Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Title: Rebel Belle
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Format I Read: Hardcover
Pages: 345
Genres: Romance, Fantasy
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Stars: 5
Goodreads Link

Rebel Belle made me goofily smile numerous times, to the point where I had to hide my face in the pages. It was a fantastic read. I both started it and finished it today. Amazing!

The basic idea is that Harper Price, an overachiever and well-established "popular," becomes a Paladin. What the heck is a Paladin?, you may say. Well, it's a wonder you ask! A Paladin is like a super bodyguard. When Harper ends up in the crossfire of her killer history teacher and her not-so-ordinary school janitor, she ends up with the duties of a Paladin. And she's bound to protect David Stark, her enemy since just about birth. But why? And how will she juggle being a super bodyguard and preparing for Cotillion, while also keeping her best friend and boyfriend from getting too suspicious? She's wondering the same thing.

I thought that the book was wonderfully done. The character development didn't jump at all. Harper and David's relationship was natural and progressed as expected considering the situation. The book gave me flutters. The only thing that I didn't like was Mary Beth, one of their classmates. She was just too bitchy and her actions didn't sit well with me. However, that was really my only complaint.

The plot, setting, and lore behind the events was exquisitely presented. The story was completely original and kept me at the edge of my seat. Very interesting.

The "love triangle" (as some people may call it) was nearly non-existent. Yes, there was a struggle between the two boys, but I felt like it was pretty understated. There was no massive "Oh no, who do I choose?" It wasn't the major plot point; it was more of a side note. That was great.

I also just loved Harper and David. And Bee and Ryan, and basically everyone. They were all such great characters. Harper had such depth and I loved her voice. As a fairly neurotic high school student myself, I definitely related to her perfectionist/overachiever attitude. She was fantastic. She even had a background story in which her sister Leah-Anne died in a fairly substantial scandal. She was way more than what met the eye, and I loved that. David was the cutest mix of quirky, hipster, and ambitious. Bee was literally the best friend anyone could ask for. I kept waiting for the moment when I would start to hate her, but she was perfect. Ryan was the perfect southern boyfriend. As much as I wanted to hate him so that Harper-David could happen, I really couldn't. I couldn't really hate anyone (except for Mary Beth oops). They were all amazing.

Overall, I just loved it. Definitely 5 stars. I can't wait for the sequel (April 7 is so far away, nooo). Props to Ms. Hawkins!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

This Is Falling by Ginger Scott

Title: This Is Falling
Author: Ginger Scott
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 281
Genres: Romance, Realistic Fiction
Release Date: August 29, 2014
Stars: 4
Goodreads Link

So I read this book over Christmas break, so it's not too fresh in my mind. I apologize in advance for any mess-ups in this review!

Rowe meets Nate, a baseball player, when she enters college. Rowe is plagued by a past, a big secret that we don't know. It's bad enough that she struggles for happiness. With Nate's help, she starts on her way to recovery.

I felt like it was an interesting concept.  I could understand Rowe's pain and could completely understand her suffering. Based on her past, I felt it was justified.

I liked the characters. Rowe's roommate was sweet and fun. Her other roommate, Paige, was pretty bitchy, but we learn the reason why later on in the novel. So she did redeem herself and she was more than Rowe's initial stereotype of her. I liked that. The characters definitely had depth. I also really enjoyed Nate's brother and the rest of the cast. Everyone was great.

The romance was wonderful. Nate and Rowe had amazing chemistry and I really felt for them. Even when plagued by the shadow of Josh, Rowe's ex boyfriend, Nate was adorable and caring. I thought they worked well together.

One thing I didn't like, or think really fit the story, was Rowe's sudden cure. Nate helps her break out of her shell and cross over to happiness, and suddenly she's so comfortable that she's just chilling with another guy after she fights with Nate? If Nate was really the catalyst, I would think that her progress would be slightly more limited to her interactions with Nate.

