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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