Reviews

Review: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

 

10988It began at an ancient Scottish stone circle. There, a doorway, open to a select few, leads into the past—or the grave. Dr. Claire Randall survived the extraordinary passage, not once but twice.
Her first trip swept her into the arms of Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scot whose love for her became a legend—a tale of tragic passion that ended with her return to the present to bear his child. Her second journey, two decades later, brought them together again in the American colonies. But Claire had left someone behind in the twentieth century—their daughter, Brianna….
Now Brianna has made a disturbing discovery that sends her to the circle of stones and a terrifying leap into the unknown. In search of her mother and the father she has never met, she is risking her own future to try to change history … and to save their lives. But as Brianna plunges into an uncharted wilderness, a heartbreaking encounter may strand her forever in the past … or root her in the place she should be, where her heart and soul belong…

Amazon/Goodreads

Diana Gabaldon is a fucking genius. Just when you wonder how the hell she can keep moving forward with this story, she blows your mind all over again. Where does this woman fit, in her great mind, all the shenanigans that go on this series? It’s blissful insanity.

Drums of Autumn sets the scene for Brianna and Roger, and while we have new dimensions, new lives to focus on, it all still primarily revolves around Jamie and Claire. If they ever have a quiet moment in their lives, it doesn’t last long, and I can’t help but wonder if they bring chaos onto themselves or it’s just drawn to them.

Jamie and Claire are both strong characters. Bold and unafraid to speak their minds. They are usually at the head of the table, leading others, and with that, I guess, comes not only responsibility but constant shit hitting the fan.

Brianna and Roger add new elements, but I can’t bring myself to feel about them the way I’ve always felt about J&C. Gabaldon gives us blood, sweat, and tears, but they still seem unsure of each other.

I could go on about the writing style, plot, and character development, but I won’t. I’ve praised it all in the last three reviews, and those ravings still ring true. I don’t think Diana Gabaldon has the power to waver and wane in her writing, so I will forge on to book five and beyond.

Cheers!

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Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

11235712Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future

 

Goodreads/Amazon

A few years ago, when Cinder was first released, I couldn’t go to any book blogger’s site without seeing it’s cover. I was constantly reminded that it was a must-read, but for whatever reason, I just never got around to it. Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a science fiction fanatic or maybe it’s the bookworm curse of having a stockpile of TBRs that take forever to get around to.. I dunno. But I finally read it and…

I loved it.

It’s a retelling of Cinderella that I never would have imagined. It’s not elegant and full of glass slippers and pristine ballgowns. No, no, no. It has grease stains, wrinkled dresses, and robotic body parts. It’s awesome.

Cinder is amazing. She’s a world-class ass-kicker with a streak of stubborn, but the teenage girl in her still peeks through now and then. I love her snark and how, despite the way she’s treated by her stepmother, she puts others before herself.

All the characters are pretty well fleshed-out and three-dimensional. You see them, hear them, know them, and the relationships between them are genuine. Kai and Cinder have an instant attraction, but it wasn’t forced (AKA it wasn’t ooey gooey love from the moment their eyes met). Their connection is a growing and evolving tangible thing, ebbing and flowing as all relationships do.

Everything about this book feels real, from the characters to the world that Meyers has created. From the trash-littered streets to the glowing palace, it’s got layers of grungy beauty and a deep, troubled past that it’s inhabitants fight to overcome.

Overall, this book is stellar. It’s on my favorites list and is one of those books that will stick with me.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Cheers!!

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Laia is a slave. Eli27774758as is a soldier. Neither is free.

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, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But 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.

Goodreads/Amazon

“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.”

-Stephen King

I feel as if this is the case with An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. It begins with two very different characters, each a victim of dire circumstances, who come to find strengths they’ve never known before. They turn their backs on who they’ve been told they are and become something unexpected.

I found myself just as frustrated as Laia and Elias as they struggled to find freedom. Their journeys are peppered with riddles and mixed messages, and it’s only as the story comes to a head that all the answers begin to unfold. I think that’s what makes this story so good: they persevere and trust in their instincts, and as a result, they figure out who they’re meant to be.