However, props to Ms. Scott for taking the plunge and writing about such a topic. I felt that the psychological impact was very interesting and realistic. The romance was well done. Overall, a pretty good read, and I'd probably give it 3.5 stars (rounding up to 4).

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The Rising by Terra Harmony

Title: The Rising
Author: Terra Harmony
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 271
Genres: Fantasy
Release Date: November 7, 2013
Stars: 3
Goodreads Link

I wouldn't say I hated this book, but I definitely didn't love it. It was an interesting concept, sure. Who would've thought to put mermaids and werewolves together? But it just fell a little flat to me.

Basically, Serena is part of the Undine (mermaid) community. In order for her species to reproduce, they need to go onto the beach to mate like humans and later give birth on the beach. However, the werewolves, who used to protect them on shore, revolted in a massacre during a mass birthing. Serena was the only survivor of that massacre. She constantly sneaks out of the water, which is against the rules. As punishment, she becomes the Werewolf Liaison. This brings her to Liam, a werewolf, where the truth behind the revolt unfolds.

The book lacked a solid romance, which hurt for me because I'm a huge romance girl. The (mild spoiler) battle at the end just suddenly killed off a ton of people for what felt like no reason. I just felt like that was completely unnecessary.

However, one thing I will say about this book: the backstory and the setting were amazing. The creation of the werewolves and the relationship between them and the mermaids (or the Undine) were so well thought out and fascinating. I loved the world that Ms. Harmony created. It was a very interesting take on the mythology, which I give mad props for. I just didn't feel any connection to the characters or the plot really.

For mermaid (or Undine) lovers, definitely check it out though. It's a really cool explanation! However, if you like romance, this may not be the book for you.

Rae of Sunshine by Micalea Smeltzer

Title: Rae of Sunshine
Author: Micalea Smeltzer
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 287
Genres: Romance, Realistic Fiction
Realistic Fiction: November 23, 2014
Stars: 3
Goodreads Link

So I read this book over Christmas break, so it's not too fresh in my mind. However, I do remember that this was closed to not being finished. I had to push through. Which speaks for itself.

Cade, a star on campus, takes a sudden interest in the quiet freshman Rae. Rae is hurt and struggling to fit in on her own. She struggles with various psychological difficulties every day.

I felt like it was an interesting concept.  I could understand Rae's pain and suffering. However, I didn't quite understand the romance. I didn't like how Cade was a sudden panacea for her psychological struggles. That's not quite how human mentality works.

I felt like it was too fast-paced. Yes, Cade is a good guy, but what star football player would take such an interest in a random freshman? I was a little skeptical. I was also a little unsure about how quickly Rae seemed to change. If she was really as pained as she was played out to be--so much so that she's plagued by panic attacks and such all the time--, how did she leave all that behind in such little time? She may be falling for Cade, but he wasn't a cure. That's not quite how it works. It just seemed too fast for me.

I did like how Cade's interest and the characters defied stereotypes. Thea, Rae's roommate and Cade's sister, was anything and everything pink (including her personality). However, we learn that she was really more than that. There was more to her than a happy-go-lucky girl. The same went for Cade.

The book was well done. It just didn't quite stick with me. It dragged on because it felt too unrealistic. So I'd have to go with 3 stars.

All Broke Down by Cora Carmack

Title: All Broke Down
Author: Cora Carmack
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 368
Genres: Romance, Realistic Fiction, New Adult
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Stars: 5
Goodreads Link

Ms. Carmack does it again. Absolutely nails it. This story, a standalone in the Rusk University saga, is similar to All Lined Up, but different. Yes, there's football. Yes, there's hot guys. Yes, there's steamy romance. But Silas definitely isn't Carson.

Silas, a football player from not-so-pleasant beginnings, feels doomed to fail. Dylan, a student who is just trying to make a difference in the world while still playing the perfect daughter, is tasked with "fixing him." After a few unfortunate events, Silas realizes that his dream and his life is about to slip out of his fingers. So he recruits Dylan to help. However, we soon realize that Silas can help Dylan just as much she can help him.

