Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 320 pages
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Source of my copy: bought
Summary (for full synopsis visit Goodreads)
Although Kelsey has feelings for her best friend, David, she cuts ties with him before moving from Connecticut to Rhode Island, believing they need a fresh start, but David moves nearby at the start of senior year, threatening Kelsey's relationship with her new boyfriend Ryan.
Michelle's Thoughts:
I wanted to like Last Year's Mistake so much. The cover is amazing, the synopsis just screams my YA romantic contemporary, and I'm a sucker for second chance love stories. This has everything going for it for me and it was on my most anticipated reads of 2015.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I just can't get behind the main character, Kelsey. She's unsympathetic and I couldn't root for her. She had this self-centered, woe-is-me attitude throughout the novel. She's not a very good friend. She basically calls every girl who flirts with or went out with David a slut/ho. She kept leading on Ryan (as well as David) and then she cheated on him with David and showed little guilt. The whole time I was feeling sorry for Violet (her friend who was going out with David) and Ryan.

As for David. He was just blah to me. He didn't really leave a very strong impression. I didn't swoon over him. I felt sorry for him at times, but he also led girls on especially Violet.

The "mistake" or what exactly happened the year before (which we don't learn until the end) that broke Kelsey and David's friendship was... trite. Cliché. But I wouldn't have minded it if I had just felt anything for the characters. Although, since I didn't, I was just annoyed that Kelsey didn't confront David sooner and it would've solved their problems and avoided their whole drama.

I wanted to like this book so much. I am so sad can't.

However, I am not giving up on this author. Last Year's Mistake was her debut and it does show promise. While I didn't like the characters in this book, I did enjoy her writing, style, and voice. I'll be on the lookout for her next novel.

Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 446 pages
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Source of my copy: ALA conference
Summary (for full synopsis visit Goodreads)
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. When Laia's brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire's greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school's finest soldier -- and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he's being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined -- and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
Michelle's Thoughts:
There was never a dull moment in An Ember in the Ashes! It's violent, twisty, action-packed and very, very entertaining. It alternates between the POV of Laia and of Elias, but the author set it up so that at the end of some chapters there was a little mini cliffhanger, and I would be like, Noooo! I need to know what's going to happen next! But then, I'll finally see what happened in the following chapter with the other character. This kept me reading into the night because I was enthralled and I needed to know what will happen next.

I have so much hate for the Commandant and the rebel group--mainly Mazen, the leader--for most of the book. The Commandant was pure evil. I really want to know her back story. How did she end up that way? It wasn't explained. And Mazen! I never trusted that guy. I think I might hate him more than the Commandant. I mean, the Commandant was unapologetic in her cruelty, but Mazen was one of those self-serving people who hides his own agenda behind a supposed noble cause.

The romance square was... interesting. Laia had feelings for Keenan (one of the rebels) and Elias had a thing with Helene (his best friend and a fellow soldier) and, of course, Laia and Elias also had romantic connection. I thought the whole Laia/Keenan thing was unnecessary. I couldn't care less for the rebel boy Keenan. His character was boring to me--I've seen him before in other YA books. He's the token "other guy." I was rooting for Laia and Elias in the end, but early on, I wanted Elias for Helene. I'm a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope and I love Helene's character. Her character and the situation she was in was a lot more interesting than Laia's for most of the novel. Laia's story arc didn't really get picked up until about the halfway point.

While the story and the characters in An Ember in the Ashes were not the most original and the writing was very straight-forward with no true style, I was very much engaged, enthralled and entertained by it. Sabaa Tahir can write a damn good story. I am dying to read book 2!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Storm Siren + Siren's Fury | Excerpt

Monday, July 27, 2015 with
Hello everyone,
Today's post is suppose to be my thoughts about Mary Weber's Storm Siren and its sequel Siren's Fury. But because mailing to Hawaii is a hit or miss, I haven't received my copy of the books yet. I don't want to skip posting today so I thought I'd post an excerpt from the first book in the series, Storm Siren.

This excerpt, which I read via the preview on Amazon, sold me on saying yes to the review request pitch from the publicist. If you haven't picked up the series yet, maybe it'll inspire you to also give it a chance.

“I raise my chin as the buyers stare. Yes. Look. You don’t want me. Because, eventually, accidentally, I will destroy you.”

In a world at war, a slave girl’s lethal curse could become one kingdom’s weapon of salvation. If the curse—and the girl—can be controlled.

As a slave in the war-weary kingdom of Faelen, seventeen-year-old Nym isn’t merely devoid of rights, her Elemental kind are only born male and always killed at birth — meaning, she shouldn’t even exist.

Standing on the auction block beneath smoke-drenched mountains, Nym faces her fifteenth sell. But when her hood is removed and her storm-summoning killing curse revealed, Nym is snatched up by a court advisor and given a choice: be trained as the weapon Faelen needs to win the war, or be killed.

Choosing the former, Nym is unleashed into a world of politics, bizarre parties, and rumors of an evil more sinister than she’s being prepared to fight... not to mention the handsome trainer whose dark secrets lie behind a mysterious ability to calm every lightning strike she summons.

But what if she doesn’t want to be the weapon they’ve all been waiting for?

Set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win.

"Fourteen circles for fourteen owners."

