoland Vampires arcs and world-building but it also serves well as a romantic and intriguing standalone story.

The second included story is "Lucky Break" and is number 10.5 in the series between Blood Games and Dark Debt. Ethan and Merit have attempted a much needed vacation from Chicago and the never ending drama back home.  Refusing to consider that his long-thought-dead sire is back, they travel to a secluded Colorado town.  A romantic interlude isn't in the cards when Ethan and Merit find themselves embroiled in a century long vampire vs. shapeshifter feud following the mysterious death of their host's husband. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of this piece and the bittersweet revelations surrounding the conclusion.  Truthfully, it was pretty sad except for the focus on Ethan and Merit moving into the next book of the series.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#chloeneill #midnightbites #ChicagolandVampires #audiobook #vampires

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

REVIEW: Single Undead Mom's Club by Molly Harper

The Single Undead Moms Club is Harper's latest release in the Half-Moon Hollow series.  Widow Libby Stratton is faced with an impossible choice, allow terminal cancer to run its course and leave her young son, or, become a vampire so that she can be there to watch him grow up.  The choice seems easy, right? For Libby, it is; however, she's surprised by the town backlash at her decision, especially the legion of PTA mom's who attack Libby at every turn.

Complications arise when her overbearing in-laws sue for custody. Its a good thing that Jane Jameson--reader's favorite librarian turned vampire bookstore owner--arrives to help Libby transition into her new un-life and navigate her legal woes.  Unexpected romance finds her with two potential beaus--her sire, who has a somewhat shady connection to Libby's long lost father, and, Wade, the tattooed redneck single dad she met while hiding in a closet at Back to School Night.

Fans of Harper and the series won't be disappointed.  I love the newfound freedom and snark Libby finds after she's been turned. She's brave, loveable and an utter riot. There is an excellent blend of humor, sexy romance and mystery. As a reader, I love coming back to familiar settings and characters. Harper does an excellent job introducing new relationships and situations but still incorporating people we love to see back for more.

I can't recommend the audiobooks enough. Amanda Ronconi (@amanda_ronconi) is one of my favorite audiobook narrators of all times. In fact, I've found other book series I've liked solely because I discovered she recorded them! She has the knack to capture the sincerity of the characters and the humor perfectly.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @mollyharperauth

#MollyHarper #UndeadSingleMomsClub #HalfmoonHollow #vampires #romance #mystery

REVIEW: Tricky Twenty Two by Janet Evanovich

In the 22nd installment to Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, Stephanie is back as a not-so-great bounty hunter.  Trouble is brewing in Trenton, New Jersey and while not the best at her job on most days, she knows that she's being dupped by skip Ken Globovic aka Gobbles, who just happens to be an infamous member of the Zeta fraternity. With Gobbles in hiding, Stephanie scours the campus only to learn that something dangerous is brewing and with her luck, she's right smack dab in the middle of it.

The rest of the gang is back as readers would expect. As Stephanie's sidekick, Lula once again reaps a good dose of laughs as does Grandma Mazur.  Stephanie's love life is still a mess. Resident 'hot cop', Joe Morelli dumps her but there's certainly more to the story; the only question is whether she'll find solace with Ranger in the meantime.

Honestly, I was super disappointed with this book. I know some readers never wantthe series to end but I do.  Books 1 to say 15 or 16 we great--hilarity mixed with great characters and mystery elements.  Over the last few years the formula is waning. Stephanie and the crew never change or develop in a way that's satisfying for me as a reader. Sure, I still laugh but the laughs are fewer and far between than they used to be. This book ends with a possible turn, but it doesn't seem like even the characters take it all that seriously.

Final rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

#stephanieplum #mystery #humor #PlumFun #TrickyTwentyTwo #whatwerereading

Thursday, December 17, 2015

REVIEW: The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: January 12, 2016

Following the cataclysmic events at the end of Eighth Grave After Dark, Grim Reaper extraordinaire Charley Davidson is living in Sleepy Hollow, New York and working as a waitress. Suffering from retrograde amnesia, she has assumed the identity of Janey Doer. Charley might not know who she really is, but some things never change--her hilarious quips, sharp tongue, compassion, knack for getting into heaps of trouble or her obsession with coffee.  Oh, and seeing the departed.

Little does Charley know that all her beloved friends and family are with her, hovering on the fringe of this newly forged existence--giving her the space she needs but supporting her, if and when, she remembers her past and the destiny she's set to fulfill. Verbal slips from her BBF Cookie, a sense of ease with cop Robert and an intense, burning passion for the sexy new cook, Reyes Farrow, lead Charley to suspect that this group might know more about her identity than they let on.

I really enjoyed this book as I do each installment in the series.  Let's face it, the ending of the last book was pretty traumatic.  What I loved about this one was that even when she wasn't quite herself, Charley is still Charley.  She's frank and hilarious but her need to help and find answers--even if she mucks it all up--remains stalwart. I adored the character development as she discovered more about her powers and what that might mean. Reyes is smoldering as usual but I did wish Garrett and Osh had a bit more to do. 