The character growth is all I could hope for as a reader. Not even the minor characters remain stagnant, each affected and changed by the events that transpire.

The only character that didn’t convince me was Keenan. He seemed like an afterthought and the attraction between him and Laia felt forced. It was unnecessary except to form some kind of lopsided love triangle between Laia, Keenan, and Elias. I felt that the author was trying to make Keenan more than he needed to be – but who knows, maybe his role will make more sense in the sequels.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the tension between Elias and Helene: it was real and had a solid basis in their enduring friendship. The complexity between them was intense, and throwing Laia into the mix to create another little triangle of sexual tension made things interesting.

The relationships between these characters plays an essential role in their actions. They affect each other, pushing each other beyond what they once thought was their limit. It’s awesome and creates unexpected outcomes.

An Ember in the Ashes is well written, creating a vivid picture of tyranny, rebellion, betrayals, and hard truths. Sabaa Tahir has become one of my must-read authors.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cheers!!

Review: Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

10987

Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

Goodreads/Amazon

Diana Gabaldon is pure genius. Reaching the end of Dragonfly in Amber, I wasn’t sure what to expect next… I definitely not to be catapulted through time by twenty years. I immediately panicked, freaking out that the saga of Jamie and Claire was coming to end, that the story was transforming its central characters…

I’m glad I’m wrong most of the time. Rather than alter the focus from Jamie and Claire to their daughter, Brianna, Gabaldon used her to add another layer to the story, making things more complicated, if that were even possible. I don’t know how Gabaldon keeps it all straight, but she does it and it’s a freaking masterpiece.

What can I say about Voyager that I haven’t said about the previous two novels in the Outlander saga? Her writing style, world building, and character development are superb. I can’t find fault in any of it. It’s long and the scenes can be drawn out, but I find that the length and amount of description are necessary to get the depth of emotion across, to really reach the reader on more than just a surface level.

The change of scenery is a bit mind blowing, and I find myself missing the contrasts of Scotland. Jamie and Claire end up across the world, and I feel that there are no limits to their ongoing adventures. They never seem to settle, and even though it seems to be what Jamie wants more than anything, he doesn’t seem suited to a quiet life. I’m just waiting for the ball to drop, for him to do something crazy … and to subsequently pick up the pieces of my broken heart. He’s done it to me before, and I’m under no delusions that he’ll do it again in The Drums of Autumn.

If you haven’t started this saga, please, please give it a chance. Don’t let the number of pages deter you – every single word is worth the time. Gabaldon is a master story-teller, and I can say that I don’t think I’ve ever been as enchanted or involved in a story as I have been with the Outlander series. As readers, that’s what we crave, isn’t it?

Cheers!

 

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

20958632Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous
they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Goodreads/Amazon

Rating: 2/5 Stars

The synopsis of The Darkest Part of the Forest is epic. It hints at a creepy and magical world and effects a level of excitement that makes you clear your entire day for reading, feeding your family be damned. But as I began turning the pages, fully expecting to be sucked in, I  felt my attention swaying as the story fell short over and over again.

I really dislike giving low ratings, but I can’t go any higher than two stars for TDPotF and here’s why:

  1. The world building was mediocre. I couldn’t envision the town or even the fairy forest, and the tension we were supposed to feel between the two worlds fell flat. Even the legend of the prince and the shock of his waking – which I guess was supposed to be a major part of the story? – didn’t feel like a big deal.
  2. The characters were underdeveloped and inconsistent. I couldn’t connect with any of them, and I’m kinda depressed about it because there was so much potential for them to be so much more than they were. {ahem, Jack! I mean… the guy could have his own novel.} What little personality they had didn’t quite fit with their actions, making the believability nil. There was no development in the relationships, and insta-love without any real foundation is always boring.
  3. The weird kissing thing. We were given a half-assed reason as to why Hazel felt the need to kiss every boy she saw, but I’m still not convinced that it was good enough. It was just kinda weird and never came in to play. She was supposed to be liked and admired by all, but I didn’t see what was so awe-inspiring about her. She was a cookie-cutter character with none of the flare we were told she was supposed to have.
  4. The plot was rushed. All the action and twists felt crammed in to too few pages, and the direness of the situation didn’t feel real. I guess without that essential connection to the characters, I couldn’t really care about what happened to them.