I shade my eyes to block the sun's reflection off the distant mountains currently doused in snow and smoke and flesh-eating birds. The yellow flags above me snap sharp and loud in the breeze as if to emphasize my owner's words that yes, she's quite aware such a high count is utterly ridiculous.

Waiting for it...

"Fourteen?" the sweaty merchant says.

Ha! There it is! Eleven years of repeatedly being sold, and it's sad, really, how familiar I've become with this conversation. Today, if Brea has her way, I will meet my fifteenth, which I suppose should actually bother me. But it doesn't.

Brea nods. "Fourteen."

I smirk and turn to watch a gimpy minstrel roaming through the marketplace, which is the closest I've ever been to Faelen's High Court. The poor guy is singing so wretchedly off-key, I want to giggle, except he might be newly returned from the war front, so I don't. Besides, his odd version of the old ballad "The Monster and the Sea of Elisedd's Sadness" reminds me of my home up in the Fendres. Have you been there? I want to ask him.

Instead, I look over as the enormous merchant grunts his nervousness and retreats from me, giving the ground a superstitious spit. He eyes Brea. "Fourteen owners says either yer lyin' or she's got the dark-death disease. Whichever it is, you best get her out of my way. I got a money business to run." He makes to hurry off toward the selling stand, almost tripping in his fur-trimmed shoes.

I grin. Yes, run away in your too-little boots.

"Wait!" Brea grabs his arm. "Nym doesn't have the disease. She's just..."

The merchant scowls at her grip on his sleeve.

She releases it, but her roundish face turns stony with determination. "She's just too uppity for the poorer folk, that's all. There's only so much a master can take of a servant who thinks she's made of better than the rest."

What in hulls? Is she off her chump? My laugh bubbles up and I choke it back, waiting for her to choke on her lie. He creeps closer and slides a look of dislike down my partially hooded face, my chin, my half-cloaked body. "She doesn't look uppity. She don't even look decent enough for the favor houses."

Whoa. I bite back a prickly remark about his mum birthing him in one of those dung havens and look away. Neither of them deserves a reaction. Using my practiced haughty pose, I face the lively crowd gathered like giddy children in front of the selling platform. Five, ten, fifty people. They're all smiling as if the circus with its panther monkeys and manic dwarves were performing instead of a fat guy in little boots exploiting children. Seems even decent women are desperate for extra hands while the men are off fighting a war we've no hope of winning.

The merchant chews his puffy lip and studies me, like he expects me to help coerce him. Is he jesting? I raise an eyebrow and glare at him until, finally, he grunts again and pulls up the cuff on my right arm.

I stiffen.

His gloved fingers run over each thread tattooed around my wrist like tiny bracelets. "One. Two. Three..." He numbers the circles slowly, fourteen in a row inked into my skin with the juice of the black mugplant. I almost feel like I should clap for him.

Good job, I mouth. You know how to count.

The merchant's face twists into a snarl. He gives me a vicious pinch below my elbow and pushes my sleeve higher up my arm onto my shoulder. I shiver and, narrowing my eyes, start to pull away, but Brea leans into me.

"You hold yourself together," she sputters close to my ear. "And for fool's sake, keep your hair covered, or so help me, Nymia, I'll break your fingers again."

I bite my tongue but refuse her the satisfaction of dipping my gaze to my slightly misshapen left hand, which I'm now curling into a fist.
I like the writing, I'm intrigued by Nym's character and I want to know more about her--for being sold 14 times, she doesn't act like the typical slave--and I'm in a YA fantasy kick after reading some really awesome novels. Storm Siren and Siren's Fury couldn't come at a better time... hopefully, I get my copies of the books soon.

Book 2 is Siren's Fury.

"I thrust my hand toward the sky as my voice begs the Elemental inside me to waken and rise. But it's no use. The curse I've spent my entire life abhorring—the thing I trained so hard to control—no longer exists."

Nym has saved Faelen only to discover that Draewulf stole everything she valued. Now he’s destroyed her Elemental storm-summoning ability as well.

When Nym sneaks off with a host of delegates to Bron, Lord Myles offers her the chance for a new kind of power and the whispered hope that it may do more than simply defeat the monster she loathes. But the secrets the Bron people have kept concealed, along with the horrors Draewulf has developed, may require more than simply harnessing a darker ability.

They may require who she is.

Set against the stark metallic backdrop of the Bron kingdom, Nym is faced with the chance to change the future.

Or was that Draewulf’s plan for her all along?

Happy reading,

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hello everyone,
I am days away from officially going back to work to set up my classroom and welcome my new second graders to the new school year. But thinking back to the summer, a lot of things happened. There were some sadness, but overall it had been a fun, eventful two months.

Back in June, my family and I made an emergency trip to the Philippines. I didn't mention it on my post then, but it was because my paternal grandmother passed away. Not a fun trip, but she was really sick and we were glad she didn't have to suffer any longer. And despite the sad circumstance, it's always good to go back to our homeland.

Less than a week after we got back from the Philippines, I was traveling again. This time to San Francisco for the annual American Library Association conference. I went to the conference last year in Las Vegas and had a lot of fun, so I decided to go again this year. Unfortunately, Leslie couldn't make it, but my mom, brother and little sister Aubrey came with me and it was great!