As in other books, I appreciate Jones' writing chops. It isn't easy to build humor and suspense seamlessly but she does each and every time.  The way she folds each piece while incorporating compelling mystery and supernatural elements always leaves me impressed. I hate to give too much away but fans of the series will experience trademark Davidson detecting with the help of some dearly departed assistance.  I was less thrilled with the main mystery involving the discovery of a missing family. However, Charley's assistance in aiding a coworker battle an evil spirit preying upon infants was compelling as was the surprise ending wrapping up other events and sneaking in a shocking reveal which has huge implications for the series. All in all, I LOVED it!!!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @Darynda

#daryndajones #charleydavison #9thgrave #supernatural #bookreview #netgalley

Saturday, December 5, 2015

REVIEW: Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton

Dead Ice is the 24th installment to Hamilton's Anita Blake series. As a U.S. Marshall, Anita has consulted on countless cases, especially since she has a badass reputation and more vampire executions than anyone else.  She's seen and done it all so when a new case rattles Anita to her core, readers know that its a truly heinous crime.

Someone is live-streaming zombie porn.  Unfortunately, this isn't a new occurrence. However, when it appears as if the zombie's "soul" is still trapped in its body, Anita makes the connection to a case and someone from her past that she knows is long dead and gone.

So, what did I like?

Truthfully, not much. I've been reading the series since around 2002 when a friend insisted that I check them out.  I breezed through the first 11 in a little under two weeks. I was obsessed and loved them.  Things started to go downhill after that for me and a lot of other readers when there started to be less horror-mystery-thriller plot and more supernatural metaphysical bedroom hopping and partner switching.  I'm not a prude and read plenty of steamy fiction, but when that's all there is with little to no intricate plot like we'd become accustomed to with earlier books, I still read the series but always brace myself for disappointment.

That said, the beginning of Dead Ice started with promise. Horrific, creepy case in need of Anita's insight? Okay, cool! Tie in to book 2, The Laughing Corpse? Awesome! However, the investigation is all but left behind as readers have to trudge through yet more of Anita's complicated love life and quite literal power struggles with political and strategic ties to multiple supernatural were-groups.

Quite frankly, after 24 books it's exhausting. I listened to this one rather than reading and for the first time found most of the character highly irritating. There's a lack of focus and no sense of accomplishment.  By the novel's end, I didn't feel like Anita or her people had resolved anything or developed as characters. Listening to the audio only enhanced the whining and as much as I used to like Asher back in the day, I just can't take it anymore.  He's gotta go!

When Anita does finally get back on the case and the action, thrilling part of the mystery unfolds, the pacing and writing is good. However, by this point I just didn't care. The revelation and wrap up just happened way too quickly and then the book was finished.  If I continue to read (and let's face it I probably will), the alarming amped up quality to Anita's necromancy powers will eventually lead to some epic story (I hope) but I'm not sure when or if that will ever happen.

Final rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

#deadice #anitablake #urbanfantasy #vampires #wereanimals #meh

REVIEW: Driven by Kelley Armstrong

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: January 31, 2016 

Driven is the latest Subterranean Press release of a novella in Armstrong's bestselling Otherworld series.  Technically 13.6 in the chronology, the story finds readers once again with newly minted alpha, Elena Michaels, as well as with fan favorite members of the Stonehaven Pack. Strongly tied to the events of Forsaken (13.5), Malcolm Danvers is once again a pack member; however, he has yet to prove his worth or trustworthiness.  When it becomes clear that an unknown group is targeting, torturing and killing members of the Cain mutt werewolves, Elena recruits Malcolm to join her and others to get to the bottom of these deaths before more violence occurs or their supernatural presence gets noticed by the mundane world.

What I liked...

Everything readers love about this series is back.  The character development remains consistent to what we've grown to expect. I've know Elena and Clay so long now that they feel like family.The tension created by Malcolm's arrival is deliciously tense.  I love that Elena's twins, Kate and Logan, unnerve him.  The story with him continues to build and I can't wait to see what is in store for the next entry.

The overall plot is very good.  The mystery and subsequent action are well thought out and keeps readers engaged. In fact, the story is so good, I wish the book was longer. Something else I really enjoyed was the hinting that readers of this series and the two related YA series (Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising) might finally see these converge into a cohesive story.

What I didn't like...

Part of the charm of this continuation of the Otherworld series is Armstrong's partnership with talented artists who render beautiful illustrations to support the narrative.  Unfortunately, the ARC did not include these pictures by Xaviere Daumarie which was a bit of a let down.  However, if they are as good as those in the previous novellas, then readers are in for an extra treat.

The only other aspect that I didn't like about Driven was that it was just too short! I adore the series and can never get enough.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#driven #kelleyarmstrong #otherworld #netgalley #werewolves #urbanfantasy #graphicnovel

Thursday, November 19, 2015

REVIEW: Bitter Bite by Jennifer Estep

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC*

Expected publication: February 23, 2016

Bitter Bite is the 14th installment to Estep's Elemental Assassin series and is another action packed adventure for Gin Blanco aka "The Spider" and her friends navigating the treachurousness that is Ashland, North Carolina.  A new threat is in town, but one that will test her relationship with foster brother, Finn.  A powerful ice elemental, Deirdre Shaw, has arrived in town and Gin doubts her motives, especially since she's Finn's long thought dead mother.  Their relationship is put to the test given Gin's mistrust and Finn's longing to bond with the mother he never had. The true question is whether blood-ties will prove stronger than years of battle-tested friendship.

After so many novels, a series can wane.  However, I've always been pleasantly surprised by Estep's ability to keep this series fresh while still including characters and elements readers have grown to expect. I alway appreciate the author's vivid character development and descriptions whether it is the physical description of a character, the lush description of food or the gritty take on the action sequences. 