 

However, the writing style kept me intrigued and turning the pages, allowing me to see why Holly Black is a bestselling author. Maybe this particular novel was just rushed through to meet a deadline. Maybe she was in a slump. I don’t know what happened, but it needed a few more runs through the editing process or maybe a hundred more pages. There was such potential here, and it saddens me to say that it didn’t live up to the hype.

Great idea; poor execution.

This is the first book of Black’s I’ve read, so I won’t give up yet. I’ve heard great things about her books and will definitely be giving them another shot.

Cheers!

Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

For nearly twenty y5364ears Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones… about a love that transcends the boundaries of time… and about Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart… in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising… and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

 Goodreads / Amazon

Rating: 5/5

“For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest.”

His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.

Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”

 

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. 

I’m still reeling and could in all honesty leave those four words as the sum of my review, but I just can’t let that suffice.

Jamie & Claire have a love story of epic proportions. It always has this cloud of doom hanging over it, tragedy lurking around every seemingly happy corner, pulling at your heartstrings and tear ducts over and over again. What I love about them is that they could have had a happy, quiet life but choose the hard road. To them, it’s the only choice; they’re hell-bent on changing the fate of Scotland and the grim future of those they love.

I don’t know how Diana Gabaldon keeps it all straight. She’s a master story-teller, weaving every little detail together into a twisty, curvy story that has constant surprises or revelations.

The characters she creates (even those with a minor role) come alive, leaping from the pages, attaching themselves to the reader in a way that keeps them with you long after you finish. I’m just thankful I was able to jump immediately to book three so I wouldn’t have to let them go for any period of time. I’ve found myself mourning, hoping, and smiling with them throughout the day, whether I’m reading or not.

Like I said, it’s just one of those stories that stay with you.Not only that, but every scene is intricately detailed, bringing history alive even if it has a touch of fiction to it.

This series has quickly become one of my favorite of all time, and I’m only on book three. I don’t know what I did before it came into my life, and I have no idea what I’ll do when I’m done. Probably just start all over again.

Cheers!

 

Review: Built by Jay Crownover


251971191
Sometimes you have to tear everything down to build something new…

Sayer Cole is frozen inside. At least, that’s what it’s felt like for as long as she can remember. She’s yet to let anyone past her icy exterior – and the one guy she thinks might melt her heart couldn’t possibly be interested in someone so uptight.

Rough, hard and hot-as
-hell, Zeb Fuller has rebuilt his life and his construction business since protecting his family sent him to jail all those years ago. His elegant client, Sayer, makes him feel like a Neanderthal in denim, but despite the many hints that he’s been dropping to get to know her better, she seems oblivious to his charms.

Just as things finally start to heat up, Zeb’s past comes back to haunt him and he needs Sayer’s professional help to right a wrong and to save more than himself. As these opposites dig in for the fight of their lives, fire and ice collide in an unstoppable explosion of steam…

 Goodreads / Amazon

Rating: 3/5

There’s nothing better than a big, burly tattooed guy. Strap on a tool belt and a heap of compassion, and you’ve got the perfect package. Zeb Fuller is a dream, and I might be a little in love with his confidence and ability to turn shitty situations into something beautiful, whether it’s a beat-up house in need of a remodel or the more complicated aspects of life.

I felt almost the complete opposite about Sayer Cole. There were parts of her I liked – her friendship with her roommate, Poppy (a young woman who’d been abused by her husband), and her determination to fight tooth and nail for children’s rights in court. She has some major daddy issues, and I felt bad for her, but there comes a time when you’ve just gotta let it go. And she wouldn’t. Let. It. Go. Her redundant inner monologue about how she was frozen inside just wouldn’t fly after a certain point, and I got kinda annoyed with her for making choices on behalf of Zeb. He’s a grown-ass (and I mean GROWN) man. Let him make his own decisions about who he wants to love.