With the wonderful Leigh Bardugo!
The city of San Francisco is amazing! I especially love that the temperatures were in the high 50s to low 70s at its hottest--I mean, even in winter we barely dip to the 60s here on Maui so I loved the cool weather. We did some sightseeing and a lot of food eating and had an awesome time.

Being the book nerd that I am, the ALA conference was, of course, the highlight of the trip. I'm always like a kid in a candy store with all the books, author signings and just meeting and being around other people who love books as much as I do--I only get to do this kind of thing once a year, since authors do not come to Hawaii for book tours and events, so I try to do as much as I can.

With Renee Ahdieh who was so lovely!
But it was a lot more challenging to do all the things this year, because of the weird exhibit hall set up. The conference was held at the Moscone Center, which was HUGE, and the exhibitors and vendors were split between two different exhibit halls. Now, this wouldn't have been a problem except instead of having all the publishers in one area like last year, they were split between the two exhibit halls. Like, Penguin Random House and HarperCollins were in one hall while Simon & Schuster and Macmillan was in the other and you have to walk quite a long (and confusing) ways to go back and forth between the two exhibit halls. Good thing I had Aubrey with me and we split up to go to different signings, or she'd stand in line for me so that after a signing was over, I could run to the other hall and I wouldn't be the last one and turn me away because they already ran out of books. Still, I missed quite a few author events because the running back and forth between the two exhibit halls just got a little too much.

Despite all that, I did get to meet some amazing authors including Leigh Bardugo, Renee Ahdieh (her debut novel The Wrath and the Dawn is the BEST I read this year so far), Anthony Doerr (who wrote All the Light We Cannot See and he was so nice), Rae Carson, Sabaa Tahir, Suzanne Young, as well as others. I also got a lot of amazing books that I am very, VERY excited to read--I tried to limit myself to books that I really want to read, but I ended up with a lot anyway.

The bulk of my ALA haul.
Next year, the conference will be in Florida and I am definitely planning to go not only because of the conference but it's also a chance to visit Harry Potter World and Disney World because I've never been to either.

After a very eventful June, I spend July relaxing at home and trying to read as many books as I can before I have to go back to work. I also reorganized my bookshelves and got rid of more books that I know I am never going to read or reread to make room for the new ones. I caught up on tv shows and YouTube videos. And when I'm not reading or watching, I am on Pinterest pinning classroom ideas and browsing TeachersPayTeachers... I can't believe summer vacation is almost over!

Let me know which book above I should read first. I'm having a hard time deciding because I want to read them all ASAP.

Happy reading,

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hello everyone,
Today we want to highlight a series you might not be familiar with, but it's huge in Sweden. It is the Engelsfors (translated to Angel Falls) trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren. So huge that book 1, The Circle (or Cirkeln) was made into a movie. Here's the trailer

I don't speak Swedish but seeing that trailer makes me really, REALLY want to read the books! All three books in the series have been translated to English and they're all out now. I'm kind of into scary reads lately and this series sound like just my kind of thing.

The Key (book 3) recently came out so all the books in the series are now available.

The heart-stopping conclusion to the internationally bestselling Engelsfors Trilogy

The final installment of the Engelsfors Trilogy—an international sensation with rights sold in 29 countries—The Key combines thrilling action and dark magic with all the passion and drama of teen life. The result is nothing less than explosive. By the end of the second book, Fire, only the Chosen ones remain as the last defense against the mysterious, demonic forces that have been plaguing Engelsfors.

The Chosen Ones are still coming to terms with their loss when evil strikes again, barely a month after the showdown in the school gym. They have no chance to recover, and no choice but to rally together to try to prevent the apocalypse—even while their personal dramas threaten to tear them apart.

Time is running out for the Chosen Ones to fulfil the prophecy and save the world, but whether they succeed or not, one thing is certain: Everything will change.

Book 2 is Fire.

Praised by Lev Grossman as "stunning, …raw, real, smart, very thrilling and very, very wicked,” The Circle, the first book in the internationally bestselling Engelsfors Trilogy, introduced a group of high school girls with special powers who became the Chosen Ones. As book two, Fire, begins, Minoo, Vanessa, Linnéa, Anna-Karin and Ida have been struggling with their own demons all summer long. Now school is back in session, and whether they like it or not, the five Chosen Ones must stick together stronger than ever before.

Evil is back in Engelsfors and it threatens to engulf everyone and everything—and only if the five girls accept their strengths and trust each other unconditionally will they have any chance of defeating it.

The second installment of the Engelsfors Trilogy—an international sensation with rights sold in 26 countries—Fire sees the past woven together with the present, the living with the dead, our human world with demonic forces. This spellbinding novel takes the reader on a wild journey in a world where the stakes are higher than life-and-death.
And here's book 1, The Circle.

On a night after the apparent suicide of high school student Elias Malmgren, a blood-red moon fills the night sky. Minoo wakes up outside her house, still in her pajamas, and is drawn by an invisible force to an abandoned theme park on the outskirts of town. Soon five of her classmates--Vanessa, Linnea, Anna-Karin, Rebecka and Ida--arrive, compelled the same force. A mystical being takes over Ida's body and tells them they are fated to fight an ancient evil that is hunting them. The park is a safe haven; the school, a place of danger. The six are wildly different and definitely not friends…but they are the Chosen Ones.