I loved the Finn centric plot line and the not so welcomed blast from the past.  More interesting for me was the tie of Shaw to Gin's mother and Mab Monroe. Furthermore, the introduction of an even more powerful foe--one who has been pulling the puppet strings all along--should make for interesting reading in the next series installment.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#jenniferestep #elementalassassin #bitterbite #UF #netgalley #bookreview

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

REVIEW: Thinning the Herd by Adrian Phoenix

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange of a review*

Expected publication: January 4, 2016

Hal Rupert fancies himself the hero of Eugene, Oregon.  Too bad he's just works for animal control.  However, his fellow townspeople are unaware that he keeps them safe from werewolves and other supernatural creatures running a muck. When hippies and fortune tellers start turning up dead, Hal is convinced its his job to save the day and to protect his true love, Goth goddess, Desdemona from harm.  It's just too bad she thinks he is a creepy, loony stalker.

What I liked...

Thinning the Herd is an interesting take on the urban fantasy genre. There are certainly humorous moments which are highlighted by the author's character development.  I rather liked the sidekicks, Galahad and Nick, more than the protagonist.  Nick--a werewolf obsessed with squeaky toys is a riot. The setting is unique as is the 'magic' surrounding the supernatural groups introduced.

What I didn't like...

I realize that Hal's quirks are meant to be humorous and endearing; however, I just found him irritating and still rather creepy.  If a man acted like this toward me in real life, I'd call the police and file a restraining order.  It's not cute. It's alarming.  Furthermore, I just couldn't take Desdemona's about face toward his behavior and that they end up actually entangled in some sort of romantic relationship.

Plot wise the novel felt all over the place and rather disjointed. While reading, I felt as if I was in the middle of the series, oblivious to important world-building details. This bothered me since Thinning the Herd is the first in a new series. When the 'big bad' is revealed I found myself saying, "Huh?" It all just doesn't seem to fit together. Now, maybe it will since events are probably going to have greater consequences in other books. Either way, I felt like there were too many supernatural elements going on.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars (just because of Nick and the hilarious bicyclist)

#netgalley #adrianphoenix #thinningtheherd #urbanfantasy #UF #bookreview #werewolves

Monday, November 16, 2015

REVIEW: Bones in Her Pocket by Kathy Reichs

This novella falls between Bones are Forever and Bones of the Lost. Dr. Tempreance Brennan is called in to identify remains found in the foothills of North Carolina. While the identity of the victim is easily discovered, the circumstances surrounding the death and additional surprising evidence lead the case in an unexpected direction.

What unfolds is an edge of your seat thriller.  I was shocked when the true motive for the crime was revealed. ONCE AGAIN Brennan runs head first into danger, fails to secure backup and of course FORGETS HER PHONE! I realize that the character is not a cop; however, surely she must learn from her mistakes over this length of time....sighs. Regretfully, no she doesn't.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed this entry to the Brennan series.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#forensics #kathyreichs #temperancebrennan #bones #northcarloina #owls #animalrights #bookreview

REVIEW: Swamp Bones by Kathy Reichs

Once again, Dr. Temprance Brennan's attempt for a relaxing vaction goes awry. Set in the Florida swamps, Brennan is all set for a nice visit with her friend, an orinthologist dedicated to researching the impact burmese pythons pose to bird species in the Everglades.  When bone remains turn out to be human and a murder victim to boot, Brennan becomes embroiled in a competitive snake hunt and some of the swamp's darkest secrets.

As a continued fan of the series, this novella hit all the high notes.  The detailed, face paced, thrilling mystery had me second guessing the motives of all the characters.  I always appreciate Reichs' approach to science and how she novelizes her real life experiences. I'm still creeped out by snakes, so this wasn't my favorite addition to the series.

What I did like were all the hints related to the unrest Brennan feels about her relationship with Ryan and how that will impact the next book.  "Swamp Bones" is technically number 16.5 and the prequel to Bones Never Lie where an old case comes back to haunt Brennan and she has to draw Ryan out of his self imposed exile to catch a deadly foe.

Frustrating again was Brennan's tendancy to wander into dangerous situations alone. It happens every time and I'm starting to equate her behavior with Rick on The Walking Dead telling Carl to 'stay in the house.' It just isn't going to happen.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#forensics #kathyreichs #temperancebrennan #bones #swamp #everglades #audiobook

Sunday, November 15, 2015

REVIEW: Born of Defiance by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Born of Defiance is a compelling prequel to Kenyon's bestselling League series. Talyn Batur, born an outcast, without the proper family lineage--after all an Andarian without a father is a label no one wants--his many professional accomplishments go unnoticed and he is constantly ridiculed and sabotaged by a commander hell bent to destroy Talyn bit by bit.  Given his station, his only hope for romantic intimacy in any fashion is to contract a paid companion.  

Determined to be a doctor, Felicia's only hope of paying for medical school is to enter into the contractual obligation of a paid companion.  She never planned to like Talyn, much less fall in love with him.  When her own troubled family woes entangle Tayln in a plot to overthrow the Andarian crown, he has to make some hard choices concerning his feelings of loyalty, justice and doing what is right.

Believe me, any fan of Kenyon's knows that the plot is much more intricate than my brief summary can surmise.  Needless to say, the events of this book shed light on key events in the series. Furthermore, Talyn Batur is Fain's son and Dancer's nephew. The implications for Born of Betrayal are significant considering that this is Fain's story.  Readers will have to see how this all works out.  It will be lengthy and painful but worthwhile.  Kenyon's tortured warriors usually get a happy ending in time. 

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#league #sherrilynkenyon #bornofdefiance #futuristic #romance #sciencefiction

REVIEW: Beautiful Secret by Christina Lauren

Beautiful Secret is the fourth installment in writing duo Christina Lauren's Beautiful Bastard series.  Ruby Miller is a young American interning for her chance at a prestigious spot studying in Oxford.  When her boss announces that she'll be going to NYC on an extended business trip, she's stunned.  More so when Ruby learns she'll be accompanying the company's top urban planning exec, Niall Stella aka THE HOTTEST MAN ALIVE!