If you're ready to swoon every other page, then please dive right into this novel. Dylan and Silas have the kind of chemistry that can start a fire. The story has all of the best characteristics of romance. The good girl "tames" the bad boy, but not really. It has that typical feel, but Dylan isn't really a good girl and Silas isn't really a bad boy. They're both so much more than the stereotype. Not only that, but Dylan never truly tames Silas. That's not what this is about. Silas can't be tamed, and he'll always be the dirty, wild boy that he is. But Dylan makes him better, and they complement each other.

This book is definitely dirtier than All Lined Up, but that's fitting considering the differences between Silas and Carson. So yes, the two novels are different. But one thing they have in common?

They're both books that I've read numerous times and will continue to read again and again. Ms. Carmack strikes again, everyone!

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Format I Read: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Release Date: January 6, 2015
Stars: 5
Goodreads Link

So here's the scoop: I finished this book less than an hour ago. It made me sob like a baby, so much so that I had to hide away in the shower so that no one would hear me. I'm still on the brink, so I'm going to try to make this review quick so that I don't break down again.

I'm not sure that I've ever read a book that had as much of an impact on me as All the Bright Places did. The writing was absolutely flawless. I felt the characters in my bones. Even the littlest things, like the labels under the chapters as Finch counted the days he'd been Awake and Violet counted the days until graduation, enhanced their personalities. The little quirks of those labels (like how Violet eventually stopped counting down and began living in the moment) added more to the story than I thought possible.

Ms. Niven said she wanted to write something edgy, something contemporary. It is safe to say that she went above and beyond; she more than succeeded. She made an impact. She showed how there is so much more to mental disorders and suicide and teenagers. She showed how many different ways there are to deal with death, but how it is survivable. She showed how everyone is deeper than they appear, even the popular people. She showed how one person can change everything, how one person can change a life, and how one person can save a life.

And now I have to stop before I start crying. I wish I could give this book 10 stars, but my scale only goes up to 5. This is a story that will stick with me forever, that I'll think about at random moments, that will never leave me.

I cannot give a higher recommendation for All the Bright Places. Congratulations, Ms. Niven, for making me fall in love with Finch and Violet, for changing my life, for changing the way I look at the world. Oh, and for making me sob like a baby.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Faking It by Cora Carmack

Title: Faking It
Author: Cora Carmack
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 304
Genres: Romance, Realistic Fiction, New Adult
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Stars: 4
Goodreads Link

Unlike Losing It, Faking It made a much better impression. Faking It is connected to its predecessor but still relatively standalone.

The aforementioned best friend who fell in love with Bliss in Losing It has moved to Philadelphia to try to start fresh and get over her. This quest to cure his heartbreak brings him into the arms of Max, a rebellious daughter who needs him to fake being her boyfriend. Max's family doesn't accept the tattooed and wild girl she is. They love their daughter Mackenzie, the blonde cheerleader from high school. A chance encounter leaves Cade with the role of Max's boyfriend, perfect for an actor trying to leave behind his heartbroken reality. However, sparks fly and the relationship may become more than just a sham.

In the first chapter, Max and Cade stole my heart in the way that Bliss and Garrick weren't capable of doing after an entire book. The banter, the clash, and the eventual love between the two characters made me melt. I felt as if the conflict was more legitimate here and I related to the characters much more. The character development and the progression was so natural. It wasn't love at first sight. Ms. Carmack made sure to convey that, yes, it was attraction at first sight, but not love. That made it more real for me.

Despite the "opposites attract" trope, Faking It was still wonderfully original. Cade was the Golden Boy and Max was the Angry Girl. But we learn that they aren't really opposites after all. Both are broken and both are in pain. Max lives in the shadow of her dead sister, and Cade is constantly being left behind. Both have issues to deal with and this gives them a common ground. The development was fantastic.