As the weeks pass, each girl discovers she has a unique magical ability. They begin exploring their powers, but they are not all firmly committed to their mission--to discover the truth about Elias's death. Then a horrible tragedy strikes within the circle. Newly determined to fight the evil forces, they begin to learn magic from The Book of Patterns, an ancient work with a will of its own that reveals different things to different witches.

In this gripping first installment of the Engelsfors Trilogy, a parallel world emerges in which teenage dreams, insanely annoying parents, bullying, revenge, and love collide with flirtation, dangerous forces, and ancient magic. An international sensation with rights sold in 24 countries, The Circle is razor-sharp and remarkable from start to finish.
Linnéa, Vanessa, Anna-Karin, Rebecka, Minoo & Ida from the Cirkeln movie.
For more info on the movie, there's an IMDB page for it. Anyone read this series yet?

Happy reading,

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ARC: 490 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #1
A princess must find her place in a reborn world. 
She flees on her wedding day. 
She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor's secret collection. 

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father. 
She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan. 

 The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can't abide. Like having to marry someone she's never met to secure a political alliance. Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.


(WARNING: The synopsis of The Heart of Betrayal spoils The Kiss of Deception in a BIG way. Read it only if you already read The Kiss of Deception.)
ARC: 473 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2
Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save her life, Lia's erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar's interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen. Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: there's Rafe, who lied to Lia, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be barbarians. Now that she lives amongst them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country... and her own destiny.

I went into Kiss of Deception knowing little to nothing about it save for what I got from the brief and vague synopsis that was on the back of my ARC copy and getting told from my sister that there's a mysterious love triangle in the book. Mostly intrigued by the mysterious love triangle and how that was going to play out, I picked up Kiss of Deception and hoped for the best. I was happy to find that it was a great read full of excitement and action, and so, when an ARC of Heart of Betrayal came in the mail the next day, I immediately picked it up and read more about the ever-growing and complexing web of deception that Lia, her friends, and her enemies were getting caught into.

I overall came to like both Kiss of Deception and Heart of Betrayal for their exciting plot and cast of characters. I'm giving them each

There's a lot of suspense and a lot of secrecy in the story of Lia and her quest to claim her freedom and uncover her gift as a seventeen-year-old jaded by traditions yet destined to save millions of lives. False identities are given, hearts are wielded and broken, vows are made and kept, and lives are threatened and ended as Lia, her friends, her family, and her enemies try to meet their individual goals and desires--forget, really, how others may feel and react. As became a common mantra among the characters in the Remnant Chronicles, "There are no rules when it comes to survival." This rule, with all the lies and deception that resulted from it, fascinated me to no end. I found it hard to understand the necessity of all the dishonesty, but at the same time, I could see myself acting the same way if put in each of the characters' position and considering their various backgrounds. Whether or not I fully agreed with the characters' actions, however, the game of survival and the battle for power made for a great and riveting storyline that intrigued me from the beginning of Kiss of Deception to the ending of Heart of Betrayal. I must already say, I'm looking forward to the last book of the series and seeing how everything, everything, comes to an end.

The characters of the Remnant Chronicles were so very interesting and realistic with their individual histories driving their present actions and making for some ill-intended and some well-intended relationships. I really liked how I got to know each character, garnering with Lia pieces of information on everyone to get a clear picture of each and figuring who we were--who she was--up against and allying with. I can't say I identified myself or aligned myself wholly with Lia or any of the other characters because by knowing them each so well made me see myself a little in each of them or at least sympathize with them. Don't get me wrong, their pasts were no excuse for what harm and evil they brewed thus far in the series, but, like any true human being, they were all flawed, angry, and scared in their own yet similar ways. Then, knowing how they are the way they are, I was even more fascinated by all the alliances and relationships that were made in Kiss of Deception and Heart of Betrayal. Those that were made with good intentions but had scary and deadly circumstances frightened me and sometimes even disgusted me; those that were made with genuine and true regard for each other helped me feel hopeful for and support those characters. No two characters in the Remnant Chronicles were so alike that it was loathsome, but rather each had their own personalities and set of values that drove them to do what they did throughout the story line. I invested much interest in how the cast of characters in Kiss of Deception and Heart of Betrayal acted and interacted.

The romance in Kiss of Deception was refreshingly unusual. I thought how Pearson didn't outright reveal which boy out of Rafe and Kaden was the prince and the assassin was cool and different. Even as some chapters of Kiss of Deception were told in the Prince's perspective or the Assassin's, Rafe's, or Kaden's, for the first half of the book, she kept these chapters open-ended enough for the reader to feel unsure of who was who and merely judge each boy by who they showed themselves to be with only their names associated with them. I had a hunch, but halfway through the book, when Rafe and Kaden's identities were finally revealed to the reader, I found that I was wrong. The mystery aspect of the love triangle contributed to Kiss of Deception's ideas of lies and identities as well as gave each boy some fair chance in the reader's mind before being judged and disliked. It was a really unusual and great way to put a love triangle in a story. 