Niall Stella is as handsome as he is conservative. Still nursing the wounds of a new divorce, he doesn't have romance on his mind. Until his flirt filled plane ride with Ruby on the way to NYC. Their attraction builds, eventually mixing business and pleasure. Neither can quite label their new found relationship but when both personal and professional waves surface, some difficult choices have to be made.

One criticism is the frustrating stall to this relationship.  Its finally getting somewhere and then Niall and Ruby (both equally at fault) have to go and throw a monkey wrench in the whole thing. Admittedly, Niall needed closure but didn't handle it well. Ruby makes her own decisions but when she doesn't get the reaction she wanted things go awry. This part of the book was rather irritating.

Overall, I liked this entry to the series but my favorite is still think Beautiful Player is my favorite.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#beautifulsecret #christinalauren #romance #contemporary #erotic #bookreview

REVIEW: Dark Wild Night by Christina Lauren

Dark Wild Night is pretty much the book Christina Lauren fans have been waiting for in the Wild Seasons series.  After that wild night in Vegas, Lola and Oliver were the only newlyweds to not act on their initial attraction. Instead, they've spent the past eight months developing a uniquely deep friendship and fighting equally intense feelings of attraction.

Once they do admit their feelings, things take a super spicy turn. Oliver openly admits he's full on in love with Lola but her emotional hangups and growing career pressures strain the relationship from the beginning. Lola has some soul searching to do lest she loose Oliver entirely.

My fondness for the series grows with each book.  I still don't love book 1's (Sweet Filthy Boy) couple (Ansel and Mia). For me, that one was just okay. I really liked book 2 (Dirty Rowdy Thing) featuring Harlow and Finn but the real anticipation was for Oliver and Lola's story.

As a reader, I wasn't disappointed.  However, I had more than a few moments of wanting to strangle Lola over all her issues given how seemingly perfect Oliver is for her. It worked out in the end as these stories mostly do; but, the frustration level was there.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#darkwildnight #christinalauren #wildseasons #romance #erotic #contemporary #bookreview

REVIEW: Working for Bigfoot by Jim Butcher

Working for Bigfoot is a fun Harry Dresden short story collection. Comprised of three separate yet interconnected stories, Dresden is first hired by the infamous 'Bigfoot' in "B is for Bigfoot" originally available in the anthology Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron. However, I believe I read it from Jim Butcher's website eons ago.  When Papa Bigfoot's young son, Irwin, attracts the attention of a bully, its up to Dresden to discover the threat and save the day.

In the second story, "I was a Teenage Bigfoot" (originally published in Blood Lite 3), Dresden is once again called to aid Irwin.  Away at an elite boarding school, Irwin has fallen ill for the first time.  It turns out that supernatural forces are at work and Dresden nabs the culprit in the nick of time before Irwin's life force is siphoned to the brink of death.

Lastly, "Bigfoot on Campus", finds Irwin all grown up and a freshman in college.  He's facing some of the same challenges as any college student--classes, sports, and romance.  Irwin is certainly hot and heavy with his first serious girlfriend; too bad neither he nor she knows she's a White Court vampire.  Its a good thing Dresden arrives one more time to run damage control.

Readers can never go wrong with Dresden.  This collection has all the characteristic charm associated with Butcher's Dresden Files--humor, magic, mystery and adventure--while also presenting larger themes concerning the responsibility of fatherhood (i.e. Bigfoot's lack of physical presence in Irwin's life, Dresden's fathers death) and the difficulties of growing up for any kid much less one with supernatural DNA.

As expected, the audio of this collection, masterfully narrated by James Marsters, is utter perfection. I highly recommend this to any fan of the series or for readers and listeners looking for a great story.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#dresdenfiles #jimbutcher #workingforbigfoot #bigfoot #supernatural #bookreview #humor #magic

REVIEW: The Martian by Andy Weir

Astronaut Mark Watney is part of the first successful expedition to Mars when disaster occurs. Presumed dead, he's abandoned by his team and mourned by his friends, family and country. However, Watney is nothing if not resourceful as he colorfully beats the odds in this funny, thrilling adventure that has readers on the edge of their seats to discover our protagonist's fate.

I can't say much more than hasn't already been said by so many others regarding this book by Andy Weir. I loved the pacing blended with sarcastic humor and science.  While I haven't seen the film starring Matt Damon yet, I've heard its good and that he does the character justice.

For audiobook listeners, I wholeheartedly recommend the production with R. C. Bray as narrative.  His portrayal of Watney is fantastic as are the other characters. I marathoned the audio in just a few days, staying up late at night since I couldn't wait to see what next challenge Watney would face head on with such charm and humor.

The Martian is definitely worthy of all the praise!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#themartian #andyweir #mars #survival #humor #audiobook

Friday, November 13, 2015

REVIEW: What You Need by Lorelei James

Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a review!

Expected publication: January 5, 2016

What You Need is the first in a steamy new romance series by bestselling author Lorelei James. The Lund's are the next new family readers will fall in love with following James' immensely popular Rough Riders series and the exploits of the McKay cowboys.

Brady Lund is the CFO of Lund Industries. He's smart, devastatingly handsome and a woeful workaholic.  Brady notices co-worker Lennox Greene but can't bring himself to make a move until a staged 'get a life' intervention by his brothers brings them face to face at local bar.  Gone is the conservative blonde from the office. In her place is the rebellious, sexy and flirty Lennox that she tries hard to keep under wraps in an effort to be professional and hide from her troubled youth.