Overall, it was a cute (adorable) read that I ripped through. The characters, the plot, the conflict, the writing (hello, Cora Carmack) were all fantastic. Definitely recommended for someone looking for a nice New Adult romance!

Alienated by Melissa Landers

Title: Alienated
Author: Melissa Landers
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 344
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Stars: 5
Goodreads Link

I think I'm in love I'm in love. I really am. Where can I sign up for the L'eihr exchange program? Seriously, Ms. Landers, I'm begging you.

I absolutely devoured this book. I started it yesterday and nearly stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to read it. Unfortunately, it's midterms week so I had to squeeze the end in today. But wow.

Alienated has everything you could ever think to ask for in an alien romance. It has a spunky, intelligent, compassionate, and independent heroine. It has a swoon worthy, coarse-but-then-sweet, cocky, and evolving love interest. It has an absolutely captivating conflict, in which the author combines politics, science fiction, and teen angst. I was truly fascinated.

I loved that the novel took place after the aliens "invaded" (but not really). There wasn't some crazy apocalyptic first contact with the aliens. We got to see the aftermath, which was filled with lots of cool politics and culture clashes. We also got to see both sides of the story: that of Cara and that of Aelyx. I loved the third person that alternated focus between Cara and Aelyx. It was perfect for the story.

Gosh, there are so many things about this book that I could gush about. It's truly impressive when an author manages to flood you with information and explain the complexities of the story without the reader even noticing. The plot, the setting, and basically everything about the L'eihr culture were foreign and complex, yet it was easy to understand. There was no single moment where I thought huh? There were even explanations of some of the L'eihr words, like Aelyx's name (A-licks)! The way this novel was written, I felt like I was living it.

I also just loved the blog posts. That was a fantastic touch and a nice tie-in with the title. Then again, I just loved everything about this book. The L'eihr were a beautiful creation and I fell in love with the world that Cara and Aelyx live in (though not so much with the HALO).

I give all the props in the world to Ms. Landers. You've captivated me and I can't wait to read Invaded!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Losing It by Cora Carmack

Title: Losing It
Author: Cora Carmack
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 189
Genres: Romance, Realistic Fiction, New Adult
Release Date: October 15, 2012
Stars: 2
Goodreads Link

This will be a quick review because I read it a while ago. However, it made an impression (not technically a good one). As much as I love Cora Carmack and the majority of her books, Losing It was a complete flop for me. Bliss was completely unlikable. I don't quite understand how she ensnared so many guys. Garrick was swoon worthy at the beginning, but became pretty drab as the time went on.

I felt like the whole novel was just a dirty soap opera. And then they went ahead and threw in the curve ball that Cade, one of Bliss's best friends, is in love with her too. Every time one problem was solved, a new one appeared.

I just felt like it wasn't realistic and it wasn't entertaining. There was too much insta-love and sappy woe-is-me fawning. I found myself wondering when the heck the happily ever after was going to come around so I could stop reading.

My English teacher described courtly love to us the other day. It's when the two people have nothing physical. It's just "ohmygosh did you see he just blinked, maybe it was a wink at me swoon" and "oh, how I wish we could be together." I felt like that was this book, especially during Bliss's classes with Garrick. It was just constant pining.

The only good thing about this book? It made a nice set up for Faking It (which I loved).

As much as I love you, Ms. Carmack, not one of your best.

Sleeping Tom by E.V. Fairfall

Title: Sleeping Tom
Author: E.V. Fairfall
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 343
Genres: Romance, Psychological
Release Date: February 14, 2015
Stars: 3
Goodreads Link

*I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

Please read through the entire review!

After plowing through this novel, I have to say: it was alright. I wouldn't say it was amazing or earth-shattering. The concept was good. The execution was good. The writing was a bit better than good. The ending salvaged it a bit. However, I wasn't in love. The biggest appeal to a novel is the characters. And these characters just didn't do it for me.