However, the continuation of the romance in Heart of Betrayal was a little unsatisfying. By the end of Kiss of Deception, Lia has made a choice of which boy she really wants to be with, and as much as I highly approve of it, in Heart of Betrayal, I wasn't really convinced of her and her hero's love until the very end of the book. I know that in Heart of Betrayal the couple gets separated and must pretend as if they don't like each other to survive in the brutal and impoverish Venda and I know they each had a lot to consider and plan for to escape together from the foreign kingdom, but I just wasn't feeling it when the Iloveyou's came out. I rooted for them in Kiss of Deception and I rooted for them at the end of Heart of Betrayal, but for the majority of the latter book, I was unconvinced and almost leaned toward the other guy. Hopefully, in the third book of the Remnant Chronicles, Lia and her hero will be together more and I'll be swooning over their love once again.

All in all, Kiss of Deception and Heart of Betrayal were both really great reads with an exciting plot, an interesting set of characters, and a different take on love triangles. I highly recommend the two books to anyone who love their fantasy, mystery, love, and deception because the Remnant Chronicles is surely delivering on those so far. I can't wait to read the third and final book of this series. Please, Ms. Pearson, hurry with the final installment; I'm hoping for all the best for Lia and her companions.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: June 23, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: Slow Burn #3
The third book in the beloved #1 bestselling author’s sexy, romantic suspense Slow Burn series…

They say young love doesn’t last, but a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with unique abilities and the hometown golden boy were determined to defy the odds. For Zack Covington, Anna-Grace—his “Gracie”—was the one. Until one night forever alters the course of their future, when a devastated Gracie disappears without a trace, leaving Zack to agonize over what happened to the girl he loved. As the years pass, his desperate efforts to find her uncovered nothing.

Now working for Devereaux Security, he stumbles across a painting featuring a special place only he and Gracie would know. The image is too perfectly rendered for it to be coincidence. His Gracie must be alive. When he finally tracks her down, he is shocked—and heart-broken—to discover the wounded shell of the girl he once knew and still loves. Her psychic gifts are gone, and worse, she believes he betrayed her all those years ago.

Zack has enemies, and once his weakness is discovered, Gracie becomes a target for revenge. He’ll have to save her before he can earn her trust and her love. And he vows they’ll never be torn apart again.

I don't quite know how I feel about Safe at Last. I didn't hate it and it kept my attention, but I have a lot of issues with it. In His Keeping (book 2) is still the best in the series in my opinion.
Safe at Last was about Zack Covington, an employee in the Devereaux Security Services, who we met in the previous books. He was in love with his high school sweetheart, Anna-Grace "Gracie" Hill and they planned on getting married and having a lot of kids. But one day, Gracie just disappeared without a trace and in the next 12 years, Zack left a promising pro-football career to work in law enforcement, to better find Gracie, until he was hired in DSS. Zack was about to give up finding her until a DSS job brought him face to face with Gracie. But Gracie didn't want anything to do with him, she was angry with him and accusing him of ruining her life, and she was deathly afraid of him. Zack wanted answers, because the way he saw it he should be the one angry with her. She left him without a word. What made Gracie run 12 years ago? Why was she so afraid of him and angry at the same time? What exactly happened to her?

All of those questions were what kept me reading and surprisingly engrossed in the story. Not the characters--I've seen Zack and Gracie's characters before. They feel like cutouts of previous heroes and heroines from other Maya Banks books. Also, nothing really happened plot-wise and action-wise for most of the novel. Safe at Last began with a DSS rescue but after that it was mostly Zack ranting about how his dreams of having babies with Gracie was never to be and him wondering just what the heck happened to her 12 years ago until the bad guys from In His Keeping beat her up so Zack put on his alpha, I-have-to-keep-her-safe-at-all-cost hat and kept close to her even though she wanted nothing to do with him. Then, it's more of Zack agonizing about his lost white picket fence dreams with Gracie and trying to get answers about the past.

But, you guys, I was into it! It might have to do with the fact that I was reading this during a readathon, but I was never bored. I got frustrated with Zack (yes! I get it, Zack--you don't have to keep thinking and saying the same thing over and over and over again), but surprisingly I was not bored. I don't know... it was weird. I was really invested in the story and I wanted to know the answers along with Zack. Even when one of the big answers was finally revealed and I knew (and I was right!) who orchestrated the despicable thing that happened to Gracie, I was still into the story. Like I said in my review of In His Keeping, the magic of Maya Banks is that her books are very entertaining and I want to know what will happen next despite the cheesiness and the repetitiveness of the characters inner monologue and I keep turning the pages despite everything.

I have to mention though that there were a few typos in the final paperback. I usually wouldn't mention typos because minor typos are beyond me, but there were a couple that were glaringly obvious even to me. For example, one of the secondary characters was called Mathew (there's no character called Mathew in the entire book) instead of Wade in one sentence. I don't think it was Maya's fault; it was just poor editing.

The thing I liked most about Safe at Last, though, was that Maya did not force the sex between Zack and Gracie. There's only one sex scene in this book and it's on the last chapter. I was okay with that because it wouldn't have been right for Zack and Gracie's characters if anything sexual happened to them before. I'm all about the smexy scenes but if it's not right for the characters, then it would've ruined the entire book for me. So, yay, Maya Banks, for not forcing the sex for the sake of having multiple sex scenes. 