Unable to fight their attraction, Brady and Lennox delve into a relationship built not only on the lure of passion but also a deeper understanding of what is lacking in each of their lives.  Despite insecurities and a few ups and downs, they learn that what they really need is each other.

I'm a huge Lorelei James fan and she can pretty much do no wrong in my book.  I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  It is a departure from the raunchy Rough Rider cowboys and the even darker and erotic Mastered series.  While still super sexy, there is more emphasis on the relationship outside of the bedroom. I look forward to more books featuring the other Lund family members.

Recommended for Lorelei James fans and readers who've enjoyed books by Christina Lauren, the Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward and other steamy, contemporary romances in the workplace setting.

Follow the author on Twitter: @loreleijames

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#loreleijames #whatyouneed #romance #netgalley #bookreview

Saturday, October 31, 2015

REVIEW: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass is the much anticipated Cinder Spires series debut from Jim Butcher. The genre is a bit difficult to pen down.  There are reader accessible elements of steampunk; however, at its core, this novel is an action/adventure fantasy novel focused on a building war between two Spires Albion and Aurora as well as the motley crew assembled to gain intelligence for the Spirearch of Albion.

Butcher artfully introduces a fantastic cast of characters.  Captain Grimm reminds me of a well crafted blend between Mal Reynolds of Firefly fame, a little bit of Once Upon a Time's Hook, and maybe a dash of Harry Dresden. He's intriguing with his status as an outcast but former respected military hero. I can't wait to find out more of his story. 

As characters come into the fray, I kept thinking that Butcher might have been on a recent Firefly binge while writing this adventure. I love it! Gwen is a little bit Zoe, a little bit Kaylee. I adore her ability to read situations and love her smart, snarky dialogue and is a surprisingly qualified and useful engineer.  Faris and Folley are like a River Tam duo. Their second sight and connection to the aether is as fascinating as it is alarming, given the predictions of turmoil and devastation to come. Rounding out the characters are Benedict and Bridget.  There is certainly the beginnings of a romance in place. 

Let's talk for a minute about Rawl! He is fantastic. If ever a writer could spin a fantasy warrior cat its Butcher. Rawl is just how I'd imagine a cat would think and speak. He has a sly sense of humor and is altogether puzzled by the often complicated and frivolous actions of humans. Rawl is formidable but I adore that he loves Bridget so fiercely that he allows himself to be cuddled and will literally face tremendous danger to ensure her safety.

Overall, I loved everything about this book.  The monsters are creepy and there is a delicious slow burn to the villains we've seen thus far. This definitely reads like the first in a much larger conversation.  I know they'll be more twists and turns based upon what we've learned in this tale and I can't wait for more!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#steampunk #adventure #fantasy #jimbutcher #cinderspires #aeronautswindlass #bookreview #firefly

Monday, October 26, 2015

REVIEW: Hellhound by Nancy Holzner

Only a few weeks have passed for Vicky and the events of Darklands. Her beloved, Kane, is still beholden to the Night Hag, which is draining him a bit at a time. Vicky is fighting the increasing rage she feels since she's once again connected to the Destroyer via demon mark. And, of course there's the new adjustment that her long thought dead father is now a mystical, talking white falcon!

When Boston's zombies become violent, Vicky is called in as a consultant and quickly learns that her cousin, Pryce, has even more nefarious plans as part of his partnership with The Destroyer. He plans to release a staggering amount of the zombie plague into the population and bring back the Old Ones to wreak havoc in the human realm.  Adding another confusing layer of complication, Vicky receives visions of herself fighting alongside demons. Determined to stay on the right side of the coming war, Vicky once again aligns herself with her Aunt Mab to protect the city and those she loves. All she has to do is bring down her enemies, save the day and not get torn to bits by a pack of hellhounds in the process.   There are some surprising twists and turns as Vicky's true destiny is revealed and has major consequences for the series finale, Firestorm.

I didn't like this book as much as others. It wasn't quite as snarky but admittedly Vicky has a lot going on at the moment.  The wrap up of several lingering story arcs were handled well. I was most surprised by the revelation of Vicky's greater purpose.  Holzner's been hinting at this for a while now but it certainly puts a new spin on just how Vicky will defeat her remaining foes and what might be in store for her professional and personal life.

Tina!  I'm a put out that she's still in peril and that I have to wait until Firestorm to find out her fate. I absolutely adore that Vicky's father, Evan, is back in the picture.  I did love the stunned yet humorous acceptance by her family that he's back but a bird. Leave it to a child, Vicky's nephew, to get all on board with talking to birdie-grandpa. I loved that dad/falcon sits chatting and snacking on microwaved treats with Vicky's vampire roommate, Juliet.  I also liked the end where Vicky, Mab and Evan were on hand to help Maria through her first change.

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

#deadtown #hellhound #nancyholzner #UF #bookreview #magic

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

REVIEW: Boundary Lines by Melissa F. Olson

Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a review.

Boundary Lines is book two in Olson's Boundary Magic series. Protagonist Allison "Lex" Luther has recently learned she's a boundary witch and is still learning to master her powers over the living and the dead. Strange things are happening in Boulder nonetheleast that the supernatural community has it out for her. Lex and super sexy vampire Quinn are tasked with investigating the disappearance of several vampires during a full moon. Of course, they end up with more questions than answers. The supernatural stakes are at an all time high as head vamp, Maven's authority is challenged, werewolves have reinvaded outlawed territory and there is a gigantic and horrifyingly creepy ancient snake creature on the loose. Lex has to keep her cool and protect those she loves.