Other aspects that knocked this book down in rating for me were the insta-love and never-ending sex scenes. I’m not a prude by any means but I just felt like if a chapter ended with a pages-long sex scene, the next chapter shouldn’t begin with one. Maybe I got bored with it all because most of these scenes had the exact same wording. Anyway, less is more in this case. That, and their feelings for each other felt forced – there was no growth – it was just *BAM* we’re obsessed with each other, and that was that.

I loved, loved, loved the little boy, Hyde, and how he came into the picture (I won’t spoil it for you). I feel like he brought it all together, and I wish we’d seen more of his story. He brought out new emotions in all the other characters and, I feel, was the catalyst in their growth.

Overall, Built is a pretty satisfying read about two people on complete opposite sides of the spectrum coming together. The writing is good and the characters are well-developed. Although this wasn’t a favorite of mine, Jay Crownover receives a lot of raving reviews, and I liked this one enough to be curious about some of her other books.

Last thought: check it out and see for yourself. This book has a lot of five-star reviews, so the odds are that you’ll love it.

Cheers!

Review: The Distance From Me to You by Marina Gessner

Wild  meets  E23846040ndless Love  in this multilayered story of love, survival, and self-discovery.

McKenna Berney is a lucky girl. She has a loving family and has been accepted to college for the fall. But McKenna has a different goal in mind: much to the chagrin of her parents, she defers her college acceptance to hike the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia with her best friend. And when her friend backs out, McKenna is determined to go through with the dangerous trip on her own. While on the Trail, she meets Sam. Having skipped out on an abusive dad and quit school, Sam has found a brief respite on the Trail, where everyone’s a drifter, at least temporarily.

Despite lives headed in opposite directions, McKenna and Sam fall in love on an emotionally charged journey of dizzying highs and devastating lows. When their punch-drunk love leads them off the trail, McKenna has to persevere in a way she never thought possible to beat the odds or risk both their lives.

 Goodreads / Amazon

 What did you do the summer after you graduated high school? I think I spent mine the way most upcoming college freshman do and went to parties, slept late, and lounged around the blissful idea that I was no longer a child. *smirk* I wish I’d read The Distance From Me to You back then. If I had a daughter now, I’d urge her to read it.

The simple and smooth writing style along with the strong characters and compelling story line made the pages easy to devour. It was like the perfect combination of all my favorite elements came together in this novel, and I couldn’t put it down until it was done.

I lIMG_0013_Fotor.jpgove strong female characters! McKenna’s youth is obvious in some of the choices she makes, but if you look at her situation from the perspective of eighteen-year-old eyes, would you really not make the same choices? When you’re that age, the dangers of the world don’t seem real. She second-guesses herself because everyone else seems to doubt her; she feels she has something to prove, but when the harsh reality of mortality comes crashing down on her, she realizes that she’s stronger all on her own than she ever thought possible.

IMG_0004I wasn’t sure how to feel about Sam. I think I liked him because of what he brought out in McKenna, and I definitely admired how far he’d come and the kindness he showed despite (or maybe because of) his abused childhood. He had his sweet moments, but he’s a runner. If anything came close to exposing the demons of his past, he either pushed it away by being a complete jerk or took off. It took a disaster, as it usually does, to make him see that he has a lot to learn, but he accepts this with grace, and I think that’s when he became a character I could love.

IMG_0014_Fotor

This story is nothing if not inspirational. It’s about a girl who takes on an incredibly hard task with little experience and absolutely no real idea of what to expect and comes out the other end a woman. It’s a journey of self-discovery, and what I loved most is that McKenna realizes how young she is, how much life she has before her, and doesn’t allow her love for a boy alter her choices or the things she wants for herself. She keeps going, and, as a result, comes to know exactly who she is.

I give this book five out of five stars. Read it!

Cheers!

Review: Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon

27793667Amy Stevenson was the biggest news story of 1995. Only fifteen years old, Amy disappeared walking home from school one day and was found in a coma three days later. Her attacker was never identified and her angelic face was plastered across every paper and nightly news segment.