I can't outright recommend Safe at Last by itself, but if you read and enjoyed Keep Me Safe and In His Keeping, then definitely pick up Safe at Last. If you want to read a romantic suspense by Maya Banks, I think you're better off picking up her KGI series. Admittedly, the Slow Burn series is not my favorite series by her (my favorite will always be the McCabe trilogy, her historical romance series) but I plan on picking up future books by her. 

If you're interested, I reviewed the first two books, Keep Me Safe (book 1) and In His Keeping (book 2) in the series previously. You don't need to read the first book to enjoy this one, but to understand one of the secondary storylines in Safe at Last, you might want to pick up In His Keeping.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hello everyone,
I am excited for this post because I got to play Would You Rather with author Kim Karr. Her book Toxic came out yesterday. It's my first book by Kim and really enjoyed it--I'll also be sharing my thoughts below. But in case you don't know what Toxic is about:

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not...

In Toxic, Jeremy McQueen, a sexy, intense, sometimes brooding entrepreneur goes after what he wants—the woman he left behind years ago. Phoebe St. Claire, a put together, in control socialite-turned-CEO has been drifting through life searching for something she thought she'd never find again—the right man to share her future.

Our passion was boundless. Our lust untamed. And our desire endless. He was the only man who ever made me feel alive. Then, I betrayed him.

When he reappeared, I didn’t question it. Trust rarely survives the wrecking ball, so when he let me in back in—I didn’t hesitate.

Maybe I should have.

What began as a bid to save my family business, turned into a second chance at love. It felt so romantic. Working together, side by side, with the man I loved. My dream come true.

Nothing is as good as it seems.

We had our issues, but then again, every couple does. It wasn’t jealousy, or our too-hot sex life that I should have been worried about.

It was his darkside.

I never saw the end coming, until it slammed me in the face. The question is—did he?

Was revenge his plan all along?

Toxic was my first book by Kim Karr and it made me eager to read more by her. 

When Jeremy and Phoebe met there was an instant connection between them. But Jeremy hated people with money and her father particularly, so Phoebe didn't tell him her true identity, and of course that ended in heartbreak. Fast forward years later and Phoebe met Jeremy again. Their connection was just as strong as ever and they have a second chance at love. They are older, wiser and there's no secrets this time... but can they let go of their past? Does Jeremy have a hidden agenda? Phoebe has a lot more to lose this time around, and it's not just her heart.

I love that Toxic was a standalone. I prefer getting the whole story in one novel and this one was a fast read. There was always something going on and I wanted to know what will happen next, whether it was something about Phoebe's friends (who had interesting secondary storylines themselves, especially Jaime), or with Phoebe and Jeremy's relationship drama, or Phoebe's business drama. There was always something going on.

Toxic had a lot more drama than the contemporary romances I prefer. And while I was really into the story there were times when I got annoyed with Phoebe and the constant back and forth, will-they-won't-they she and Jeremy had going on. And the main reason why was mostly because Phoebe was jealous of Avery, another woman who had her cap set on Jeremy, or Jeremy was jealous over something Phoebe said or did with another man. I'm not a fan of jealously as the "big" issue for a couple because in books it's usually an issue that will keep coming back over and over even after reassurances, and that happened here. 

I'm also not sure how I feel about Phoebe's character. I liked Jeremy; I thought he was more likable than Phoebe. He was a sexy, brooding, secretive bad boy with a complicated past, and usually I'm not a fan of that, but here it works. Maybe I was more forgiving of him because we see him through Phoebe's eyes and sometimes I felt like she was making a mountain out of a molehill when it came to some of the things she saw about him. I liked Phoebe (since the book was in her first-person narration I wouldn't have kept reading if I didn't) and I felt for her at times, but she did things and made assumptions and decisions that just added more drama. Like that whole thing with her ex-fiancee Dawson. The man basically assaulted her, and she let him stay over her house after. I don't care if he's an old friend--if a guy assaults you, you kick him out. I couldn't forgive her decision to let him stay in that instance.

But despite all of that, Toxic was an entertaining read. It was hard to put down at times and while the whole will-they-won't-they aggravated me, it also kept me reading because I rooted for Phoebe and Jeremy to work things out. I also really enjoyed the sizzling chemistry Phoebe and Jeremy had, which made for some very spicy sex scenes. And Jeremy's dirty mouth... **fans self** The man is HOT!! If you like your romances set in New York in the world of the rich and famous, with a lot of drama and heat, definitely pick up Toxic. I am looking forward to more by Kim Karr. I like her writing style and I like how she can turn up the heat. I am happy I already have the first two books in her Connections series in my Kindle because Toxic won't be the last book I read by her.

Author Kim Karr
Hi Kim! Thank you so much for stopping by our blog. Let's play the "would you rather" game. Please pick one of the 2 choices and briefly explain why. [These questions were from RayKayBooks's Would You Rather: Book Edition Tag.]

Be a librarian or a bookseller
Kim Karr: Hmmm…. Librarian I think because the library is quiet and I could sneak away and read. J
Michelle: Definitely librarian. I have the library degree and everything!

Read only trilogies or only standalone
KK: I love a series so trilogies. I get completely invested in the characters and hate to let them go.
M: I'm going to cheat a little bit and say I prefer standalones in a series where the books in the series are connected but each book follows different characters.