I haven't actually read the first book in the series but I didn't feel lost. Folson does a nice job incorportating just enough clarifying details about past events to clue in a new reader without making the rehashing of these events redundant for a returning fan. I like Lex.  She's got a good personality, humor and plenty of flaws. Adding layers to her magical blocks based on the trauma she experienced while in the military was an interesting twist.  I hope there is more exploration of this in future books.

I also liked the supporting cast of characters. Quinn is a good romantic interest but he needs to learn not to overstep his relationship with Lex.  She is perfectly capable of holding her own.  I do want to go back and read the first book since Lex head to L.A. and met Scarlett and a few other characters from Olson's Scarlett Bernard series.  I have read the first book of that series and liked it.

The overall plot was well organized with good pacing.  This was a quick read and I admit to being a little surprised with the villain reveal at the end.  There are certainly enough tidbit to keep readers wanting more. I'm interested to see how Lex's magic continues to grow and the fallout that is bound to happen based on other events.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#boundarylines #boundarymagic #melissafolson #UF #magic #witches #werewolves #vampires #netgalley

Sunday, October 18, 2015

REVIEW: Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: War Cry

War Cry is an original graphic novel story of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Set after Dead Beat and during the height of the White Council's war with the Red Court vampires, newly appointed Warden, Harry Dresden leads his young and inexperienced team of Wardens on their first assignment.

Chaos quickly ensues when the mortals they are sent to protect are ambushed by a small army of the Red Court.   The real questions for Dresden remain: just who are these mortals and what are they protecting that is so important to winning the war? Our favorite wizard just might find that out, if and only if, he can keep everyone alive.

I really enjoyed this volume.  The illustrations certainly enhance Butcher's storytelling. The panels are vivid and action packed, making for an exciting experience.  Dresden is the same determined, wise cracking, brute force wielding wizard we love from the series.  I love that the graphic novels are taking the time to explore more stories and characters in a way we haven't had in the novels.

We also get to learn more about Dresden's team and see them struggle with their experience but fight on with that same kind of determination as their unlikely leader.  Another fan favorite makes a surprise appearance but I won't spoil it for readers who haven't caught up yet. Safe to say this arrival is most welcome and fits nicely within the larger story arc (hint: White Night) and character development.

Overall, I didn't love this volume as much as let's say Ghoul Goblin or Welcome to the Jungle. However, it is certainly on par with Down Town.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#jimbutcher #dresdenfiles #graphicnovel #magic #vampires #warcry #bookreview

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

REVIEW: Reap the Wind by Karen Chance

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a review!

Expected publication: November 3, 2015

Reap the Wind is the seventh installment to Karen Chance's Cassie Palmer series. One would think being the all powerful Pythia would make Cassie Palmer's life a walk in the park. However, it is far from it.  Picking up where Tempt the Stars left off, Cassie's troubles keep escalating: 1) EVERYONE seems out to get her 2) she just can't get a handle on her powers 3) war is coming between just about all the supernaturals readers can imagine 4) Pritkin (Cassie's war mage, fey, incubus mentor aka used to be Merlin!) has been hexed and is lost in time and 5) her Court has been blown up, displaced and has infiltrated her all too small suite in Las Vegas. Oh, and her love life is a disaster too!

Readers just have to love Cassie. Despite all that's stacked against her, she never gives up and and tries to make the best of it all with her flare of sarcastic humor. Cassie knows she's a hot mess as Pythia but she's determined to fix her mistakes, take on the villains and save the world. If you're looking for closure, you won't get it with this book.  Major events are set in motion centering around the arc in the works for much of the series.  Pritkin fans get their fair share as do the Mircea lovers but nothing is resolved except Cassie having an 'ah-ha' moment as to what her powers and visions have been trying to tell her and how all these separate events are probably connected. I won't spoil it, but readers will be intrigued and its definitely worth it.

What I liked...

I adore Cassie--I have ever since I found the series way back in 2006 when Touch the Dark was published.  I love that Cassie isn't perfect and that despite having all this power she is pretty much bumbling her way through her crazy life.  I love her snark and attitude.  She's really growing as a character and learning from her mistakes.  I appreciated her anger during later parts of the novel and her realization that she's being manipulated by multiple parties who might respect her power as Pythia but not her as a person.  I can't wait to see how her character evolves because of these revelations. This series thrives too because of its secondary characters.  I'm a Pritkin shipper and this extended series of trials and tribulations for him has me on edge. I'm less a Mircea fan but we'll see what happens in the next book.  I want to see what happens with more of the characters, especially Rhea.

Another bonus for me is Chance's great action scenes.  There are plenty to choose from and they never disappoint.  I also love how she builds these with Cassie's ability to shift time and places. The boat chase in the beginning was exciting as was the pretty epic fey battle with Pritkin.

What I didn't like...

The book felt a bit too long and at times disjointed.  I suppose this mimics how Cassie must feel with all her false starts to try and save Pritkin. However, just when she gets to the time period where she needs to be, she's back in the present and seemingly dealing with some kind of unrelated issue. Looking back, these events do fit but the flow felt off somehow. I usually breeze through these books but it took me time to finish it because of the pacing. I still loved it but not as much. It did feel like an inbetween novel setting up for something bigger. I look forward to Ride the Storm in 2016.