I'll start with a quick synopsis for those who are still a little unfamiliar. Basically, Rebecca suffers from an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend abandons her at a bridge. Gabriel, a dark stranger, picks her up and lets her stay at his house. He's harsh and aggressive, completely unsympathetic to her situation. However, Rebecca (who has renamed herself Caden to try to shed her weak side) soon learns that Gabriel is more than just Gabriel. During the day, he is Gabriel. At night, he is Tom. Tom is a playful child inside a man's body. Caden must juggle these two personalities as she tries to discover the truth about Gabriel and the truth about herself.

I initially liked Caden's own struggle. I enjoyed her personal turmoil as she tried to figure out who she was: Caden, Rebecca, or both. Caden was strong and forceful, her own being. Rebecca was submissive and subservient, a people pleaser. The struggle was interesting. However, it soon became exhausting. At a particularly point in the book (around 70-80% maybe), every other sentence was "Rebecca this, Rebecca that." I started to consider that Caden had dissociative identity disorder. I felt as if Ms. Fairfall was trying to convey a theme that just wouldn't fit. She was trying to explain that your past and the events don't define you, but they do change who you are. It was a good concept, but it just became too forced. Again, the struggle was effective at first, and it made me immediately interested at the beginning of the book. It was a good hook. I just didn't feel like the follow up was successful. It was distracting and confusing.

Not only that, but I just didn't like Caden. I completely understand that she's a victim of abuse, and that has damaged her views of love and relationships. I understand that she's human and she isn't really supposed to be likable. She's supposed to be real. But when the main character is so unappealing that I considered closing the book? That's a little too much. She wasn't really likable at all, past the first quarter of the book. We learn how much she hates Angelica, yet we clearly see that Angelica isn't terrible. We see beyond the facade she puts on at parts, yet Caden is still aggressive and bitterly jealous. I felt that the slut shame and the hate toward Angelica was far too extensive.

Caden's actions with Tom Gabriel also left much to be desired in terms of likability. She thinks, Ugh, Gabriel is so aggressive and he broke a mug, he's such a jerk, but he's so manly. Aw, Tom is so adorable, but gosh I wish he was Gabriel. She likes Tom more than Gabriel for the first half of the book, yet suddenly flips and gets sick of Tom? Yet she still likes Tom more than Gabriel? But wait no, now she only wants Gabriel? I just felt that it was so back and forth that it had no reasoning behind the switches. It just seemed to add drama. Fortunately, she did seem to make a definitive choice in the end, just in time for (spoiler-DUNDUNDUN).

Beyond her relationship with Tom Gabriel, she was also terrible to her mother. There was a chunk in the middle of the book where Caden returns to her mother's house and gosh did I want to slap Caden every other page. The way that Caden was written, my sympathy for her decreased as I continued reading.

Caden was also a complete masochist. I don't have enough fingers for how many times I wanted to scream at her. She just kept torturing herself. Living with this constant back and forth between Gabriel and Tom was not healthy, yet she stayed. I understand that she felt like she had few options. But at a certain point, she just had to leave. She left one abusive relationship for another unhealthy relationship. Hadn't she learned her lesson? Again, I understand that those who suffer abuse usually get stuck in this cycle. I just felt like that wasn't explained enough for it to be a valid excuse.

However, I will say that there were redeeming qualities. I thought the concept was fascinating. It was very interesting how Gabriel was day and Tom was night, yet their personalities were better fitted for the opposite. As a psychology student, I also did a little fist pump when the librarian corrected Caden: it's now "dissociative identity disorder," rather than "multiple personality disorder."

I felt that the structure was helpful and effective; Ms. Fairfall labels the days and nights so that it's easier to understand when Tom is out to play and when Gabriel is out. I did find a few grammatical errors ("try and", rather than "try to"; "then" rather than "than").