All your favorite books become movies or TV shows
KK: TV Shows so I could watch them every week.
M: TV shows for the same reason as Kim.

Only read your top 20 favorite books over and over or only always read new ones that you haven't read before
KK: Tough. New ones I think because I love the feeling I get when I’m trying to figure someone out.
M: New ones. While I like to read my favorite parts in books I love, I hardly re-read books from cover to cover.

Only read your favorite genre or every genre but your favorite
KK: Favorite genre because I know I’ll like what I’m reading.
M: Favorite genre for the same reason as Kim and also there's a lot of subgenres in contemporary romance so I'll never be bored anyway.

Only read physical books or only e-books
KK: EBOOKS. I love my Kindle. Take it everywhere and when I finish one book the next is waiting.
M: Physical books. I love seeing my physical books on my bookshelf and admiring their covers.

Kim, thank you for being game playing Would You Rather with me. Also, a huge thank you to Kelsea and Sullivan & Partners for connecting me with Kim. Connect with Kim on her Facebook, Twitter and her website.

Happy reading,

Monday, July 6, 2015

Mass Market: 368 pages
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: June 30, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Cedar Ridge, Colorado, is famous for crisp mountain air, clear blue skies, and pine-scented breezes. And it's the last place Lily Danville wants to be. But she needs a job, and there's an opening at the hottest resort in her hometown. What has her concerned is the other hot property in Cedar Ridge: Aidan Kincaid-firefighter, rescue worker, and heartbreaker. She never could resist that devastating smile...

The Kincaid brothers are as rough and rugged as the Rocky Mountains they call home. Aidan has always done things his own way, by his own rules. And never has he regretted anything more than letting Lily walk out of his life ten years ago. If anyone has ever been in need of rescuing, she has. What she needs more than anything are long hikes, slow dances, and sizzling kisses. But that can only happen if he can get her to give Cedar Ridge-and this bad boy-a second chance...

I'm a big Jill Shalvis fan. Her Lucky Harbor series was one of my favorites and when it ended I was very excited to read her new Cedar Ridge series. I was not disappointed. I enjoyed Second Chance Summer and I cannot wait for more books in the series.

Jill Shalvis follows a formula, but it's a formula that keeps me coming back for more. Jill Shalvis's books, especially if they're part of a series, are like potato chips--you cannot read just one. Just like in her Lucky Harbor series, this new series was set in a small town inhabited by eccentric townspeople, sexy alpha men and intelligent women. But unlike Lucky Harbor, which was a small town near the ocean, Cedar Ridge is located up in the mountains of Colorado. 

Our hero Aidan Kincaid is a fire fighter, a search and rescue worker and he also co-owns the Cedar Ridge Resort with his siblings. Our heroine Lily Danville found her way back in Cedar Ridge after she got fired from her job in LA, but she promised herself that it's only temporary. Meanwhile, she needed a job, and the only opening was at the resort. The last thing Lily wanted though was to see Aidan. Ten years ago, they did not part on good terms when Lily left after her family fell apart and Aidan didn't stop her. Now, Aidan hopes to convince Lily to give him and Cedar Ridge a second chance...

Both Lily and Aidan were likable characters. Besides being a sexy fire fighter, Aidan works hard, is responsible, loyal and loves his mom and siblings. He rescues people for a living, puts others before himself, and you can count on him. He had his brooding and alpha moments, but I love how open he was about his feelings for Lily. As for Lily, she's independent and hard-working, but she struggled with her guilt over her sister and father's deaths. She didn't have family around like Aidan does so she's alone. She's hesitant when it comes to starting a relationship with Aidan, and I understood why she felt the way she did. She was carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders and she needed to let go of some of that before she can start anything. But Lily and Aidan could not ignore each other and the obvious attraction between them. It was fun and entertaining to watch them find their way to each other again, hiccups and all.

Lily and Aidan were great, but my favorite part was meeting all quirky secondary characters. My favorites were Aidan's brother Gray and his wife Penny. They were a hoot with their TMI. If you read Kristan Higgins's Blue Heron series, they kind of reminded me of Pru and Carl. Others were Aidan's mom Char, Lily's friend Jonathan, and Aidan's friend Mitch--they all brought humor to the story and I love all the scenes they were in. I also love the family dynamics between the Kincaids. They prank and annoy each other, argue and get in each other's business, but at the end of the day they are a unit and they are there for each other no matter what and I just love that. Jill Shalvis writes the best sibling relationships in contemporary romance, no question.

The plot Second Chance Summer in was familiar and nothing really surprised me, but add in the setting, the quirky secondary characters, the humorous moments and the witty banter, and what you get is a very delightful, entertaining read. I am looking forward to reading the next books in the series. If you enjoyed (or, like me, miss reading) the Lucky Harbor series, definitely pick up Second Chance Summer. You'll find everything you loved there in this new series. If you want to start a small-town romance series, give Cedar Ridge a chance. You really cannot go wrong when picking up a Jill Shalvis novel. 

“Come here,” he said.

“I’m right here.”


She walked into his arms. He pulled her in and kissed her. He kissed her until he knew he’d taken it as far as he could without tearing off that pretty sundress right then and there, and only then did he lift his head.

“Oh,” she breathed, staggering back a step, clearly trying to play it cool—which might have worked if her eyes weren’t dilated and the pulse at the base of her throat wasn’t going apeshit crazy.