Final rating 4 out of 5 stars

#cassiepalmer #reapthewind #karenchance #UF #netgalley #review #magic

Friday, October 9, 2015

REVIEW: Bones on Ice by Kathy Reichs

This novella is set between Bones Never Lie and Reichs' latest release, Speaking in Bones.  Dr. Temperance Brennan is tasked with verifying the identity of a frozen mummified corpse recovered from the 'Dead Zone' on Mount Everest. These remains are speculated to be the daughter of a wealthy Charlotte family seeking closure.  In true Brennan fashion, our favorite forensic anthropologist gets more than she bargained for when evidence reveals the victim suffered injuries from foul play and not all parties involved have been wholly truthful.

What I liked...

As a fan of the series, this is another well written entry. This worked as a novella. The pacing was good and I felt like I was able to learn a lot about extreme mountain climbing and this culture as well as the science behind the examining frozen remains, especially those which have been exposed to the kinds of conditions atop Mount Everest. I also like how some of the ongoing story arc tensions were handled (i.e. Brennan's relationship with Ryan and Katie's deployment overseas).

I listened to this on audio and enjoyed it.

What I didn't like...

Yet again, Brennan decides to head off alone to investigate and gets in serious trouble. You'd think, maybe, 17+ books in that she'd learn and make better life choices!

#forensics #kathyreichs #temperancebrennan #bones #everest #audiobook

Thursday, October 8, 2015

REVIEW: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In this futuristic debut from Ernest Cline, the world is a vastly different place.  Taking place in 2044, reality has degrated into a delapedated dystopian society.  Protagonist Wade Watts is essentially an orphan living in the slums of Oklahoma City.  His one escape is when he's jacked in the the virtual utopia know to users as the OASIS.  With no other prospects, Wade has devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines as left behind by virtual creator James Halliday.  The player who successfully navigates these puzzles based on Halliday's obsession with pop cultures references to decades past will discover his hidden Easter Egg and inherit the keys to a priceless empire.

Honestly, I can find no fault with this book.  It's pretty much perfect. The premise is imaginative and well organized. I loved the pacing and relished in the ability to indulge my inner geek since I connected with the majority of the pop culture references save for some of the eccentric earlier gamer-speak. The characters are really spot on too.  Each becomes more likeable as the novel progresses.  What I really enjoyed were the character surprises which hone in on the fact that one's Internet identity is not often truthful. Cline's outcome illustrates that such revelations can have a positive outcome but one should still use caution. 

The writing style, dialogue and overall characterization are just super smart. It is apparent that a lot of thought went into how to successfully focus the narrative and blend an original idea together with so many references. I am highly intrigued that Steven Spielberg is tagged to direct the film for a 2017 release.  My only hope is that both he and the studio do the concept justice.  It just won't work if they fail to get the rights to the plethora of references and if casting is misguided.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#readyplayerone #ernestcline #gaming #futuristic

REVIEW: Spider's Trap by Jennifer Estep

Having eliminated another foe, Gin aka The Spider is now the boss of Ashland's extensive criminal underground.  All she wants is a boring day spent cooking up delicious food or settling various desputes.  However, this is Ashland and, for Gin, nothing is ever simple.  A routine meeting ends with a BOOM! and an assassination attempt. Gin quickly realizes that this may literally be a blast from her past but whether she's the true target remains a mystery.

Fans of the Elemental Assassin series will be satisfied that Gin and crew are once again on to case to take out the Big Bad with their own unique sense of justice.  For me, this wasn't one of my favorites of the series but I still enjoyed it. I'm always surprised at how well Gin handles customer service at the restaurant and that more customer's don't get stabbed. (0:

The story was engaging but it felt as if this book was a mere staging area for the next major threat in Bitter Bite. This new villain has the potential to be very intriguing not only for Gin but Finn and might finally show readers more depth to his character.

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

#spiderstrap #elementalassassin #jenniferestep #UF

Monday, September 28, 2015

REVIEW: Darklands by Nancy Holzner

Darklands marks the fourth installment to Holzner's Deadtown series. Demons are disappearing and clients are canceling right and left. When she discovers a missing Celtic cauldron, Victory (Vicky) Vaughn, Boston's demon slayer extraordinaire, faces yet another challenge to protect her city and those she loves against her half-demon cousin, Pryce, and his nefarious plans to reclaim his shadow-self and bring about utter destruction.  Vicky must literally face her worst fear and travel to the darklands herself in order to stop Pryce from resurrecting her greatest enemy.

This is another urban fantasy series that I've neglected and am working to catch up on before Firestorm (#6) is released in 2016.  Urban fantasy is my "go to" escape genre for pleasure reading.  I like the series because of the setting and creativity of world building:
  • A post apocalyptic Boston where the quarantine zone houses zombies not hell bent on devouring brains but who are the new living dead citizens with a serious case of the fast food munchies? 
  • A snarky, not quite human, female protagonist? 
  • A honest to goodness Shakespearean inspired vampire roommate? 
Yes, please! I also like the complicated relationship between Vicky and Kane, her werewolf, lawyer boyfriend.

While I think that Darklands works well within the general series, it wasn't the strongest piece of the larger puzzle.  I felt like parts dragged on a bit and I wanted to speed things up.  I'm intrigued about Hellhound and the ramifications that events from Darklands will have on Vicky, her family, and most importantly her relationship with Kane, especially since they are both beholden to the Night Hag.  All in all, an enjoyable read!