I felt like the ending with Nikolai was kinda why? However, I did like the lead in to the sequel. I'm interested enough to want to read Waking Gabriel, which I guess speaks for itself. Hopefully, it'll be different now that Gabriel has changed and now that (insert spoiler).

I just don't quite know what to say. I truly did want to stop reading around the halfway mark. Fortunately, I pushed on and it did salvage itself. My advice though? Make your characters likable. Make them more than their past, just as the theme tried to convey. I want to know more about Rebecca (and Caden) than the fact that she wears black, was in an abusive relationship, and dyed a heart on her carpet. I just didn't get that. Again, I understand that that's the problem with abuse. It takes away someone's personality and makes them a shadow of herself/himself. But you have to pick: is this going to be a novel about abuse or a novel about psychological struggle? Is it going to be about Caden/Rebecca or about Gabriel/Tom? I felt that you had to just choose one in order to do it justice. The abuse was a huge distraction that made me constantly wonder what was going on.

Overall, I'd give it 3 stars. I am looking forward to the sequel though. The concept was interesting enough that I'll come back for more.

Best of luck with the release, Ms. Fairfall!

(Sorry I'm such a harsh critic. I love you, I promise.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Format I Read: Paperback
Pages: 466
Genres: Supernatural, Romance, Mystery
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Stars: 5
Goodreads Link

I just found this review (or the beginning of it at least) saved in my drafts. I reread this novel around the end of last year I guess?

Since I read it the first time, I've felt an attachment to the book. I bought a nice new copy, and it has a special place on my "Favorites" shelf. Yet I really couldn't remember the content. I realized that I had begun to mix the novel up with other novels and confuse the characters and events. This obviously meant it was time for a reread.

So I did just that. I reread it. And it did not disappoint. You know how you can tell it didn't disappoint? I devoured it. Completely devoured it. Within around 5-6 hours, I was done. Michelle Hodkin has an amazing talent. The suspense nearly killed me. It turned out it was a good thing I forgot everything because the shock, surprise, and captivation was all the more real.

I don't think anything impresses me more than authors who write mystery. It takes guts, dedication, and pure unadulterated talent. Ms. Hodkin strung me up, pulled me in, chewed me up, and spit me back out. By the end of the novel, I was pretty damn mindf-cked.

If you're a fan of Stephen King with a young adult twist, this is not a novel to pass up. It's one of those stories that will leave you whispering wow into an empty house at 1am (because you couldn't stop reading). I couldn't recommend it more.

All Lined Up by Cora Carmack

Title: All Lined Up
Author: Cora Carmack
Format I Read: Kindle
Pages: 320
Genres: Romance, Realistic Fiction, New Adult
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Stars: 5
Goodreads Link

So it's been a little while since I read this one, but I've read it multiple times. Which should speak for itself.

Ms. Carmack is truly a literary genius. Of her extensive repertoire, I've read All Lined Up, All Broke Down, Losing It, Faking It, and Inspire. I've fallen in love each time (though I do have my favorites).

All Lined Up is a book that I come back to time and time again. It's such a fantastic read that I constantly revert to it if I want to achieve a feel good mood.

The writing draws you into the minds of both Dallas and Carson. Carmack completely masters the dual POV, seamlessly transitioning between the two main characters. I don't think I've ever read an author who captures personalities as well as Ms. Carmack does. There is nothing fake about these college students; their language, thoughts, and actions are completely realistic.

It amazes me how easily this book can draw me in, when I don't even enjoy sports. Yet I found myself cheering on the Rusk University football team and swooning over a quarterback. There is nothing boring about this novel: the characters, the plot, the sports analogies, the relationships. Nothing fell short of perfect.

I honestly don't know what else to say about this book. I've read it a handful of times. That should truly be all that I need to say. It's good enough that I keep coming back.

Getting it from the library just may not be enough. You're going to need a copy that you can love and cherish, even if it's a digital copy. You won't regret it. Cora Carmack's Rusk University novels will suck you in, just as they have to me!