He gave a slow smile and pulled her back in, not hard for him to do, since she already had a grip on his shirt like he was her lifeline and she was going down for the count.

She cleared her throat. “So you showed up all Captain America to save the day, and now what? I jump into bed with you? Was that your plan?”

“Yeah,” he said, “but in my version we didn’t talk this much.”

“A full-service rescue then,” she said evenly.

He tried a cajoling smile. “I’m really good at full service.”

“Do you really think this is a good idea?”

He laughed softly and let his mouth brush over her temple and then her ear, which caused her to shiver. “Of course it’s not a good idea. Or we’d have gone for it already.

But sometimes the bad ideas turn out to be the best ideas of all.”

“Yeah?” she asked. “Name one.”

“Bringing out your keys from the convenience store after the postcard display demolition.”

She let out a soft laugh and fisted her hands in his hair.

“So what now? We really going to try this out?”

Were they? He’d promised himself he wouldn’t give her a chance to devastate him again. But somehow over the past few weeks he’d lost sight of keeping his heart safe and moved onto wanting to heal her heart. “I’m game.”

She hesitated so long he took a step back from her and prepared himself to leave. But her hand came out and gripped his. “You’re wearing too many clothes,” she said softly.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

ARC: 328 pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: none
Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Devoted was my first book about a cult, and after reading my sister's review and hearing from her her experience reading her first cult-themed book (see her review of Seed), I had some expectations for it. As I picked it up, I readied myself for a twisted plot featuring equally twisted characters and a foreign world that I could delve myself into every time I read. I was so excited to read something refreshingly different and out of my comfort zone that I had a lot of anticipation going into Devoted. However, when I was some chapters in, I quickly realized that it is no such book.

Devoted was not the dark and riveting read I was expecting. Its plot was slow and predictable, albeit somewhat interesting and eye-opening, and its characters were not particularly twisted or nefarious. This finding both disappointed me and relieved me, so I'm giving Devoted

I'll be honest, I was being unfair when I began to read Devoted with the expectation that it was going to be so dramatically appalling. My assumption that all books about cults are shocking and horrific cast Devoted in an unjustified light, hindering my reading enjoyment of the novel alone. So when I read Devoted and quickly realized my mistake, I tried to disregard my expectations completely and enjoy the book for what it is. 

The story is of a girl named Rachel Walker who had been raised all her life in attending services and following the practices and beliefs of a church called Calvary Christian Church. When her desire for knowledge and education leads her to learning about the faults and flaws of what she has always assumed to be the perfect and right way of life, she begins to question the church's and the brethrens' ways. Her revelations and utter feelings of loneliness and confusion move her to abandon all that she knew and seek truth outside of the church, although it may mean leaving her own family behind.

The plot had a slow and predictable pace, although not so slow that I constantly felt I was plodding along. But with my former expectations not completely forgotten, I felt bored at times with the story line because I could already tell what Rachel's wonderings were going to lead her to do and then I was frustrated when it took a few chapters for Rachel to get to where I already knew she was going to go. Still, I kept reading, figuring that that was actually a good thing, for me, especially, as the subject matter of Devoted was something new to me. As I got to understand Rachel more, I wanted to learn more about her life, family, friends, and peers. Her world was slowly explained and built around me, and with every new detail, my interest in it grew. There were no mysteries or crazy secrets that kept me on the edge of my seat in Devoted and, at times, its pace made me feel restless, but I eventually came to like how simply eye-opening its story came to be.

Contrary to what I expected at first, the characters in Devoted were not overly complex characters, each just having their own unique history that understandably made them who they were in the book, although they were not very easily relatable. Along with Rachel, whom I only related to over our shared enthusiasm for books, I was riveted with each piece of information I discovered about each character, their personalities becoming more and more clear in my mind's eye. I wish, however, that there was less telling and more showing in Devoted because there were many characters who were key to Rachel's development, and so, their traits had to be set straight for the story to make sense. For the other characters, though, I felt that, even though they were secondary, they had motives too that should have been explained. For example, I still wonder if the pastor of Calvary Christian Church had something against those under his care or was just plain naive of what was going on when he always resulted to the form of correction he did to help the brethren. While those important characters were clearly focused on and delineated, explanation of the others' traits was disregarded, making holes that made me feel disconnected to the characters and their interactions with each other. Coupled with the predicability of the plot, I cannot really say I rooted for Rachel in her search for truth than say I was happy she did when she did. I couldn't connect well with the characters, although I wish I had because they seemed like they had more to them than what I was given and told.

Overall, Devoted was an okay read. I expected some dramatic plot going in, but I'm glad for its untheatrical, non-tragic-ness just the same. Even though I thought the plot was slow and predictable and the characters were not easily relatable or fully fleshed out, I found Devoted to be an interesting read with its topical themes of knowledge, truth, and the meaning or purpose of life. I'd recommend this to anyone whose never read any contemporary YA about cults because Devoted is a good book to start with--no crazy Jim Jones kind of cult leader with a mass suicide in the end here. I'd also recommend this to anyone wanting an uplifting read because Devoted reminds us that the world is too large and too complex to be explained by utter truths and the key to living in its expansiveness is embracing it wholly.