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

#deadtown #darklands #nancyholzner #UF

Thursday, September 24, 2015

REVIEW: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened is probably my favorite nonfiction audiobook listen of all time.  I just couldn't wait for the release of Furiously Happy.  It certainly lived up to its subtitle--A Funny Book About Horrible Things.  Whereas her first book focused on family, Furiously Happy takes a humorous approach as Lawson explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? And yet, it all works. The discussions are poignant but presented with Lawson's characteristic flare. 

I can't stress enough Lawson's amazing narration to her own books. Her delivery is perfect and will leave readers in hysterics.  I know other drivers thought I was in the middle some sort of episode as they passed me on the road.  Overall, I didn't love this book quite as much as Lawson's debut; however, it is still an amazingly bizzare and funny take on how to process and discuss coping with mental illness and still live a fruitful and productive life.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @thebloggess or visit her site:

#furiously happy #jennylawson #memoir #humor #mentalillness #audiobook

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

REVIEW: Homeland (Forgotten Realms, Legend of Drizzt #1) by R.A. Salvatore

This is a favorite of a co-worker and other friends as well as my first foray into the Forgotten Realms series.  The pacing starting a bit slowly for me; however, I attribute this to acclimating to the new world building and the writing style of a previously unread author.  It always takes me a bit to fully immerse into new fantasy territory. 

Set in an dark, exotic landscape deep underground--Menzoberranzan, the vast city of the drow is home to Icewind Dale prince Drizzt Do'Urden, who grows to maturity in the vile world of his dark elf kin. Born the same night as the near elimination of a rival family, Drizzt's existence remains closely tied to the lone survivor seeking revenge as well as a power play for another rival family.  The unique circumstances of his birth foreshadows Drizzt's alternate worldview other than that acknowledged by his matriarchal society.   While immensely talented in all his pursuits, Drizzt exhibits profound honor beyond the scope of his unprincipled society. The real question is whether he can live in world that rejects integrity? 

Book 1 is definitely a setup for what's to come and there are a slew of titles. I got progressively wrapped up in the story.  There are great characters readers will love to hate, to cheer on and to grieve. I enjoyed this and plan to, at minimum, finish this first trilogy and possibly read further. I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Victor Bevine.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

#homeland #drizzt #rasalvatore #fantasy #audiobook

REVIEW: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (graphic novels)

Anyone who knows me also knows I'm a rabid Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I was from the beginning and my love for the show and the ever growing Buffyverse won't fade any time soon.  I love what the show stood for: the metaphors, the actors, its trendsetting dialogue and humor as well as Joss Whedon's overall vision.

Lately, I've been working to catch up with the graphic novels. I'll start at the beginning and work my way through:
The Omnibi

Volume 1 - 4 out of 5 stars
This was a good start.  I liked the origin stories, notably Whedon's vision for the 1992 film.  While I adore that bit of nostalgia, I understand his frustration and remain glad that he had the opportunity to develop the character for television and graphic novels the way he originally intended.  I particularly liked the Vegas arc including Pike. I'd long wondered what could have been done with the character and it always bothered me that the plot hole existed. 

Volume 2 - 3 out of 5 stars
This collection was pretty lackluster for me.  I always enjoy the Spike and Dru bits. The rest just didn't resonate with me or hold a lasting impression. 

Volume 3 - 2 out of 5 stars
I adore seasons 2 and 3 but this tie in volume fell far short.  The stories just didn't add much to the main theme of the seasons. 

Volume 4 - 3 out of 5 stars
Definitely better entries to wrap up Season 3. Still just okay.

Volume 5 - 3 out of 5 stars
I really enjoyed the Faith vs. Buffy nightmare arc.  While not a huge fan of the Initiative, this volume was better.

Volume 6 - 2 out of 5 stars
Seriously. This volume was just filler. I didn't care for any of the stories.  Moreover, I hated Riley on the television show and it was even worse in graphic novel form. 

Volume 7 - 4 out of 5 stars
A stronger finish.  I always liked seasons 5 and 6 so this volume was of more interest to me.  There were some good tie in stories with the death of Joyce, Buffy's mother and hit on more of the emotional side of these seasons. Also, we saw the return of Pike!  One downfall was that his appearance remains unresolved since this is the last volume.  

Season 8
What do you do when there is more than one slayer and you've demolished a whole town and defeated the First Evil? I liked where the Dark Horse graphic novel representation of season 8 dared to go.  These stories would have easily worked for television but the sheer complexity was great in graphic novel illustration and dialogue. Some old favorites were back (i.e. Warren and Dracula) and there were plenty of twists concerning the Big Bad, a shocking death and some pretty severe magical consequences.

Season 9 
So, you've eliminated magic from the world. What now? Life is never that simple for Buffy and the Scooby Gang.  Buffy has some serious life interruptions to deal with to a surprising conclusion. Spike is the leader of an alien bug race. Willow is on a very significant quest and my favorite part was the appearance of Illyria!  This was definitely a strong story arc to battle zompires, introduce new 'slayers' and plant of new seed of magic.

Season 10
Vol.1: New Rules - With magic back in the world, the rules have changed.  Get ready for some unlikely alliances, the return of some well loved characters and plenty of twists.  I loved the new world building and can't wait for more issues! This volume marks the return of Dracula which is always fun. I can't wait for more! 4 out of 5 stars

Vol. 2: I Wish - loved this...since the rules of magic have changed, everyone is tempted. Andrew is up to his old tricks again which has the potential to be troublesome and heartbreaking. 4 out of 5 stars

Vol. 3: Love Dares You - I promise no spoilers but a heads up for Spuffy fans. Lots of good character development and good story arc plus visits from Buffyverse favs. 5 out of 5 stars

#review #graphicnovel #buffy #BtVS #whedonesque #spuffy