Fifteen years later, Amy lies in the hospital, surrounded by 90’s Britpop posters, forgotten by the world until reporter Alex Dale stumbles across her while researching a routine story on vegetative patients.

Remembering Amy’s story like it was yesterday, she feels compelled to solve the long-cold case.

The only problem is, Alex is just as lost as Amy—her alcoholism has cost her everything including her marriage and her professional reputation.

In the hopes that finding Amy’s attacker will be her own salvation as well, Alex embarks on a dangerous investigation, suspecting someone close to Amy.

Told in the present by an increasingly fragile Alex and in dream-like flashbacks by Amy as she floats in a fog of memories, dreams, and music from 1995, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer to a breathtaking conclusion.

 Goodreads / Amazon

Release Date: February 23, 2016

This a debut novel? Seriously? I couldn’t be more impressed with Holly Seddon’s Try Not to Breathe.

The pacing of this mystery is perfect, unraveling at a rate that keeps you hooked but doesn’t drag on. The different points-of-view and flashbacks are very well-done and allow the reader to know each character in a more intimate way. Seddon has a knack for detail and setting the right tone. She tells it like it is, not bothering to sugar-coat the truth for her characters.

As a character-driven reader, I was immediately caught by the strong development of each character and the hardships that they faced. Alex’s struggle with alcoholism; Jacob’s secrets and the tension it causes with his wife; Sue’s desperate need to keep the illusion of a perfect family; and the resolution of all these issues revolving around the solving of a terrible crime committed fifteen years earlier. Even Amy who lay in a vegetative state throughout the novel had a personality that came through not only in her foggy memories but through those who knew and loved her.

The only thing keeping me at a four-star rating is the fact that I knew who-done-it from almost the beginning. I like the shock factor in a mystery novel, and it was obvious to me who the bastard was. However, the ending wasn’t so important as the journey, and Seddon’s ability to suck you into the world and thoughts of her characters is superb.

I’m officially a fan and will be on the look-out for anything and everything Seddon publishes.

Cheers!

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The year10964 is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

 Goodreads / Amazon

When I first began to read Outlander, I wasn’t expecting all that it had to offer. To be honest, I almost put it away “for later,” which really meant that I didn’t want to put any more effort into reading it and probably would never pick it up again. I felt as if it was bogged down by detail, and Claire’s relationship with her husband, Frank, felt forced and dispassionate. They were hard words to swallow, but I kept going, unaware at this point of the following that this novel has. (Shamefully, I’d heard of the show first, and in my fashion, decided to read before watching.)

But then something took hold of me, and I couldn’t stop. Claire was catapulted from the boring life of a historian’s wife (although her time in the army was anything but) into the dangerous world of eighteenth century roguish Scottish Highlanders. Eventually, I came to appreciate and even look forward to Gabaldon’s vivid descriptions and abundant details, hanging on to each word for dear life, devouring all 850+ pages without any desire to reach the end.

Jamie and Claire are … epic. They’re brought together by necessity, and they’re loyalty, dedication, and love for each other is unrivaled. I enjoyed their banter and the violent sense of humor they had toward one another. Honestly, their relationship reminded me of me and my husband – neither one of us takes any shit from the other.

As for the ever-popular controversial scene where Jamie fulfills his duty in punishing his wife – I think people are overreacting. It was a different time, and in all honesty, she got off a lot easier than any man would have. Not only that, but Jamie wasn’t so brutish that he couldn’t see that the traditional type of relationship of the time wasn’t going to work for him and Claire. He did what was expected of him, and if he hadn’t done it, she would never have been forgiven by the other members of the clan. It wasn’t a scene of domestic abuse, but of someone receiving the punishment of the time for her actions, humiliating as it was for her.

Gabaldon’s writing style has a classic ring to it, maintaining a rhythm that’s easy to keep up with, which is important with the number of pages it covers. This book isn’t easy to put down, and there’s so much story that even the most serious of book lovers will be fulfilled.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction or romance, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Outlander as soon as possible. Then purchase a subscription to Starz and watch the show – because, really, this is one of those cases where the show is just as good.

Cheers!